Robin Karels is an increasingly popular woman.
As she handles the phone and office at Red Feather Paper Co. on South Riverfront Drive, she’s hearing from more current customers and would-be customers who want her to find liquid and paper cleaning supplies.
“We’re getting calls from North Dakota and all over, people trying to get things. But I’m just trying to keep up with our current customers,” she said.
“This is going on the third week now. For a while I was keeping up — we have four or five distributors. Now they’re not getting things, so I don’t know if we will. It’s frustrating because we want to take care of our customers.”
Red Feather supplies products to cities, counties and state offices, businesses and organizations. She noted they provide supplies for places such as Harry Meyering, which takes care of vulnerable people who need sanitizing supplies most.
“It started with hand sanitizers, then it was wipes, now it’s all kinds of soap, any sanitizers, toilet paper, gloves, bleach. I found a couple of companies in the Twin Cities that makes wipes but now they’re back-ordered for two or three weeks.”
At Vanderberg Clean, Josh Vanderberg and his 77 employees have been busy providing extra cleaning services to their commercial customers and answering lots of questions.
“They’re trying to work through this and do the best thing. They want to make sure we’re hitting the touch points and things (when we clean). I’m getting so many questions. Obviously the CDC has good information, and I point them to that,” said Vanderberg, who started the business in 2009.
“We’ve increased our disinfecting — obviously that’s key right now. Hit all the touch points.”
They use a 3M product that needs to stay moist on surfaces for five minutes to kill viruses. That, he said, is better than older products that require 10-minute kill times.
They sometimes use an electrostatic spray gun to apply the sanitizer, a device that helps keep the product moist on the surface longer.
He said they use Red Feather, Delco and Ecolab to source much of their cleaning products. “I stocked up on some things when I saw what was going on in China. Now it’s getting slower to get things. I’m waiting for more hand sanitizer. There’s 300 cases ahead of us.”
Vanderberg stopped having employees go to jobs via car pooling and taken other steps to keep workers separated.
While they’ve been busy with their office and commercial janitorial duties, he said fewer homeowners are having them come to their homes now.
One of their clients is BENCO Electric, where they clean the offices three nights a week.
Tim Braulick, of BENCO, said they’ve been taking extra precautions just like all businesses, including closing their front office and doing more cleaning.
“We have a guy who comes in and keeps the shop clean and now he wipes down handrails and door handles and things.”
The electric co-op also stopped having line crew come to the office in the morning and gathering in the break room before they get their list of calls for the day. Instead they’ve set up seven remote sites, at employees’ homes, where they park a few work trucks at each site. Crew members from that area then drive to the trucks and get their daily duties sent to them remotely, Braulick said.
“We’re keeping people spread out.” He said they’re hoping there won’t be any damaging ice storms or other severe weather that would require intensive response from their line crew.
“The weather will still do its thing. I hope the weather stays good for us through this.”
BENCO also announced it will not cut anyone’s electric service for non-payment throughout the crisis.
Beth Ayotte, owner of ServiceMaster Mankato, said they too have been fielding a lot of questions from customers.
“People just want information. Our corporate office is working with the CDC and getting information out to us. We’re taking that and training all of our staff and providing our customers with as much information as we can.”
She said there are two types of cleaning as they go into businesses, routine preventive cleaning and cleaning after some type of contamination.
“The preventive cleaning is very important.”
Ayotte said they’ve been especially focused on touch point and horizontal surface cleaning. “We use EPA-registered disinfectants.”
So far, she said, they haven’t seen a shortage of supplies.
They have been doing other things differently to try to limit customer contact, including skipping a walk-through of a new client’s facility if possible. She said that using building schematics and other tools they can plan for cleaning a new client’s building without having the customer walk them through the building.