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Selecting the Right Equipment

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When looking to buy new cleaning equipment for your company, there are four main factors that building service contractors should consider: return on investment (ROI), equipment effectiveness, ergonomics, and support after the sale.

When evaluating equipment to buy, ask yourself and the seller a number of questions.  First, is the equipment the right application for the job at hand? And, does the equipment have to provide a dual-purpose in several areas?

“Overall, the equipment must be the right fit for the job,” says Taylor Bruce, president of IH Services in Greenville, SC. Also research equipment manufacturers to find out who provides the best value.

“But best value is not necessarily the lowest price,” says Bruce. “The longevity of the equipment is a key component, as well as initial price, repair parts and price, and service and technical availability.”

It is also important to consider the company that you are buying the equipment from, says Jill Frey, president and CEO of Cummins Facility Services in Prospect, OH. “Are they reputable?  Will they stand behind the product?  Will they train your employees?  What is the lead time for receiving the equipment?  All of these are important when deciding who and what to buy.”

Many cleaning companies will purchase new equipment on an as-needed basis and/or when they receive a new contract. Others buy on a case-by-case basis to replace existing equipment when the cost to maintain exceeds the cost of replacement.

“These costs are not only the maintenance itself, but the cost of down time and the resulting loss of productivity,” explains John Ezzo, president of New Image Building Service, Inc. in Mount Clemens, MI. “For environmental concerns, we try to make the equipment last as long as possible.”

Many companies—often dependent on their size—will purchase equipment monthly or even more regularly.

Marsden Building Maintenance of St. Paul, MN purchases some type of equipment weekly—usually an upright vacuum cleaner since this piece of equipment is turned over more quickly than others due to its high usage.

“Our ‘Always Clean, Always Green’ cleaning program is designed to meet all cleaning requirements of the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED green building certification program,” says Mike Kilsdonk, technical support manager at Marsden. “This means we look for equipment meeting those same requirements, test certain pieces in the field, and receive feedback from our management team before negotiating a price direct with the manufacturer.”

Since some equipment has shorter life spans than others, those items are obviously turned over much more frequently.

“In our company, vacuum cleaners have the shortest life span, which can be three to five years,” says Bruce. “Buffers can last eight to ten years, and scrubbers can last five to eight years, depending on the application. We maintain a repair shop to service major equipment and this helps extend the life of our equipment.”

When it comes to the equipment that is purchased most frequently or which is the most expensive, answers vary widely.

For New Image Building Service Inc., the company’s largest expense is its truck-mounted carpet extraction equipment.  “This is because most of our carpet cleaning is done with truck-mounted equipment,” explains Ezzo. “It is the most costly investment we make in a single unit. Plus, the cost of installation in a van or truck is expensive.”

For Frey, her largest expense is vacuums and burnishers. “We had some expense in changing over from propane to battery burnishers,” she recalls. “And we also we have had a huge expense in riding scrubbers.”

Kilsdonk echoes this sentiment. “The purchase of automatic floor scrubbing machines represents our largest expense. These machines come in a wide variety of sizes making them useful in almost every medium-to-large account we clean. The labor savings provided by auto scrubbers makes them an essential part of our cleaning program.”

When it comes to where to purchase cleaning equipment, all four companies interviewed said it was from either manufacturers, distributors or a combination of both. And all stressed the importance of having strong positive relationships with these companies.

“Get to know your local manufacturer representatives,” says Kildonk. “ They will help keep you up to date with new products. We purchase equipment directly from the manufacturer because we are able to leverage the large quantity purchasing power of all our branch locations and receive the lowest pricing.”

Ezzo says he mainly buys directly from the manufacturer because pricing is normally better and the company is familiar with is primary supplier’s products and maintenance.

Frey says that her company’s membership in the National Service Alliance (NSA) has been very helpful with negotiations and pricing.

And being a large BSC, like IH Services and its related companies are, Bruce adds that “being a part of the NSA allows us to have very competitive pricing and annual rebates based on volume of purchase.”

As for key advice, Bruce says all companies need a method of determining the best value in the equipment they purchase. If the company needs a distributor who can service the equipment, then the right distributor and related equipment is important. Price is always important and for some companies, financing by the equipment manufacturers might be a consideration.

But, adds Ezzo, a price based on cost alone can be a poor decision. “ROI is the most important factor is buying equipment. The impact on productivity is the key. Labor is always more costly than technology. And as far as the technical factors that must be considered in choosing equipment, the supplier should be well versed to help.”

To sum up, Bruce says, “There are so many factors affecting the purchase decision that it is hard to say what drives the ultimate decision. In the end, it is perceived value, a combination of price, service and quality.”


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