The New Broom Sweeps Clean

The New Broom Sweeps Clean


Retailers look for clever ways to keep stores clean—and save money  
By: Mary Lou Jay


Clean stores are essential to bringing in business. In a survey from ISSA — The Worldwide Cleaning Industry Association — 95 percent of shoppers reported unclean restrooms, unpleasant odors, dirty floors, spills, stains and dirty shopping carts would influence their shopping decisions. But tight budgets have made it difficult for retail facility managers to maintain their stores’ customary cleaning routines. At the same time, their cleaning vendors are experiencing staffing problems. With a booming economy and low unemployment rate, many potential cleaners have moved on to better-paying positions in other industries.

So FMs are trying different approaches to keep stores clean and customers happy. 

The Container Store previously outsourced once- or twice-weekly cleaning for its 92 locations. “But that became a challenge with scheduling, no shows and inconsistency in cleaning,” said Betty Hernandez, Store Facilities Manager. Several years ago, the company revamped its cleaning program for its 20,000 to 25,000-square-foot stores. 

“Our employees clean, vacuum, dust the store and clean the bathrooms,” Hernandez said. “Our staff is more hands-on and dedicated to the cleanliness of their store; they take ownership of it.” A vendor still handles the stores’ quarterly carpet cleaning. “A few managers had requested the employees do this, as they preferred to do it themselves instead of managing a provider who was inconsistent,” Hernandez added.

Ross Stores has some unique challenges in maintaining its 1,700 Ross and dd’s Discounts retail locations, said Joshua Witte, RFMP, Director of Store Operations, Brand Maintenance and Repair. The cleaning for Ross’ stores starts 90 minutes before stores open, which varies by location, and continues for another hour while customers are shopping. The short work hours make it difficult for Ross’ cleaning vendors to find and retain workers who will consistently show up.

So, Ross is asking employees to pick up the slack. “We have an initiative where we are shifting tasks from the janitorial companies to our associates in an effort to creatively manage cleaning budgets,” Witte said. Staff members do light work, such as cleaning entrance glass, jewelry cases and countertops; vacuuming walk-off mats; and checking restrooms in the afternoon. 

Janitorial crews perform the heavier work. “We’re taking the resources we have and focusing them on very specific parts of the store—restrooms, fitting rooms and front of house,” Witte said. As Ross concentrates its budget dollars on the most customer-visible areas, the store perimeters and departments receive less attention.

Ross is also considering reducing the number of service days in its lower-volume stores. 

Creative Cleaning 

One retailer that continues to rely upon cleaning contractors is Louis Vuitton. All of its 140 stores have high-end, upscale finishes, wool-and silk-blend carpeting, hardwood floors, real marble and Armourcoat plaster.=

But the continual janitorial staff turnover can lead to inconsistencies in meeting cleaning standards, said Alan Donohoe, Senior Manager, Store Planning and Preservation Department. “Getting people there on time is another giant challenge; they only have a certain amount of time to clean. So, if they’re late, they don’t get as much done.” At the same time, customers today aren’t as careful when they are in the store, so janitorial companies may need more workers to complete cleaning before the store opens. 

Donohoe said that cleaning customer service areas every day is essential to maintain the Louis Vuitton brand. Although the retailer could reduce the frequency of the back of house cleanings, “we try not to do that, because we want the team that works there to know those areas are also important,” he added.

Technology Impact

FMs are incorporating more sustainable products into their cleaning practices. Louis Vuitton specifies the green cleaning products that vendors use; the Container Store’s procurement department now orders more eco-friendly products, like self-dissolving cleaning fluid packets.

Some new products perform better and reduce costs. “The different types of floor finishes being developed now make it less labor-intensive to finish floors, and there are longer-lasting finishes, which reduce the number of times you have to refinish a floor,” Witte said. Robotic scrubbers that travel aisles independently may lessen big box stores’ reliance on human help. (For more on this, see “These are the Droids You’re Looking For.”)

Witte considers maintenance management software an essential tool for managing corporate cleaning operations. “The trend in maintenance departments is downsizing not upsizing; you need these tools to manage your business,” he said. FMs should choose vendors carefully to keep stores in top condition, Witte added. “The cheapest isn’t always the best.” 

Donohoe prefers to work with local maintenance companies. “You’re closer to the owner, who is the one who takes pride in what’s being done,” he explained. He recommends making a cleaning checklist that janitorial workers can easily understand and follow. 

To avoid confusion, Hernandez said FMs should develop a consistent schedule of required cleaning for stores, creating a separate work order only if extra work is required for specific outlets.

However they approach the task, FMs must continue to be creative in finding ways to keep stores clean. 

Janitorial Expenses

How much do you spend on cleaning services? Here are comparisons from PRSM’s 2017 Retail Facilities Management Benchmarking Report:

Want to learn more? The 2017 Retail Facilities Maintenance Industry Overview is available for purchase. Please visit for more information.  

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Data collection for the 2019 Retail Facilities Maintenance Industry Overview will begin in March 2019. Participating companies will receive complimentary peer comparisons, downloadable personalized PowerPoint presentations and the final comprehensive report. Please email for more information. 

Published: January 31, 2019