State Governing and Advocacy Association for Contractors, Distributors and Manufacturers of Cleaning and Maintenance Supplies

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Dealing with the “Keep It Flat” Revolution

We’ve seen it evolving for almost a decade now.  At one time, when a traditional VCT

floor was installed in a facility, whether a school, hospital, or office building, it was just

assumed the floor would be finished and some type of ongoing floor maintenance

program would be instituted.  However, our customers had other ideas.  They started

balking at the costs to maintain floors, especially the costs of stripping and refinishing.  

Then there were the environmental issues.  In some areas of the country, the slurry

created when a floor is stripped is now viewed as “hazardous waste.”  This means

disposal of the slurry must follow specific guidelines that further add to the time and

costs of stripping and refinishing a floor.

And many customers have been less than enthusiastic about some of the more

environmentally preferable floor care chemicals and finishes now available.  While

products are available, and it is possible, it has proven difficult to replicate the shine and

durability of a traditional floor finish using a green-certified alternative.

So it is no wonder more and more customers have joined the “keep it flat” floor care

revolution and insist that no floor finish be applied to their floors.  However, for

distributors as well as contract cleaners, this can create an entirely new set of problems.

For distributors specifically, the sale of floor care products, chemicals, and equipment

can be very profitable. Not only do we not want to lose this revenue stream, floor care is

one area that allows distributors to put on their consulting caps, which can help them

build trust and loyalty with their customers, and also offers a number of upsell


But for both distributors and contract cleaners, there is the fact that a traditional hard

surface floor not only looks better when a high quality finish has been applied but

invariably it is also easier to maintain.  View the floor finish as a plate of glass gently

resting atop the floor.  Soils, moisture, and debris collect on this “glass surface” of the

floor, preventing them from penetrating into the grout or pores of the floor.  That’s when

the appearance of the floor is marred and correcting this situation is when floor care

costs begin to mount.

But there are other reasons we should encourage end-customers to apply finish to their

floors. Among them are the following:

 Safety.  Applying a floor finish with a high coefficient of friction (COF) rating can

help prevent slips and falls.

 No static. Some floor finishes can help reduce static electricity. Static electricity

can be not only bothersome to building users, but also damaging to electronic

equipment. A static-reducing floor finish can help prevent a static charge that

might damage a computer, phone, copier, or similar device.

 Brightens the location.  When you see a shiny, high luster floor what you are

actually seeing is the reflection of light off the floor. This reflected light can make

an entire area look brighter and more appealing to work in; it can also help

reduce lighting needs and promote safety to boot.

 Protecting floors. We mentioned earlier that a finish acts like a plate of glass,

providing a barrier to keep soils and moisture from penetrating deep into the

floor.  Ultimately, this is one of the most important reasons for a finish to be

applied to a floor.  As soils and moisture work their way into the floor, it can

weaken grout areas and the tiles themselves.  The finish can help prevent this

damage, helping to extend the life of the floor.

 Neater and more organized.  A police officer once advised a citizen to not only

remove the graffiti he found on his building as soon as possible but also to keep

all the walls on his building as clean, graffiti free, and well-painted as possible.  

The reasoning: graffiti attracts more graffiti and an unkempt building is like a

welcome sign to the local graffiti “artists.”  The same reasoning can be applied to

building users and floors.  Very simply, a high luster, well maintained floor gets

respect.  It tends to get treated better and workers keep the area neater and

more organized.

All of these items can help sell your customers on the reasons why a floor finish should

be applied to their floors.  However, they do not address the cost issue, which as we

know is one of the main reasons end-customers have joined the keep it “flat revolution.”

There are essentially two key ways distributors can help their customers reduce floor

care costs and they are:

Develop a floor care program with your clients that puts much greater emphasis on

cleaning, scrubbing, and recoating.  This stretches floor refinishing cycles, sometimes

as much as two years or more, which reduces costs as well as the burden on the


Look into floor care equipment alternatives.  Without question, the price tag on some

automatic scrubbers can cause a few stomachs to be tied in knots.  Even explaining to

the customer that the machine will eventually pay for itself does not seem to make the

situation much easier to swallow.  

The only effective way to deal with this condition is to advise the customer on less costly

auto scrubber alternatives now available.  Some “autovac” units for instance, cost less

to purchase than many traditional autoscrubbers cost to maintain on an annual basis.

These systems are very “finish friendly,” helping to stretch refinishing cycles. Plus, these

autovac machines have been independently tested and their floor cleaning capabilities

have been proven effective and are now documented.

There’s just no reason to see another flat floor.  There really is nothing pleasing about

the way they look and there are now many ways to turn flat floors into high luster floors

that look good, are easy and cost effective to maintain, and by using the right tools and

equipment, easy on the environment as well.

Paul South is the President and General Manager of Valley Janitorial, based in

Hamilton, OH a 30-year-old janitorial supply company.

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