My family and I were on a car trip to Florida from Tennessee. Like all car trips someone had to stop and use the restroom. As the Dad, my job was to get us from point A to point B in as shortest time possible. I am not sure why we do this, but there is an unspoken mission that we ‘Dads’ have to average a time faster than the posted speed limit sign from starting location A -to- ending location B. Stopping is an unwanted detour from this mission. As we pull off the highway, I am looking for three answers to find the right place to pull into:
- Is it safe?
- Is it clean?
- Is the fuel price the cheapest on this exit?
Sometimes I use a handy smartphone app to find the cheapest gas station near me, but when nature calls, price takes a lower priority. We pull into a C-Store that looked safe and clean on the outside. My daughter, who couldn’t wait a minute longer, runs inside and immediately comes running back outside and says she is going next door to McDonald’s. When I ask why, she yells, “I am not stepping foot in that place.” Since I had already begun fueling, I decided to finish up and join them next door. When I went inside to pay, I immediately knew why my daughter refused to brave the interior elements. The inside of the store had a stale smell that hit you like skunk on a hot night; the shelves were barren of items and looked as if they hadn’t been restocked in the last three months; and the cleanliness displayed months of poor cleaning habits by the staff. The floor was filthy and nothing looked remotely sanitary. I had touched something sticky when fueling outside and needed to wash my hands. I ventured into the restroom and could not believe what I witnessed.
Due to the horrible care of this facility, the bathroom became the location for the community to express themselves in the worst possible ways. I couldn’t even wash my hands. I drove the car 100 feet next door and strolled into the McDonald’s lobby. My family was all smiling and gazing at the menu for some type of road-trip treat. I went in McDonald’s bathroom. It was clean, smelled nice, was fully stocked with the necessary items, and not a single evidence of graffiti. Once we got back on the road, I began to think how could two facilities 100 feet away from each other be so different.
I worked for Pilot Flying J, a large Travel Center and C-Store company, for eight years. After discussing the above experience with my Operations Team, they enlightened me to the root cause of this dilemma. I’ll get to that in a moment. At Pilot Flying J, I worked in the corporate office in Knoxville, TN. I held a number of positions in the IT group and ultimately I was one of two National Facility Managers. My area covered most states west of the Mississippi River and a few states up North too. We instituted a nationwide preventative maintenance (p.m.) program. Key items such as roof top units, fuel dispensers, and walk-in coolers were all inspected on a monthly basis and run through a simple, yet highly-effective checklist. Our research and experience proved that p.m. costs are far cheaper than repair costs. Just like changing the oil in your car keeps your engine working better and lasting longer, p.m. programs do the same for equipment. Changing the air filter, replacing a worn out belt, or making sure bearings are properly greased all work to prevent costly breakdowns.
Back to my conversation with my Operations Team. They explained that when a facility is clean and in great working condition, customers don’t abuse it. When a restroom looks like it was recently remodeled and is clean, nobody wants to be the first to mess it up. On the contrary, when a facility looks like nobody cares what condition it is in, then why should the customer care? It starts off with trash on the floor, then a dirty sink, poorly mopped floors and it snowballs from there. When the toilets look unsanitary, some people will kick the flusher instead of touching it with their hands. When the toilet paper runs out and the next roll is jammed customers will break the wall unit out of sheer desperation.
I have since left Pilot Flying J; now I live in Georgia and now work for ServiceChannel. ServiceChannel is an online facilities maintenance platform that can log, track, and monitor the repairs and maintenance work for C-Stores, Restaurants, and Retailers. ServiceChannel has a preventative maintenance program where you can schedule these types of services to extend the life of your facility and lower your total spend.
An industry trend over the last few years is for C-Stores to upgrade their design to be more like a luxury home. A few miles from my home in Alpharetta, GA is a new RaceTrac C-Store. This might be one of the nicest facilities I have been in. They have a deli counter, frozen yogurt station, and high-end luxury restrooms. Although it is slightly on the commercial side, I wish my home had some of these features. The restroom was so clean that I wiped up the counter myself after washing my hands. And this leads to the momentum of cleanliness. When a place is nice, inviting, and well-maintained customers want to visit it again and again and some will even help keep it clean with you.
If you are a C-store operator, I am sure this is not new news for you. However I wonder if any of your locations might be similar to the one at the beginning of my story. Do you have a systematic process in place to not only clean the restrooms, but also leverage a p.m. program? Is your system reducing administration hours and extending the life of your equipment? Are you doing it consistently well? Momentum can work both ways. Which direction are you headed?
For more information on how to make full use of a p.m. program and how ServiceChannel can help you start and maintain a cost-reducing program, please contact me, Michael Moog. [email protected].