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Guestimates Don’t Work Anymore: Using Workloading to Create Better Bids

Written by  Robert Kravitz


The late 1970s and early 1980s saw the birth of what soon became a phenomenon in the professional cleaning industry: the janitorial broker. A janitorial broker is someone who bids on the cleaning needs of all kinds of properties, from restaurants and schools to commercial office buildings, with the goal of securing the contract for cleaning these facilities.

Once the broker acquires the contract, the next step is to find a building service contractor (BSC) willing and able to purchase it. The BSC then provides the actual cleaning services for the facility based on the agreement.

In order to be successful, janitorial brokers typically have to vie for the business of a number of facilities, and some brokers report bidding on as many as 10 to 15 facilities every week. When asked how he was able to bid on so many facilities, a now retired but very successful Northern California janitorial broker responded, “It was a little ‘hit and miss,’ but I could usually tell as soon as I walked in the building how long it would take to clean it and how many custodians would be needed to do the job.”

While this hit and miss approach might have worked some of the time, this broker admitted there were many times when his bids were either too high to win the contract or far too low for a BSC to clean the facility and still make a reasonable profit. In essence, he says today, very often his bids were little more than guesstimates.

Though it may still work in certain situations, in today’s world of professional cleaning a guesstimate simply will not make the grade. “Many experienced people in our industry believe they can walk into a facility and determine how many hours are needed to clean the building,” says Jim Peduto, a well-known speaker and consultant in the professional cleaning industry. “However, that number usually is inaccurate.”

Furthermore, astute facility managers are far too savvy to accept guesstimates. Often, they not only want fair and accurate cleaning estimates from BSCs, but they also want to know how the cleaning contractor determined their bids. Fortunately, there are scientific ways BSCs can make very accurate bids that help them not only determine their own costs to service the facility, but also calculate appropriate profit margins to make winning the contract worthwhile. Some BSCs even use this process, called workloading, as a selling point and are often quite happy to present it to facility managers to explain how the bid was determined.

Establishing a Workloading Foundation

According to Peduto, workloading is possibly the most reliable method for determining how many service hours are needed to clean a facility. “By systematically applying time standards to each [cleaning] task and area within a facility, workloading ‘dollarizes’ that time, giving the contractor a very accurate picture of how much time and money it will take to clean the facility.”

In the professional cleaning industry, dollarizing time is critical. This is because the cost of labor can be as much as 90 percent of the cleaning costs, even when using the most efficient cleaning methods and technologies. To begin the workloading process, Peduto suggests BSCs start with the following foundational steps:

• Start with a clean slate. Forget about other bidding methods used in the past, and don’t be tempted to use them.

• Get organized. Divide the specific building into areas, grouping together areas that are cleaned the same way. Some of the most common areas in an office building are executive areas, general offices, break rooms, restrooms, lobbies, and so on.

• Know the cleanable space. Very often the total square feet of a facility does not equate to the amount of square feet that is actually cleaned. It is very important to know exactly how much of the facility will actually be cleaned each visit.

• Develop a scope of work. Cleaning proposals invariably include a list of services that will be performed by the BSC. In workloading, the proposal includes what is referred to as the “scope of work.” The scope of work is broken down into the following three categories:

1. Daily cleaning: includes tasks that are performed each visit, such as cleaning restrooms, emptying trash, vacuuming.

2. Detail work: encompasses high and low dusting, spot cleaning, and other cleaning that must be performed but is typically unscheduled.

3. Project work: might occur weekly, monthly, or annually and includes such things as carpet cleaning, floor refinishing, and so on

Calculations and Costs: The Next Steps in the Process

Once the workloading foundation has been established, especially the scope of work, the next step is to assign an annual frequency to each cleaning task performed. For instance, if a restroom is a daily cleaning task and cleaned five times per week, that area's cleaning frequency is 260 times per year (five times per week multiplied by 52 weeks).

Once you have calculated the annual frequencies, next you need to determine labor hours—the actual time it takes to perform the cleaning tasks. Peduto suggests that cleaning times, or production rates, can be determined by conducting your own time studies, by drawing from your experience, or by consulting such resources as the following:

ISSA. ISSA’s 540 Cleaning Times, a widely used source of cleaning industry production rates.

APPA. If cleaning educational facilities, APPA’s Custodial Staffing Guidelines can prove helpful.

BSCAI. The Building Service Contractors Association International publishes BSCAI’s Production Rate Recommendations.

BOMA. Cleaning Makes Cents, published by the Building Owners and Managers Association International, contains a vast amount of useful cost and production rate data.

Next, multiply the production rate of each cleaning task by its annual frequency to determine the annual number of labor hours for that cleaning task. “Once the total amount of annual time in hours needed to perform each task and clean each area is determined, BSCs can determine their labor costs by multiplying the total hours by the wage rate,” says Peduto. “These costs should also include applicable expenses such as taxes, insurance, benefits, etc. Other costs that should be included are supplies and equipment, administration and supervision, and of course, profits.”

Making the Workloading Process Easier

Earlier, I mentioned that workloading is now considered a scientific way to determine cleaning bids and the costs to maintain a facility. However, Peduto says, “jotting down a few numbers on a piece of paper” is not sufficient. In order to truly make the process scientific, many BSCs and some jansan distributors working with BSCs and facility managers have turned to computer software or web-based technologies to streamline the process and ensure accuracy.

There are now numerous software programs BSCs can purchase, such as InfoClean, CompuClean, and Custodial Solutions, that help them workload a facility and ensure their bids are not too high or too low. Some of these programs can also help determine supply costs and even take into consideration such items as traffic patterns in the facility as well as the types of equipment necessary to maintain the location. Another option is to work with a distributor that has access to web-based technologies that perform workloading functions, such as AFFLINK’s eLev8® system, for use by either facility managers to help determine their own in-house cleaning costs or BSCs for the same purpose and for bidding purposes.

Another feature of these technologies is that they can quickly and automatically answer “what if” questions. For instance, what if trash collection, which can be a major time and labor expense in cleaning, is changed from a daily task to one that is performed three days per week? For a large facility, this one change can result in a significant cost reduction, and for BSCs, it can be an option they provide their current and prospective customers.

Greater Transparency

Over the years, there have been many changes in the bidding process and how facility managers select cleaning contractors. For instance, in the past many would simply call a BSC’s references for more information on the contractor. Today, astute facility managers will usually go and visit facilities cleaned and maintained by a BSC they are considering hiring, to see for themselves how well the location is maintained and if it is up to their standards.

Aware of changes in the industry, some managers will also ask if the cleaning contractor is actually a janitorial broker. While they may not be opposed to working with a janitorial broker, and in some cases may even welcome it, the manager just wants to know who they are dealing with and who or what company will have the keys to their office.

Similarly, astute facility managers are scrutinizing bids much more carefully today. As mentioned earlier, not only are they interested in the monthly or annual charge for cleaning, but they also want to know how the charge was determined. In other words, what are they paying for? Workloading reports provide this data more effectively and professionally than any other bidding method. These reports can justify a charge and, for facility managers, justify a cleaning budget. Furthermore, for the BSCs that workload their bids, this can put them in a different league than many of their competitors and give them an edge.

Robert Kravitz is a former building service contractor and now a frequent writer for the professional cleaning industry.


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