Building service contractors encounter maintenance issues in customer facilities severe enough to warrant a switch back to manual soap dispensers. With janitors already doing more than ever before to create efficiencies, something as small and seemingly insignificant as a battery change can be a tipping point for a contractor.

Ken Sargent, CEO of Porter Industries Inc. in Loveland, Colo., says his company still recommends touchless soap dispensers in many of its customer facilities because they help prevent cross-contamination in restrooms. But that doesn’t mean they are the only solution.

One large multi-tenant customer made the switch, putting in hundreds of touchless dispensers.

“We put all those in, not realizing that we’ve added two variables to the experiment: not just that the soap might go empty but that the batteries might run out, and it made a significant difference,” Sargent says.

All of a sudden, he says, there was a huge spike in restroom complaints; turns out, the additional labor required by the battery-powered units was having a bigger-than-expected impact on janitorial staff. After working with the property manager to address them, it was decided that the dispensers would be switched back to manual, and a visible window was added so that it was easy to tell when the soap needed replacement.

Another change that came of this was switching to foam soap, which almost doubled the amount of pumps occupants got from one bag, and “thereby removing the opportunity for problems to arise.”

In high-traffic restrooms, he says, 80 percent of problems will be caused by 20 percent of issues, and focusing on those issues can help dramatically reduce complaints.

Customer complaints “zeroed out” after manual dispensers were re-introduced, says Sargent.

Distributors can help service providers create solutions for their customers and building occupants by helping them find the right fit for each restroom. And after years of pushing new soap dispensers as the latest and greatest thing for restrooms, the time has arrived for adjusting how soaps are marketed and sold, says Eric Cadell, vice president of operations for Dutch Hollow Supplies, Belleville, Ill.

“We’ve gone through it so many times where the salesperson’s biggest thing was, ‘I can get you a new dispenser, I’ll come in, and I’ll put it up.’ There were some of these buildings where there were holes in the walls and damages because they’ve changed soap dispensers 12 times in the past four years,” Cadell says.

Now, customers aren’t so keen on changing their dispensers, do distributors will have to learn to start carrying more diverse soap offerings.

“Traditionally, you picked your line and you really didn’t sell anybody else’s. Now you’ve got to kind of cross over” into product lines from different manufacturers in order to deliver what customers want, Cadell says.