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For convenience store chains, maintaining a brand standard is essential for securing repeat business. Cleanliness plays a large part in shaping a brand, as well as customers’ purchasing decisions. A 2011 Harris Interactive poll found that 94 percent of more than 1,000 adults would avoid a business in the future if they encountered dirty restrooms. Forty-five percent of those respondents named gas stations as a specific place they would avoid. Additionally, a 2012 Food Marketing Institute study found that cleanliness and sustainability were motivating factors for 97 percent and 50 percent of customers, respectively.
Providing customers with a well-kept store is especially important given today’s increasingly social culture, in which negative online reviews and word-of-mouth can adversely impact business. As c-stores begin to elevate their foodservice programs by offering more on-the-go options, customers always expect cleanliness. If not properly cleaned and sanitized, food preparation areas such as counters where sandwiches are made can harbor harmful germs and potentially cause a food safety incident. This could significantly impact customer loyalty and revenue.
Additionally, cleanliness can influence employee satisfaction and reduce the occurrence of and costs associated with slip-and-fall accidents.
A common challenge c-store chains face, though, is achieving consistently clean stores when dealing with variables such as foot traffic and weather that differ from location to location. Consistent results can be accomplished by integrating “green cleaning” into a continuous improvement process involving four simple steps:
- Step 1: Define the cleaning standard. First, the retailer, along with cleaning partners such as the cleaning product manufacturer and the building service contractor (BSC), must define the cleaning standard. In other words, what does the retailer want the customer to experience when they visit each store? The standard of cleanliness should encompass the key areas of the facility that will have the greatest impact on customers’ buying behavior. This includes restrooms, entrance ways and floors. C-stores that offer food, such as those that partner with sandwich chains, should also ensure that counters, tables and other customer-facing areas are kept clean. To achieve and maintain a standard that will impress customers, organizations should consider adopting green cleaning practices. Green cleaning not only improves the health and safety of the store environment, but can also reduce operating costs and improve a brand’s image.
- Step 2: Devise a green cleaning plan. In working with product manufacturers and BSCs, retailers must figure out how to achieve the desired level of cleanliness -- or brand standard -- across different geographies and store layouts while remaining sustainable. Green cleaning involves products, processes, tools and equipment. Microfiber can save water, low-temperature cleaning can save energy, and concentrated cleaning products can reduce waste while increasing cleanliness. By using these products, processes, tools and equipment, organizations can isolate the variables that drive cleanliness and develop a tailored program around these variables to maintain consistency.
For instance, one variable to focus on may be seasonal weather patterns. In areas with lots of salt and snow, such as the Northeast and Midwest, stores will need to engage in more frequent cleaning, stripping and rewaxing to keep floors’ finish in top shape. Stores in the Southwest that rarely see salt and snow dragged in from the outdoors should tailor their programs accordingly to focus less on stripping. Although the processes may be different, the end result should leave all areas of a store free of spills, dirt and debris. Food safety regulations from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) do not change from state to state. Therefore, facilities can develop one plan for food cleaning and sanitation procedures.
- Step 3 -- Implement training. Training all employees at one time and in one place is not feasible when managing multiple stores across several cities or states. Turnover can add a further hindrance. Online training programs are an ideal way to educate employees because they’re available 24/7 in multiple languages, are interactive and can be tailored to adult learning styles, job roles and specific locations. Training schedules should be developed and combine online training with in-person training for special topics. Training sessions should ensure employees who are performing cleaning duties have the right tools and knowledge to do a consistent job, and also focus on limiting waste and food safety procedures.
- Step 4 -- Monitor green cleaning performance. In the past, it was challenging to monitor cleaning performance across multiple locations. Now, organizations can validate cleaning using a secure auditing platform that collects, analyzes and reports data in real time. They can pinpoint trends for each employee and facility, across all locations. This facilitates continuous improvement of hygiene and safety standards by identifying where cleaning programs need to be refined and where retraining needs to occur. Over time, as each store refines its cleaning program, the gap between customers’ expectations and cleaning outcomes will become smaller. Reports detail data such as the waste generated, water utilized, gloss level of floors, procedures being performed and whether the appropriate products are being used. Reports can be used for operation action plans, executive reports and yearly goal planning.
By following these four simple steps, c-store chains can develop and maintain a consistent brand image, sustainability and food safety across multiple locations. Providing customers with a clean shopping and dining atmosphere will help keep them in the store longer and build brand loyalty, translating to greater store revenue.
Cameron Adams is global director of strategic planning and development for foodservice and retail at Diversey, a provider of commercial cleaning, sanitation and hygiene solutions and a part of Sealed Air. For more information, visit www.diversey.com.
Editor's note: The opinions expressed in this column are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of Convenience Store News.