The autoscrubber would seem to be the logical solution to the current end user conundrum: having more hard-floor space to clean than ever before and fewer cleaning specialists to tackle the challenge. At the same time, autoscrubbers can come with a hefty price tag and an array of “bells and whistles” that intimidate facility buyers with a natural aversion to “high-tech.”

Convincing customers to add autoscrubbers to their cleaning arsenal is a sophisticated sell, but also an obvious solution to large-volume floor cleaning challenges.

Jan/san distributors armed with relevant cleaning performance data, a classroom understanding of the technology itself and an intimate sense of how cleaning challenges vary from building type to building type enjoy an edge in selling these products.

Several distributors from across the country shared their thoughts with Sanitary Maintenance on the new features customers find most interesting.

They also discussed the best ways of communicating the potential benefits of these features to customers.

What’s Hot
Distributors say that the best and most popular of today’s scrubbers provide good visibility to the front and both sides of the machine.

The scrubbers increasingly offer ergonomically designed controls that are easy to operate.

They provide electronic forward and reverse traction, adjustable down pressure for heavy-duty applications, high capacity anti-corrosion tanks that are hygienic, large battery compartments and durable steel bodies.

They offer choices of brushes, drive disc and pads, batteries and chargers. And some have low noise levels.

New foam scrubbing systems are especially notable for the benefits they provide. These systems use less water and less detergent to leave floors dry and safe immediately after scrubbing.

With the foam scrubbing system, there’s no need to stop to refill or empty the solution. These foam scrubbing features can translate into an increase in productivity — up to 30 percent, according to some distributors — because the foam does away with the 30-minute “dump cycle” that is usually repeated several times per shift when using a water-based machine.

It also eliminates the need to mix chemicals because a detergent cartridge in the machine can contain enough concentrate to clean one million square feet of floor space.

Powered Cleaning
One of the most important questions of cleaning machines is how long they can go without taking a break, so distributors also need to consider the battery packs that are now available, Glenn Rothstein, president of Bio-Shine, Spotswood, N.J., notes.

“One manufacturer has a machine that will run forever — at least it feels that way — using six 6-volt batteries with as much as 395 amp hours,” Rothstein says.

Compare that battery power to other machines that use four 6-volt batteries with much less amp hours, and the run times are dramatically different.

Rothstein also notes that one manufacturer’s machine packs a one-two punch as far as its battery power.

First, it has an on-board battery charger with “batteries that have eyes” — which allows users to monitor batteries without being intimately knowledgeable about batteries.

“Also, with this machine, you are able to charge it anywhere you have a 15 amp, 115 volt outlet,” he explains.

Al Waites, equipment specialist for Central Paper Co., Birmingham, Ala., believes that size and capacity of tanks and batteries are of main concern to his customers.

“They need to know how long their job is going to last,” he says.

As with any technology, new ideas that are making autoscrubbers more user-friendly present themselves all the time, according to Paul Cameron, area manager for Massco Inc., Norwood, Mass.

Innovations that are seemingly simple can provide the greatest efficiencies. Cameron says he recently showed a new machine — a 28-inch orbital autoscrubber — that uses a single orbital vibrating pad instead of using two rotary brushes.

“It does a much better cleaning job, using less water, less chemicals,” says Cameron. “It’s easier to operate and to change pads. It doesn’t need splash guards like the old rotary machines. And it instead of rotating at 175 rpm, it vibrates at 2,250 vibrations per minute, which gives it a lot more scrubbing action.”

Functional Features
Many of the salient features combined in one machine can have a significant impact on productivity.

“Workforces today are smaller now than they were in the past,” Waites says. “Utilizing today’s autoscrubbers means one person can be dedicated to the job, as opposed to using a crew of custodians.”

To increase productivity and labor savings, the nature of the facility needs to be taken into account as well. As with any tool, it must fit the job, or it is virtually useless.

“An autoscrubber with a 20-inch pad can do 4,100 square feet an hour, putting down clean solution all that time,” says Waites. “With the old method you’d have to ring out your mop more than a dozen times to get the same kind of productivity. So an autoscrubber saves a lot of labor and money as well. You’re able to free up your custodians to do other things.”

High-production machines that can scrub up to 30,000 square feet per hour are ideal for use in large open areas, such as big-box retail and grocery stores.

Some locations require ride-ons, Rothstein points out, while others can satisfy their needs with a walk-behind.

“Ride-ons are great for productivity because they have larger tank capacities and the worker isn’t fighting the fatigue factor,” he adds. “Walk-behinds satisfy all the other needs — tight spaces, small facilities, affordability, etc.”

“Maneuverability is another big feature customers look for,” says Waites. “Sometimes they’ve got to turn the machine in tight corners, or back it up, or easily maneuver it around fixtures. It’s a big deal.”

“It’s all about labor savings, the size of the facility, and productivity,” says Thomas Mekeel, president and owner of Sac-Val Janitorial Sales and Service. “These are the factors that enter into a customer’s purchasing decision.”

Selling Points
Ensuring customers find the machine that will maximize their effectiveness should be the No. 1 goal for all distributors. When working with a customer on selecting the appropriate autoscrubber, several sales tactics could be employed.

Rothstein says the first step in the sales is to define customers’ needs. “What kind of facility are they in charge of? What are they cleaning? Hospitals, manufacturing facilities, schools, and warehouses all have different needs. Make sure that the autoscrubber you sell them is a proper fit for their requirements.”

Rothstein feels becoming very familiar with the machines and being able to communicate the main features of today’s autoscrubbers is an important part of the selling process.

“Once we know the needs of our customers, we put all the pieces together and tell them which machine is best for their application. That knowledge only comes from educating ourselves about the features and benefits and matching them up with our customers’ needs.”

Cameron believes a major selling point is the greater productivity that an autoscrubber can achieve.

“When I sell a machine, I draw an analogy about landscapers mowing lawns, using the most efficient and quickest equipment possible,” he explains. “They want to come in, do the job and get to the next job fast. One guy sits on a ride-on mower and another uses a weed-whacker to trim. It probably takes about 20 minutes to do one acre of land. Our jan/san customers relate to this.”

Cleaning floors comes down to time, money and efficiency, he says.

“Ten years ago, if you wanted to get more done, you would use more people. But that started to change. Budgets got tighter for everyone. The only way to get more productivity was to automate. Autoscrubbers clean the largest of areas efficiently. They do a much better job than a mop and broom. That’s a good selling point.”

Mekeel says the labor savings features of autoscrubbers are important to his customers.

“We communicate those features in our sales messages,” he explains. “And we don’t just sell with a brochure. We go out and do a demonstration.

Truth In Selling
After talking with the customer about his or her needs, addressing today’s technological advancements and discussing the resulting improvements in productivity, showing a bit of “customer appreciation” can help secure a sale and build a long-term partnership.

Instead of treating the customer like a sale, create trust by being honest about whether a machine is really what a customer needs, or if it contains features the customer would rarely — if ever — use.

“Customers want an autoscrubber that’s maneuverable and easy to operate, but they are wary of machines with too many ‘bells and whistles,’ Mekeel cautions. “It seems the more ‘bells and whistles’ there are, the harder they are to run.”

For example, Mekeel says some users want to strip floors using a autoscrubber, and while some machines allow for this, often times that is not attainable.

“A lot of manufacturers claim their machines can do that, but once they get their autoscrubbers out in the field, that claim isn’t accurate because you need the right combination of stripper and autoscrubber,” says Mekeel. “Customers need to be told this.”

Jordan Fox is a Milwaukee, Wis.-based freelance writer.