Purchasing with purpose

Gordon McVean outlines some of the factors to be considered in the purchasing process.

When purchasing cleaning equipment it’s not all about the price tag. Productivity has a huge bearing on the quality of the job done, the time taken to complete each cleaning cycle, and labour costs.

There are other elements in the cost of ownership, including consumables, energy, chemical use and maintenance, as well as depreciation. And that’s before taking account of the non-financial factors, where clients’ priorities can vary widely. Here are the main considerations relevant to most buyers.

  • See the bigger picture

No-one has a limitless budget, but a purchasing decision shouldn’t be dictated by an arbitrary sum. When return on investment, efficiency savings in other areas of the cleaning budget, and financing options are taken into account, a bigger-ticket purchase may provide better value for money than that low-cost entry model. To see the full picture, you need data to build a coherent business case for the best investment.

  • Gather the data

Some things are harder to measure than others, but the more factors you quantify – having weighted your priorities – the more comprehensive your purchasing evaluation can be.

As a minimum, you should know the size of the floor area(s) to be cleaned, surfaces that require specific cleaning methods, running costs for existing equipment, the time taken to perform the floorcare cycle/task, related labour costs, and running costs, including chemical consumption and maintenance.

  • Manual versus mechanised

Labour time and costs help you evaluate the productivity advantage of one machine over another, or whether it’s worth mechanising a manual task. For example, an operative might take several hours to clean a floor with a mop and bucket, but just an hour with an automatic scrubber dryer. Labour savings alone could pay for the machine in months, before you even factor in the improved cleanliness of the floor.

  • Get the spec right

It’s a false economy to opt for a less expensive machine when a model with a higher capacity or superior features will be more productive. For example, a vacuum with a 70cm wide cleaning path provides 2.5 times the coverage of a standard tub or upright cleaner. If there are large areas of carpet to clean, the savings in time and labour are likely to be decisive.

Equally, a battery-powered model may well be worth the premium. The benefits of going cordless are not easy to put a price on – reduced trip risk, especially in daytime cleaning, lower noise levels, greater flexibility – but they probably outweigh the productivity uplift.

  • The human element

Whatever the benefits of mechanisation, it’s people that use the machine. How difficult is it to operate, and to do so properly? If you rely on casual labour or general staff who double up as cleaners then simplicity of operation – and controls that prevent damage to surfaces – become more important. Is the machine ergonomically designed? The weight of equipment, manoeuvrability, and other factors affect the health of staff as well as their productivity.

  • Versatility or dedication

The size and design of building interiors, and staff availability, influence the choice whether to invest in a specialist machine, outsource some duties, or opt for a more versatile solution. For example, a variety of floor types plays to the advantages of a fully featured scrubber dryer equipped for everything from tiled floors and entrance matting to marble, concrete and safety flooring. A large expanse of hard flooring may require a high-speed rotary for daily polishing, whereas the need for stripping and/or carpet bonnet mopping shifts the balance to a lower-speed model.

  • The selection process

Having drawn up a shortlist of potential machines that could meet the brief, arrange for demonstrations. Involve a couple of members of the cleaning team and get them to try the machine and ask questions. Their insights and those of the supplier can help you make a smarter purchase.

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