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SMALL BUSINESS / JANE APPLEGATE

Clean Restroom Can Help Firm Sparkle

April 10, 1992|JANE APPLEGATE

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.

Of all small-business owners, restaurant owners should be especially sensitive to restroom cleanliness. Why? Because 85% 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 lacking hand 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 Assn. in Washington.

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

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 services to businesses across the country.

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

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

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

At last count, Swisher had 41 franchises in 35 states. In January, state officials granted Swisher permission to sell franchises in California. It takes $80,000 to $100,000 to open a Swisher franchise, depending on location. The company has about 15,000 customers, including several major fast food chains. System-wide sales for the year ended October, 1991, were $6 million.

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

He says he seeks out 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 Swisher's special germicidal solutions. The service doesn't replace daily cleanups, but once a bathroom is clean, Swisher said it's easier to keep 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." 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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