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The hidden cost of low price

Whether for a downtown office building or a medical equipment manufacturer in the suburbs, property owners and managers are always looking for cost efficiency. But when it comes to commercial cleaning providers, an enticingly low price up front can cost time and money in the long run if your chosen company can’t deliver what they’ve promised.

To help sort out the difference between commercial cleaning providers that are cost-conscious and those that may be overpromising with a low price, we’ve put together some tips for choosing a great team, as well as some red flags to watch out for. Always remember, if the up-front bid for a custodial program sounds too good to be true – well, you know the rest.

The attraction of low bids

Proposed savings from a low-price custodial program are very enticing, especially for businesses that are contracting services in an effort to reduce operational expenses.

All too often, when a custodial provider offers very low prices, it is because they’ve overlooked important aspects of the scope of work, by accident or on purpose. Over time, this low-price proposal cannot meet the minimum required level of service, leading to long-term dissatisfaction and increased costs to correct the deficiencies.

Low price versus low cost: What can a low bid cost your organization?

There is a big difference between price and cost. Here are some of the issues that can arise from choosing a commercial cleaning partner based on low price alone.

1. Lower quality equipment

If your RFP isn’t explicit about necessary equipment, it’s an obvious place for some providers to cut corners to reduce price. Floor scrubbers and backpack vacuums, for example, endure a lot of wear and tear. Low-priced brands will not hold up to the daily rigors of a commercial cleaning program, and can lead to costly repairs and early replacement costs, surpassing any upfront savings.

To avoid equipment issues, ask potential providers to be specific about the brands of equipment they intend to use, whether that equipment will be new or second-hand, and whether providers intend to make an investment in equipment for your facilities.

2. Not enough equipment or supplies

It’s most likely a case of inexperience, not deception, that leads a commercial cleaning company to give an unrealistically low bid – especially when it comes to equipment. As with the brands of equipment, if your RFP doesn’t ask for amounts of equipment needed, some bidders will come up short. The long-term problems here are clear: your facilities team either won’t have enough equipment to do the job to your standards, or they’ll come to you later with a request to buy more.

This is one situation where experience matters. Property owners and managers should ask potential commercial cleaning providers to share a detailed assessment of equipment they think you’ll need. This is as easy as a one-page chart in their proposal, so don’t hesitate to ask for this information up front.

3. Fewer employees or lower wages

Staffing and pay are two of the easiest – and most costly – ways to reduce price. If a low bid is the result of significant staff cuts or much lower wages, beware. The pandemic has shown the vital importance of front-line custodial workers – and those workers who stuck it out throughout the pandemic know their value.

That means a low-bid proposal based on below-market wages or understaffed teams is going to create two major problems: first, recruiting enough employees and, second, keeping them. Experienced commercial cleaning providers know you can’t hire your way out of a turnover problem – and a turnover problem can be incredibly expensive over time. Great workers seek out employers that value their time and energy. That starts with paying market rate or above and ensuring a thoughtful, functional work environment with technical training and career advancement opportunities.

Are low prices always a problem?

Absolutely not. As a general rule, proposal prices can vary as much as 20%. Low prices are not an issue if you know why they’re lower. Here are a few factors that can create cost savings for commercial properties and will be reflected in lower-cost proposals.

1. Experience

A commercial cleaning team that knows the industry inside and out will create a proposal that is accurate, transparent, and fair. Even better, work with a provider that has experience with properties and industries similar to yours – apples to apples.

Lower costs often signal this experience. When a provider has direct experience with properties similar to yours, they can create a more complete, accurate “roadmap” to a successful custodial program. Staffing, equipment, and supplies are easier to estimate more accurately, and the right company will be happy to explain their proposal in detail. Ease of doing business may not have a dollar amount attached to it, but the value of experience cannot be overstated.

2. Supply chain economies

We’ve all heard about supply chain issues over the past year or two. It’s not an easy problem to solve, but the right commercial cleaning team can anticipate and reduce supply issues. Seek out a provider with a robust network of suppliers and subcontractors, and one that’s large enough to bring economies of scale to your program.

Also, be sure to ask potential providers about their commitment to minority and women-owned business enterprises (MWOBE), an important and often under-utilized resource in local supply chains.

3. More functional teams

We mention turnover as a result of too-low bids above. Keep in mind, however, that lower personnel costs may be a good thing – depending on the source of those price reductions. Streamlined job scheduling, proper equipment, or improved workloading, for example, can create staffing efficiencies that may not have been possible before.

Plus, creating a more efficient, functional cleaning program can increase worker satisfaction and reduce turnover. Commercial properties moving to a new provider should compare proposals to current staffing and ask why any differences exist.

Work with the right commercial cleaning team

Ultimately, the right cleaning team will have clear, solid reasons for your program’s pricing. While that may mean they have the low bid, we still recommend caution with exceptionally low-price proposals. Dig in, ask questions, and expect transparency from a potential provider.

Experience matters, with on-the-ground teams keeping properties clean, safe and appealing, and company leadership building partnerships with expertise, integrity, and transparency. That’s the best way for property managers and owners to avoid hidden costs or less-than-satisfactory results.

For more information on pricing for your tailored commercial cleaning program, contact our team anytime at [email protected].


The illustrations, instructions, and principles contained in this website are general in scope and for marketing purposes. We assume no responsibility for: managing or controlling customer activities, implementing any recommended measures, or identifying all potential hazards.