Supermarkets are taking different routes to maintaining clean floors. Some are outsourcing all or part of their floor care, citing cost savings and the desire to offload labor headaches. But advocates of in-house floor care believe maintaining more direct control is the best way to keep a shine under shoppers' shoes.
All parties agree on the importance of floor care. The Trends 97 Survey, conducted by the Food Marketing Institute, Washington, said that 70% of shoppers rate a clean, neat store as "very important" when selecting a supermarket.
In addition, good floor care lowers the possibility of slip and fall accidents in the store, an ongoing issue for all retailers.
Supermarkets outsource floor care primarily because of the difficulty in hiring and retaining trained personnel for late-night work. A supermarket retailer who requested anonymity estimated that 40% to 50% of supermarkets outsource their floor-care needs, primarily the labor portion.
The latest efforts of H.E. Butt Grocery Co., San Antonio, make a strong case for outsourcing. The retailer signed contracts in June to outsource all its overnight maintenance needs for 170 stores, primarily in the areas of floor care, rest room cleaning, back room and sidewalks.
H-E-B offers its third-party providers a blanket fee for the entire set of services, including labor, equipment, repairs and supplies. The provider has to manage every aspect of these services or they aren't profitable, according to a source familiar with the program. H-E-B is reportedly saving $3.5 million annually on its cleaning costs by taking this tack, the source said. H-E-B is also looking for equipment that can provide better floor care, such as the new buffer developed with its third-party providers, Hi-Tech and K-Stone, both of San Antonio, and manufacturer Castex/Nobles, a Tennant company, Holland, Mich.
This unit not only provides the high shine, "wet look," but it runs at 83 decibels, 10 decibels below most traditional propane buffers. Every 10-point reduction is roughly half as loud to the human ear, the source said.
In addition, the unit picks up 75% of the dust generated by the machine; traditional units do not pick up the dust at all, according to sources. The new buffer also does not emit carbon dioxide like other propane buffers, according to a source familiar with the machine. More than 200 machines will ultimately be used in H-E-B stores, the source said.
Retailers that keep their maintenance needs in-house say it gives them more control over cleanliness and procedures used in the stores. For example, Dierbergs Markets, Chesterfield, Mo., handles its floor care in-house with a staff of more than 100, several of whom have been with the company for 17 years plus.
"Outsourcing, at least in our opinion, can be uncontrollable to some degree," said Kevin Alexander, director of maintenance for Dierbergs. "By being able to set our own goals, we are able to maintain a certain level of appearance we feel is acceptable."
Following are some of the strategies retailers are using to ensure superior floor care:
Nort Brower director, property
maintenance D&W Food Centers
Grand Rapids, Mich.
Between in-house and outsourcing, we can take care of our stores. We outsource just the labor when we do use outsourcing. In this case, we have all the equipment and all the products; in the other stores we do everything ourselves. We have employees who do nothing but take care of the floors.
But it's hard to find people to stay in that position because of the night hours. We're constantly training. Since stores have difficulty in that area, that's why we outsource.
Deep scrubbing is a part of our floor care. Today, if we deep scrub and follow the training, we've got three to four years on the floor before we need to strip it. Previously, we would have to strip the floors every six to 12 months.
But training has improved. For example, workers are instructed not to put wax over dirt. This has saved us from spending on both the product and the labor of stripping. At least $2,500 has to be spent on an average store when stripping and building a floor back up with coats of wax, and then burnishing to make it not slippery.
We're also looking at new developments in the cleaning area. We've just built a new store, opening this month, that has a new floor. It's not a tile floor but a regular cement floor with a special sealer. It will be interesting to see how we fare with that type of flooring.
We're also always looking for new ways to prevent slips and falls. We're testing super-absorbent flakes that are sprinkled around a spill. When the flakes are swept up, the floor is completely dry, so you avoid slips and falls.
Kevin Alexander director,
maintenance Dierbergs Markets
We handle all our maintenance needs in-house because we want to control it to ensure we get the results we want. Outsourcing, at least in our opinion, can be uncontrollable to some degree. By being able to set our own goals, we are able to maintain a certain level of appearance we feel is acceptable.
We have more than 100 maintenance employees, several of whom have been with the company for 17 years or more, though we still have some turnover. These employees are very familiar with the grocery needs and the departments and what it takes to get the job done. That's a benefit to us.
Each week we have crews that do nothing but scrub and recoat, finish and strip the floors. The average size of the stores is 70,000 square feet. Each store has its own maintenance staff that is responsible for the buffing and daily maintenance. The crew is also responsible for all sanitation and housekeeping.
Maintenance is also involved in helping prevent slips and falls. We have hourly logs and checklists, as well as regular sweeping and mats in the produce area.
The staff is an added expense, but that's something we have been committed to ever since we've been in this business. We'll pay that expense as long as we feel the money we're spending is giving us the results we want, and we feel it does.
Charlie Martin director, store engineering B&B Cash Grocery Stores
We've been having some problems with the [third-party] company that has been maintaining our floors, so we're getting other proposals.
The problem with the current company was communication. The people doing the work couldn't speak English, and the company did not return our calls. Also, the workers would take product off our grocery shelves and use that for the floor care instead of bringing their own supplies. We estimate we lost $5 per visit per store in chemicals.
We will be testing both a full-service [outsourced] program and an in-house program, which would give us more control over the appearance of the store.
Our cleaning costs are in excess of $500,000 annually chainwide and we would save 40% of that cost going to an in-house program. However, we would have to add back the labor to perform the routine, daily cleanings.
One of the outsourcing programs we're looking at will involve the third-party company providing the heavy stripping, burnishing and waxing; the day-to-day maintenance would be done in-house.
We're also looking at other possible solutions. We will test flooring that does not require stripping or waxing in the produce department of one store in the fall, and then work it into other remodelings in the future.
The manufacturer said you never have to wax or strip this floor. This would save us 75% on floor-care costs if it were used throughout our chain. But the initial cost is probably higher than vinyl composition tile. We have to look at the life cycle cost of it to determine the payback.