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    Don't Let Dirty Restrooms Stall Your Business

    Simple cleaning strategies can improve customer satisfaction.

    By John Engel, Cintas Corp.

    With more than 140,000 convenience stores in the United States, customers have an abundance of stores to choose from — and many options to spend their hard-earned money. While customer service, product variety and fuel prices influence a potential customer's decision and ultimately their satisfaction, other attributes of the store also significantly impact their experience.

    A recent survey revealed that 95 percent of people have a negative perception of a retail store if they encounter a dirty restroom. In an industry that caters to on-the-go customers, restroom cleaning and maintenance programs can be a great way to differentiate your store from the competition and establish a routine flow of repeat business.

    To keep customers satisfied and returning, convenience store owners and operators must invest time and resources to provide a clean and pleasant restroom experience. With a few easy steps, you can ensure your business provides the best possible restroom experience for customers.

    Step 1: Define "Clean" for Your Core Customers
    Before implementing your restroom program, the perception of "clean" for the store's main customer base must be determined. Unfortunately, there's no widely accepted definition of "clean" because it varies greatly with perception.

    Users typically assess four key factors in a restroom, including:

    • Supplies — Restrooms must have consumables available for users at all times. This includes toilet paper, hand towels and soap dispensers. The availability of supplies is particularly important for on-the-go customers, which constitutes the majority of convenience store and gas station patrons.
    • Cleanliness — Toilets, urinals, floors and sinks are clean and free of debris. Restrooms have a fully operational odor-control system in place.
    • Dryness — All areas of the restroom are dry. This includes dry sink areas and puddle-free floors.
    • Functioning — Restrooms are properly lit and have quality air circulation. Plumbing, dispensers, locks, hand dryers and baby changing stations are fully operational.

    Ultimately, in order to provide guests with a positive restroom experience and eliminate complaints, you should focus your efforts on developing a restroom maintenance program that meets the specific needs of the store and its restroom users. Even if you don't know your customers' specific restroom needs, the list above provides a comprehensive plan that's sure to please all users.

    Step 2: Develop a Checklist for Cleaning Protocols
    Once you have an understanding of customer restroom expectations, the next step is to establish cleaning protocols. Implement a daily cleaning schedule based on peak business times and provide a daily checklist for employees who are tasked with cleaning store restrooms.

    To develop the protocol, consider three primary components of an effective restroom cleaning strategy. This includes:

    1. Spot Cleaning — Spot cleaning targets key focus areas frequently throughout the day. In less than five minutes, employees should sweep the restroom, wipe down surfaces and restock products. During peak traffic periods, schedule spot cleanings for every 15 minutes. When employees perform spot cleaning, equip them with toilet paper, hand towels and soap to restock dispensers.

    2. Daily Cleaning — Completed once a day during low-traffic periods, daily cleaning involves more comprehensive cleaning and sanitizing than a spot clean. Employees should close the restroom to customers and allow chemicals the appropriate dwell time for thorough cleaning and disinfection. Post signage around the entrance of the restroom to alert customers that the restroom is temporarily closed.

    A daily cleaning checklist should include the following actions:

    • Check fixtures and devices to make sure they work properly.
    • Restock supplies like toilet paper and hand towels.
    • Spray surfaces in the restroom with disinfectant.
    • Wipe surfaces clean with a microfiber or cotton cleaning towel.
    • Target "hot spots" or areas for bacteria buildup, such as door, toilet, urinal and faucet handles, light switches and baby changing stations.
    • Sweep floors to collect trash and debris.
    • Remove trash.
    • Mop floors to eliminate puddles and clean surfaces.

    3. Deep Cleaning — Deep cleaning is a much more thorough cleaning that breaks down soil and removes buildup that mops and brushes can't reach. Typically performed by trained professionals, deep cleanings can be scheduled on a weekly, bi-weekly or monthly basis, depending on restroom use. Because deep cleaning requires extensive detail work and attention, it should be performed at low-traffic times to avoid interruption of service.

    Deep cleaning tasks include:

    • Scrubbing walls, floors, toilets, urinals, sinks, mirrors and fixtures using chemicals, agitation and extraction.
    • Cleaning behind toilets and other tough-to-reach areas.
    • Focusing on removing soil from fixtures, darkened grout lines on floors, gum and graffiti.
    • Dusting all vents, corners, ceilings, fan fixtures, baseboards, windows and door frames.
    • Repairing any broken fixtures.

    Step 3: Use Products That Perform
    Once you have developed a checklist for cleaning protocols, it's important to identify the products needed to effectively support the program. The right product mix will combine essential restroom supplies, such as toilet paper, hand towels and soap, with cleaning products and tools that protect, maintain and deep-clean restroom surfaces.

    Products that "protect" ensure that a restroom looks good and smells good while in use. Use air fresheners to counteract odors and provide a clean scent. Select air fresheners that operate on a 24-hour basis and neutralize odor-causing bacteria rather than masking it. In addition, use auto flushes, automatic drips and urinal screens to attack odor at the source. Items that "maintain" include cleaning chemicals and tools such as wipes, mops and chemical dispensing systems. Select cleaning chemicals designed specifically for bathroom surfaces for optimal cleaning results. Cleaning tools such as microfiber mops and wipes remove soil, dust, germs and spills to deliver a high quality of clean to your facility. Chemical-dispensing systems provide properly diluted chemical with the push of a button.

    Deep cleaning services combine chemicals, agitation and extraction to break down buildup and remove it from a facility. Combine a high-pressure, chemical injection washer to loosen soil build up and wet vacuum technology to remove all water, soil and debris from the restroom.

    Step 4: Partner for Success
    In order to create a customer-pleasing restroom experience, convenience store operators often partner with a restroom service provider to ease the time and responsibility associated with cleaning detail. When partnering with a service provider, in-house employees typically handle spot cleaning duties, and the service provider handles inventory management and deep cleaning.

    A restroom service provider makes regularly scheduled service visits to deliver essential supplies and monitor all toilet paper, hand towel and soap dispensers to ensure they are full and functioning. This frees up inventory space and limits labor associated with ordering and inventory management so you can focus on your core responsibilities. In addition, because a service provider equips the staff with the right cleaning tools, the guesswork is eliminated regarding which chemicals and how much are required for maximum performance. Service providers also possess the equipment and trained technicians necessary to deep-clean store restrooms quickly and efficiently.

    A good restroom maintenance program goes a long way — it can help improve overall store image and drive repeat business by providing clean, functional restrooms. In addition, it can keep customers satisfied, which will positively impact your store's bottom line. A comprehensive restroom program can ensure your store stands out among the 140,000 convenience stores in the United States by providing the best experience for the most critical part of the business — your customers.

    John Engel is senior marketing manager for Cintas Corp., with more than 18 years of marketing and brand management experience. Cintas Facility Services offers a wide range of solutions that enable businesses to build their image and increase profitability and productivity. For more information, visit http://www.cintas.com/FacilityServices.

    Editor's Note: The opinions expressed in this column are the author's and do not necessarily reflect the views of Convenience Store News.

    By John Engel, Cintas Corp.
    • About John Engel

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