Floor pads and brushes may not make up the lion’s share of distributors’ sales, but they do account for a substantial number of SKUs. There are dozens of shapes, sizes and colors, each serving a particular function. With so many options, it’s easy for end users — and distributors — to get confused.

“A distributor sales rep has several thousand products to sell and sometimes they think a floor pad is just a floor pad,” says Randy Flowers, director of sales for ETC of Henderson, Henderson, N.C. “Or they may think if the customer has been using an aqua pad to burnish with in the past, then they will sell them an aqua pad. They don’t always sell the best product for the job.”

To maximize sales and to provide the best service possible to customers, distributors must fully understand pads and brushes — how they are used and how best to promote them.

Knowing The Difference
Manufacturers say it really isn’t important that a distributor know every technical aspect of brush and pad construction. There are a few differences, however, about which distributors should be aware.

“There’s a misconception that all pads and brushes are the same and the only difference is the price,” Flowers says. “It’s like baking a cake; it’s the products you put into it that matter. It may cost more to make a better cake, but it’s going to taste a whole lot better.”

Brushes vary based on the type and amount of bristles used. The aggressiveness of the brush depends on the thickness of the bristles, which range from fine and soft to thick and stiff, with about a dozen other choices in between. Some manufacturers use natural bristles while others use synthetic. There may also be differences in the mounting systems, though most manufacturers now use plastic blocks.

Pads also come in varying levels of coarseness. Manufacturers often incorporate different abrasives into their pads, such as silicone carbide or marble dust, which can affect performance or durability.

More important than how a brush or pad is made, manufacturers say, is why a user would choose a pad over a brush (or vice versa) and how distributors can help them select the appropriate product for the job.

There are, of course, four basic categories of floor care: routine or daily cleaning, interim cleaning (deep cleaning/scrubbing), restorative care (aggressive cleaning/stripping), and high-speed burnishing. A pad is best for some of these tasks while a brush is better for others. In some cases, the selection boils down to budget and personal preference.

“There’s a misconception that both are perfect for every application,” says Chris Nawrot, vice president of operations for Mor-Value Parts (MVP) in Grand Rapids, Mich. “A customer shouldn’t be using a pad all the time or a brush all the time.”

For example, pads are typically used for polishing (or high-speed burnishing), while a brush is usually best on uneven or grouted floors. The winners are less clear-cut for many other tasks, such as stripping and routine cleaning. In these cases, the choice depends more on the user’s budget and the type of facility being cleaned.

A brush can cost $300 while a pad for the same task may be just $10. If a brush is properly maintained, it can last for years; pads are semi-disposable (they can usually be reused at least once and both sides should be used before they are trashed). It’s important to understand a customer’s budget goals — some users are most concerned about upfront costs, while others are more interested in long-term cost of ownership.

“From an economic standpoint, pads offer a lower upfront cost which drives many customers to purchase them,” says Chris Keene, equipment category manager for Betco Corp., Toledo, Ohio. “While brushes are more expensive up front, they can actually save you money in the long run because they last substantially longer than pads.”

It’s also important to understand how a customer cleans. A BSC is probably most interested in ease of use and versatility. A contract cleaner typically cleans a variety of floors and must be able to switch easily from one to the next. In his case, pads may make the most sense. A housekeeping manager at a warehouse, on the other hand, is more interested in cleaning one large concrete floor quickly. In his case, brushes may work better because he might have to change pads multiple times during one cleaning.

The Task At Hand
Choosing between brushes and pads is only the first step in selecting a tool for the job. Within each of those categories, there are many more options. Narrowing down the choices is a matter of defining the proper aggressiveness for the task.

For example, there are about a dozen types of floor pads, which are typically color-coded based on its level of aggressiveness. Lighter colored pads, such as white or beige, are the smoothest and are used for polishing (also called buffing or burnishing). Slightly more aggressive red pads are used for spray buffing or routine cleaning. Green pads are next in line and are used for scrubbing. The most aggressive pads are black, and are used for stripping (there are now super-aggressive pads for stripping, which are called “high-performance” pads; they are also black). Brushes follow a similar color pattern based on grit levels.

It is incumbent upon a distributor to understand the differences in all of these types of pads and brushes because recommending the wrong aggressiveness can be disastrous. For example, a high-performance stripping pad takes off an extreme amount of finish quickly, which could seriously damage floors if used in the wrong situation.

“Most end users select the floor pads that they are most comfortable with,” says Rory Beaudette, national sales and marketing manager for ACS, Willoughby, Ohio. “However, there are another 10-plus varieties of pads that will provide high degrees of effectiveness given the floor finish and floor material that they are being used on.”

To make the correct choice, a distributor needs to ask the user about frequency, finish, equipment and chemicals. If the task is burnishing, for example, find out how often they do it (nightly, weekly); on what type of floor finish (soft, hard); and with what type of machine (electric, battery, propane). The answers to these questions will lead to a clear choice among the half-dozen burnishing pads available.

“End users generally know just enough technically for the function they want to achieve,” Beaudette says. “They know what type of floor finish is on the floor, they know what type of machine they are using, they know what type of floor material they have, so realistically they have all the information needed to make an intelligent choice.”

Selling Better
Unfortunately, many distributors don’t take the time to identify the exact brush or pad that is best for a given task. Instead, they tend to rely on the few standard options with which they are most familiar and comfortable.

“It’s a small part of their business and most people don’t do enough homework to drive the sale effectively,” says Jack Krippel, vice president of Malish, Woonsocket, R.I. “People have this pad on the shelf and that’s what they sell. Most distributors don’t stock a very deep set of options. They’ll stock three or four pads or two or three sizes of brushes but there are a dozen available.”

Taking the time to learn the subtle — but important — differences between different brushes and pads could pay off with increased sales and more satisfied customers. If you can solve a customer’s problem in one area, such as switching them to a more effective pad, they are more likely to call on you for help in the future.

It is also important that distributors take some time to promote brushes and pads. They may be relatively small-ticket items, but increasing sales even a few percentage points will help the bottom line. Manufacturers suggest having equipment salespeople push pads and brushes during machine demonstrations. These ancillary sales can add up. Some distributors have been successful with bundling promotions, where a user gets a free brush or pad and pad driver when they purchase a machine.

“Distributors are selling pads like a commodity, like toilet paper or trash can liners. You don’t sell floor finish that way and you shouldn’t sell pads and brushes that way,” Flowers says. “The distributor sales rep who takes the time to train their customers is going to be the distributor sales rep who gets the best-looking floors and therefore the most sales.”

Educating your sales force about pads and brushes doesn’t have to be a solo effort. Take advantage of the reference material available through manufacturers’ catalogs and Web sites or call on the manufacturers for in-house training.

“End users don’t know [about pads and brushes] because distributor sales reps don’t know, and the distributor sales reps don’t know because their suppliers aren’t training,” Flowers says. “You should get that knowledge from the manufacturer. If you don’t get it from your current supplier, get another one.”

Becky Mollenkamp is a Des Moines, Iowa-based freelance writer and a frequent contributor to SM.