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Planning ahead13th of September 2011
Research and detailed planning are essential before you quote for, or commit to, a carpet care and cleaning contract. Gordon McVean of Truvox International offers advice.
One of the first things professional carpet care contractors learn is that research and detailed planning are essential before you quote for, or commit to, a carpet care and cleaning contract. There is much more to it than sending somebody round with a vacuum cleaner every evening, and even experienced contractors can forget to check vital cost factors.
So visit your prospective customers with a detailed checklist of what you need to assess. You should start by asking questions as you walk the premises, preferably with somebody senior who understands what goes on there.
First, assess the type of building to be cleaned. How many floors? Are there lifts? Are all the doorways wide? What sort of work is carried out there? Are the offices easily accessed from a factory, and do workers normally do that – for example to go to the canteen? Is the floor of the factory oily? Is it littered with metal swarf or sawdust?
Ask about the rules for office workers. Will they be carrying hot drinks from where they are made or dispensed to their desks? Are the office staff mainly male or female? Or a typical mixture of the two? These and other questions will help you to assess the types of soil your cleaners are likely to encounter.
Check the type (carpet tile, cord, woven or tufted) and age of the carpets and whether they have an underlay or are direct stick. Note the brand if you can find a label on the back - manufacturers' cleaning instructions can be invaluable. Feel the texture of the carpet. Some contract cleaning estimators take a rechargeable hand-held vacuum cleaner with them and, by knowing its performance by comparison with a commercial vacuum cleaner, can estimate how easy or difficult carpets are to clean – they vary widely.
Checks like these will help you decide the length of time between cleanings and how much time to allow.
Check the outside
The exterior of the building is an important area to consider for planned maintenance. Many soils are walked or blown in. Car park areas, entrances to the building and entrance mats, both exterior and interior, need to be properly cleaned or serviced on a regular basis, or there will be a drastic increase in the soil to be cleaned inside.
It is always helpful to obtain a floor plan of the areas to be cleaned, as this will assist you in working out schedules by recognising flow or traffic patterns of staff and visitors within the building. A floor plan also provides a good resource for working out how many square metres are to be cleaned, and a basis for making geography-related notes that affect your quotation.
Where there is a hard surface immediately following the carpet more concentrated vacuuming will be required and the carpet will need to be cleaned more frequently, due to tracking of soils from the hard surface.
One of your biggest objectives has to be soil prevention. Proper walk-off mats should be installed both outside and inside of the entrances to the building. These mats will also need to be thoroughly maintained - one way to do this is to cost in the use of a sub-contracted mat cleaning service.
Walk-off mats should be large enough to allow people to take around five to six footsteps across the mat in order to remove the majority of dirt and dust from their shoes, and they should be exchanged on a regular basis (at least once every two weeks). They should always be removed from site and beaten thoroughly prior to wet cleaning.
When costing, start with the heavy traffic areas that you have identified, such as entrances, showrooms, reception, corridors, stairs, hallways, retail sales floors, executive offices, clerical office areas, food service areas, traffic flow areas, break rooms and post rooms. Where those areas are carpeted, you need to allow in your costing for:
1. Vacuuming: all areas need to be vacuumed with a commercial grade vacuum cleaner on a daily basis. Vacuums that use HEPA filters are recommended as these filters trap particles down to 0.3 microns.
2. Spot cleaning: all areas should be spot cleaned by a trained professional using proper techniques to ensure the use of the right cleaning solution, agitation and rinsing. Pre-spotting in commercial environments is not always the best way, rather the carpet should be cleaned normally then spots cleaned afterwards if the soil or stain remains.
3. Interim maintenance cleaning: some areas may require weekly or fortnightly cleaning, which can be carried out by any of the following - an absorbent pad system, dry foam shampoo, light surface extraction or dry powder. When using any of these methods you must always adhere to the manufacturer's recommendations.
4. Restorative cleaning: this should be performed on a quarterly basis to remove any residues from interim maintenance cleaning procedures, remove deeply imbedded soil, refresh the texture of the carpet and improve overall indoor air quality. Restorative cleaning should be done using wet extraction equipment or deep clean systems.
Be clear on what the customer is expecting. Morning cleaning completed before 7.30am? Evening cleaning starting at 6.30pm? Is the building access-controlled with coded keys or cards, or are pass-codes allotted for numeric keypads? Are the codes regularly changed, meaning that you will need to have nominated staff on the list for receiving details of the changes?
Is there high security for any particular area of the building, such as the R&D laboratory, a dealing room or the finance and payroll department? Will that mean cleaning those areas will have to done in the daytime? Or at special times of the night?
Finally, be sure that you have clarified key areas of responsibility before you submit a quotation. Are you responsible for any damage that could be caused, for example by a machine accidentally colliding with the leg of an antique desk in the chairman’s office? If so, ask for a list of valuations of any unusual or valuable items of furniture or objects on the premises, and obtain estimates for insurance before submitting your quotation.
Does the customer require criminal record checks on staff who are to clean the premises? Are there any stipulations about the gender of cleaners? If there are, check whether the stipulations are legal before accepting the contract.
Does the company require special cleaning for any special days in the year, like anniversaries, or visits by the international board?
Ensure that, as you tour the building and assess the cleaning requirement, you have noted every unusual carpet or floor covering, and identified exactly what it is, so that you can check with the manufacturers or with expert sources how that type of carpet or covering should be maintained.
Take particular note of the exact nature of any highly polished hard surface – ask detailed questions to get the facts if the details are less than obvious – so you can obtain advice on cleaning, lacquering or polishing that surface and the frequency with which that maintenance must be carried out.
Ask your potential customer’s opinion on how often such special maintenance needs to be done – even if he or she is wrong, you need to know what is expected so that you can correct or go along with that opinion when preparing your quotation. Remember that your company will be judged in a year’s time on how the place looks, not on whether you did as you were told.
Companies vary in their attitudes to sustainability issues. Always ask for any generally available document on the company’s environmental policy, and whether there are any specific company rules relating to:
•Use of cleaning chemicals or products
• The residual odour of cleaning products (can be important if there are agreements with staff over health issues)
• The noise of cleaning machines.
As you will be well aware, there is constant pressure on margins in the cleaning business. Everybody is expecting more to be done for less. Whatever figure your quotation offers must be capable of generating a profit.
Cleaning machines have advanced a lot in recent years, and it is a fact that new machines operate more efficiently, with less noise and smaller risk of breakdown than old machines. Because modern premises tend to be more fully used than, perhaps, five or 10 years ago, manoeuvrability is more of an issue than it used to be and, where daytime cleaning is involved, you are likely to need quieter machines without trailing leads.