As he drives home after a training seminar at Somerset Medical Center, it’s obvious that John Scoles, president of Scoles Floorshine, Farmingdale, N.J., is one distributor who is enthusiastic about floor care.

Despite the fact that he has spent the past two and a half hours of his afternoon examining hospital floors and providing the Somerset staff with detailed, hands-on instruction on how to maintain them properly, he is full of energy. Like a high school football coach describing the importance of disciplined practices, Scoles explains the value of preparation — before the floor care job even begins.

“When we first set up this training program at the hospital, I told the staff to have everything ready to go so that we wouldn’t waste any time,” he says. “But, sure enough, when we got there, not everything was quite ready, so we had to track down a couple [pieces of floor care equipment]. One of the biggest problems — especially in a hospital that operates 24-7 — is that there’s so much time wasted in getting the job started.”

As distributors seek to leverage their position in the supply chain and increase the number of value-added services they offer, training is increasingly important. And according to Andrew Brahms, owner of Armchem Intl., a Ft. Lauderdale-based jan/san distributor, floor care training is paramount.

“Most distributors, unfortunately, give more lip-service to training than actual time and effort,” says Brahms. “If you’ve been in the industry for a long time, then as soon as you walk into a building — a restaurant or a hotel or a grocery store or whatever it might be — and you see embedded dirt in the floor, you know there hasn’t been adequate training. The floor is one of the first things people notice, so we need to be absolutely certain that we’re training our customers to take care of it properly.”

Who Owns The Floor?
The first step in helping customers take care of their floors is a psychological one, says David Frank, president of the American Institute for Cleaning Sciences (AICS), Highlands Ranch, Colo.

“When you’re talking about floor care, a common question that trainers in the industry ask is, ‘Who owns the floor?’ Owning the floor means knowing its history, the best practices for how to maintain it, how many coats are on it, and manufacturer do’s and don’ts,” says Frank.

When end users take ownership of their floors, training becomes much easier, says Brahms.

“If we come across a floor finish that just doesn’t look good, we sometimes ask the cleaners, ‘Would you want this finish on the floor in your house?’ Of course, they say no, but they need to develop the mindset that the floor they’re working on is just as important as the floor they have at home,” he says.

“A lot of distributors have been around a long time because of the trust they’ve gained by providing great floor care resources to customers,” adds Brahms. “The customer loyalty that you get with floor care is right up there at the top in terms of what’s important to [them]. Distributors who provide the best products and who have intimate knowledge of the floors they take care of are going to get a lot of repeat customers.”

As the popularity of gleaming, shiny floors in retail stores has grown in recent years, distributor customers increasingly want floors that shine, says Frank. The problem is that not every floor is designed to have an amazing luster.

To Shine, Or Not To Shine?
“I was on a floor not too long ago, and — I’m not exaggerating — they had put so many coats of finish on it over the years that it looked black,” says Frank. “I asked, ‘What color is that floor supposed to be?’ and they couldn’t even tell me. They were only concerned about making it shine, so they were putting down finish every week without properly stripping the old coats away.”

The customer with the black floor is an extreme case, but his situation is indicative of a problematic trend that exists throughout the jan/san industry: most end users want shiny floors, but many don’t consider surface materials when attempting to get that impressive floor shine.

“Distributors need to explain how different floor surfaces react to different finishes, cleaning chemicals and sealants,” says Scoles. “Natural stone floors — marble, for example — need to breathe. If you have a sealant on that, the stone will slowly deteriorate because it can’t get to the air. It might look really shiny for a while, but you’re actually doing significant damage to your floor.”

Of course, many floors are designed to be shiny, but for those that aren’t, creating an incandescent shine isn’t worth the thousands of dollars that is often required for a complete restoration, says Frank. “If you put a finish on a marble floor that shouldn’t have one, you’ll probably have to diamond-grind the finish off,” he says. “Then, you’ll most likely have to repair the floor and restore it from the damage caused by the diamond-grinder. That’s not something you want to mess around with.”

Synthetic floors are no different, he adds; distributors need to understand the design of the floor surface and apply the appropriate product. “Not all floors were built to shine,” says Frank. “A floor that’s designed to have a satin finish is never going to really gleam — it has a low-luster finish and distributors need to help cleaning professionals understand that.”

Cleaning In A Material World
Whether or not an end user is looking to really make his or her floor shine, it’s often up to the distributor to understand the technical reasoning behind stripping, cleaning and protecting floors. Last year, Green Seal, a Washington-based non-profit organization that certifies environmentally preferable cleaning products, released an extensive study of floor-surface materials, complete with definitions of each surface’s chemical makeup. From polymer emulsions to wax emulsions to solvents and plasticizers, the study can help distributors understand how various chemicals protect (or destroy) the foundation of a floor surface.

The study also recommends staying away from floor finishes and strippers that contain carcinogens and metals (especially zinc). In terms of how floor strippers work, Green Seal breaks down the function on a molecular level.

“The goal of stripper formulation is to dissolve and suspend the floor finish without damaging the floor surface itself,” says the June 2004 report. It goes on to explain that there are two basic mechanisms that occur simultaneously to remove finish:

“The first involves an amine attacking the zinc crosslinking. The second involves a solvent — usually glycol ethers and/or alcohols — that dissolves and reliquifies the finish. Strippers of years past used ammonia as an amine source. Modern-day strippers more commonly use monoethanolamine (MEA), often referred to as “odorless ammonia.”

More importantly than knowing all the correct scientific terminology for how floor strippers and finishes work, distributors need to know how those chemicals will affect floor surfaces. They also need to keep up with the floor trends in their region.

“Geography has a lot to do with it,” says Brahms. “Every part of the country is different as far as floor trends. Resilient tile might be the best thing since sliced bread in the Midwest, but it might not be as popular here. Here in Florida, it’s probably a little different, because we get tiles from all over the world, especially from Mexico and Spain. There’s not the same uniformity of floor surfaces like there is in the North or Midwest. Also, there’s a lot of humidity, and that affects the way you attempt to protect the floor surface.”

Many distributors, like Brahms and Scoles, make it their business to know exactly how specific applications will affect specific floor surfaces. Some distributors even have a research and development department in order to examine and compare the best floor care methods.

“One thing that every distributor can start doing today is to make sure their customers aren’t using too much chemical,” adds Brahms. “One of the biggest problems in floor care today is that floor surfaces are cleaned with too much chemical, and then that chemical is not rinsed off properly. That chemical will attract dirt that creates a film, so the cleaning process is actually doing the most damage, in that case.

Keep Track of Trends
Along with research of finishes and strippers, it’s important for jan/san distributors to stay on top of other floor care trends. Equipment is one area that is changing rapidly, says Frank.

“You hear about low-moisture carpet care, but low-moisture floor care is one of the most important innovations,” he says. “The less water used, the better, because you don’t want to use more chemical and water than you have to. You want to be efficient and decrease your dry times.” In addition to low-moisture floor care, Frank believes that cylindrical brush agitation will become more popular for autoscrubbers. “Again, they use less water than rotary brushes, and that’s a good thing.”

Floor Mats and Matting: A Floor’s Greatest Ally

Protecting entryways and heavy-traffic areas in a building is the key to extending the life of floor surfaces, says Jon Scoles, president of Scoles Floorshine, a jan/san distributor in Farmingdale, N.J.

“Without a doubt, floor mats and matting are the most important first line of defense to protect a floor for any building,” he says. “You need to not only have floor mats, but you need to be strategic about where they’re placed.”

Whenever Scoles visits a building, he always observes where the heavy traffic areas are, and he determines where the majority of dirt and debris enters the building.

“We just did a floor care training seminar at a hospital, and we discovered that the first floor — the main floor — of the building was getting significantly more traffic than the other floors, but each floor had the same cleaning program,” he says. “We were able to set up a new program with mats on the first floor, so that all that dirt can be caught right away.”

There’s also logic behind what a floor mat’s length should be, adds Scoles. “You need a good 12 to 15 feet of matting to prevent abrasions on the floor,” he says. “It takes a few steps to catch that dirt, and so a short mat just won’t do the job.” — A.R.