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CLEANING THE CLEANING COMMOTION


Despite the perception held by many, cleaning is not a commodity and should never be considered as such, argues Neil Longley, Founder of Opale Management Services.


The title of ‘commodity’ is awarded to a reasonably interchangeable good, service or material that is bought and sold freely. Within this context, interchangeable means that cleaning can be bought from a variety of vendors depending on which of those vendors offers the best value for money.


“The outcome of cleaning is


determined by a number of factors which make cleaning unique to the customer’s built environment it is deployed to service.”


For the above statement to be true, cleaning would need widely recognised parameters that clearly define what cleaning is, or what the outcome of cleaning will be and clear recognition as to what inputs are necessary to deliver the outcome; and that all vendors will deliver that outcome. This being the case enables the commodity to become price sensitive (‘value for money’ translates to the ‘lowest price’). Cleaning would then become a tradable commodity.


Actually, when truly interrogated it becomes apparent that the outcome of cleaning is determined by a number of factors which make cleaning unique to the customer’s built environment it is deployed to service. Examples would be the core business, culture and expectations of the building users; the age, configuration and type of building; the type of industry the users work in (peer expectations) to name but a few.


“The cleaning market has been engaged in a race to the bottom,


deploying tactics of ‘under-pricing’ as a method of sustaining or


increasing their business top line.”


Cleaning is, therefore, not a commodity and should never be considered as such, but the perception held by many is the opposite. Why?


For many years, the cleaning market has been engaged in a race to the bottom, deploying tactics of ‘under-pricing’ as a method of sustaining or increasing their business top line. For some vendors this has been at the expense of the bottom line and for others at the expense of a qualitative outcome.


50 | TOMORROW’S FM


The widespread deployment of output specifications (determining the output expectations) rather than input specifications (determining the inputs that will deliver the outcomes), and a focus on cost has fuelled the race.


Cleaning vendors have continued to propose less inputs are necessary to achieve the output required, but with limited evidence of innovation, process, system or technology deployment to enable that reduction. The race has merely, but successfully reduced vendor profits, reduced cleaning standards, and supressed the value to the user of cleaning.


Actually, given that labour is the biggest input into a cleaning service, this race has diverted the cleaning vendors from the provision of cleaning as a service necessary to support the right built environment, to the provision of labour that cleans.


The outcome enjoyed by the users of the built environment is no longer the measure of success, but how many units of labour and at what rate is the focus. In short it is not the service that has been commoditised, but the labour. Frankly, cleaning vendors are closer to being employment agencies than they are to being custodians of a cleaning service.


“Perhaps it is time for cleaning


vendors to truly consider what their value statement is as a business.”


That said, the labour deployed is supported by commodities such consumables, materials and equipment. So ‘materials handling’ is an aspect of a cleaning vendor’s platform. Therefore, it would not be unreasonable to characterise a cleaning vendor as an employment agency, coupled with a material handling capability. The materials handling may itself be sourced as a subcontract to the cleaning vendor.


No longer can cleaning vendors be characterised as custodians of the cleaning input into the built environment, or the trusted advisor of the customer in matters related to the cleaning of their built environment.


Perhaps it is time for cleaning vendors to truly consider what their value statement is as a business, and what they want that value to be looking forward. They can shape their strategy accordingly. Perhaps the cleaning industry has reached a point similar to PC manufacturers when it became apparent that the value to the user was not in the hardware, but in the software housed on the PC.


www.opale.co.uk twitter.com/TomorrowsFM


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