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5 Ways to Save Money on Cleaning and Breakroom Supplies

An efficiently stocked breakroom can improve your office environment. In fact, 58 percent of respondents to a recent Staples survey said a well-stocked breakroom would encourage breaks and make them more productive as employees. If you stock your breakroom smartly, you can make your budget more productive, too. Here’s how.

1. Know When to Buy in Bulk

Before buying a truckload of supplies, consider a few key things, like:

  • How quickly will employees use the items?
  • Is there a place to store everything?
  • Is the unit price significantly lower?

High-use items such as cleaning supplies, like dish detergent and disinfectants, and paper products, like paper plates and bowls, napkins and paper towels, don’t expire, so if you have the storage space, buy them in bulk. But pay attention to the unit cost. “Some things packaged in bulk don’t actually offer much in the way of cost savings,” says Justin Simmons, member relations specialist and assistant to the CEO at the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce in North Carolina.

Items like coffee creamers and snacks have a finite shelf life, so smaller quantities are a must. This is also true for first aid supplies that carry expiration dates, and many do. When purchasing these perishable items, look for coupons or other deals that offset the cost.

If you don’t see a volume discount advertised, don’t be afraid to ask, suggests New Canaan, CT, independent business consultant Ryan Lee: “The worst a store can say is no.”

2. Invest in Multi-Taskers

Instead of investing in multiple cleaning products, look for one product that does the job of several. For instance, to keep all your breakroom surfaces clean, consider all-purpose cleaners or wipes. But be careful about substituting without doing your homework, because one size doesn’t always fit all. For instance, don’t replace napkins and tissues with paper towels. Sure, it reduces upfront costs, but the unit cost for paper towels is the highest of all paper products, so the overall cost is higher over time.

3. Encourage Cost-Effective Use

Encourage employees to use breakroom supplies more cost-effectively with a combination of products and training. Invest in a soap dispenser to prevent wasteful spills and curb overly generous dispensing. Reusable glasses, mugs and plates in place of Styrofoam or paper cups are good for the environment and your bottom line, even after you factor in the cost of water and electricity to run the dishwasher. An automatic paper towel dispenser controls the size of towels and cuts down on waste in high-use scenarios around the sink, while pick-a-size rolls are useful for microwaving foods or cleaning up small spills. But none of these items will result in maximum savings if you don’t invest in teaching employees how to use them correctly and frugally.

In a TED Talk on the efficient use of paper towels (yes, really), Joe Smith shows how to make hand-drying more efficient. By his estimates, saving even one paper towel per person per day would create 571,230,000 fewer pounds of paper in the United States. That translates into big savings for your small business. Show his video — and others on efficient use of cleaners and supplies — at staff meetings and other gatherings to help employees learn smart practices.

Read and follow cleaning supplies’ label directions for how and how much to use, and understand when to carry out routine maintenance on coffeemakers. Then train your team to do the same. You can also trim costs — and employees’ waistlines — by pointing out serving size suggestions on snacks.

4. Consider the Total Cost of Ownership

Sometimes the savings come over the life of ownership instead of at the initial purchase. For vacuum cleaners and the like, consider the operating costs. Does the item accommodate only pricey bags or filters? Does it require frequent repair or replacement? Does it last or will you have to replace it in a short while? Do the math — it’s worth it.

Take your coffeemaker, for example. Is it better to opt for a sensible drip coffeepot with filters or jazz it up with one-cup brewers? Depends. “The old-school filter coffee pot is definitely cheapest, but that’s not always the most practical,” Simmons says. “Our office actually has both. For high-traffic, high-volume days we use our 24-cup carafe brewing system, and for staff-only days we use our one-cup system.”

Take a look at how much coffee your team consumes and see what makes most economic sense per ounce or serving. It may be cheaper over time to use filter models, or to invest in reusable cup inserts and buy bulk coffees in different varieties.

5. Plan Ahead

The biggest savings mistake small business owners make? “Not planning ahead,” says Lee. “If you can anticipate your needs ahead of time, you can save money.”

Simmons agrees: “My own failures in planning have resulted in added expenses. When in a pinch, it almost always leads to paying higher prices because of the urgency.”

Monitor supplies regularly, and make a note of how often you reorder everything. This shows you what gets used the most and how often it needs replenishing. It will help you avoid last-minute higher-dollar buys and will indicate which items you can purchase in higher volume. Research efficient ways to save, such as rewards programs, and take advantage of free delivery for online orders to save the time and expense of store runs. Time is money, after all.

Large expenditures may attract the most attention, but it’s often the day-to-day small purchases that tell the larger story of a small business. Plan and purchase wisely.

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