Washroom dispensing - with opportunities come challenges

18th of November 2021
Washroom dispensing - with opportunities come challenges

An increase in health awareness is expected to drive the global washroom hygiene market over the coming years. Koen van den Braak, global marketing and sales director at FoOom Advanced Dispensing, takes a look at how current trends and challenges may affect the dispenser sector.

My ideal experience would be to enter a restaurant and the first thing I see is a sensor operated hand sanitiser on a floor stand welcoming me, then an automatic door, so no door handle to touch. I enter the place and there is a nice smell that takes me back to a given moment in time when I was a student… memories bring back memories and that makes me feel happy and comfortable.

While waiting for my table I see a waiter with gloves cleaning and disinfecting the table and the chair. A programmed air quality device in the corner gives me an even better feeling; I feel safe and protected.

Later that night I visit the washroom: nice fragrance and so a clean welcome; I open the door with a self-sanitising handle. My wife explains that in her toilet there was even a self-sanitising and rotating toilet seat. Anyway, the toilet roll dispenser automatically gives a sheet of paper and text on the dispenser says it is recycled plastic and the toilet paper itself is also recycled.

The urinals installed in the men’s washroom have a small screen that says ´this urinal saves up to 70,000 litres of water per year´.

The ideal experience

Then I walk towards the exit and I suddenly hear a recorded voice saying: “wash your hands”. I mean, it is not that I forgot to wash my hands, it’s my job to sell hand hygiene so that would be a disaster. This device is for the huge percentage of visitors who don’t wash their hands. I use the sensor foam soap dispenser and clear my hands with an automatic tap. The intelligent waste bin opens automatically and pushes the piece of paper to the bottom to a safe space.

I see a cleaner with a small portable scrubber dryer machine entering my washroom. He says: “Don’t worry, it is not a harsh chemical I apply, it is just a natural based cleaning agent.” One minute later he has finished and he continues the same job in the next washroom.

When I step out of the washroom, the light automatically turns off immediately as if all elements in the washroom were working as a team.

Back at my table I ask for the bill and give compliments for the perfectly serviced washroom. The owner says: “We never run out of paper or anything else, we have a system that is connected to the intelligent washroom devices that tell us when, where and what to refill.” I am one of the last customers and on my way out I see a self-steering robot vacuum cleaner going back to its base.
What a pity it was closing time because I would have loved to see the kitchen and all its special features.

Our industry

What we hear all the time in our cleaning and hygiene industry are phrases like ‘automation for improved hygiene’ or ‘smart products for increased efficiency’.

On the other hand, and more and more in this difficult period, we hear ‘health, hygiene and safety’ alongside ‘sustainability; reducing plastics, chemicals, logistics, carbon footprint, saving on water, energy and paper’ or ‘excellent customer experience’....

Behind these washroom and related cleaning solutions there is a complete and complex industry of manufacturers, mould makers, plastic injection companies, designers, engineers, concept thinkers, importers, distributors and service providers like washroom service companies and logistics providers.

At this very moment this whole concept is overshadowed by a huge headache that’s called ‘supply chain’.

Supply chain crisis

The pandemic has highlighted the need for supply chains to be more flexible and resilient. At the start of the pandemic, Chinese suppliers were impacted, meaning companies in Europe and America were suddenly having sourcing problems as they could not get their goods out of China.

Now, 18 months later, global shipping is still in crisis, with huge backlogs in shipping containers and it’s clear that a ‘back  to normal’ still has a long way to go.

Containers have become incredibly scarce and extremely expensive. One year ago, companies would pay roughly €2,500 to book a 40-feet container on a standard route between China and Europe. Now businesses are spending more than €14,000, an enormous increase.

Many companies are forced to rethink their expansion plans and may have to increase prices, a sign of the broader damage caused by supply chain problems.

One point of friction is that much of the cargo going from Europe back to Asia is low-value products and materials. As shipping prices have gone up, those trips aren’t worth it anymore, leaving containers stranded.

Backlogs at ports mean it can currently take ships up to four times as long to dock and unload goods. The physical shortage of containers is one reason the cost of buying products in the Far East has increased so much.

Washroom hygiene

The increase in health awareness and its importance is expected to drive the global washroom hygiene market during next years. The current global pandemic has further increased the demand for hygiene products and the world has also understood the importance of hygiene on a wider scale.

This scenario is projected to increase the demand for various washroom products, but are we able to supply and keep all our promises well enough as explained before, with the supply chain issues and the increased cost?

Many products in washroom hygiene are made in the Far East. A general price increase is unavoidable for those products.

Though we fortunately notice economic pick-up with reopening in the various sectors and regions right now, we have to conclude that 2021 is a very challenging year. Supply chain challenges and exceptional increases and decreases in demand in the various industries and sectors in which we operate clearly demonstrate this.

While the Industry is continuing to adapt to these challenging conditions and trying to absorb as much of that impact as possible, the significant and unexpected cost inflation in the Industry is unbearable. An increase that has not occurred for a very long time.

Various components are now available only with significantly extended delivery times. At the same time we are confronted with scarcity and very sharp price increases of plastics, electronic components, metals, to name just a few. Delivery confirmations are currently repeatedly cancelled or postponed at short notice.

Far East or Europe?

Could part of all this be solved by moving certain production processes back to Europe? What is the added value of ‘Made in Europe’ and what would be the consequence?

Production back in Europe could be a real option to at least cope with the general price increase throughout the chain. In this way high transport costs and huge delivery issues are avoided and more flexibility can be offered to guarantee a constant hygiene level and thus safety and health for the user - just like my ideal restaurant experience.

I, at least, want to go back to that restaurant with that same level of quality. I don’t want to enter the place and the sensor hand sanitiser stopped working because the product was from Far East and there is no replacement. I don’t want to touch a self sanitising toilet door handle with a piece of paper in my hand, nor a bad smelling washroom.

Far East or Europe is a much broader discussion that would certainly be interesting to have further discussions about.



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