What we’ve learned about how to start cleaning a 100,000 square foot school

When starting to clean a new building or facility in the commercial cleaning industry usually the first few weeks are the most difficult.  From a familiarity standpoint, it simply takes time to learn a new building and find the most efficient flow.  When you’re team cleaning there’s usually a strategy or tactic that will help save the most time and help you arrive at the quality service your customers are expecting. 

 

The larger or more complicated a building or facility the more challenging it can be in the initial few weeks of starting to clean a new customer.  This article is all about a recently started private school that one of our franchisees began servicing with nightly janitorial cleaning.  This school has over 2,000 students, there are two buildings totaling 100,000 sf, 50 classrooms, 32 restrooms, several office or admin areas, and teacher’s lounges.  Hundreds of trash cans to empty every night, and two large cafeterias.

 

Getting prepared to start, and then having a smooth first few weeks in a school of this size requires a lot of planning, strategy, and execution.  We showed up with an experienced team and still had surprises and challenges that could have gone better.  We are sharing what we went through in the hopes that it helps you prevent issues or at least be prepared for the challenges that will come.

 

Preview:

  • Pre-pricing walkthrough
  • How to price accurately
  • Equipment and cleaning chemical planning 
  • Hiring
  • Background checks and security 
  • Establishing a team cleaning strategy
  • Double checking
  • Customer communication 

 

Pre-pricing walkthrough

Anyone in the commercial cleaning industry knows that getting the opportunity to quote a large school is a big deal and it can be very exciting at first.  When facility managers or school administrators in charge of choosing a new cleaning company go out for quotes and they choose you it is flattering.  The potential of earning the business should be exciting, but the way the initial meeting goes is perhaps the most important part of the process.  Everything down the road will be based on understanding their desires and expectations.  

 

Not all schools are the same, and not all facility managers have the same expectations.  For example, do the teachers wipe down the desks in their classrooms or do they expect the cleaning company to do this?  Will the teachers be putting chairs on top of desks, stacking them in the corner, or leaving them as is?  

 

These details can add 5 to 20 minutes per classroom, and if you have 50 classrooms the difference in time can add up to 8 or more hours.  This is where you must listen to what they say and be ready to ask important questions that help reveal what they expect.  Most facility managers or admin people in charge of getting cleaning quotes are not commercial cleaning experts and they may not understand the time some tasks may take.  

 

The details or expectations that aren’t said in this initial meeting can blow up in your face later on, so make sure you dive into every little cleaning detail and expectation.  It may take 2 hours for this meeting, and it can feel like you are bothering your potential customer, but it is more annoying to not give them what they want later on when they will certainly expect you to know what they want, whether it was said in the initial meeting or not.  

 

You should leave this meeting understanding everything they expect and know exactly how to make them happy.  

 

How to price accurately

After a successful initial walk through with a facility manager or whoever is in charge of gathering janitorial quotes, you should know exactly what they want.  When you apply their expectation to the size of the school you will have an idea of how many people you will need and how long it should take them.  

 

Depending on the size of the school you will have to consider what time saving options there are such as walk-behind scrubbers, backpack vacuums, team cleaning and anything else that the pros use to perform at a high level quickly.  Efficiency and quality is the key to being competitive, and finding the right balance is how to be successful in keeping your customer happy while being properly paid for your hard work.  

 

There are several ways to look at this, but generally speaking we suggest looking at cleaning speeds which vary based on the expectations the customer has and the school.  The more detailed their expectations the more time it will take which will lower cleaning speeds.  The more they provide you with support and the more machines or time saving techniques you can apply to a school the higher or faster the cleaning speeds can be.  

 

With the right balance of efficiency and investment into machines and equipment it is reasonable to achieve 3,000 to 4,000 sf per hour cleaning speeds.  Highly detailed schools with high expectations would probably require around 2,500 cleaning speeds, and it could vary based on other factors, but this is how we generally have had success.  

 

The last step in pricing is to create a proposal or quote that details their specific cleaning expectations on the schedule they requested.  Most schools want five days a week cleaning, and they want their hard floors mopped every night, and have restrooms with more cleaning needs due to the way children make a mess.  

 

In the next section we’ll cover how equipment and chemical needs impact pricing and a successful start.  

 

Equipment and cleaning chemical planning 

The time it takes to properly clean any sized building is directly correlated to the equipment and chemicals you bring to do the job.  The difference in time between hand mopping vs using a walk behind scrubber on large open areas of hard floor is huge.  When planning for how long it will take to clean a 100,000 sf school, and ultimately how much to charge a customer, it is necessary to invest in appropriate machines and equipment.

 

When you are invited to give a quote to a school, you will almost certainly be one of three or more companies sending in quotes.  On top of your past experience and proven ability to handle a large school, one of the most important factors customers use to choose a new cleaning company is price.  If your competition is bringing in scrubbers, back pack vacuums, kaivac machines, and other time saving cleaning machines and chemicals then you have to as well or they will be able to price it much lower than you and win the business.  

 

Another key factor to consider is how long you will have to prepare to start cleaning their school.  Make sure that you address this in the initial walk through.  Some customers are in an urgent need to change cleaning companies, and they will want you to start within a couple of days.  This will make it very difficult to find and buy $5,000 to $10,000 worth of machines and equipment.  So, the earlier you let the customer know that you need time to get what you need to do a good job the better.  

 

Hiring

One of the most time consuming parts of preparing and being ready to start cleaning a large school is interviewing and hiring your team.  When you need 6 to 10 people to clean a 100,000 sf school you may need to interview 15 to 20 just to find the right team.  Then you may have people back out or take other work.  Having alternates and standbys you can reach out to is vital.

 

This is another topic to bring up in the initial walkthrough, to let the potential customer know you will need time to find the right team and train them.  The customer doesn’t want you to hire people with no commercial cleaning or school cleaning experience, so they will usually be supportive of giving you the time you need.  

 

A few things to remember when selecting the right team is to ask if they have reliable transportation, do they have commercial cleaning experience, do they have school cleaning experience, do they have team cleaning experience.  Make sure language barriers aren’t a problem, and because schools have very strict security protocols they will need to pass a fingerprint background check in most cases.

 

Background checks and security 

For very good reason, schools have strict security protocols requiring fingerprint background checks.  This is why the team you hire all need to be able to pass this test, and each person’s test will come at a cost, so make sure you budget for this as well.

 

Another time based factor is how long it can take to get your team on a list for the school to set up to receive the results of a background check.  So, hiring quickly is important then getting the list of names to the school quickly is important.  Once they have this list of names they will likely arrange for your employees to go to a specific testing site so that they receive the results.  These results can take several days to come back.

 

This process can be more time consuming than the process of hiring a team.  This is another conversation that should be had with your potential customer in the initial walkthrough.  Letting them know what it will take for you to properly prepare to take on the cleaning of their school is in their own best interest and it gives you the time cushion you’ll need.  Some of your team may not pass the background check, or there may be complications in getting this process completed.  Also some schools may require each person to get a badge which can add even more time.  

 

Establishing a team cleaning strategy

Creating a strong team cleaning strategy and training your staff is a crucial step in preparing to start cleaning a large school.  The specific plan you create will vary based on several details. 

 

Potential factors that will impact the way you want to team clean are:

  • Size of the school
  • Number of classrooms
  • Number of restrooms
  • How many people are on your team
  • Will student’s chairs be stacked in the corner or left under each desk

 

Don’t spend too much time trying to find the perfect team cleaning plan when you start because you will learn each school or facility after a week or two of cleaning.  The more you get in and clean a school the more you will see ways to improve the processes and efficiencies.  

 

It is important to have a plan to start with.  Make sure everyone on your team is aware of the school’s expectations, which team member is responsible for which cleaning details, and how everyone is coordinated or working together. 

 

With hundreds of trash cans, dozens of restrooms, and hundreds of little details it is crucial that everyone on the team knows their role and how to work with and around the rest of their team so nothing gets missed or forgotten.  Initially there will be plenty of feedback from the customer about things that are missed which will help you adjust your plan as you go.

 

Double checking

The first few weeks of cleaning a new commercial facility will always have surprises and things missed.  Customers will let you know if a trash can was not emptied or if details in a restroom need to be improved.  Consider the size of any building and the amount of detail that is required for a complete job, and we believe as much as 5-10% may be missed or need improvement within the first week or two no matter how well you prepare.  This is standard and to be expected.

 

5-10% of a 3,000 sf medical office means a few small details need to be addressed.  5-10% of 100,000 can feel like a lot. The facility manager, teachers, and admin staff at a school of this size may get worried if 5 to 10% of the details need improvement.  This is why having a double checker in your team cleaning process is so important.  

 

The goal is 100% completion every night, but that just isn’t how commercial cleaning works some nights.  This is ok, if you are putting in the effort, and have earned trust with your customer by demonstrating your desire to give them what they want, and with high level customer communication.  

 

The first couple of weeks will be the hardest like we said earlier.  Learning a 100,000 sf school and finding the best team cleaning strategy can take some time. During this time some teachers may have trash cans that don’t get emptied or restrooms that need more attention.  This is where your communication with your customer is crucial.

 

Customer communication 

Everything that you have done to prepare and plan to start cleaning this large school leads up to the first clean and generally the first couple of weeks of cleaning.  Your brand new customer is likely leaving a bad situation with high hopes of you improving and making their life easier right away. 


We find that these new customers have created expectations that everything will be perfect immediately and they won’t have to deal with any issues at all.  This is why we suggest letting your customer know ahead of time that you will be giving it your best and want it to be perfect right away, but that there may be little things they miss initially.  If your customer understands this it is more likely they will be understanding when issues need to be discussed early on.  

 

However, the most important factor in this phase is how you communicate with them when issues are raised.  Customers want to see you are trying and that you care.  They want to know that you are willing and able to listen to feedback and adjust to give them what they want.  And it is super important to set a tone of understanding and willingness to improve.  

 

Any hint of defensiveness or frustration will not be helpful.  If they have issues you feel you have addressed it’s not helpful to snap back and tell them they are wrong.  It would be productive to let them say their perspective, ask questions to make sure you understand their point of view, then reply with anything that may be helpful for them to see where you are providing what they expect.

 

If there are issues you simply missed or forgot, the best way to reply is “I am sorry this happened, and I will get it fixed tonight and not let it happen again.”  This lets your new customer know you can take their feedback and be professional and polite. 

 

It is impossible to measure, but in our experience being likable, friendly, and easy to talk to around potentially difficult subjects can buy you much more time to get organized and keep your customer happy.  If you are defensive and hard to talk to, your customer will immediately begin looking for reasons to fire you and bring in another cleaning company that will be easier to work with and give them what they expect.  

 

Recap

If you find yourself in the position of sending a quote to a large school we suggest having all of the difficult conversations long before you begin.  This way you set expectations with the customer, give yourself enough time to hire and train the right team, get them background checked, find and purchase all the needed equipment and chemicals, and create a team cleaning strategy that is at least good enough to start on the first day.

 

Our 5-10% rule seems to be helpful across all industries and facilities that a commercial cleaning company may find.  Expect that there will be issues and things missed, but the more you prepare and the more you communicate with your customer ahead of time the easier everything will be.  

 

We help over 100 commercial cleaning companies grow their business in Central Florida, and we hope this information is helpful to you as well.  If you are needing help growing your janitorial cleaning company in Central Florida we would love to speak with you to see if we are a good fit for each other. 

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