Foot to the floor

Cost-effective and time-saving machinery that can improve return on investment is all the rage as floorcare specialists seek to keep their customers on the books.

Floorcare suppliers and cleaning contractors in New Zealand are increasingly realising there is a technology sweet spot in the market between robotics and the traditional mop and bucket.

Kerry Boon, sales and marketing manager at cleaning equipment and supplies business Proquip NZ, says operators of all sizes appreciate that they stand to gain a strong return on investment if they get smart, mid-sized scrubbers and vacuums at an appropriate price.

“There’s a huge shift towards machinery and this has been happening for a long time in large spaces,” he says.

“But now franchise cleaners and smaller operators are figuring out that, yes, you might have to invest $6000 to $8000 in a piece of equipment but look at the time it saves and how much more they can service their customers and bring on new clients.”

While a $50 mop and bucket have obvious limitations, Boon says many contractors are also baulking at high-end, expensive robotics technology that has a mixed track record in large commercial and industrial sites.

“Our customers are quite eager about robotics, but some have done trials and it may not have met their expectations.”

The big technology leap forward, according to Boon, is superior battery technology through products such as the new NX300 Pro Cordless lithium battery, a one-size-fits-all battery that can be used in multiple pieces of cleaning equipment.

“This sort of technology has been out in the power tool industry for some time. It’s now moved into the cleaning game.”

State of the market

As New Zealand cautiously emerges from the pandemic after some of the toughest lockdowns in the world, the floorcare market is well poised.

Godfreys country manager NZ Daniel Dougal says while a full economic recovery will take some time, there are signs of a rise in consumer confidence.

“Buying behaviours have changed,” he says.

“Online purchasing will remain popular across most categories, with customers embracing the convenience of click and collect. For us, it’s important to support local stores and business, and we encourage consumers to visit stores for their coffee, dinner and, of course, vacuums.”

Customers are also showing heightened interest in health and well-being within their homes and workplaces.

“They are seeking out innovative, reliable and effective cleaning solutions from brands they know and trust,” Dougal says.

“They are researching and seeking out products that are designed and manufactured for key areas within the home, across different types of surfaces and materials.”

In facilities such as hospitals and schools, where hygiene standards cannot be compromised, there is an emphasis on using modern equipment for floorcare and disinfection, according to Steve Bagshaw, CEO of i-team ANZ.

“They want to ensure there’s good equipment being used, and modern methods of technology being used in their facilities,” he says.

Bagshaw, whose team is well-known for supplying the industrial floor scrubber, the i-mop, says the popular product has undergone a number of upgrades, including superior filtration standards. The latest 2022 versions will be available in the New Zealand market later this year.

He agrees versatile battery technology is proving to be a game-changer, noting that a high-capacity 14 lithium-ion battery in the i-cover disinfectant spray machine can also be used in other products in the range.

“That offers real convenience for cleaning contractors.”

Overcoming supply-chain challenges

Pre-COVID-19, Boon says if Proquip placed an order with one of its main United Kingdom suppliers, it could expect that delivery to arrive in 75 to 80 days.

“We’re now looking at 225 days,” he says.

Manufacturing delays, international shipping bottlenecks and lack of availability of freight containers have all contributed to the conundrum.

Proquip’s response has been to invest in a lot more stock and to then have it ready for distribution from large warehouses.

While managing this additional inventory adds to the business’s costs, Boon says the move has enabled Proquip to keep most customers satisfied.

“You really have to gaze into your crystal ball many, many months in advance of orders, and you have revisit freight and inventory plans every week at least.”

For Godfreys, the key to minimising supply-chain fallout has been to forge “exceptional relationships” with partners.

“Over the past two years, we have worked even closer with them to ensure minimal customer impacts,” Dougal says.

“Material and freight costs continue to present dynamic and novel challenges. We’re shifting our thinking and developing creative ways in which to address any issues. It’s a bit of a buzz word, but we’re acting nimbly and pivoting where we can to ensure we continue to deliver exceptional customer experiences.”

Product innovation

I-team is planning to launch a range of new or updated products into the New Zealand market this year.

Apart from i-mop upgrades, Bagshaw says one of the most exciting products on the radar is the Co-botic 1700, a programmable robotic vacuum cleaner featuring software which can follow detailed instructions on where to clean in a workplace.

Whereas there has been some scepticism about the performance of high-end robotics in large sites, Bagshaw says the Co-botic scores well on the “value versus investment” scale and can operate in smaller office spaces, hotels and school hallways.

“No, it’s not designed to clean football fields, but we’re getting a lot of interest in its rollout.”

Bagshaw says the truth is that many contractors and their customers do not want to be spending up to $50,000 for the latest robotics.

“There’s a desire for innovation, but there also has to be practical use-case of products, and at the moment there’s still a big gap.”

As more technology enters commercial and consumer markets, Dougal has no doubt that there will be increasing demand in the robot vacuum category, among others.

“The cleaning process will become more automated and efficient,” he says.

“Product tech specialists, either internally or externally, will also begin to play a more pivotal role as their expertise in these ‘smarter’ products builds in demand. The importance of training will also increase as businesses and consumers start to educate themselves on the latest technology releases.”

For now, bagless barrel vacuums remain very popular with Godfreys’ consumers, with the focus being on convenience and performance.

“This has increased demand for our range of stick vacuums and robots. We know consumers have spent a lot of time indoors throughout the pandemic. Our stick vacuums provide convenient and chargeable solutions, while the increasing range of robots offer the latest in innovation. Smart device integration, vacuum and mopping capabilities, and enhanced interior mapping features allow customers to ‘set and forget’ – the robot does the rest!”

Products and process

As the impact of COVID-19 starts to wane, Boon expects a busy year ahead for Proquip in a New Zealand floorcare market that is showing positive signs.

Technology aside, he says success in this space will inevitably come down to a combination of good products and good processes.

“You can have the right product, but you have to have the process, too. If the process is slightly wrong, you won’t get the best result.”

Education will also be critical as suppliers provide the information and knowledge that will allow their customers to maximise the benefits of any machinery.

As Boon says: “Anyone can sell a machine, but if you don’t provide the knowhow and education around it, on an ongoing basis, that’s when things can go wrong.”

This first appeared in the May issue of INCLEAN NZ. Read the original article here

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