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Published: Friday, 10/23/2009

Flu scare boosts calls to janitorial firms

BY LARRY P. VELLEQUETTE
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER

Businesses that clean up literally aren't necessarily cleaning up financially because of the ongoing H1N1 "swine" flu pandemic, but they are seeing a renewed appreciation for keeping people healthy by keeping things clean.

Toledo-area janitorial and janitorial supply firms report increased call volumes and back orders of items like hand sanitizers because of the ongoing flu virus scare, but say that there's just no way for customers to clean their way past the pandemic.

"I've never had so many people really in fear of something that really isn't anything to be afraid of," said Kathi Didion, co-owner of A & D Total Cleaning and Building Services, which cleans about 45 or 50 buildings around town, the majority of which are medical facilities.

A committed germophobe, Ms. Didion said the current pandemic has helped to refocus her clients on what she feels is a better way to think about janitorial services: cleaning for health.

"There's been much more emphasis on cleaning for health as opposed to just making sure a building looks clean, and that's important," she said, arguing that good cleaning can reduce the spread of germs even without a pandemic.

"We're not flooded with calls, but we do get requests for additional cleaning," said Larry Friedman, of Toledo Building Services, a large janitorial firm in downtown Toledo.

Mr. Friedman said he has been counseling customers that the H1N1 virus is spread more by person-to-person contact than through person-to-object contact, so paying for additional cleaning services may not be the best defense against the bug.

The federal Web site flu.gov advises that regular hand washing is one of the most effective deterrents to the spread of the virus, and that information has apparently filtered through the population enough to increase demand for hand cleansers.

"It's not only us, but other manufacturers of hand sanitizers as well. Everyone is back-ordered right now," said Tina Serio, an official with Toledo-based Spartan Chemical Co., which manufactures industrial cleaning products. "There's been really high demand."

The privately held company primarily has seen a dramatic increase in sales of hand soaps and sanitizers, she said, and also demand for "planning products" like procedure cards for customers to prepare "in case they don't have enough staff to do the cleaning."

Don Whiting, regional manager for Mellocraft Co., which distributes cleaning and sanitary products, said his phone has been "ringing off the hook" for the last 10 weeks with customers "looking for any hand sanitizers or dispensers that people can get their hands on.

"Some customers have had to wait three or four weeks or longer [for some products], but I think we're finally starting to see a light at the end of the tunnel, with production catching up with demand," he said.

Contact Larry P. Vellequette at:

lvellequette@theblade.com

or 419-724-6091.



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