Updating Your RFP System

A request for proposal lists all of the services, frequency of service, and other information required to keep facilities and campus buildings clean and healthy.

It is very unlikely that private colleges and universities would be using history books—or even worse, textbooks on software or computers—that are more than a decade old.  On the other hand, it is quite likely they are using requests for proposals (RFPs), especially for the cleaning and maintenance of their campuses, which are usually a decade old or more.

An RFP is designed to list all of the services, frequency of service, and other information required to keep campus buildings clean and healthy.  They are used for two key purposes:

1. For school administrators, so that they are familiar with the cleaning needs of their own facilities
2. For cleaning contractors, so that they can review all of those cleaning needs and submit an estimate—a monthly or annual charge—for maintaining a school’s facilities.

But, there are flaws in many RFPs used today.

In all due respect, all kinds of settings, from private schools and universities to high-tech corporate campuses throughout the country, use RFPs that are very outdated.  While there may be a variety of reasons for this, including it just being an old habit, in my experience administrators at educational facilities, public and private, have simply not kept up with changes in the professional cleaning industry.

While it is true that for decades the cleaning industry changed very little as to products and procedures, that all changed about twenty-plus years ago.  That’s when the industry got much more Green and sustainability focused; when ergonomics and worker productivity began playing a bigger role in the way cleaning tools and equipment were designed; and when the cost of cleaning started mounting.

Cleaning costs are as much as 90 percent labor related and as wages and related employment costs started escalating, so did the cost of cleaning.  So this tells us that an outdated RFP can have serious cost repercussions, which is something no private college or university wants if they can avoid it.

RFP Case in Point

Here is a perfect example of the problems an outdated RFP can cause.

For decades, RFPs as well as cleaning contractor proposals indicated that floors would be “stripped and waxed” every three or six months.  The first issue here is that we no longer use the words “stripped” and “waxed.”  Those terms date back to the 1950s or earlier.  Today we simply say the floors are “refinished.”

Next, when labor costs were low and even though this is invariably one of the most labor intensive cleaning tasks, refinishing floors simply were not considered significantly expensive.  Today, whenever we see the words “labor intensive” used as it pertains to professional cleaning, that’s a polite euphemism for “costly.”

In addition to the higher costs of refinishing floors, what likely put the final nail in the coffin of “stripping and waxing floors every three to six months” was concern for the environment.  While great strides have been made to help “green” floor refinishing, the fact remains it can be a very unhealthy cleaning task both for the user and the environment.  In fact, in some states, the “slurry” that is created when refinishing a floor must be treated as hazardous waste and cannot be poured down drains.

So, if an RFP still indicates that the floors are to be stripped and re-waxed every few months, not only is it expensive, but this frequency also puts workers and the environment at risk.

Ending the Old RFP Habit at a Large Campus

Now that we hopefully are aware of the problems that can be caused by an old RFP, how do we turn things around?  One way to accomplish this in a large private college or university is to hire a cleaning consultant.  Cleaning consultants are typically retained for the following reasons:

• Help the facility better understand its cleaning needs
• Assist managers in determining their goals when it comes to cleaning and maintenance
• Advise ways to streamline cleaning operations so that they are more efficient and cost effective
• Identify the cleaning and maintenance products and procedures necessary to maintain the facility
• Provide custodial training
• Develop a green and sustainable cleaning program
• Improve morale and communication between cleaning workers and their supervisors and/or building administrators.

Once a large college or university has a better understanding of its cleaning goals, its cleaning needs, and ways to streamline cleaning, this information can all be reflected in an updated RFP.  Using our floorcare example once again, an updated RFP would likely indicate one of the following:

• Floors are to be refinished once per year, or
• The cleaning staff is to develop procedures and use products that help stretch refinishing cycles so that floors are refinished only every 12, 18, or 24 months.

Now, we have significantly reduced cleaning costs and helped protect the health of cleaning workers and the environment to boot.

Ending the Old RFP Habit at a Smaller Campus

There are steps administrators and the cleaning staff of a smaller school can take to help reach many of these same objectives.  The first step, and one of the most important, is making sure it is a team effort, involving school administrators and cleaning workers.  In my experience, when administrators make major decisions about cleaning products or procedures without the input of cleaning workers, those decisions are often resisted and in worst case scenarios, ignored.

Next, administrators and cleaning professionals, and a cleaning consultant may still be needed here, must determine the facility’s scope of cleaning needs and its cleaning goals.  Some facilities are much more focused on cleaning and willing to make a larger investment; others may not believe a substantial cleaning investment is as necessary or do not have the budget to make it happen.

Also in some cases, an astute janitorial distributor can help schools select products and equipment that can reduce cleaning times, develop a green cleaning strategy, and assist with state-of-the-art custodial training.  Administrators of private colleges and universities, whether small or large, are advised to never underestimate the value of working with a knowledgeable janitorial distributor.

Finally, I highly recommend that administrators and cleaning staff members attend some of the annual professional cleaning industry tradeshows, which is when new tools and equipment are often introduced.  The more you know about cleaning, the better and more specific your RFP will be.  And the more updated your RFP, the more likely you will enjoy its benefits.

Ron Segura is president of Segura Associates. His company works with large organizations, colleges and universities as well as contract cleaning companies,  to streamline their cleaning and building operations so that they function more effectively and efficiently and realize a cost savings. He can be reached through his company website at .