Planned Maintenance Strategy Saves Department Store Costs, Keeps Carpet Beautiful

December 14, 2000
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*drop cap* “Clean stores attract customers” has become a working mantra for maintenance managers at Belk Department Stores. In their experience, carpet appearance is one of the most important aspects of store maintenance.

“High appearance levels are critical for Belk to succeed in our competitive marketplace. Store cleanliness is ranked as one of the most important characteristics to retail customers, and good merchandise presented in a clean, attractive store portrays a very positive image,” notes Jim White, Senior Purchasing Agent and head of maintenance for Belk, a 230-store chain in the Southeastern United States.

“We’re not even really sure that customers can put their finger on the difference when they walk into our stores,” said White. “They just perceive Belk to be a much better, more comfortable environment in which to shop, because our locations are clean and shiny and the carpets are clean—not all spotted, dirty and frayed.” This experience, according to White, is different from Belk’s earlier, traditional approach to carpet appearance, “which was ‘vacuum every day and bring someone in when the carpet gets really bad’,” he said. That reactive approach compromises carpet over time, “and does not maximize carpet as an investment and building asset,” he noted.

Doing More With Less

Keeping its stores’ carpet in optimum condition, however, has become increasingly challenging. “Like everyone else, we now have to do even more with less,” White said. “With the pressures of budget and personnel cuts throughout the industry, we soon recognized that we no longer could afford a haphazard approach to carpet maintenance—we needed a plan.”

On average, nylon cut pile (and some closed loop) carpet is directly glued to 70% of the floor space in any one of Belk’s 230 stores, which range in size from 50,000 to more than 200,000 sq. ft. each. With so much carpet to maintain, and less money and staff to maintain it with, Belk required a program that would help its staff visualize how to maintain the carpet, and a method that would allow each store to concentrate its efforts on carpet areas where soiling and usage actually occur.

“Ten years ago we basically had no carpet program other than vacuuming. When it got really dirty, we went out and hired someone to come in and extract it…but that wasn’t good enough. So, we really researched what was out there,” White said. “Then we found Host’s dry cleaning system and CAMP, which we felt without a doubt was the best solution to come along.”

CAMPâ – Host’s Computer Aided Maintenance Program – bases carpet maintenance on each of the Belk store’s unique floor plans, providing Belk with a complete working plan for that particular store, including detailed vacuuming and cleaning diagrams, a month-by-month scheduling calendar (what cleaning-related activities need to be done each day), and a complete cost summary. This total carpet maintenance program gave Belk a carpet-maintenance “road map” that allowed each store to use cleaning materials, time and labor only where they were needed (where the carpet was most walked on and used) for the greatest productivity and the cleanest looking carpet

“This program gave us a plan and put us and each of our stores in charge. It told us for the first time where and when to vacuum and when to use the cleaning process,” said White.

Diagrams Guide Staff, Save Labor & Material Costs

As part of the maintenance program, each Belk store receives a color-coded diagram designed for its specific architecture and needs. The diagram maps out, by means of symbols, graphics and colors, where concentrated vacuuming and extraction cleaning should occur.

In addition to a cleaning guide, the diagrams also map out a store’s carpet maintenance costs based on information such as the type of carpet, an analysis of where the highest traffic occurs, how much vacuuming and extraction cleaning labor (and material costs) will be required.

According to Anne Tate, Director of Purchasing Management at Belk, the company no longer has to employ overtime staff or extra personnel to keep its carpet in top condition or bring in extra equipment to implement its maintenance plan. “We’re spending less labor hours and our staff doesn’t have to come in to clean at night.

Because Belk uses a dry extraction cleaning system, staff at every store can vacuum and clean the specified areas in just a few hours before stores open at 10:00 a.m. “And,” notes Tate, “we don’t have to worry about drying times, downtime, or our customers walking on the freshly-cleaned carpet.”

No More Wall-to-Wall Cleaning

The planned maintenance strategy has been so effective for Belk that White wrote the system into the company’s store maintenance manual. “We do more than suggest that our stores put this maintenance program in place,” he said. “We insist on it. Every time we open a new store or remodel an existing store and add new carpet, we put in a complete, tailored plan—and our associates aren’t complaining.”

“Previously,” he said, “we used to have stores that would take all of the fixtures out of one area and clean every inch of carpet. They don’t have to do that using this road map and a cleaning system that allows them to focus their efforts on those areas where they’re needed.”

In-Store Training

Good planning and plans also make it easier to standardize staff training and leverage learning and experience across multiple store sites. “When we open a new store, the Liberator and a custom CAMP program are brought in and a Host representative comes to the store to lead and help implement ‘installation’ of the plan,” said White. “The manufacturer’s representative teaches associates how to use the equipment and provides a videotape for future training. Because of high turnover, we depend a lot on that video to train new maintenance staff on how to make the system work. That initial investment into the installation can be mined again and again, as staff changes. It’s pretty simple and a manufacturer who really cares about the results you achieve year-in-year-out should be anxious to accommodate you in dealing with training challenges and realizing your goal – clean carpet!”

The majority of Belk’s training occurs on the Liberator, a machine manufactured by HOST/Racine Industries, Inc., designed for daily, deep vacuuming, pile lifting, spot removal and area- and maintenance-cleaning of carpeted retail facilities. The deep, soil-extraction vacuuming capability of the unit complements the maintenance plan perfectly, as the machine enables cleaning professionals to vacuum high-traffic areas in their stores very quickly and effectively. Area cleaning and spot and spill removal are performed right along with vacuuming.

No More “Wear Out”

Using the planned maintenance program, Belk is realizing significant cost savings in the area of carpet replacement. Basically, according to White, the planning and cleaning system are keeping carpet in Belk stores in optimum condition day-in and day-out. “The carpet doesn’t get all warped, wrinkled and faded the way it did when we’d let it get bad and then steam clean it to try to restore it,” he said. “It doesn’t wear out or need, in fact, to be restored.”

Tate agrees. “At first, CAMP was a hard sell with some of our stores that believed soap-and-water extraction was the only way to keep our carpet’s appearance up to standard. But once we put the program in place they were convinced,” she said. “They didn’t have to wait until the carpet was really bad to clean it and, with this kind of disciplined daily cleaning, they found it never becomes really bad in the first place. New carpet stays looking like new because its appearance and condition are kept up on a regular basis.”

The move from a reactive to a proactive strategy for managing their carpet “assets,” as White calls them, has helped the maintenance staff earn deserved respect for its role in keeping Belk stores clean. “After using a planned maintenance program for 10 years, we cannot imagine going back to having no system in place for carpet upkeep,” said Tate.

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