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RFPs: The cost of outdated specs

Reviewing requests for proposals for pricey but unnecessary tasks
Friday, September 11, 2015
By Ron Segura

What building owners and facility managers don’t know about the changing world of the professional cleaning industry may be costing them. For instance, cleaning contractors still see requests for proposals (RFPs) that specify that hard-surface floors be “stripped and waxed on a monthly basis.”

The industry rarely uses the term “wax” any longer. Nowadays the preferred term is “finish” or “refinish.” It’s possible that these RFPs were created from old RFPs.

More important than the terminology, however, is the requirement itself. Stripping and refinishing a floor is one of the most time-consuming tasks in the professional cleaning industry. And time is money in cleaning, making this a costly requirement for the building owner.

Also, most floor finishes and other chemicals have advanced to the point that it simply is not necessary to strip and refinish a floor so often. Besides, stripping and refinishing a floor can have a negative impact on the environment, which is why this cleaning task should be performed as infrequently as possible.

Plus, older RFPs commonly leave both cleaning contractors and facility managers in the dark. Contractors lack information about a facility’s specific cleaning needs; managers are stumped on how to select one of the companies involved in the bidding process.

The manager typically does some research, checking references and visiting facilities cleaned by the bidding contractors, but the success of the final choice is hit or miss. And often this is no fault of the contractor; rather, the RFP was not clear about the facility’s cleaning requirements.

Why the old RFP still exists

The professional cleaning industry did not change much from the early 1950s into the 1990s. Because of this, many facility managers assume that the cleaning procedures and equipment that worked 10 to 20 years ago are still appropriate today. So these facility managers copy the specifications from an older RFP and paste them into a new one. Only the date changes.

As noted above, this can be a costly mistake. Cleaning has evolved, and with it, the chemical solutions, tools, and equipment used in cleaning. What’s more, in the past 20 years, the professional cleaning industry has embraced education and training. Certification programs established best practices and detail how to clean facilities more effectively and efficiently. An up-to-date RFP may even stipulate that all cleaning workers be certified by one of these programs.

The RFP process today

Instead of requiring that floors be “stripped and waxed on a monthly basis,” specifications for floor cleaning and maintenance in an up-to-date RFP would likely read as follows:

  • Create a floor maintenance program involving daily cleaning, interim cleaning, and restoration floor care.
  • Daily cleaning refers to sweeping, vacuuming, and dust and damp mopping of all hard surface floors.
  • Interim cleaning is more thorough and involves using an automatic scrubber. Do this cleaning in the lobby on a daily basis and weekly in all walkways throughout the building.
  • Do a complete restoration, or strip and refinish, of the floors every six to eight months, depending on wear and the appearance of the floors.

A floor maintenance program is essential to proper floor care. The floors would normally be cleaned on a daily basis, so that’s not new. Specifying interim cleaning and the use of an automatic scrubber is. It helps stretch floor refinishing cycles, which can ultimately reduce floor-care costs. Notice that the floors are specified to be stripped and refinished only every six to eight months. With this type of floor maintenance program, the building owner or manager can realize a significant cost savings.

Even when a building manager decides to revise an RFP, he or she often finds it to be a complicated, cumbersome process. This is why many larger commercial facilities bring in an experienced cleaning consultant to help prepare the RFP. The consultant’s knowledge of how the professional cleaning industry has evolved will be reflected in a more precise and specific RFP.

The RFP revamped

So what does a revamped RFP process look like?  Working with a more up-to-date RFP, here are the steps one university took when selecting a new cleaning contractor:

1. Prequalify: Instead of being open to anyone, this university narrowed its list of service providers to 10, based on their reputations.

2. Notify: The university notified the 10 contractors of the RFP and asked them to supply information about their companies showing their ability to carry out the RFP and their interest in working with the university.

3. Present: The university invited the 10 service providers to give half-hour presentations to university administrators. They were required to speak on four topics: the company’s green and sustainability programs; the communication process; the technologies and products used to perform the cleaning duties; and the transition process used to set up new accounts.

4. Round one: After the presentations, the administrators evaluated the contractors and narrowed the field to three or four bidders. The administrators used a simple system to score bidders on a scale of one to five, based on their presentations and how well they addressed the four criteria outlined above.

5. Adjust: The administrators then reviewed their RFP to see if it specified all the cleaning needs of the university. They also highlighted requirements that had been ongoing problems with the current cleaning contractor. The goal there was to not repeat past problems.

6. Round two: The administrators invited the three or four remaining bidders to submit their proposals. Along with checking that all cleaning requirements and past problems had been covered, and ensuring that the charges were in the range the university believes is fair, the administrators looked for one more thing. The university believed that a responsible cleaning contractor should go beyond the RFP, advising university administrators on ways they could enhance cleaning efficiencies, which could potentially lead to cost savings for the school.

While there are a few other steps in the process, this procedure — along with a revamped and up-to-date RFP— proved effective for this university. It allowed the administrators to make what they believe are more informed decisions, eliminating trial and error and putting an end to estimates.

To recap, a properly prepared and up-to-date RFP can: cut down on administrative time and effort; ensure that only necessary cleaning tasks are performed; helps contractors submit bids based on the specific needs of the facility; and prevents unexpected charges or overcharges due to misunderstandings. Ultimately, all of these benefits represent cost savings to building owners and managers and allow administrators to focus on the many other needs of their facility.

Ron Segura is president of Segura Associates. His company works with large organizations to streamline their cleaning and building operations so that they function more effectively and efficiently and realize a cost savings.

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