Monday, September 15, 2008

What is the average cleaning cost per square foot?

Finally, an honest answer to a burning question

Over the years, I have led numerous staffing, workloading and benchmarking seminars for distributors, manufacturers, in-house service providers and building service contractors. No matter where I am presenting, someone asks, “What is the average cleaning cost per square foot?”

I liken this inquiry to the “Search for the Holy Grail” because finding the one mystical number is nearly impossible. Actually, finding a number is easy. Finding the correct number is an altogether different matter. The reality is that the answer does not exist. There is no universal cost average or standard cost per square foot because so many variables go into calculating it.

Industry-specific associations, such as IFMA, BOMA and APPA, among others, publish average cleaning costs. However, once you consider the variables related to cleaning and square footage, the exceptions swallow up the rules, making the average numbers difficult to rely on.

Let’s take a closer look at the cost-per-square-foot calculation that is often used in our industry. The numerator, or the number on the top of the fraction, is cost; the number of square feet is on the bottom (the denominator).

Starting at the top, let’s consider the cost variables. Cost includes the provision of basic cleaning services and that raises a host of questions. What cleaning tasks and frequencies make up the scope of work? If the tasks or frequencies change the scope – the time it takes to do the work changes. What else makes up the cost figure? Are porter services included? What about window washing and carpet cleaning? Plus, the productivity and labor rates vary widely depending on how fast people work, the tools and products used, the labor market, and the customer’s needs. Ultimately, cost depends on a multitude of variables that are as unique as each facility.

Now, consider square footage. Although there are industry-specific definitions[1], too few cleaning professionals are familiar with them. This number varies because everyone measures it differently. Some calculate gross square footage while others focus on net, or cleanable square feet. Commercial offices often identify only “rentable” square footage. The bottom line is that the calculation of square footage varies widely.

The result of this cost-divided-by-square-foot formula is a prescription for numbers that are at best a starting point and more often than not misleading. No wonder so many BSCs are scratching their heads in search for the magic number.

While there is no magic, there is an answer. The best way to calculate your costs is to base them on your operation and the facilities that you service. The following steps will give you a good start:

Identify the area. Start with one area of the facility, such as offices, and measure the cleanable square footage. You can take physical measurements, use to-scale architectural drawings, or use electronic CAD drawings to measure and categorize each area. Whichever method you choose, your objective is to determine the amount of space that needs to be cleaned.

Conduct a space inventory. In addition to square footage, it is essential to count individual items and surface types in each space to be cleaned, such as floor surfaces, fixtures, fountains and other cleanable items.

Define the scope of work. The scope of work is going to determine how many labor hours are needed to complete the work. Scope includes a task list plus the task frequency. Make a detailed list of each task (i.e. collect trash, vacuum carpeted areas, etc.) and its frequency (i.e. daily, once a week, monthly, etc.).

Apply production rates. Once you have a scope of work, you need to determine how long it will take to complete the work. Organizations such as BOMA, APPA, and ISSA have published average production rates that you can use or you can create your own based on time studies.

Repeat for each area and combine for the entire facility.

By following these steps, you can accurately determine your cost per square foot. Own these numbers and make sure that if you use them for other areas that you are comparing apples to apples. Knowing these numbers is the BSC’s key to the Holy Grail.

[1] BOMA Office Standard (ANSI Z65.1), BOMA Office Standard (ANSI Z65.1), IFMA Standard (ASTM E 1836-01), REBNY Standard, GWCAR Standard, NAHB Standard, AIA Standard