Cleaning & Maintenance Management Online

Name Brand Versus No-name

May 4, 2012

What''s in a name?

According to the Consumer Price Index, quite a bit, actually.

Research indicates that roughly 20 percent of the North American population is willing to pay more for an environmentally preferable product.

And, while the research does not factor in the act of greenwashing, it can be assumed that some of these consumers were sold on the notion of "green," regardless of the validity of the claims or lack thereof.

Similarly, statistics show that people are also willing to dole out additional funds for a name brand over an off-brand or no-name product.

Consumers often use their past experience — and the experiences of their peers — as fodder for selecting products and services that meet their goals.

"Brand name quality assurance is especially important when consumers lack complete information about product quality at the time of purchase," states Benjamin Klein, professor emeritus of economics at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA). "Companies may take advantage of this lack of information by shaving product quality, thereby lowering costs and increasing short-term profits."

It is this level of quality differential — either realistic or perceived — between name brands and no-name labels that drive consumers to make a purchase one way or another.

According to Eric Workman, associate strategic marketing director of Fabric & Surface Care for Dow Home & Personal Care, development starts long before anything goes into a flask in the laboratory; it begins with understanding consumer needs and wants at the most fundamental level.

"Not only do we work to deliver the best science and technology possible, we do it in the framework of deep customer insight," notes Workman.

Branding Quality

So, the question remains: Is a name brand product inherently better than its off-brand, no-name, private label counterpart?

Yes and no.

Interestingly, many private label products are manufactured by trusted brands.

This means that, despite a typically lower price point and sufficiently less marketing or advertising presence, a generic product can be every bit as quality as a name brand.

However, this is not always the case; in fact, Consumer Reports tested several cleaning products of brand name and off-brand variations, finding mixed results.

In some instances, the differences in performance were marginal — if detectible at all.

In other cases, the off-brand product''s performance was significantly lower.

When testing window cleaners, for example, the less expensive product left streaks and did not achieve the same level of shine on mirrors and windows that the trusted name brand product did.

This can be attributed to the name brand product having higher quality ingredients, having better filtered water or a host of other characteristics.

"Skimping on ingredients and resulting performance is not worth the risk for major brands," asserts Workman. "Whereas broad store labels, for example, can make a mistake by reducing the quality of a particular product or even an entire category and see sales decline without harming their overall brand. Therefore, they are more inclined to take risks."

Peace Of Mind

According to Lynn Krafft, owner of Krafft Cleaning Services, you should never automatically rule out a private label product as being sound.

"I feel more comfortable using known brands," claims Krafft. "Do I pay more? Possibly, but it is impossible for a contractor to try and test every brand out there, private or not."

Five common problems, and why many, including Krafft, seldom stray too far from the brand name products, include:

  1. Usually have no knowledge of who the manufacturer is
  2. Difficult to tell if the private labeler is striving for excellence in product or profit
  3. Never sure technical problems, if they arise, can be addressed
  4. Can never be sure when formulations are changed due to pricing, poor performance complaints, etc., creating incompatibly issues
  5. Do not know the specifications the private labeler has for the product.
Aside from end users, the use of a branded product or a no-name variant has an effect on building occupants.

In speaking with several travelers at hotels adjacent to our office park, I heard the overwhelming sentiment that patrons generally feel more reassured that the indoor environment is clean and healthy when they see housekeepers using a brand name product.

What I found intriguing is that, in larger operations, housekeepers will often use a dilution control system and fill individual spray bottles that may or may not have a branded logo and artwork on their exteriors.

As such, some hotel visitors may paint a negative picture of the cleaning products, the housekeeping staff and the establishment — even though the products in question are a trusted name brand.

As previously stated, unless every formulation has been personally tested and compared, brand name quality is all based on perception.

According to Allen Randolph, development director at the Museum of Clean, the larger question is how any product — regardless of the manufacturer, the packaging, the marketing or the distributor — fits into your cleaning process.

Questions that should be pondered before any product purchases are made include:

  • How do you properly train employees on right-to-know information about each product, branded or private label?
  • How do you train employees on the proper use of the product, branded or private label?
  • Are there any compatibility/reactivity issues with the product that need to be addressed, branded or private label?
  • What specifically are you trying to improve?
  • How are you tracking to see if you made the right decision?
"If organizations thought about these and other pertinent questions when making product decisions, cleaning quality would go up and waste/costs would go down," notes Randolph.