During a time when many businesses and property owners are striving to safely reopen facilities and bring back customers after lockdown, the importance of offering clean and hygienic restrooms has taken on extraordinary significance, and can even drive customer spending.
Before coronavirus, research showed that public restrooms had emerged as one of the key elements affecting the overall business satisfaction of customers, employees, and stakeholders. Now, these frequently used spaces are even more valuable to buildings and their occupants due to their critical role in providing stations with soap, water, and dryers for proper hand washing – one of the key actions recommended for protecting people from hand contact with illness-causing germs.
As businesses aim to provide hygienic, functional, and well-designed restrooms in these unprecedented times, it’s interesting to note that restrooms can be business powerhouses. Pre-pandemic research showed that consumers increasingly evaluate businesses based on the condition and appearance of restrooms, and the state of a restroom can even influence spending behaviours.
According to the Healthy Hand Washing Survey, conducted in December 2019, 62 per cent of consumers said that experiencing clean restrooms in businesses increases their spending; compare that to two years earlier, when only 45 per cent said they would spend more. The study also found that almost three out of four consumers make it a point to visit a business because they know it has nice restrooms. Women are especially likely to show preferential treatment, as are millennials and Gen Xers.
Here’s the troubling part: While consumers are willing to reward restroom-friendly businesses, more respondents reported having unpleasant experiences in a public restroom. In 2019, a record-high 76 per cent reported having a particularly bad encounter due to poor restroom conditions.
Unfortunately, there is a business blowback from bad restrooms. The survey found that public restrooms that are dirty or in disarray generate negative impressions causing customers to take their business elsewhere. Close to 60 per cent of respondents will leave such a business immediately or say they are unlikely to return after encountering an unpleasant restroom.
What constitutes a bad restroom? The following grievances in public restrooms trigger the highest levels of frustration: clogged/unflushed toilets (85 per cent), empty/jammed toilet paper dispensers (83 per cent), and partition doors that don’t latch shut (78 per cent).
Perhaps most disconcerting – especially during the pandemic – is that poor conditions are the main culprit behind people skipping hand washing during a restroom visit. Lack of soap or paper towels and dirty or non-functioning sinks are the two most common reasons for not washing hands.
Clean, consumer-focused commercial restrooms
As facilities begin to reopen, reversing the trend of negative bathroom experiences has never been more important to consumers from a business and health standpoint. Restroom conditions are important – but so is the need for hygienic, sterile, and safe restroom spaces.
Companies, educational institutions, and municipalities are now evaluating new procedures and products for their restroom facilities. The goal is to create safe and healthy indoor environments that reduce the spread of airborne and surface contaminants.
The following are some key ways to improve restroom operations:
Touchless fixtures in facilities are certainly having their moment in the age of coronavirus, and no-touch fixtures are especially important for high-touch restrooms. The Healthy Hand Washing Survey shows that 91 per cent of consumers believe it’s important that public restrooms are equipped with touchless fixtures. Having access to touchless fixtures is also consumers’ number-one request when asked about their top restroom improvements, followed by keeping them cleaner and better stocked.
There are touchless operators for all high-touch areas in restrooms – everything from doors, toilet flushing, toilet lid closures, faucets, soap dispensers, paper towel dispensers, and hand dryers. The touchless trend is likely here to stay, especially with the proliferation of technologies like voice command and IoT.
Eliminating wet floors and surfaces goes a long way in improving restroom conditions. Water dripping from hands onto floors and countertops not only makes restrooms look unkempt, it is also a safety concern when floors are concerned, as water can cause slips and falls, and breed bacteria. On the topic of touchless fixtures, newer sink and faucet models incorporate a touch-free soap dispenser, water, and hand dryer into one integrated fixture so the user needn’t move with dripping wet hands to reach for the dryer or a paper towel.
Increasing privacy in restrooms is another trend that appeals to customers while better containing germs. With heightened coronavirus transmission via toilet plumes, privacy partitions that have extra height and depth with no gaps around the doors may better contain aerosolized germs. Plus, people naturally want greater privacy and personal space in multi-stall restrooms.
Partition materials are key. Today’s partition choices include durable and easy-to-clean materials like powder-coated, phenolic, stainless steel, solid plastic, and plastic laminate.
Privacy partition models feature 72-inch-tall doors and panels mounted 6 inches above the finished floor for standard stalls, and 69-inch-tall doors and panels mounted 9 inches above the finished floor for ADA stalls. To provide additional space, panels are available up to 84 inches deep and feature a stacked panel design that is seamed together with an aluminum H-bracket, providing a cleaner design aesthetic and faster installation.
Rethinking restroom layouts in the age of COVID-19 will also be key. In addition to placement of hand washing elements to avoid pooling water, consider placing trash receptacles near restroom exits. Research shows that 65 per cent of Americans use paper towels to avoid contact with restroom doors and faucets. Therefore, keeping paper towels and waste containers near exits can be helpful so people can throw them away upon exiting.
Looking longer-term, a parallel layout with hand washing stations alongside the toilet area and separate entrances and exits has been gaining popularity in Europe and may be a layout we see more of in North America. This design helps facilitate one-way traffic and minimize cross-traffic. Design elements like eliminating doors, adding S-curved and automated doors, and widening doorways are also gaining traction.
Restrooms certainly have a ripple effect on business operations. Thoughtful restroom designs and increased cleaning and maintenance will go a long way in mitigating germs, addressing customer concerns and demands, and encouraging repeat business and increased spending.
Bradley is the industry’s leading source for multi-function hand washing and drying fixtures, accessories, partitions, solid plastic lockers, as well as emergency safety fixtures and electric tankless heaters for industrial applications. Headquartered in Menomonee Falls, WI, USA, Bradley serves commercial, institutional and industrial building markets worldwide. For more information, visit Bradley’s website.