Once considered to be a fly-by-night fad, green cleaning has gained so much credibility that it's safe to say it isn't going away. In fact, it continues to get stronger, as evidenced by the unprecedented number of building service contractors (BSCs) and in-house service providers (ISPs) who have gravitated towards and accepted this method of cleaning.

According to a Contracting Profits magazine survey, 81 percent of BSCs currently use green cleaning products, while 75 percent of ISPs, according to a Housekeeping Solutions magazine survey, utilize green products and practices in their cleaning departments (both magazines are sister publications of Sanitary Maintenance).

Survey results also reveal that a majority (75 percent and above in some cases) of customers are purchasing green chemicals such as multi-surface cleaners, glass cleaners, restroom cleaners, carpet chemicals, floor chemicals and strippers. Other commonly used products include microfiber cloths and mops as well as paper products.

Because of green's mainstream appeal and industry-wide acceptance, jan/san distributors say it has made selling green products increasingly easier than in years past.

"It's easier because our sales reps are more familiar with it, every manufacturer is talking about it and pushing it, and green is all over the media," says Eric Cadell, vice president of operations for Dutch Hollow Janitorial Supplies Inc., Belleville, Ill. "As the manufacturers embrace it and other distributors in the market embrace it, more customers are open to it when you're not the only person talking about it anymore."

This widespread push towards purchasing anything and everything green has taken many in the industry, including distributors who sell green programs, by surprise.

"Although it is a very significant part of our business, I never would have thought that environmental cleaning solutions would have become the majority of purchases," says Nick Spallone, president of Tahoe Supply Co., Carson City, Nev.

The green fever isn't dying down either. Distributors should take note that even more customers plan on making the switch to green cleaning. In fact, 63 percent of ISPs who currently do not use green products plan on implementing them into their programs in 2010, while 70 percent of BSCs not using green products are planning on switching to green in the near future. Distributors must be prepared to capitalize on these prospects, while at the same time create ways to sell more products to their existing green customers.

Selling The Green Philosophy

Getting BSCs and ISPs to change their negative views on green has become a lot easier over the last couple of years as legislation requiring green cleaning products has been passed in several states. In addition, more facility managers and building owners are jumping on board the sustainability movement and green products have improved in price and quality. But selling a green cleaning program to customers shouldn't necessarily be centered around the products, says Renae Hesselink, vice president of sustainability for Nichols, a Spring Lake, Mich.-based distributor. Rather, it should focus on the fundamental principals behind the products, like improving operational efficiencies.

"We don't go in and sell products," Hesselink says. "In fact, we try not to even talk about products to begin with."

Instead, Nichols' philosophy, like many other distributors, is to educate customers on the true benefits of going green, while at the same time comparing traditional cleaning products and processes to their green counterparts. Hesselink says that after customers see the potential benefits, it often gets them thinking about implementing green products into their cleaning program.

In fact, educating customers on the value of going green is most advantageous for distributors, says Josephs.

"It's all about education," he explains. "Customers are more willing to listen when we start talking about cost savings and efficiencies over the long run. For instance, when we're talking to a school or university, we lean on the fact that you're not just cleaning to pick up the dirt. You're cleaning to make it a better environment for the students and faculty. We don't focus so much on Ôit does the job better,' it's more about the health of the building."

Once customers start implementing green products into their cleaning program, that's when distributors should start analyzing their customers' current cleaning program and make suggestions to customers as to where they can switch.

On top of educating customers on green's true value, enticing them with green packages that are comparable in price and quality to traditional products may also help make a sale.

Bundling Green

As a way to sell more green products to existing customers, distributors often market package deals. Selling a group of complementary products together (a bundle) offers a clear advantage over selling individual products, as margins on bundled products tend to be more lucrative than products sold on their own.

By bundling products, distributors are able to recommend product choices for customers that save money and increase productivity.

In fact, some distributors use bundling as a way to help customers implement green cleaning programs.

Bundled products often come at a discounted price, too, so customers are less likely to price shop and end up buying more products from one distibutor.

"The concept allows both the distributor and the customer a deeper and more comprehensive understanding of the needs on one side and on the offering on the other side," says George Abiaad, president of Santa Fe Springs, Calif.-based Royal Corp. "This understanding allows the development of more befitting solutions that hit the mark, fulfilling the needs while attaining the best value in service and cost."

Some distributors group products that are complementary to one another and program that into their computer system. So, each time a salesperson or customer service rep receives an order, the program generates a series of tie-in products that they can bundle as a package.

For instance, if a customer inquires about a green floor finish, distributors can try and sell the customer on a green floor care bundle that consists of green finish, green floor cleaner, green floor stripper, as well as equipment like microfiber mops.

When bundling, Hesselink says that a distributor's most valuable tool is to look back at their customers' purchasing history. By doing so, distributors can highlight where a green product can be recommended. And when it comes time for a customer to place a new order, distributors can pitch the green alternative in a bundle. If the customer is committed to green, they more than likely will make the switch.

Green product bundles shouldn't only be limited to complementary products, however. Abiaad says because green is all encompassing, distributors should bundle popular green products with less-than popular ones to help increase sales.

For example, distributors should bundle a glass cleaner or multi-surface cleaner, which are popular items, with other products such as floor finish and strippers or even can liners, which are not the best sellers.

This way, distrbutors are able to sell more products and reduce otherwise slow-moving inventory.

As the green movement continues to spread across the country, distributors must be able to assist customers in going down the green path. Helping educate customers on green and what products are best suited for their respective facilities is key to building and selling green programs.

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Green Products Chart