Touch-Free Restrooms: Emerging Technology
By now, it’s pretty clear that people don’t like public restrooms and they definitely don’t want to touch anything in them. They are afraid of germs, with good reason. Studies show that as many as 30 to 40 percent of people do not wash their hands after using the restroom. And of those who do wash, only about half use soap.
Manufacturers of bathroom fixtures and accessories have listened to the public’s concerns about restrooms and have responded in kind. We interviewed nine makers of touchless dispensers about the technology and its hygienic benefits. Their insights will give you a better understanding of touchless products, as well as guidance on good selling tactics.
Bay West Paper
“Touchless products play an important role in stopping the spread of illness,” says Mark Stanland, director of marketing for Bay West Paper, Mosinee, Wis.
Over the years, Bay West has introduced several touchless dispensers into its line. It makes several systems, including the electronic Wave’n Dry®, for high-traffic restrooms that often reside in offices, factories, and healthcare facilities.
“Each new touchless product on the market has educated patrons about the need to reduce the risk of cross-contamination while improving sanitary conditions,” Stanland says.
Much of Bay West’s dispenser promotion focuses on health benefits, including how the machines support the principles of the food-safety program Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP). Touchless dispensers reduce cross-contamination in food production and preparation because they require that users touch only the towel, not the dispenser itself.
“Users do not have to touch any knobs, buttons or cranks in order to receive a towel,” Stanland says. “This greatly reduces the spread of potentially dangerous bacteria, since users are not touching common surfaces that are most likely to contribute to the spread of illness.”
Bay West suggests that its distributors learn more about cross-contamination and how touchless systems are an important part of a sanitary restroom. Another benefit, Stanland says, is how these dispensers can reduce costs by controlling usage.
Bobrick Washroom Equipment
Nearly 20 years ago, Bobrick, North Hollywood, Calif., introduced the first warm-air, no-touch hand dryer. Today, it offers automatic, no-touch soap dispensers and hand dryers, as well as a manual, touch-free paper towel dispenser.
“[Touch-free] is an excellent growth area,” says Dennis Redman, Bobrick’s marketing manager. “We no longer manufacture a hand dryer that has a touch button on it. We got out of that business because of a lack of demand and the cost issue.”
While it’s feasible to completely outfit a modern bathroom with no-touch equipment, Redman says that many buildings still do not have any touchless technology in them, perhaps due to cost or fear of technology. So Bobrick recommends that distributors carry a variety of dispensers.
“The biggest thing is to offer choices,” Redman says. “Let the property manager have the choice of a standard or a touchless product. Many times the property managers will make their decision based on their needs and how they want to serve their patrons.”
The preponderance of germs is one clear-cut way to promote touchless technology, but Redman believes most people are already so aware of this issue that it’s not a key selling point. Instead, he suggests focusing “sell speak” on the cost benefits associated with waste reduction.
“People don’t forget the toilet because it flushes automatically, and they don’t forget to turn the water off and let it run in the sink until the next person discovers it,” he says.
Redman also advises selling the benefits of these products for people with disabilities.
Cascades Tissue Group
What is the future of hot-air hand dryers? Not good, according to a study conducted by Cascades Tissue Group, Commercial and Industrial Division, North America, Brownsville, Tenn. The results showed the dryers to be less hygienic, more time-consuming, and less economical than paper towel dispensers.
Cascades makes five touchless dispensers, including a full range from C-fold to electronic. These dispensers account for a very large portion of the company’s hand towel-dispenser sales. The company attributes the success of touchless to the public’s fear of germs.
“Touchless dispensers help control the spread of bacteria and viruses and also assist in maintaining proper sanitation and hygiene,” says Nathalie Comeau, marketing director. “By touching only paper when using our dispensers, you assure workers that their health matters while saving on health-care cost and lost workdays.”
Comeau says distributors don’t need to convince their customers that hygiene is important. Instead, she says, they should discuss how touchless technology addresses the unnecessary spread of germs.
“Touchless dispensers are more than devices; they represent a solution to cross-contamination,” she says.
You may not consider yourself an environmentalist, but you are if you sell touchless dispensers.
“What’s not being talked about is when you use less towels and less paper, you have a store that is more environmentally friendly,” says Craig Yardley, director of marketing for Georgia Pacific, Atlanta.
Georgia Pacific’s waste-reducing EnMotion System has been on the market for about two years. Users wave their hand in front of the unit and a towel is dispensed. A second towel will not be dispensed until the first is removed. Owners can adjust the towel length, the waiting period between towels, and the sensor’s sensitivity level. The company also has several manual, paper-pull touchless dispensers.
Even if your customers are not concerned about the environment, waste reduction is a good selling point because of its cost benefits. Yardley suggests that distributors focus on those cost benefits, not on dispenser price.
“Right now, most large corporations — and even small companies — are faced with rising health-care costs,” says Craig. “Anything touchless in a restroom helps in some way to improve the health of their organization, which in turn helps them keep down health-care costs and improve employee productivity.”
Instead of new bells and whistles, the biggest trend in touch-free may simply be that they all actually work.
“The touch-free environment has been plagued with inoperability,” says Bruce Van Deman, director of marketing for acute care for GOJO, Akron, Ohio. “Early on they were gimmicks — plastic toys thrown up on the wall. People are just now beginning to tackle that performance beast.”
That’s why GOJO took its time in developing its first electronic touch-free dispenser, i-Next. Its comprehensive system has an anti-vandal override and hand hygiene event monitor technology to track usage. It can be filled with everything from soap and sanitizer to lotion and shampoo. It also features portion prescription technology to adjust the settings for each product type.
“I think the world has yet to realize all the benefits of touch-free technology,” Van Deman says. “What they are seeing right now is in its infancy.”
Van Deman agrees fears of germs are at an all-time high and that touch-free is a good solution. However, GOJO says electronic dispensers are not for everyone and distributors need to be careful about pushing technology on those who are fearful of it.
“There’s a segment of the population out there that are touch-free inclined,” he says. “I think our distributors know those customers who have the aptitude, and we are providing them with a product that will allow them to serve multiple product needs with one product.”
“Touchless dispensing is the most important movement in our industry right now,” says Rob Adie, sales manager for Hygiene-Technik Inc. (HTI), Beamsville, Ontario, Canada. The growth and popularity of this product category, Adie says, is due to the influx of news reports about high-profile infectious disease outbreaks, including Norwalk, SARS and influenza.
“People are constantly being reminded how important it is to wash their hands properly,” Adie says.
HTI has been producing touchless dispensers for five years now and offers seven products in this category. The company advises its distributors to learn as much as possible about germs and how touchless technology can combat their spread (Adie suggests spending some time on the Centers for Disease Control website) .
Touchless dispensers are typically an easy sale into bathrooms that already have other touchless technology. “It’s a natural progression,” Adie says.
Some building managers, who may spend hundreds of dollars on touchless toilets and faucets, don’t believe soap dispensers need to be touchless. Adie offers this rebuttal:
“There are so few people who actually wash their hands properly, that I would not want to come out after using a touchless toilet, use a touchless faucet, then touch the same soap dispenser that everyone else does,” he says. “It doesn’t make sense.”
Nothing stops germs — not even touchless dispensers — like good, old-fashioned hand washing. It is the single most important procedure for preventing the spread of infection, according to the CDC.
“Having effective products available to promote hand washing is extremely important,” says Mike Flagg, director of washroom business for Kimberly-Clark Professional, Roswell Ga. “Many germs are spread by physical contact with other people or by contact with objects and surfaces that have been touched by others. By reducing the need to touch surfaces and objects touched by others through the use of touchless products, possible germ-transfer sites are reduced.”
Whiz-bang electronics may be the newest touchless technology, but mechanical touchless dispensers have stood the test of time. That’s why Kimberly-Clark makes both. Regardless of the technology used, a dispenser should be high-capacity so product is available when the user needs it. It should also dispense effectively to reduce waste.
“In other words, the products should do what they are supposed to do — towels should dispense properly and absorb water quickly and effectively, leaving hands dry, and skincare systems should also dispense properly without dripping or clogging,” Flagg says.
Europe has long been a leader in bathroom hygiene. In fact, SCA, Neenah, Wis., launched a touch-free center-feed towel dispenser there in 1971. It wasn’t until 20 years later that it widely incorporated the technology in the United States, when the emphasis on hygiene finally became prevalent here.
Today, SCA makes six touchless towel dispensers, both mechanical and electronic, as well as two touchless napkin dispensing systems.
“Health-conscious consumers seem to appreciate any dispenser that reduces the risk of cross-contamination by eliminating the need to touch bars, levers, cranks or paper that may have been touched by another person,” says Jeff Johnson, the company’s marketing communications manager.
Selling health benefits is a smart tactic for distributors, Johnson says. Along those lines, he suggests discussing how touchless distributors fit into HACCP regulations. Also, educate customers on how these systems can save money by reducing waste and absenteeism.
“The key is to lay the groundwork in terms of explaining the features and benefits of touchless dispensing systems and becoming more of a consultative partner with the end user,” Johnson says.
Touch-free is still in its beginning phases, Johnson says. He expects we’ll soon see automated restroom doors and smarter dispensers that can automatically order refills from the distributor.
When it comes to touchless technology, Waterbury Cos., Waterbury, Conn., has all of its bases covered. The company sells touchless versions of a faucet, soap dispenser, and commode and urinal flushes. The company is also preparing to introduce a touch-free flushing system for tank-style toilets.
“Our products round out each other,” says Robert Wolfson, brand manager for Waterbury Cos., Waterbury, Conn. “We have a full complement of products.”
Not surprisingly, Wolfson says distributors should use a bundle-sell approach. To truly reduce the spread of germs, he says, a restroom should be totally touch-free.
“If you are buying a touch-free faucet, the complement to it is a touch-free soap dispenser,” Wolfson says.
Like every other dispenser manufacturer, Waterbury stresses the hygienic aspects of touch-free technology. Many people have a total fear of public restrooms, Wolfson says, and touch-free dispensers help alleviate their concerns.
“These products help keep the bathroom clean and clean smelling,” he says.
Becky Mollenkamp is a Des Moines, Iowa-based freelance writer.
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