It wasn’t very long ago that only the largest of facilities were afforded the luxury of chemical proportioning and dispensing systems. The equipment itself required a sizeable up-front investment, and if a jan/san distributor’s customer didn’t consume the necessary volume of chemical to justify it, setting up a dispensing system didn’t make monetary sense for either party.

Those days are over.

“It used to be that only the large-usage buildings were candidates,” says Bob Zagers of Zagers Brand, Tampa, Fla. “Nowadays, with the diversity of the dispensing systems, almost anyone is able to use them.”

That diversity comes in the form of the “portable” proportioner and dispenser models that have been introduced to the market in recent years. The more compact, portable units also come with a price tag that’s easier for small facilities — and their distributors — to swallow. Today, facilities of every size are candidates for proportioning technology.

“[In the past] if they couldn’t use what they’re putting into a dispenser in a 45- to 60-day period, it didn’t make sense for the distributor because they were losing turns,” says Zagers. “And the customer was just tying up money they didn’t need to. That problem has been solved with the advent of the smaller dilution control systems.” The availability of smaller containers of chemical ensures quicker turns, opening up the market for dilution-control technology.

“The smaller containers — liters and half liters — create turns for smaller accounts where they don’t have to buy three years of chemical at one time,” Zagers adds. Portable units require little up-front investment. Distributors no longer have to analyze each customer’s potential consumption.

With stationary dilution-control equipment, on the other hand, Zagers says his company generally absorbs the initial cost when they outfit a customer with this technology, so the company’s salespeople have to be completely sure the investment pays off long-term.

“Six [stationary] dispensing systems might cost us $250 each; we had to look at what we could generate, and sometimes it wasn’t a winner,” Zagers says. Portable dispensers, however, don’t require a significant up-front cost, so they are a good fit for a wide range of facilities, from small to large. These products feature “self-contained dispensing systems” — the dilution-control mechanism is built into the product. Users can carry them along to any location, hook the bottles up to a water source, and fill buckets or bottles easily.

Please Concentrate
While the dispensing options for chemical concentrates are now more varied than ever, the selling points of the concentrates themselves remain unchanged. Distributors agree that chemical concentrates, such as the ones used with dilution-control equipment, often offer significant cost savings over ready-to-use products.

“The savings is definitely there — even with the expense of the unit — to use concentrates over ready-to-use,” says Tony Maida, general manager of National Paper & Sanitary Supply, Omaha, Neb. “The adage is, it’s cheaper to use your own water to mix the chemicals than to use the manufacturer’s.” Maida says shipping and storage of ready-to-use chemicals add to a higher per-use cost than concentrates.

That cost difference is significant, says Joey Ross, vice president of sales for Central Paper Co., Birmingham, Ala.

“For a ready-to-use quart of product you’re looking at $2 to $3 per quart, whereas the product we use with dilution-control systems is going to run $.30 to $.90 per quart,” Ross explains.

Putting these figures into terms the customer can understand is relatively easy, says Maida. His company uses spreadsheets to show the customer the number of gallons of chemical a concentrate will generate.

“You can tell them exactly how much it will cost per gallon and per quart — the end-use diluted cost,” says Maida. “They can equate that with what they’re paying for ready-to-use very quickly.”

Proper Positioning
Once the customer is sold on the concept of dilution control, next comes a facility assessment. With traditional, stationary equipment, deciding on the proper location of the units within a facility is never a scientific process; fact-finding questions will reveal what factors should be considered. Distributors should determine the most convenient locations, and cleaning needs (wall-to-wall carpeting on one floor, but not the rest, for example).

Most of all, with stationary equipment, proximity is key.

“It has to be close and convenient for the user — where it makes sense,” says Zagers. “Different facilities do it different ways.”

“Location, location, location,” reiterates Maida. “As architects make specifications for buildings, they don’t take [cleaning needs] into account very often, and they cut custodial closets. Those rooms are always small, and sometimes to put [a dilution-control system] up in a small closet is a problem.”

Inconvenient locations can also lead to higher labor costs, Maida adds.

“It’s time and labor for custodians to have to stop what they’re doing to go to the third floor to fill a bucket. If there’s not a [dispensing system] on every floor — say it’s on the main floor or in the basement — they have to stop what they’re doing and go down to fill their bucket or extractor. That’s all money,” he adds.

Ideally, he says, in a multi-level building you want a custodial closet and a dispensing unit on each floor; in a mall setting you’d want a number of set-ups — one near the food court, the offices, etc.

“It revolves around labor,” says Maida. “You want to keep workers producing efficiently.”

Who’s Using Them?
Many facility managers plainly see the advantages of a chemical proportioning equipment — it’s simple: they save money. But, distributors say, not every customer is a prime candidate, nor do all have realistic expectations about how these programs work.

A commitment from the customer to teaching employees how to properly operate these systems is essential, says Ross.
“Unless the customer gets behind it and says this is what we’re going to do and how we’re going to do it, [proportioning equipment] can be used improperly,” Ross explains. “You need someone who’s going to teach their employees how to use it.”

Schools, for instance, are likely customers because they are so attuned to solutions that offer cost savings. Other good targets are: BSCs, health care facilities, grocery stores and food service applications.

When assessing any facility’s need for proportioning equipment, there are a number of areas distributors must address: floor surfaces, square footage, how many beds they have (if it’s a health care facility), number of staff, accessibility of water and the type of floor or carpet-care equipment the custodians are using.

Forecasting More Sales
Distributors are optimistic about the future of chemical proportioner and dispenser sales.

“I think the market is definitely going to continue to grow as there’s a generational change in supervisors and managers in these facilities,” says Maida. “[Younger generations] recognize the long-term value of using concentrates.”

Ross agrees that the popularity of these products will continue to grow.

“[Customers are] always going for the lower price,” he says. “If that’s what they want, here’s how to get it.”

The trend toward portable dilution-control devices will also continue to gain momentum, says Zagers. He also believes the trend will not be exclusive to smaller facilities with less volume requirements — large facilities will see the benefits of these units, as well.

“There will always be a need for centralized dilution-control systems for the larger facilities, but business will move toward the smaller units,” says Zagers.

It makes sense for the distributor, since the units cost less, too, he adds.