Sinking money and effort into keeping restrooms clean pays off

Succeeding in small business

April 27, 1992|By Jane Applegate | Jane Applegate,Los Angeles Times Syndicate

Dealing with a dirty restroom may not be high on your priority list. But when you deal with the public, cleanliness boosts your business success.

Customers or clients upset by the condition of your restroom may take their business elsewhere -- and never tell you why. The state of your restroom also affects employee morale.

Restaurant owners should be especially sensitive to restroom cleanliness. Why? Because 85 percent of the restaurant patrons surveyed by Lebhan-Friedman Research ranked restroom cleanliness among the five most important factors when choosing a restaurant. Clean glasses and silverware topped the list. No one likes paying $30 for dinner only to find the restroom lacks soap and paper towels.

"In regard to customer relations, you are only as good as your restroom," said Wendy Webster, spokeswoman for the 150,000-member National Restaurant Association in Washington.

But since many employees find scrubbing toilets or sinks distasteful, you might consider using an outside contractor.

Doug Coffey, owner of Coffey Body Shop in Charlotte, N.C., recently turned his bathroom-cleaning chores over to Swisher International Inc., a Charlotte-based franchise company providing weekly restroom cleaning to businesses across the country.

Mr. Coffey's 12 employees are not the only ones grateful for the service. "I've had several customers compliment me on our restroom," he said.

Former restaurant owner Patrick Swisher knows how tough it is to keep a restroom clean. In 1983, Mr. Swisher was looking for a new business opportunity with unlimited growth potential. He checked into a restroom-cleaning business and decided he could do a better job.

"Anybody who has a public restroom is a potential client," said Mr. Swisher, who began franchising the Swisher International concept in 1990.

At last count, Swisher had 41 franchises in 35 states, including Maryland. It takes $80,000 to $100,000 to open a Swisher franchise, depending on the location. The company has about 15,000 customers, including several major fast-food chains. Systemwide sales for the year that ended in October 1991 were $6 million.

How does Mr. Swisher find people willing to clean restrooms for a living?

He says he seeks blue-collar workers accustomed to working a route, such as bread truck drivers or delivery people. They work four days a week, earning $10 to $12 an hour.

Business owners pay an average of $18 a week for a deep cleaning with Mr. Swisher's special germicidal solutions. The service doesn't replace daily cleanups, but once a bathroom is clean, Mr. Swisher said, it's easier to keep it clean.

"A clean restroom does attract customers," said Alan Brosious, co-owner of 12 Pump-n-Shop convenience stores in Augusta, Ga. "The oil companies are very interested in us having clean restrooms, too."

Mr. Brosious said he relies on Swisher because his own employees didn't do the job right. "The clean restrooms really boosted morale, and our customers noticed it right away," he said.

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