Unlike other forms of disruptive technology where the role of human professionals is diminished, manufacturers say they see distributors as key to the technology’s success. Despite the embedded technology, connected devices still need to be regularly replenished with soap and paper that is supplied by distributors. 

Distributors are also needed to interpret the data and communicate actionable insights, something only professionals with field experience can provide. 

Though some jan/san distributors express concern over IoT’s “smart reordering” benefit — using the data collected by devices in reports to predict when and how much supply to order — manufacturers say that by helping their facility cleaning customers become more efficient, distributors are actually securing the relationship and the refill business, not losing it. 

“I don’t think this is going to change the role of the distributor, or limit them in any way,” says Bertram. “If anything [jan/san distributors] become more of a consultant on what platforms or options are out there. They’re still going to be a critical part of our process.” 

That said, Bertram says its important for distributors to take the initiative to learn about the benefits of smart restrooms, as well as their capabilities. In addition to educating customers about the devices themselves, distributors must also speak to clients about the benefits of data trends, network security and staff training. Though manufacturers are on-hand to provide distributors with the appropriate literature and talking points, there’s admittedly a bit of a learning curve. 

Yet, with most manufacturers handling the installation and maintenance of the devices, manufacturers say jan/san distributors can remain focused on selling the technology, and using the data to their full advantage. Historically, the role of the distributor has been more reactive; they are often at the beck and call of the facility when they have to fulfill a need. 

Having data analytics in the wheelhouse allows distributors to be more proactive — and provides them with a reason to call on their customers, instead of the other way around. 

“It provides a sense of loyalty, and looking forward a few years ahead, and looking into the data, it will be lucrative for distributors,” says Konigson Koopmans. 

Understanding the value of insight is why distributors should target customers who will be most receptive to the technology, as well as the initial investment.  

“We encourage our distributors to talk about the technology with all of their customers, but when you’re looking at buildings, you really want buildings that are considering IoT,” says Bertram. “Having that progressively-minded property owner or facility [cleaning provider], and engaging with that company is really important.”

Manufacturers say Class A office buildings, healthcare facilities, universities, amusement parks, industrial spaces and high-traffic facilities such as airports are ideal spaces to sell the technology.  

Regardless of the type of facility, manufacturers say customers are going to value a distributor partner that brings a solution to the table that increases tenant satisfaction and who can serve as a go-to expert. 

“It’s a differentiator,” says Mowbray. “If you’ve been trying to get that 100-room office building, and you’re the first one to go in and talk about IoT, that might be the nut that cracks that opportunity. It’s a tool to use in your belt now.” 

Manufacturers say IoT-enabled restrooms are still evolving, but the onset of smart buildings is a new reality that isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. 

As manufacturers work to refine their technology and push the limits of data to address customer pain points, they say distributors should get on board now — before they fall too far behind. 

“When you start working with real-time information and know what to do and what matters, it’s very hard to look back,” says Konigson Koopmans. “And working with software that helps you work smarter not harder, providing more value, which is necessary to stay in business and remain competitive — that’s where you start generating new revenue stream.”

Stephanie S. Beecher is a freelancer based in Milwaukee. She is a former Associate Editor of Sanitary Maintenance.


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Smart Restrooms Keep Complaints Down