Cleaning & Maintenance Management Online

Purchasing priorities for the professional

September 19, 2010

Proper purchasing policies and procedures will provide proven results for the prudent professional.

How’s that for a mouth full? Now say that 10 times fast!

But even as corny as it may sound, it is true.

All cleaning professionals will need chemicals and equipment to accomplish their assignments.

What we get and how we get it can be mind boggling at times.

But it does not have to be a struggle if you start with a thorough plan to get there.

Getting started
Any purchase starts with an idea or thought, and when it comes to purchasing supplies, that thought is, “What do I need to get the job done?”

It does not matter if it is cleaning a 30-square foot restroom or a 30,000-square foot arena, you must figure out what you are going to do and how are you going to accomplish it.

Then you have to figure out how to get the chemicals and equipment needed to finish the task as efficiently and effectively as possible.

There are several steps in being proficient in getting the supplies and equipment needed.

Do your homework
Like mother always said, you must do your homework.

There are two parts to this step — figure out purchasing requirements or restrictions, and research.

Meet with the purchasing department — or any other entity responsible for funds — to discuss any requirements or restrictions for your institution.

This is where you will receive all the details and legal needs for your purchase.

Do not skip this step — this will save you valuable time caused by mistakes or lack of information later on.

The second part of the process is the research you must conduct to find the right supply or equipment item for the task at hand.

This research will include determining which particular items are needed to do the job effectively and efficiently.

Talk to the people doing the job to help determine what makes an item good for that job.

Custodial or grounds staff input is invaluable to this process because they will be working with these items on a daily basis.

If the end user does not see the benefit of the item you are purchasing, you could be creating a bad situation for all — including yourself.

First, survey your resources. Start out by talking to vendors and manufacturer representatives to see what they recommend for your particular situation.

Then utilize the professional trade arena which includes professional magazines such as CM/Cleaning & Maintenance Management®, professional organizations, and trade shows.

The trade shows are fantastic resources — it’s a one-stop-shop where you have the knowledge and expertise of hundreds of people and businesses to draw from.

Another very important resource is an in-house demonstration, where you can use an item and decide for yourself if the product is a viable option for you.

This works for everything from dust mops to ride-on scrubbers, or chainsaws to riding mowers.

Then check with your peers, either individually or through professional list-serves that are provided by organizations such as the Association of Higher Education Facilities (APPA) and the Central Association of Physical Plant Administrators (CAPPA).

List-serves are great tools to query hundreds of your peers to see what is or is not working in their institutions.

Let the bidding games begin
Prior to bidding paper products for restrooms, we set up dispensers and products from different vendors in several of our buildings and monitored and documented the performance of each item.

We solicited input from the customers on what they liked or didn’t like about the product.

When we bid out our custodial chemicals, we set up three bid packages: General use chemicals, hard floor care products, and carpet care products.

We had each vendor set up a building with their products.

We again monitored and documented the performance of each item before we sent out our bids.

This allowed us to see which system and products were going to work best in our situation.

We then used the data to build our bid specifications.

For instance, the size of the chemical dispensing unit made a big difference to us because of how small the majority of our closets are.

So we set up a maximum footprint for chemical dispensing units within our bid specifications.

This is where our earlier meetings with purchasing came into play.

The department had instructed us on how to write an “or equal” bid in order to meet their requirements and minimize, if not eliminate, accusations of unfair bidding.

We “try before we buy” for just about everything we use in grounds and custodial services.

Reputable vendors will be eager to show a potential customer the right supply or equipment for the job to increase their chances for a sale, so don’t hesitate to ask for a demonstration.

Plus, they are counting on return business from good support and service after the sale.

Make your bid specific
We have also found that it is important to include all parts and pieces in your bids for equipment.

Don’t assume anything!

We make sure we specify quantity and length of hoses, electric cords, type of pad blocks and wands, or anything else we want with that item.

Two other items we add to all equipment bids are extra warranty requirements and training requirements.

We tell all vendors they must provide two “in-service” trainings within one week of delivery for all items they are awarded.

This helps keep the bids local and creates and builds relationships with the vendors.

It also ensures that all of our staff receive proper training on each piece of equipment.

We also state in our specifications that in case of product malfunction, all vendors must provide a “loaner piece” for any item that will be out for repair for two or more days.

This motivates vendors to fix any warranty problems on site whenever possible.

After the right item — supply or equipment — has been selected, the bid specifications are written and the bids are received, the evaluation is fairly easy, utilizing the documentation from the preliminary work we did.

To recap, you must:

  • Get all players on the same page
  • Include the end users
  • Research your options
  • Try before you buy
  • Document the performance
  • Write detailed specifications
  • Enjoy your purchase

Prudent purchasing policies and procedures can be poles apart for a profuse amount of professionals, but ultimately it boils down to finding a prolific plan that promotes productivity for you and your players.

Now say that 10 times fast!


Terry Major is the manager of Grounds, Custodial, Support Services, and Fleet at Southeast Missouri State University.