We asked readers how challenging it has been to source cleaning supplies during the pandemic, whether prices have risen, how prepared they are for future demand over the coming months and what type of impact Covid-19 has had on existing contracts?
The pandemic has rocketed cleaning practices to the top of the list of organisational priorities, with the Cleaning & Hygiene Suppliers Association (CHSA) warning of “extraordinary” demand for cleaning supplies “for the foreseeable future”. Tthe CHSA also warned against unscrupulous groups trying to capitalise on this with inflated costs, writing to the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) and asking it to investigate companies seeking to profit from the health crisis. We asked readers to explain how challenging it has been to source cleaning supplies; whether prices have risen; how prepared they are for demand over the coming months; and what impact the pandemic has had on existing contracts.
Collaboration with suppliers
At ISS UK we have a managed to fulfil most customer requirements through our existing suppliers. At the height of the pandemic, where demand spiked, we did need to qualify additional suppliers to support ISS and our clients. With increased demand, market forces resulted in some price increases and, in some cases, upfront payments before the product was shipped.
At the outset of the pandemic, [sourcing] liquid soap (particularly antibacterial soap) and hand sanitiser was a challenge. During April, disposable nitrile gloves (to EN374) and sanitising wipes suitable for Covid-19 became difficult to obtain, with prices also increasing. By collaborating with our suppliers, and utilising our global reach, we’ve sourced and approved a range of certified disinfectants (to EN14476) as viricides, enabling us to keep supplies flowing throughout the pandemic.
Since May, our view is that the market is returning to pre-pandemic levels, even on the higher-demand items. We anticipate an increased need for consumables, materials and PPE as our customers’ return ‘back to the workplace’. For example, due to enhanced personal hygiene, some customers are requesting personal hygiene kits and self-cleaning stations for additional reassurance for employees; but given the phasing of the return, we do not envisage such a high spike in demand.
Paul Fereday, head of operations at ISS UK Cleaning Excellence
Supply chain slowdown
The most difficult time to get hold of supplies was around early April. It was nearly impossible to get large stocks of gloves, masks, wipes and especially hand gel. All of a sudden, things got very technical and we needed PP3 face masks and hand gel that had above 60 per cent alcohol concentration. This surge in demand led to long lead times and higher prices ( around 300-500 per cent). This was clearly profiteering but impossible to prove at the time. Massive amounts of goods were being stocked in warehouses and resold, which slowed the supply chain considerably.
Towards the end of April and into May things calmed down. I think the UK realised it wasn’t going to the office any time soon and demand for PPE dropped rapidly. Everything became very available and prices started to reduce. In fact, we started receiving calls and messages from suppliers that had bought hundreds of thousands of items and now couldn’t dispose of it. They were almost begging us to buy it from them.
Andrew Hulbert, managing director at Pareto FM
Use forward thinking
Demand for commercial cleaning in offices, police and fire stations has increased substantially. Incentive QAS purchased sufficient amounts of PPE and specialist cleaning equipment during the early stages. This ensured we were able to service to our customers whilst ensuring the wellbeing of our staff. This approach enabled us to provide specialist deep cleans.
Incentive QAS has established fantastic working relationships with suppliers which has benefitted us greatly. This has enabled us to purchase hand sanitiser and PPE in bulk at an affordable price, store product at our suppliers’ site and request delivery when required. The H&S of our cleaning teams and clients is obviously a key priority so ensuring provision of these was of paramount importance during the planning stages.
Not only has our service been unaffected during lockdown, but as lockdown eases, we have a steady stream of supplies.
David Brown, commercial director of Incentive QAS
Flexibility is key
Procuring cleaning supplies was immensely challenging because almost overnight the products and their distribution were placed under huge strain. The supply chain we used depended upon packaging and bottles manufactured in the Far East and China, and upon chemicals largely manufactured in the Netherlands. The impact of Covid-19 dramatically increased demand as companies and organisations started panic buying and also hampered the supply chain, both in terms of the supply of chemicals and the packaging they came in.
We took the decision early on to switch cleaning chemical after assessing the risk in the supply chain. We changed to a chemical that is manually dosed on site rather than controlled via a dispenser to reduce the risk of packaging and chemical shortages. Taking this approach has not increased our costs.
We have a robust supply chain and distribution network and do not envisage a problem. However, it is true that the pandemic throws up unexpected challenges. The key is to be flexible.
In the 11 NHS Hospitals and half-a-dozen healthcare centres that we provide facilities management services to, we have responded to the needs of our client. This has meant increasing the frequency and intensity of cleaning regimes to help create the best possible environment for patients and for NHS staff to operate in as safely as possible.
In other sectors, we have fundamentally changed our cleaning regime. Previously cleaners would clean during out-of-office hours, refill toilet paper holders, clean kitchens and empty dishwashers and so on. Now we are seeing, as our customers either run drastically altered operations or re-emerge from lockdown conditions, there is less demand for kitchen, toilet and general duties as fewer people are in the workplace.
However, our cleaners are carrying out far more regular cleans of common touchpoints – handrails, doors, stairwells and so on. Our cleaners are being redeployed and concentrating on cleaning and recleaning key areas as much as possible.
Thomas Garlick, head of procurement – soft services at Interserve Support Services