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Changing Role of Facility Maintenance Distributors Can Prove to be a Plus
By Michael Wilson
Published: 04/21/2014

Packaging Because most sectors of the economy have picked up considerably in the past couple of years, it might be easy to assume that everything is back to where it was before the downturn. However, that is certainly not the case, especially for administrators, including correctional facility administrators, who purchase thousands of dollars of cleaning and paper supplies and equipment for their facilities each year. And, these changes more definitely are also impacting the facility maintenance distributors that purchasers have traditionally worked with for years.

With the pick-up in the economy, more and more administrators have discovered other ways to procure products. Items traditionally bought from a facility maintenance distributor are now commonly purchased at a mega-retailer or online. Furthermore, in recent years, organizations, such as office supply companies and even Amazon.com, have noticed these trends and embraced the professional cleaning industry.

However, before shopping in the local mega-store or going online and saying goodbye to their trusty distributor, the many changes some distributors are now making in their business models to address a changing marketplace might prove very beneficial for correctional facility administrators. According to David Frank, a cleaning industry consultant, distributors are “embracing a new role…[they are becoming] hygiene and sanitation experts rather than product specialists as many have been in the past.”

While the mega-retailer and online stores certainly may market quality products at competitive prices, what they do not or cannot offer their customers, according to Frank, is “value.” By this he means there can be significant value in personally working with a facility maintenance distributor that knows a facility’s specific cleaning and maintenance challenges.

Bringing “Value” into the Equation

Traditionally, facility maintenance distributors may have marketed to many different market sectors. However, one of the things that has evolved since the downturn in the economy is that many are now focusing more on just a few very specific market verticals. And, because operating and maintaining a correctional facility is so much different than most any other type of facility, a distributor that is aware and well-versed in the specific challenges facing these facilities is an invaluable asset for a correctional facility administrator.

Among the value items such a distributor should be able to bring to the correctional administrator’s table are the following:

  • Custodial training: Professional cleaning has changed considerably in the past decade with the introduction of new chemicals, tools, and equipment; learning how to use these products properly can improve cleaning efficiency, improve worker productivity, and reduce costs.

  • Public health concerns: In the past few years, trade publications serving the professional cleaning industry have included scores of articles on such serious public health concerns as MRSA, HIV-infection, as well as infections due to cross-contamination. These articles have underscored how enhanced and proper cleaning procedures can minimize or prevent these diseases as well as help facilities prevent new outbreaks from diseases they may not even be aware of today.*

  • Product inventory/product alternatives: Working with school districts, Frank says, many are not completely sure what products are being used in their schools and which available alternatives might be more cost effective, perform better, or are more environmentally responsible; the same can be true of all types of locations, including correctional facilities.

A Closer Look at Product Inventory and Alternatives

Because the last item can prove so critical to the operation of a correctional location, we should explore it in more detail. Some facility maintenance distributors now have access to what are called “analytical tools.” These are web-based tools that are accessible on a computer or mobile device that can be viewed as a type of dashboard providing information on cleaning, paper, and related products. The distributor collects information on all the cleaning and related products currently being used in the facility. The dashboard, or analytical tool, then can analyze this information and suggest product alternatives that, as referenced earlier, might prove less costly or more performance effective.

This is actually quite a major technological advancement for the professional cleaning industry and it comes at a perfect time as the business model of the distributor has changed. Historically, distributors did their research using printed catalogs from specific manufacturers to select products that might be helpful for their clients. Now, with these analytical tools, scores of products in virtually every product category are available in seconds online. In a sense, these systems are virtual catalogs on steroids, helping the distributor prove its value to the customer. Ultimately, dashboards and other analytical tools primarily benefit the end-customer—in this case, the correctional facility administrator.

Many organizations have learned a lot about their business operations since The Great Recession. They have made changes that are helping them operate in a leaner, much more cost effective manner. However, correctional facility administrators are advised that many facility maintenance distributors they have worked with for years have made significant and technological changes as well. These changes can help advance a correctional facility in many ways.

Michael Wilson is the marketing director for AFFLINK, a member-driven sales and marketing organization that links leading manufacturers of janitorial, packaging, food service, safety, MRO and office supplies together with world-class distributors to deliver integrated supply solutions to thousands of customers throughout North America.

*A March 2014 study published in Health Affairs reports researchers have found that about two in five prisoners have a chronic medical condition often first diagnosed in prison. Because of this, correctional facility administrators must always be prepared for the unexpected when it comes to the health of their facilities.


  1. StephanieCasey on 08/25/2019:

    Melbourne SEO I love the way you write and share your niche! Very interesting and different! Keep it coming!

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