Maintaining Buildings & Grounds

What's In Your Janitorial Closet?

Advertisers and others in the marketing industry are very keen on something called composite product mapping (CPM), also referred to as “product mapping.” The essence of CPM is to find out what consumers think about products such as toothpaste, lawn mowers or frozen dinners.

But it is not just for business-to-consumer. Business-to-business organizations can also use CPM to learn what their customers think about their tractors, road graders and Internet services. Further, colleges and universities can use a form of CPM, along with other procurement tools, to help select the best and most cost-effective products for their facilities.

Let’s use the example of an Internet service provider to illustrate how CPM works. Say that Internet service “A” is in a market competing with three other service providers. They want to know what consumers think about their service, specifically as to reliability and cost, compared to three other companies, which we will call Company “B,” “C” and “D.”

They turn to a marketing company which surveys 500 consumers that have had experience with all four Internet providers and generates a visual map of those responses. The top of the map is labeled Most Dependable, the bottom Least Dependable. The left side of the map is labeled Least Expensive, the right side Most Expensive.

composite product mapping

Based on the consumer answers, this is what the map reveals:

  • Company B is at the top of the map, indicating it is most dependable, and also leans to the right, because it is more expensive than the other services.
  • Company C is pretty much in the middle of the map; its charges, according to the consumers, are not too high or too low and their service is viewed as acceptable.
  • Company D takes the “Least Dependable” slot, with a position towards the bottom of the map, and interestingly, it is also viewed as moderately expensive, so it is over to the right-hand side of the map.
  • According to consumers, Company A is viewed as having better than average service, giving it a higher position on the map, but is furthest to the right indicating consumers find it to be the most expensive of all the brands.

What we see with this very simple example is that CPM can be very helpful to condense a large and potentially confusing mass of data into a meaningful picture.

APPLYING CPM TO YOUR JANITORIAL CLOSET

So now that you have an idea how CPM works, let’s apply it to a key expense that all colleges and universities have in common: the selection of janitorial-related goods from cleaning solutions and equipment to all kinds of paper products. But this time, we are going to ask custodial workers and administrators involved in campus housekeeping to evaluate the many products they use for cleaning as to the costs and effectiveness of these products. Later, we can also look into issues such as ease of use, durability (if applicable), environmental factors and so on.

Once again we build a map. We have decided to evaluate perhaps five different all-purpose cleaners used on the campus. The top of the map is labeled Most Expensive, the bottom Least Expensive; the left-hand side is labeled Least Effective and the right Most Effective. Based on the responses from our custodial staff and administrators, we start building our map.

composite product mappingSome startling things begin to emerge:

  • The most effective products are not the most costly (Product A).
  • The most costly products are actually some of the most effective (Product B).
  • Some products are not considered costly but they aren’t considered effective; yet they are still being purchased (Product C).

With product evaluations mapped, custodial workers and college administrators often can easily see which all-purpose product is giving them “the most bang for the buck.” They can eliminate the others, which often turns into a cost savings. Plus, ordering larger quantities of fewer products may allow the university to receive discounts from manufacturers or their distributors. Additionally, it can help reduce clerical time spent processing invoices from several vendors.

WHAT IF NOTHING PASSES THE CPM TEST?

It’s always hoped that once a product-mapping program has been completed that one or two products take the honors… but not always. When this happens, the good thing is that the institution can stop selecting products that are simply not making the grade. The bad thing is that they must begin searching for a product or products that do meet their needs.

However, their investigation can become stymied from the start. For instance, in North America, approximately 245 chemical manufacturers make 245 — and likely far more — different floor finishes, as an example. Some of the questions that arise in a situation like this include the following:

  • How can we narrow our options down to just those that are green-certified?
  • How do we determine which would work best on our floors?
  • Which is most cost effective?
  • Which has proven to be the most durable?
  • Which provides the type of shine we want for our floors?

Important questions, but they are not easy for the customer to answer. Fortunately, new technologies, software programs and even free online “dashboard” systems are available for administrators to help make the selection process easier.

The ways these different systems work can vary. Some use a question-and-answer format, allowing administrators to answer questions to better determine the school’s needs. These technologies are not necessarily designed to replace the janitorial distributor. In fact, they are often available from distributors and encourage administrators to meet with distributors to further analyze their options, enabling them to eliminate trial and error and make fact-based decisions.

While our focus here has been on janitorial products, CPM can be applied to a whole range of products, and even services. With so many manufacturers now making so many similar products used for the same or similar purpose, it has become virtually impossible for administrators to determine which products will work best in their facilities.

It may take a little time to implement a CPM program, but it can be time well worth it because of the potential savings. In many cases, these techniques including the technologies just discussed, allow administrators for the first time to actually recognize the breadth of products they are purchasing and, even more important, which ones they should be purchasing. Ultimately, these techniques are simply good business practices all college and university administrators should adhere to.

This article originally appeared in the April 2016 issue of College Planning & Management.

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