While a tidy restroom is crucial, c-store cleanliness starts with a well-kept forecourt, a quality store design and a dedicated staff that understands your expectations.
by, Erin Rigik, associate editor
Think your c-store and restrooms are clean enough? You might want to triple check your sanitation standards, especially if your chain is pushing foodservice. According to a recent Harris poll, 86% of U.S. adults equate the cleanliness of a restaurant’s restroom with the cleanliness of its kitchen. The survey also revealed that 75% of U.S. adults would not return to a restaurant with dirty restrooms.
C-stores and gas stations had a monopoly on attracting the driving public in need of a bathroom break, until QSRs began dotting every corner and doing a superior job meeting customers’ bathroom standards, positioning themselves as an often preferred restroom destination for motorists. Some c-store chains, however, pride themselves on their top quality bathrooms, and have gained increased business as a result.
Whether or not your restroom has the potential to be a traffic driver depends largely on your stores’ locations. “The stores off a main highway or interstate—their restrooms definitely are traffic drivers,” said Chris Noll, a retail construction and facilities management consultant. Noll acted as vice president of construction and engineering for Village Pantry from 2007 to fall 2010, and before that he was facilities director for the Arizona region of Circle K.
“Regular customers know, ‘Hey, I can stop off the interstate right here and I know they have nice clean restrooms with baby changing tables.’ Conversely, if they go to your restroom and it’s filthy and disgusting, they may not come back, so it’s a catch 22,” Noll said.
At Village Pantry, Noll spearheaded the start of an in-house maintenance program that he learned at Circle K.
“We had a large in-house maintenance group at Circle K with 40-50 technicians skilled in various areas—from electrical to plumbing, refrigeration and gasoline—so we used those techs to do the service work,” Noll said.
When he moved over to Village Pantry, Noll started a similar program, hiring a service manager to
manage field techs and growing the number of technicians to 15. “We hired gasoline technicians, an electrician, a plumber and a guy that specialized in lighting who fixed all the bulbs that were out at the stores,” he said.
While the store managers remained responsible for cleaning the stores and restrooms, the bigger repair jobs, such as fixing scratches in the mirrors, stained commodes or broken sinks, went to the in-house maintenance crew. To make it effortless for clerks to report maintenance requests, Village Pantry began an online system for maintenance requests.
An in-house maintenance team, however, isn’t right for every chain. “It really depends on store count,” said Noll.
A small company with 30 stores spread out over a large geographic area might find it less expensive to outsource maintenance than pay workers for time spent driving between stores. But a company that has the majority of its stores in the same market could benefit from employing in-house technicians.
“I’ve always felt we can do it better in-house because we control it better, so our quality control is there,” Noll said. “If you get good technicians, they have a sense of ownership and pride with the stores, and they want their stores to shine better than the competition.”
A Fresh Look
Store design also can play a role in customer perception of cleanliness. “If you have an older location that’s been around 15-20 years, it’s outdated,” Noll said. “Once you go in and remodel something and make it look new and fresh the customer satisfaction increases and employee moral increases.”
As moral increases, so does employee motivation to take better care of the store. When speaking to customers at stores following a remodel, Noll found 99 out of 100 customers gave positive feedback about the remodel and their perception of the store.
But while it’s beneficial if stores can afford to install new tile and accoutrements, the most important thing is that the restrooms are clean. This means having a regular cleaning schedule through the day and having supervisors conduct regular inspections to ensure restrooms meet the companies’ standards.
Some companies have gone the extra step to install a light outside the restrooms to alert the clerk when the facility needs to be cleaned, while others simply rely on a checklist to ensure tasks are completed on time.
More experts are recommending that anyone building or remodeling a store install touch-free soap dispensers and water faucets in the restrooms. In addition, the touch-free air dryers are becoming a standard.
Circle K began implementing hands-free devices when H1N1 was causing anxiety and people were leery about what they touched. “I started installing hands-free faucets, dryers, paper towel dispensers and hands-free flushers on the commode, and customers liked it,” Noll said.
But while hands-free devices are an ideal amenity, they do have the potential to increase maintenance costs. “Some run on batteries, so your staff needs to check and make sure they are working. If the batteries need to be replaced and the hands-free paper towel dispenser doesn’t work, you’re going to have unhappy customers,” Noll said.
While clean restrooms are essential, cleanliness starts on the exterior of a store. Customers won’t discover how clean your store is if they drive up and see a messy forecourt. They will simply find another location to shop.
Make a List, Check it Twice
Cintas Corp. issued a checklist of best practices to help business owners and facility managers keep restrooms in tip top shape:
• Develop a restroom maintenance program that outlines cleaning tasks and frequencies based on restroom usage. Train employees and reinforce and inspect the execution of the program.
• Give restrooms frequent attention. Beyond daily cleaning, assign specific employees to frequently spot clean the restroom to make sure it is dry and free of debris, especially during high-traffic periods. Employees should keep surfaces dry and stock supplies consistently throughout the day and ensure all equipment is functioning properly.
• Equip staff with the right tools and chemicals.
• Deep clean restrooms on a routine basis.
• Partner with a facility services provider that will ensure restrooms have full and functioning dispensers and that the staff is armed with the proper cleaning tools.