Greater efficiency and productivity are goals at the heart of any new jan/san equipment purchase — and janitor carts are no exception. The workhorse of the industry, janitor carts must bear the load of every product, chemical and piece of equipment custodians need to successfully complete their cleaning duties. And they must do so in an organized manner that allows janitors to easily switch from one task to another without making time-consuming trips to and from janitor closets.

"You can look at janitor carts as an on-the-go distribution and supply center for the cleaning personnel," says Linda Silverman, vice president of sales and marketing for Maintex in City of Industry, Calif. "If they're stocked properly and you have adequate items on the cart, you can increase productivity and organize your workload."

Janitor carts, like vehicles, come in a variety of makes and models to suit every end user's need.

"It's kind of like buying a car," says Silverman. "You can have a high-end cart or something more basic, and that's going to be determined by your budget."

For smaller facilities with relatively simple cleaning needs, a lightweight, compact cart may be in order. Rugged terrain or inclement weather may call for the SUV of carts. And a high-end facility that prides itself on appearance and reputation may opt for a Cadillac model of cart.

According to Karen Adams, president of The Mop Bucket, North Kansas City, Mo., cost is always a factor when making a cart purchase.

"Everyone's always concerned about the price," she says. "That's a main focal point today, more so than before."

Yet, regardless of budgetary constraints or facility needs, distributors often find themselves discussing the same key issues with customers to help them make informed purchasing decisions.

Match Points

To determine the most appropriate sized cart, end users need to consider the size of the facility, where the cart is going to be stored, and what cleaning tasks need to be accomplished.

Silverman suggests that a customer physically lay out every piece of equipment and product that has to fit on the cart before making a decision.

"I think the best thing is for everyone to assemble everything they're going to need for every task they're going to perform and then figure out the dimensions of the cart," she says. "Are they going to be mopping the floors? If so, they might need a bucket and wringer. If it's a hotel and it's carpeted, they probably don't need that, so they have to determine what their requirements are."

Deciding what cleaning tasks need to be performed will also help customers determine what features or add-ons are necessary — valuable selling points for distributors. Will they need a lot of "bells and whistles," or will a basic cart with a few shelves suffice?

Ralph Johnson, account executive for Memphis Chemical & Janitorial Supply Co., in Memphis, has seen an evolution in the design of janitor carts during the past 10 years.

"Years past, you didn't have many options," he says. "You had one or two styles, and that's what you had to go with. But now the industry is starting to tailor carts to specific uses."

For example, one of Johnson's most popular sellers is a high-security microfiber janitor cart.

"I service a large healthcare facility, and they use microfiber mops to clean their rooms, so they've gone to a cart that's considered a microfiber cart," he says. "It has buckets for your microfiber mops, a place to lock chemicals, and extra features that are not available on a regular janitor cart."

While some industries, like healthcare and hospitality, tend to look for carts tailored to their specific needs, other customers, like building service contractors, want a cart that offers flexibility and adaptability.

"It's important for us to come in and find out exactly what they want to use the cart for — both current and future needs," says Belinda Jefferson, president of Hercules and Hercules Inc., Detroit.

The company has had much success selling a cart that allows customers to transition from a string mop to a flat mop system.

"We direct customers in terms of their growth model," says Jefferson. "If they're using a string mop system, we try to find out if they plan to navigate to a flat mop system in the next year or so."

Similarly, if a janitor is required to collect a lot of trash, the customer may want to adapt the cart accordingly so the staff doesn't "look like bag people rolling down the street because no one's cart is consistently outfitted," says Jefferson.

A Tough Choice

Along with flexibility and adaptability, customers are looking for durability and maneuverability when buying a janitor cart.

"This is the one product you only want to buy once," says Adams. "You want it to last no matter where you're going, so it needs to be sturdy."

Weather and terrain may also play a factor in cart choice.

"You have to look at the conditions where you're using the cart," says Silverman. "If it's nice weather, you don't have to worry about rust and corrosion, so a metal cart might work. But if you're worried about the elements and the cart is inside and outside, you probably want to avoid metal."

End users are also swayed by the type of wheels featured on a cart.

"If you're rolling the cart over carpet, you probably have different requirements for wheels than if you're rolling it across the parking lot or on asphalt," says Silverman. "If it's in a school and you're going outside and from room to room and across the playground, you have to make sure you have pretty durable wheels vs. just pulling the cart up and down the floor in a hotel that's nicely carpeted."

Johnson notes that his customers have an aversion to squeaky wheels.

"Over time, some rubberized wheels make a noise when they roll across the floor," he says. "I have a customer now, and I have to replace wheels on some of their carts. They've chosen wheels for noise-sensitive environments."

Carts with caster wheels will help minimize noise when being pushed across hard flooring.

Security and Beyond

Depending on the facility being cleaned, safety and security are also high priorities considered during cart purchases.

"Usually, building service contractors don't care if the cart has a locking mechanism," says Jefferson. "But healthcare customers want something that locks so a consumer won't walk by and take chemicals or replacement items they might have on the cart."

Carts with locking cabinets are also popular in hotels to prevent theft.

"Sometimes you see locking mechanisms where they have a lot of linen or high-end amenities," says Silverman.

According to Johnson, facilities also want janitors to secure chemicals for safety reasons, particularly when children are present. Options include a locking side cabinet or a dome cover on top of the cart.

Yet, despite the array of features and add-ons, customers aren't willing to sacrifice form for function. Most of them still want a janitor cart that is attractive and reflects the company's image.

"Overall appearance is important," adds Johnson. "When you're cleaning a facility, a clean, well-kept cart looks good. It makes the facility look professional."

In order to keep carts looking brand new, it's vital that they're easy to clean, as well.

"You're picking up dirty, germy things, so you have to be able to clean the cart itself," says Silverman. "If your cart has a lot of nooks and crannies and holes, bacteria can get into them. So you want something that's easy to disinfect and wipe down."

The right cart can speak volumes about a customer's business and help the custodial staff become more organized and efficient. Distributors can play an active role in helping customers analyze their needs to ensure that their cart purchases are successful, long-term investments and not the source of buyers' remorse.

Kassandra Kania is a freelance writer based in Charlotte, N.C. She is a frequent contributor to Sanitary Maintenance.