Janitorial Supplies Getting Tight for Area Cleaners

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – From customer cancellations to an increase in orders for products, area cleaning services are facing the effects of the coronavirus pandemic.

Sarah’s Cleaning of Youngstown Ohio saw four cancellations in two days, which would equal about $500 in revenue, says its owner, Sarah Russell.

“It’s been a nightmare. Pandemonium, interesting,” Russell says. “But at the same time we adapt and try to service our clients that need us still.”

Finding cleaning supplies has been a challenge, Russell says. “Adapt” and “pray” are her answers to overcoming the challenge, as well as finding supplies on Amazon Prime and seeking out the hidden stores people don’t think about such as Dollar Tree and Home Depot.

“The Dollar Tree sometimes has our paper towels or Lysol wipes,” Russell says. “Don’t go to Target or Sam’s Club because they’re cleared out.”

Since some of Russell’s clients don’t like many cleaning chemicals in their homes, Russell has resulted in cleaning with vinegar and even vodka, she says.

“If push comes to shove, I have sprayed down doorknobs and wipe with vodka,” Russell says. “The biggest thing is don’t panic. Even as a small business owner, I’m trying not to panic. Keep calm, wash your hands and practice good hygiene.”

As some residents stockpile cleaning supplies from retailers, that affects the ability of cleaning companies to get what they need to provide their services, says Katie Burkey, owner of Molly Maid.

“We are currently sufficiently stocked,” Burkey says. “The reality is that the things we buy normally — gloves, chemicals, supplies — at some point, if consumers are dipping into that same pot, there is the potential that we are going to run out. Thankfully, we should be good for another month plus.”

Rhiel Supply Co., which provides janitorial supplies to regional customers, has seen increased customer orders for disinfectants, hand sanitizers, soap and toilet paper, says Karen Blacko, customer service manager. Even the company’s outside sales and delivery services staff keep hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes in their vehicles, per the guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Our plans are to keep searching for vendors that have products that we can order,” Blasko said. “We got product today for disinfectant sprays for customers who were waiting for it. Our outside sales people are checking with their customers and helping them find the best solution.”

Manufacturers of cleaning supplies are struggling to keep production in line with need, so getting supplies to customers has been a challenge, particularly with hand sanitizer, Blasko says. Rhiel’s purchasing department is working hard to acquire more hand sanitizer, she says.

All of the schools that Rhiel supplies are well positioned, Blasko says, because of being used to the flu season.

“They just had to tighten up a little bit and make sure they had some backup supplies,” she says. “They did real well. Smaller companies, you don’t expect to have a major virus coming, so you have to revisit your plans.”

Hand sanitizing stations next to the elevator at the Ohio One Building downtown.

Housekeeping staff at Ohio One Corp. are also following the CDC’s recommendations about wiping down door knobs, handles and telephones daily, says its president, Richard Mills. Ohio One employs some 20 housekeeping workers who are equipped with gloves and disinfectant wipes, Mills says.

Ohio One has installed hand sanitizing stations and information on the COVID-19 strain next to elevator buttons in its buildings, and it recently started using a fogger to disinfect public areas. Its order of disinfectants has increased as well, Mills says.

“I’m not going to say it was an easy acquisition, but I think we have enough product to get us through the crisis,” Mills says. “As these days go on, there’s more of our tenants who are working from home or have a skeleton crew in the office.”

Many customers are requesting services to disinfect to keep high traffic spaces well maintained and sanitized, says Molly Maid’s Burkey.

“Definitely bathrooms, kitchens, reception areas or any area where patients may be sitting,” Burkey says.

While disinfecting is one preventive measure to combat coronavirus, it really starts with self care and being aware of signs and symptoms, as well as wiping down door knobs, light switch covers and phones, she says.

“We’re definitely being more mindful and proactive in ramping up addressing all of those things,” Burkey says.

As some industries, like restaurants, increase their regular cleaning routines, some cleaning companies are seeing a spike in business. According to ZipRecruiter, help-wanted postings for cleaners are expected to increase 75% in March compared to the same time last year.

“There’s been a huge spike in demand for cleaning workers,” said Julia Pollack, labor economist at ZipRecruiter, in a statement. “We didn’t see much of a change in February, but the first few weeks in March we are seeing a big shift.”

In light of Gov. Mike DeWine’s ruling of schools being closed, possibly for the rest of the school year, Molly Maid is working with its 30 employees, many of whom have families, she says. If there is a family member who needs to take time off to be with their children, they can easily do so, she says.

“We’re fortunate that we have a good mix of employees and staff who do not have children, so to date, we haven’t been affected by that,” Burkey says. “It may change in another week or so and we’re working through those options with them.”

Carl Clark, owner of C&B Cleaning Services, Youngstown, is looking to hire more to keep up with increased businesses, he says. The coronavirus is also causing him and his staff to move forward with more caution when providing services.

“We have been in contact with a lot of our customers to see if anyone has been sick or affected,” Clark says. “You have to ask those types of questions, but negatively, it hasn’t really affected us. It’s actually caused us to be more aware of the disinfecting of the various places we clean.”

He has started doing more research on the coronavirus and what cleaning products are the most effective. The company is also examining ways to more effectively use cleaning products so they last longer, which is a “fingers crossed” situation at the moment, he says.

“I believe it caught everyone off guard,” Clark said. “It’s caused us to spend a little bit more money, but it’s well worth it to keep the customers safe.”

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.