Not being able to find the right janitorial services can evoke frustration. Much like when buying a new car, you must understand what you need to look for and to know the right steps to take.

Several weeks ago, my daughter–a recent college graduate–was in the market for a new car. When she asked for my help in this process, my first two questions were: “how much money do you have to spend?” and “what type of car are you looking for?”  The answers to these questions set us on a path toward finding what would best fit her needs.

My daughter’s car search experience came to mind recently during an encounter with a prospective client. The prospective client contacted me indicating that they were obtaining bids for their custodial services. He also informed me that they would be obtaining bids from other vendors, but that they would NOT be receiving a bid from their current vendor who was doing a poor job. As a side note, “getting bids” is typically code for “we are looking for the lowest price.”

Based upon the service tasks, frequency of tasks, and expectations that they wanted, I used production rates to estimate the number of man-hours required to complete the work, and used our knowledge of janitorial service wages in this market to develop our proposal. The response that I received? “Your price is about 30% higher than our current price.” Well, of course our price was higher than their current price–that is likely the reason that they were dissatisfied with their current level of service!

In other words, this prospective customer told us what they wanted and expected. However, they didn’t have enough money to purchase that type of service. Said another way, they were trying to purchase a Nissan Maxima with a Ford Fiesta budget.

Unfortunately, I see this scenario played out time and time again.


A Better Way

There is a better way to achieve the janitorial service results that you desire.  Use the steps below and eliminate the frustration that so many companies have with keeping their facility looking and feeling clean.

Step #1 – Decide What Type of Service You Want

There were several items that my daughter wanted on her car. She wanted low miles, a smaller SUV, a sun roof, and a couple of specific colors. Likewise, as it relates to your janitorial services, you must identify what you want. Saying “we just want our building to be clean” is like saying, “I just want a good car.” You must be more specific about your service expectations. For example, APPA (Association of Physical Plant Administrators) provides defined levels of cleanliness. Level 2, for example, is referred to as “Ordinary Tidiness,” and is described as follows:

  • Floors and base board molding shine and/or are bright and clean. There is no build-up in corners or along walls, but there can be up to two days’ worth of dust, dirt, stains, or streaks.
  • All vertical and horizontal surfaces are clean, but marks, dust, smudges, and fingerprints are noticeable upon close observation.
  • Washroom and shower fixtures and tile gleam and are odor-free. Supplies are adequate. Waste containers hold only daily waste, are clean and odor-free.

Give some thought to your expectations and gather some feedback from others in your organization if needed. Appropriately describing what you want, will assist vendors in providing a more accurate estimate of the man-hours required to meet your needs. If you don’t know how to formulate or articulate specifics, ask a reputable janitorial services to provide some assistance. 

***IMPORTANT NOTE:  Because labor (man-hours x wages) and labor related items (payroll taxes and workers comp) account for roughly 75% of the total price of any custodial proposal, it is crucial that both man-hours and market wages are accurately estimated.  For example, janitorial companies that pay team members less than $10.00/hr. are prone to experience higher turnover and/or low performing team members – both will negatively impact consistency of service.

Step #2 – Find the Most Reliable Vendor(s)

Using internet research, my daughter was able to find reliability ranking information about each make and model of car. This information helped her narrow her choices to only a few makes and models. Unfortunately, there is no reliability ranking data for janitorial services. However, there are some ways for you to find reliable, reputable vendors that will best meet your needs. Check out this resource regarding the types of janitorial services: The Types of Janitorial Companies and Which One is Best for You.  

One of the best ways to find a reliable janitorial vendor is by reaching out to colleagues in your area. Contact a colleague or company who uses an outsourced janitorial solution. Here are some questions to ask:

  • How long have you been working with this company?
  • How responsive is the janitorial company to your needs?
  • Has this company delivered on what they promised in the sales process?
  • On a scale of 1-10, what is your overall satisfaction with their service?
  • Lastly, what is your overall impression of this company? Do you feel like they really care about meeting your needs?

It is wise to contact companies that are (1) within a couple of hours of your location, and (2) have similar cleaning needs. Following this step, you should discover a couple of companies that have the resources and reputation to meet your needs.

Step #3 – Meet With The Vendor(s) and Share Your Budget

Invite the vendor(s) to tour your facility. Share with them your expectations and share with them your annual janitorial budget.  Now, I realize that I lost many of you right here….but stay with me! If the company with which you are speaking has been recommended by other company(s) in your area, there is an excellent chance that they are going to be honest in letting you know if your service expectations and budget are in alignment.  

Your budget number can be a general number, for example: “our annual budget for all janitorial services is around $200,000.”  Again, a reputable vendor, who wishes to establish a long-term partnership with you and other companies in your area, will only use this information for your benefit. Consider this for a moment. If you share with a reputable vendor that your annual budget is $200,000, and they agree to do the work as you described from the previous step, does it matter that you may have “left money on the table?”  Well, that depends. It depends on how important finding a reliable, consistent janitorial partner is to you.

Step #4 – Negotiate A Mutually Beneficial Partnership

Once my daughter had gathered all appropriate information, she began to search the internet for cars. She discovered rather quickly that to meet her budget, she would need to look for cars with a few more miles and a few less features than she had hoped.  

If the janitorial service that you identified in Step #2 indicates that they are not able to meet your budgetary requirements based on the tasks, frequency of tasks, and service expectations described in Step #1, negotiate some items that will allow you to achieve your goals. There are several ways for you and an honest vendor to achieve your budget and service expectation goals. For example, you might ask the vendor to meet your budget in exchange for a longer service agreement. Or, you and your vendor might discuss ways to reduce the number of daily man-hours by adjusting the frequency of certain tasks from daily to every other day in certain areas in your facility.***IMPORTANT NOTE:  In the event that your procurement rules do not allow you to use the steps described here (typically governmental agencies), check to see if there is a methodology for weighting proposals based on something other than price, or at the very least, weight the pricing a bit less.  True story – we received a “bid request” whereby the ranking was as follows: “2% – Years in Business, 3% – References, 95% price”.  Needless to say, that type of weighting is not geared toward quality!



In conclusion, finding the right janitorial services is the key to eliminating the frustration associated with inconsistent cleanliness of your facility. I am continually amazed at companies that ask for and gather “bids,” and then select the lowest or next to lowest bid, only to be continually frustrated with the cleanliness of their facility. Try the steps above–you might be pleasantly surprised with the results.

Oh, by the way, my daughter said, “Dave Ramsey says to wait until you have enough cash to purchase the car that you want. So, I’ll just wait until I have saved some more money.”  Smart girl!