Professional Development: Helpful Hints For Evaluating Contractor Bids

By Bill Garland
Published in the July 2011 issue of Today’s Facility Manager

When facility managers (fms) post a request for a proposal (RFP) for cleaning services, they are looking at one of the largest facility services costs. Therefore, they need to provide the contractor with a realistic outline of what is required, including a detailed cleaning specification. Fms also need to sift through a variety of bids in order to find the company that will best suit their needs. The goal is to find a contractor who will effectively perform the tasks as outlined in the specifications at a reasonable cost while often addressing non-financial expectations such as sustainability benefits.

Assessing a prospective contractor is no easy task. Reviewing the types of products and equipment recommended for the cleaning system is one effective way to analyze the integrity of a bid. Contractors committing to use newer equipment with updated technology will be able to perform specific job functions (such as floor finishing) much faster and more efficiently than contractors using outdated equipment. Further, newer equipment can help limit physical strain on workers, improving efficiencies in other areas of the operation. All of these considerations can have a measurable impact on bottom line costs.

The following considerations can help simplify the consideration process and ensure the selection of the most qualified, highest value partner.

1. Review the system’s ergonomic features. Musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs) can result in a number of injuries, including pain, numbness, tingling, stiff joints, difficulty moving, muscle loss, and occasional paralysis. Each of these injuries can limit a worker’s productivity and/or result in absenteeism.

A study by the Bureau of Labor Statistics revealed that 42,000 occupational injuries requiring time away from work occur in the janitorial industry. Of these, 15,200 were MSDs requiring a median of seven days away from work.

When cleaning workers are absent for short or extended periods of time, new employees must be trained to complete their tasks, which results in additional labor cost. If a worker is unable to return to work because of the injury or leaves to find a less strenuous vocation, a new employee must be hired.

Average costs to replacing entry level staff and training new employees is between $5,000 and $7,000 per person. [Source: “Team Cleaning Addresses Key Industry Issues,” Jim Harris, Sr., 2004.] These are all costs which will be passed along to fms at some point.

Contractors who employ ergonomic equipment can only be expected to have a healthier and more productive workforce, but they also can reduce operating costs, enabling them to pass the savings along. When evaluating a bid, it is important for fms to understand what types of ergonomic tools the contractor uses. Lightweight equipment (or that with ergonomic features) can have a substantial impact on the quality of work performed—and the quality of life for workers.

2. Assess system productivity. When evaluating a prospective contractor, third party productivity studies can help determine the efficiency of the program. Quality contractors more than likely have this data or supporting information available to help fms understand why the system they use is more productive and will outperform other competing companies. For fms who want to take a more hands-on approach, this information is also available in industry trade publications or through manufacturers. Ultimately, the goal is to understand the overall productivity of the system compared to other available systems in the market.

A recent independent research study conducted at a high school in Wisconsin evaluated both the time required to finish floors using each system along with the materials needed and waste generated by each method. The study also looked at time trials, including time spent for set up and cleanup, as well as application in both large and small areas.

The results of this study showed that new finish applicator equipment in the market outperform traditional methods of applying floor finish, particularly in terms of productivity:

New finish equipment applicators: 292.6 sq. ft./min.
Flat mops: 131.6 sq. ft./min.
Mop and buckets: 126.9 sq. ft./min.

Studies like this one can be very helpful when evaluating a prospective contractor. A good company will be able to provide research to back up the science and efficacy of the equipment they use. If they are unable to provide this kind of research, it can also be beneficial to request a time study. Having a clear understanding of the systems in place and their productivity when compared to other systems available can reduce overall cleaning program costs.

3. Evaluate product performance. In the challenge to find the right contractor for the right price, some fms can lose sight of the importance of the quality of results and their impact on the organization. In addition to assessing the productivity of the products and systems used in their services, it is equally as important to find out how the products perform. For example, the contractor might use a flat mop to clean vinyl composition tile (VCT), but if it isn’t effective, the speed at which it cleans becomes irrelevant.

In addition to determining performance characteristics, fms should also find out the types of quality control measures the contractor has in place to ensure work will be performed to the level of expectation established at the outset of the contract. For example, what checks and balances have been implemented to review the cleaning operation and prevent inconsistent results or issues? And if there is an issue, who will be the point of contact to resolve any problems? These are all questions to ask before a contractor is selected.

Finally, while a company might look good on paper, a few easy questions can assist a fm in further assessing the integrity of its cleaning program. Contractors will only be as efficient as the systems they use, so it is important for fms to evaluate the types of products and equipment that are used in the cleaning process. Products that limit the ergonomic impact, increase productivity, limit downtime, and show consistency in performance results will enable a contractor to perform the task at hand effectively and efficiently. Employing a contractor using systems with these characteristics will make the company just as appealing after they complete the job as they first looked on paper.

Bill GarlandGarland is joint managing director of Daniels Associates Inc. With more than 30 years industry experience, Garland provides consulting resources for many of the world’s leading building service contractor companies.