Convenience store operators pushing a foodservice program must be committed to store cleanliness and sanitation.
By Michael Schaffer, Contributing Editor
If there is anything retailers and convenience store owners have learned from the economic downturn, it’s that they must do everything they can to welcome their customers and keep them loyal. And it can all start with the first perception a customer has of a retail location.
For instance, a survey by Harris Interactive on behalf of Cintas in January 2011 asked 1,000 U.S. adults over the age of 18 about what would negatively impact their perception of a store. Poor customer service was of course high on the list, but some might be surprised to learn that cleanliness issues were also quite important.
For instance, 95% of those surveyed indicated that dirty restrooms would negatively impact their perception of a store; this was closely followed by unpleasant odors, at 92%.
The appearance of floors was also high on the list. Eighty-six percent of those surveyed indicated that dirty floors would definitely be a factor that would cause them to question whether they wanted to shop at a store.
Many in the retail and professional cleaning industries believe that floor appearance is even more important than this survey indicates. In fact, most cleaning experts believe floors are the first thing visitors notice when entering a retail facility, and that the first impression generated by the cleanliness and appearance of the floors produces a permanent opinion of that facility.
The interesting thing is that proper floor care is not necessarily difficult. In fact, it can be performed at a lower cost than many store owners/managers realize. If performed properly with modern chemicals and technologies, floor care can also be environmentally responsible, resulting in clean and healthy floors that also makes customers feel welcome.
The Floor Examination
The first step in proper convenience store floor care is examining your floor care goals. This examination actually starts with you. Ask yourself how you want your floors to look. Of course you want them to be clean—that should go without saying—but do you also want a high-gloss shine? This may require more time and effort. Some retailers and other types of facilities believe a high-gloss, ‘wet look’ shine is imperative in order to present the type of image they want for their location.
Next, visually examine your floors. One retailer found that his store’s floors held up relatively well to foot traffic except at the entrance. Fine cracks where developing in that area, which was also the most soiled part of the floor. Installing an effective matting system helped reduce this soiling, which was also contributing to the deterioration of the floor itself.
Your floor examination should include the following steps:
• Is an effective matting system installed? It is recommended to have as much as five feet of matting placed outside the store and another five feet placed inside to effectively remove soils from shoe bottoms.
• How are the floors currently being cleaned? Are they being dust mopped or vacuumed? Are they being damp mopped? How often is this cleaning being performed?
• What chemicals are being used on the floor? Are they appropriate for the type of floor installed? For example, strippers and finishes used on vinyl composition tile (VCT) floors may not be effective on stone, ceramic, or quarry tile floors.
• What floor-care equipment is being used? Convenience stores often have narrow walkways. Can the equipment comfortably maneuver in your location?
• Identify problem areas. Segment the floor into areas that are heavily trafficked and typically the most soiled versus those areas that receive only moderate or very little foot traffic and soiling. More effort will obviously be needed in the more trafficked/soiled areas.
With your floor examination complete, store employees can begin to prepare a floor care maintenance program. Having a formal program in place, in writing, is very important. It defines what floor care tasks will be performed, by whom, and when, ensuring that these tasks are performed on a set schedule.
Floor Care Chemicals
Next to proper matting, which can help keep soils outside, the two most important components of proper floor care are the chemicals and equipment used to clean.
The good news for storeowners that want to use ‘green’ environmentally-friendly cleaning products, is that there are effective green floor strippers, cleaners and finishes available. The bad news is that some of these green chemicals perform better than others, and some are still more costly than conventional products.
In some cases, different chemical products may have to be tested to see how well they perform on your particular floor. However, in many situations, an astute janitorial distributor will know what green floor care products are available and will be able to help retailers select the products that will perform best on their floors. Also, to ensure that you are ‘cleaning Green,’ check that the products you select are certified by under the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) DfE program, or through EcoLogo, GreenSeal, or a similar organization.
If you have decided that you want your floors to have a high-gloss shine, make sure you choose the right equipment to go along with the type of finish on your floor. There are essentially two speeds of floor machines: low-speed and high-speed equipment. Polishing floors with a high-speed machine when a low-speed finish has been applied will essentially burn the finish off the floor.
When the correct machine is used, however, regular polishing or burnishing of the floor will allow the shine to snap back, maintaining the desired wet look on the floor for several months or longer.
There are basically two different kinds of floor machines: those that use rotary pads and those that use cylindrical brush technology. While both have proven their value and can perform well, the latter is likely to be a better option for use in a convenience store.
Most floor machines use rotary pads that turn in a clockwise direction to both clean and polish floors. Cylindrical machines, on the other hand, use brushes that turn counterclockwise. Some of the reasons a cylindrical machine might be a better option for a c- store include:
• Ease of use. A rotary machine tends to move from side to side on its own and can be difficult to use, especially when cleaning narrow walkways. Also, considerable training is required to use these machines properly. A cylindrical machine, on the other hand, essentially floats over the floor, so it is easier to use.
•A rotary machine can do an excellent job at removing surface-level soils, heal marks, etc. However, because they clean only the top surface of the floor, they may not be as effective at removing soiling in grout areas or within the pores of the floor. A cylindrical machine floor machine tends to be more effective at removing soil from grout and other areas.
• Lower chemical use. Cylindrical machines don’t sling solution like traditional rotary units can on to nearby surfaces. This can be especially troublesome cleaning floors in store walkways. It also allows for more effective chemical and solution use making the floor cleaning process greener and more sustainable.