Buying equipment when dollars are tight can be a good investment, especially when a single machine accomplishes multiple tasks. Scrubber-extractors and vacuum-sweepers can boost productivity while keeping cleaning costs low.

"Any time you have more choices, you increase the likelihood of a sale," says Kevin Carlson, equipment specialist for Mission Janitorial & Abrasive Supplies, San Diego.

Jan/san distributors find combination equipment such as scrubber-extractors and vacuum-sweepers are making in-roads in a down economy. But how distributors sell this equipment and who they sell it to translates into how well it works for customers, says Dave Faunce, equipment specialist for Lansing Sanitary Supply of Lansing, Mich.

"When I sell to a customer, I'm not just after selling them a machine for the sake of selling them a machine," adds Dave Bahcall, vice president of Dallas-based Complete Supply Inc. "I'm trying to put them into a machine that's user-friendly, won't cost them a lot of extra money and works well in their application."

Selling the appropriate combination unit for the job requires distributors to fully understand how combination machines function, are maintained, and the applications where they work best.

Know How Combo Units Work

Combination machines perform functions that typically require two pieces of equipment. A scrubber-extractor, for example, deep cleans both hard floors and carpeting, while a vacuum-sweeper vacuums carpets and sweeps debris off hard floors. A push of a button is generally all it takes to switch from one function to another.

Combination machines may offer a host of other options, too. For instance, a scrubber-extractor might allow low- and high-moisture carpet cleaning, where the high-moisture mode puts down a quarter more water for a deeper clean. That same unit might include an automated dispensing system to dilute chemicals on-board and switch chemicals on the fly as cleaners move between surfaces.

Some units have varying pressures to clean up heavier soils. For instance, if the user spots dried up, sticky soda while scrubbing a hard surface, he or she can increase the pressure and use more aggressive pads to pick up the spill. Typically, machines offer 30 pounds of pressure per square inch (psi), Bahcall says, but some offer lock-down pressure settings enabling users to switch between 30 and 200 psi.

Knowing and understanding these capabilities helps distributors match equipment to the task at hand. For example, if a customer needs a combination machine to clean carpets and hard surfaces at an automotive parts dealership, he or she will need equipment that can dispense a degreaser as needed to clean up oil, explains Faunce.

The machine's cleaning path also deserves consideration. Some units are around 24 inches wide while others are 34-plus inches. A 24-inch unit might clean 20,000 square feet per hour, while a 34-inch model cleans 30,000 square feet per hour. The one specified for the job will vary by facility size and need.

It is also important to pay attention to the workers who will use the machines, especially with sweeper-vacuum units. Does the company have a well-trained work force? If training is lacking, the machines may not work as intended, says Faunce.

"Vacuums and hard surfaces don't work that well together unless the person running the machine knows how to adjust it," he says. "The adjustment for the hard floor will be different than for carpet and much of the labor out there won't make the change."

Faunce cautions not to give customers the idea that combination units eliminate dust mopping of hard surfaces. Vacuums pick up debris differently than sweepers; vacuums use motors to lift debris into the air where it can be sucked up, while sweepers rely on rotating brushes to kick debris into a hopper. On a hard floor, the unit may pick up 80 percent of the debris, which in an industrial environment may be fine, but is unacceptable in a school.

Distributors must also know the finer points of maintaining and repairing the units they sell, adds Faunce. Equipment demos should highlight how to change between modes, switch brushes, add chemicals, and general maintenance needs. Showing customers these things helps build the case for a purchase, he says.

The Case For ROI

As facility managers and building owners look to building service contractors or in-house service professionals to do more with less, end users are seeking ways to stretch their budgets. Multi-purpose machines can be just the ticket to help them maximize limited funds.

The questions distributors ask before making equipment recommendations can make all the difference in a sale (see CleanLink Exclusive, page 34). If a customer seeks to buy a scrubber and a distributor fails to ask about other flooring in the facility, they may miss an opportunity to upsell the customer to a combination machine.

Being able to accomplish two very different tasks may appeal to clients who clean both hard and carpeted surfaces. A combination machine automates these cleaning tasks, and tying both tasks to a single piece of equipment justifies the cost.

"It would cost them up to $20,000 to buy two independent machines," Faunce says. "When I can get them into a machine that does both, it costs $11,000 to $12,000 so there is quite a capital savings."

Carlson notes it also helps to calculate the return on investment (ROI) to help customers make the purchasing leap. Customers can save anywhere from 25 percent to 75 percent in labor costs by switching to combination machines so "the ROI can be rather short," he says.

Many manufacturers offer ROI calculators for distributors to plug in customer-specific information, compare it to old and new methods of cleaning, and come up with a ROI time frame for the equipment purchase to help justify the expense.

"You can show them how if they spend a little more, they can boost productivity and pay for that equipment over a set period of time," says Faunce.

While a down economy makes combination units extremely attractive to many end users, Bahcall emphasizes that facilities need to be cleaned thoroughly no matter the economic climate. Combination units are a wise investment even without the lingering effects of a recession.

"In good times, there are a million facilities that need a scrubber and a carpet extractor, or a vacuum and a sweeper," says Bahcall.

Ronnie Garrett is a freelance writer based in Fort Atkinson, Wis.




Sales Questions For Combination Machines

Distributor salespeople can determine if their customers' cleaning programs will be a fit for combination machines by asking five simple questions.