Leading providers of floorcare equipment and services are in demand as COVID-19 puts the spotlight on hygiene, while customers are demanding the latest and most cost-effective solutions to get the job done.
For Kärcher’s New Zealand national business manager, Simon Taylor, one of the most illuminating aspects of the pandemic is that an increasing number of floorcare customers no longer think price is everything.
As COVID-19 unfolds, they are focusing on innovation, product education, after-sales care and support, as well as sustainability and recycling.
The change is heartening for Kärcher, a business and brand that is renowned for its investment in quality and technologically advanced cleaning systems.
“COVID has woken up businesses and they are now really interested in having a point of difference and being at the cutting edge of what they can offer their own customers,” Taylor says.
“It’s not all about price anymore. Of course, price will always be important, but there are so many other factors where people need to be assured.”
Kärcher’s wide range of commercial floorcare products, including industrial scrubbing machines, vacuum cleaners and steam cleaners, have been in high demand during the pandemic in response to the need for stringent cleanliness and hygiene levels.
The business has benefited from having multiple supply-chain options – with 17 Kärcher-owned production facilities in eight different countries – which have enabled it to manage freight and port bottlenecks better than some other companies.
Not that it has been all plain sailing, however. Taylor notes that Kärcher has increased its stock holding by about NZ$2 million to ensure it has a product supply buffer. A lack of human labour because of border restrictions has also been an impediment.
“We rely heavily on staff coming across from the islands and with the border closures there’s been none of that this year,” Taylor says.
“All industries have been challenged and cleaning and agriculture are the ones that have been hit the worst.”
Despite such difficulties, Kärcher’s sales to retail and professional customers in New Zealand have grown substantially in the past year.
Innovation the key
There is no doubt that cleaners, cleaning contractors and their customers are seeking better, more cost-effective ways to care for floors.
Steve Bagshaw, the regional ambassador for i-team Australia and New Zealand, agrees the market wants great floorcare products and outstanding customer care. The business is best known for its i-mop floor scrubber, which is credited with cleaning up to 70 per cent faster than conventional wet mopping.
Recognising the importance of intelligent distribution networks, Bagshaw concedes that awareness of the i-team product range has not always been as high as it could have been in the past. To help rectify that situation, i-team has announced a new distribution partnership in New Zealand with Filta Cleaning Products.
“They’re a very well-regarded wholesale distributor, and they will be leading the charge in terms of introducing products to the market and establishing a network of i-team partners throughout New Zealand.”
The i-team range will also continue to sell through channels such as OfficeMax. Bagshaw is confident the expanded distribution network will make a difference for i-team and its customers.
“There’s already a substantial increase in stock holdings on its way to New Zealand through Filta to support the expected uptake in penetration of the i-team range into the market.”
Godfreys general manager retail, Michael Owen, says vacuum cleaning products with “power heads for a deeper clean” are in high demand in New Zealand, along with machines with HEPA filtration.
“Demand is across all categories,” he says.
“Customers are focused on a deep clean and there’s definitely been a change in the kind of information customers are requesting regarding the performance of the products they’re purchasing.”
To convey to clients the importance of regular carpet-care maintenance, especially during a pandemic, Godfreys has been educating its sales team members so they can pass on crucial information to the rest of the team and then to customers.
“Customers are conducting more research on their own and coming to our stores more informed,” Owen says. “We can then direct them to the right product to solve their cleaning needs.”
With floorcare, the objective increasingly is to make cleaning machinery and equipment more efficient and cost-effective.
That is where scrubber dryers have come into their own as traditional mop-and-bucket cleaning of floors gets phased out in commercial sectors.
Deane Rogers, key account manager in Kärcher’s professional division, says scrubber dryers clearly improve productivity, hygiene, safety and cleanliness. “It’s chalk and cheese when you compare it to a mop and bucket.”
New Zealand’s labour shortage has by default been a benefit for suppliers of the most efficient floorcare machinery, according to Rogers.
“It’s been a twin-edged sword,” he says.
“With the scarcity of labour it’s created higher demand for mechanised cleaning equipment because companies need to do more with fewer human resources.”
He notes that whereas a typical contract cleaner might be able to clean 200sqm an hour using a mop and bucket or a standard commercial vacuum cleaner, a sophisticated scrubber dryer can do thousands of square metres in the same time. “And you’re always cleaning with clean water when you use a scrubber device,” Rogers says. “You’re not spreading dirty water around.”
With the i-team product portfolio, Bagshaw expects the i-mop, i-spraywash and i-dose to help drive sales. The i-mop has undergone many major improvements since its launch about five years ago.
“So, where people might have had a product that was four to five years old and there might have been some things they didn’t like about it for any reason, there’s now been a lot of design upgrades,” Bagshaw says.
“Allowing people to experience that is really exciting.”
The i-spraywash is a foam-based washroom cleaning system that is designed for large washroom and wet areas, while the i-dose – a chemical dosing system – is expected to make a real impact on floorcare standards.
“A lot of the problems in floorcare come from over-dosing of chemicals, especially when manual mopping is happening because there may not be the right dilution controls. People are just glug-glugging chemicals into a mop bucket, so you end up with too much chemical on the floor, which leads to re-soiling.”
In response to the need for higher floorcare standards during COVID-19, there appears to have been a greater appetite than ever among cleaning contractors for more knowledge and skills development.
Rogers says it is natural at a time when the pandemic has upped the ante with regard to cleaning equipment, higher levels of cleanliness and sanitisation, and the need to clean larger facilities to strict standards.
“Cleaning is a very technical job,” Rogers says.
“I think cleaners are undervalued.”
Part of the Kärcher promise is to train customers on how to use equipment properly, rather than just delivering it in a box and leaving it up to them to learn.
“It’s our duty of care to do that and it leads to better results,” Rogers says.
At Godfreys, Owen says environmentally conscious products are becoming more mainstream.
“Each year more and more customers are requesting this type of product,” he says. However, some other traditional strengths continue to resonate with customers.
“Corded vacuum cleaners with power heads still provide the best performance and remove all allergy-triggering dust and dirt,” he says.
Customers also want access to cutting-edge products from a trusted supplier.
“So we are here to assist the customer, ensure that they purchase the right product for their individual cleaning needs and provide great after-sale support.”
In growth mode
As cleaners in the floorcare space seek to deliver the best possible products and services during the pandemic, i-team forecasts ongoing growth in the New Zealand market.
“New Zealand is a great market and it really punches above its weight when it comes to innovation and finding solutions,” Bagshaw says.
“That lends itself to the i-team philosophy of innovation in product design.”
He believes the focus on hygiene, productivity and cost-effectiveness will lead to customers making smart and informed machinery and equipment choices to cut down on labour costs.
“The biggest line of any cleaning contractor’s P&L is almost always the labour line. So, finding ways to tweak that and find 5 per cent here and here, that translates to significant numbers.”
According to Taylor, the current volatile markets because of COVID-19 have led to a flight to quality brands.
“We’re seeing some customers who we’ve never dealt with before coming forward, or some who had waned coming back. More than anything, they are looking for consistency in service and support.”
That augurs well for Kärcher, which has established showroom and service centres in Auckland, Christchurch, Hamilton and Wellington.
“People can come in and touch and feel the equipment and they know we have a strong service team,” Taylor says.
“That keeps people coming back.”
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