- THE MAGAZINE
While a retailer's sales team and customer service representatives dealt with massive lines of impatient gift buyers this past holiday season, the same store's maintenance staff was bracing for an equally difficult challenge: preparing themselves for the aftermath of high traffic, not to mention winter-weather damage caused by snow and salt, on once pristine floors.
All retail stores have their horror stories about the dramatic effect of the holiday shopping season on flooring. And rightfully so-the National Retail Federation expected total holiday retail sales to top $414.7 billion in 2005. That's a lot of foot traffic - and a lot of potential flooring disasters.
From the shops on Chicago's Magnificent Mile to stores on New York's 5th Avenue, foot traffic from locals and an over-abundance of tourists bring in tracked-in grime, salt and gravel from the some of the nation's harshest winter weather. To add insult to injury, the mad rush that accompanies holiday shopping nearly shuts down normal daily maintenance, particularly with longer store hours and especially at 24/7 retail outlets.
Luckily for retail maintenance staffs, the holidays are over. Now that the shopping rush has died down, the gifts have been returned and life has mellowed to a more reasonable pace...the time has come to remove holiday displays, pull up mats, and assess the damage to floors. A number of common problems are to be expected after the holiday rush: scratches from displays; grime from tracked-in snow, grit and salt; lost gloss from prolonged moisture contact; and finish discoloration and mildew accumulation under mats.
While in the perfect world this would be the opportune time to strip and refinish, that's just not the case in most areas of the country. Retailers expect more winter weather, so stripping and refinishing isn't the most cost-effective idea. However, solutions are available for repairing damage, and coupled with preventative measures, these solutions can help finishes last until the winter weather is gone for good.
When dealing with holiday damage, there are three strategies to live by: rejuvenation, prevention and on-going care. Rejuvenation means freshening dull, dingy and dirty floors with a deep scrub and recoat. Mopping alone may not be very effective during this time of year. An autoscrubber with scrubber vacuum would be a smart choice, as it lifts dirt and salt away that can eat away a floor's finish. If an autoscrubber is not available during this critical time of year, a wet vacuum pick-up can help remove the heavy soil, sand and grit instead. After scrubbing, a light recoat can restore the gloss of a winter floor, making it look nice and last throughout winter, without the cost of a full overhaul.
Preventive measures are essential for keeping a floor looking good through the winter months. These measures can be applied after the heavy holiday traffic to help floors last through abysmal weather conditions, until it's time for a strip and refinish in the spring.
Matting is an important component of prevention because floor care starts at the front door, where grit, salt and moisture are tracked in to the building. Mats should be placed inside and outside the entrance to collect this type of debris, which can be dangerous to a floor finish. Outside "knock-off" matting is critical for keeping salt, sand and soils out. On the especially rough days of winter, put down extra absorbent mats to collect tracked-in snow. Deep-cleaning mats regularly helps remove grit and ensures effectiveness. If a mat is too worn to absorb moisture and trap dirt, it should be replaced, or rotated to a low traffic area.
While matting is a necessary preventive measure, it can cause problems for floor finishes if precautions aren't taken. For instance, floor finishes not exposed to light for long periods of time can turn yellow. Another potential problem caused by matting is moisture that can become trapped under mats. Unsightly mildew can accumulate, but the more devastating impact of moisture on a floor's finish is a stripping effect. Prolonged exposure to moisture can cause a floor to lose its gloss and develop a milky color.
Unfortunately, there's no easy solution for floor finish issues caused by matting. To incorporate preventive measures, mats should not sit in the same place until spring. If possible, rotate the location of inside entry mats so the areas under the mats do not yellow as quickly. However, this is a secondary problem; the most important strategy for protecting floors is to keep soils and moisture from getting past the mats. And, as always, mat placement should be correct for preventing slip-and-fall hazards caused by wet floors.
Finally, on-going care can help retailers better cope with holiday and winter abuse. Daily cleaning is the cornerstone of any winter floor care program; without it, all other strategies are virtually meaningless. The right daily cleaner for John Kuwamoto, president of Star Industries, a janitorial services company in Rancho Cordova, Calif., is one that is neutral yet powerful.
"We use a neutral floor cleaner because it doesn't attack the floor finish," Kuwamoto said. "This allows us to use it daily. Plus, since we don't have to rinse the floor after use, it saves time."
Floor cleaning products should be powerful enough to remove particulate soil, but formulated to not eat away floor finish. The right product should clean without dulling finish, and should effectively extend the life and shine of floors. Keep in mind that neutral pH does not always ensure good cleaning with a "neutral impact" on the finish, but cleaners are available that clean very well and don't dull or affect finish gloss. And, for the harsh winter months in the northern states, a product that neutralizes salt can minimize the need for repair.
Another tip when implementing a daily floor care program: don't mix brand names. Most daily cleaners are designed to be used with finishes of the same brand to ensure synergies in the products.
Using the right products minimizes the need for rework and extends the life of a finish. This affects a company's bottom line by saving labor costs, and the cost of expensive stripping and finishing before winter weather has ceased.
While the mad rush for toys and games may have ended, the sometimes even madder rush to save floor finishes has begun. Remember the buzzwords of post-holiday floor care: rejuvenation, prevention and on-going care. Incorporating these strategies into a floor care program can take even the most worn finished floors beautifully into the spring.