The Keys to Cleanliness

How can you get your employees to excel at a part of the job they probably can’t stand—cleaning the store in general and the restrooms in particular?

“It’s a good question, and a never-ending pursuit,” said Tony Bartys, vice president of retail operations and marketing for Valero Energy Corp. in San Antonio. “It’s a challenge, there is no doubt.”

Restrooms act as an indicator to customers about the quality of the store and the chain as a whole. With the industry’s growing presence in foodservice, a clean restroom can literally be the difference between a customer making a purchase or heading to the nearest restaurant.

“I believe that if a customer visits your store and uses the restroom, and that restroom is clean and up to date, he’s more likely to buy other products in your store,” said Jere Matthews, vice president of operations for Rutter’s Farm Stores in York, Pa. “They’re definitely noticing clean restrooms, for sure. That feeling of clean goes throughout the store including, of course, foodservice, which is important to them also.”

Valero recently instituted some of the older methodologies it has formerly used from time to time, such as bathroom inspection forms to be filled out every few hours, a method Bartys called “tried and true.”

“I wish there were something new that would motivate (employees) to just flood into the bathrooms,” said Bartys, “but the reason we went back to that is part and parcel with the new programs we’re rolling out with food. We’re trying to reinvigorate the whole attitude in the store to be conscious of the fact that we’re now moving into fresh food programs, and your bathroom is your biggest indicator of problems. As a customer, if I walk into a bathroom and it’s not working or I can’t get hot water out of the sink that store is going to be the last place I want to get food.”

Concerned customers can also get into the act if restrooms aren’t up to snuff by informing clerks, calling a customer-service phone number or visiting Valero’s Web site to report problems.

“We give them multiple opportunities to let us know that it’s not working,” Bartys said. Overall, he added, Valero is taking the issue very seriously. “It’s a priority initiative of ours right now. We’re really very much aware of what’s going on in the bathrooms, and we want our employees to be too.”

Task lists for the bathrooms are supplied so that those charged with cleaning can at least know what they’re looking for: making sure all the paper products are in stock and making sure messes are not left unattended.

Valero stores are also subjected to unannounced inspections once a month by the area managers and every four months by zone managers. More importantly, Bartys said, “they are inspected every 10 minutes by a customer.”

Another part of Valero’s initiative is a number of bathroom remodels, which Bartys called a crucial component. “You have to put two and two together here. A lot of the bathrooms that have been around for a while, quite frankly, just get worn out. You get ground-in dirt you can’t get out, smells you can’t get out,” he said.

The remodels have become part of the ongoing strategy to motivate employees to keep cleaning. “We say, ‘We have remodeled these bathrooms—we’ve put the capital into them—and we need you to keep them clean, too.’ It’s a holistic process,” Bartys said.

Part of the Culture
Rutter’s gets feedback from customers about its stores, and has collected a number of positive comments—as whimsical as some might think—about its restrooms.

Matthews pointed out that managers needn’t work hard to motivate employees if—as at Rutter’s—such attention to detail is part of the corporate culture.

“It’s not difficult,” Matthews said. “We have task sheets and restroom checklists that have to be completed.”

Indeed, the company is now in the process of rolling out a HACCP plan systemwide, which Matthews said puts sanitation and cleanliness “right in front of the employee with training and everyday duties.”

HACCP is an all-encompassing storewide program that traces food safety from the time product enters the store to the time it goes out the door with a customer, and everything in between.

Rutter’s provides classroom training for new employees, which will come to include HACCP training. “And then obviously when they get out to the store level a new person is actually shown how to clean a restroom properly,” said Matthews.

Managers are also graded on scorecards, of which store cleanliness plays a big part in that scoring. “We also have in-house inspections that are done by our foodservice department, so that’s also a grading,” said Matthews. “Plus, when supervisors are in stores on regular visits they have checklists that they are completing.”

Some easy-to-implement steps to help ensure restroom cleanliness include appointing one male and one female employee to check bathrooms periodically; always have a checklist, with boxes for them to check off, for them to work off of; clean after closing; and always pass along customer comments, good or bad, to staffers.

And the hardest part of getting employees to do a superb job of cleaning?

“I don’t know that there is a hard part to it,” Matthews concluded. “If it’s a part of your culture and people understand that, and if you have good folks working for you, I don’t know that there is a hard part to it. Considering how important this is to store sales, everyone needs to be on the same page.” CSD



  1. Great article. `A hard hitting study also stated that 90% notice dirty floors however only 50% report dirty restrooms. 75% say they have visited a restroom that was in their opinion not clean. 90% report that dirty hands play a major role in the cause of food-borne illness. 80% discuss unclean restaurant conditions with friends and family. 70% say they never returned. And only 31% say they reported the problem directly to the manager or associate/ server. Most people do judge the establishment/ chain based upon what they see IN THE RESTROOMS.

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