There’s Much to Consider When Pondering Purchase of Amenity Dispensers

2/9/2012 By Glenn Hasek

NATIONAL REPORT—All Elements and Alofts have them. So do all Home2 Suites by Hilton properties. Drury Hotels Company is in the process of rolling them out to its branded properties and Four Points by Sheraton branded hotels will have them in their guestrooms by the end of this year. Many other properties either have them or are testing them. What they all have or will have are amenity dispensers. Replacing or complementing the small amenity soaps, shampoos, conditioners, bath gels and lotions that travelers are used to, amenity dispensers can reduce amenity-related costs significantly and dramatically stem the flow of plastic waste to landfills.

Amenity dispensers, which have been widely accepted in Europe (and Canada) for years, have had a much slower acceptance in the United States. But that has begun to change, albeit slowly over the last few years. Dispensers can be found in only 5 percent to 10 percent of all U.S. guestrooms, estimates Ray Burger, president, Pineapple Hospitality.

Dispenser styles introduced in recent years can be considered classy, elegant, functional and an ideal fit for any type of property. Dispenser security has not been a problem. Nor has dispenser hygiene. Yet, there are still many who question dispensers’ security, hygiene and aesthetic appropriateness for their properties.

“Hoteliers tend to be slow to be first to make the move—to be a leader in change,” says Ian Wallace, president, Dispenser Amenities. “Hoteliers are pretty much set in their ways. We have had communication with chains who say it is the right thing to do but don’t want to be first.”

Brand Standards a Common Barrier

Dan Bornholdt, president, Green Suites Project Planet, says his company often runs up against brand standards when trying to sell dispensers.

“A lot of hoteliers fear a pushback from guests and see it as a reduction in standards,” adds Tim Kirsley, senior vice president, Gilchrist & Soames.

One vendor explained that there is a disincentive for hotel chains to switch from amenity bottles to dispensers because of the rebates the chains get from amenity companies for every bottle they buy. He asked, “Are amenity companies really pushing [dispensers]?”

“We have for over four years presented dispensers to all the major chains and have found that they are very reluctant to change because of the belief that a dispenser looks cheap,” says Paul Weber, president and co-founder, Swisssol Inc. Dispenser trials conducted with a major brand by Swisssol, however, showed a very favorable response from guests and management.

“We believe the U.S. hospitality industry is ready to embrace dispensers because they make environmental and cost saving sense,” Weber adds.

Pineapple Hospitality’s Burger says dispenser acceptance is higher when one uses a recognizable brand of amenity product along with it.

“The keys are attractive, durable dispensers and a branded product, and other environmental initiatives around them,” he says. “Don’t make the dispenser a stand-alone environmental initiative.”

“The nicer the property, the more likely they want a brand name liquid,” Green Suites’ Bornholdt adds.

Dispenser suppliers make it easy to use a brand name amenity, offering printing and labeling services for different dispenser types. Darleen DeLisle, VP marketing & communications, Concept Amenities, says dispenser users should watch out for screen printing fading over time.

Importance of Security

Suppliers agreed that security—a reliable dispenser locking mechanism—is important to any dispenser. “Some locking mechanisms are better than others,” Burger adds. “Guests have a negative impression of things that appear to be insecure.”

“Our units come with silicone and double-faced tape [for adhesion], Dispenser Amenities’ Wallace says. “The guest cannot access it. There is a key and it is secure. There are a lot of dispensers for home use that don’t have tamper proof features.”

No dispenser is 100 percent tamper proof. Nor is any amenity bottle. But security—at least from a functionality standpoint—still appears to be an issue with some.

“Many [dispensers] use a key system for refilling, some of which are tricky to operate or break easily,” says Rachael Solem, owner & general manager, Irving House at Harvard & Harding House.

As long as dispensers are cleaned properly, hygiene should not be an issue. “There is no day to day maintenance required except for a wipe,” Dispenser Amenities’ Wallace says. “We have done tests on our products and even did one test to purposefully contaminate the liquids. All shower liquids have preservatives that are formulated to eliminate bacteria. The preservatives in our liquids successfully ‘decontaminated’ the liquids, even after incubation of the organisms to try to defeat the preservatives. In all my years in this business, I have never heard of one instance where our product (or anybody else’s dispenser system) was contaminated and caused a bacteria infection. You can be sure that, if it happened, we’d know about it. It just isn’t an issue.”

Still Some Confusion About Hygiene

Even with that assurance, there still appears to be some concern in the industry about hygiene and that is seen in the types of dispensers offered. Here, things can get a little confusing. Some dispensers are containers without replaceable cartridges that use bulk fluids for refilling. Some dispensers have replaceable cartridges. Other dispensers are simply refillable bottles with a pump mechanism. Some suppliers offer all options; some offer a variation or just one of the options.

When asked what trend he is seeing in dispenser design, Swisssol’s Weber said, “A non-refillable and closed dosage system is the future, providing easy handling and trouble-free dosage unlike the bulk refillable dispensers which are labor intensive, with high risk of germ contamination and difficult to handle by the housekeeping department.”

When asked if is his company had proof of refillable dispensers being contaminated by guests or employees, Weber said he did not. He explained, however, that many of his customers are making the transition from the “first generation” of dispensers—the types using bulk fluids for refilling—to those that use cartridges. (Dispenser Amenities’ Wallace emphasizes that his company also sells cartridges for two of his company’s dispenser styles.)

Best Western International is now requiring its member properties that use dispensers to use only those with replaceable cartridges. Ron Pohl, senior vice president Brand Management and Member Services for Best Western International, says his company transitioned to the cartridge-based dispensers for hygiene-related reasons, as well as environmental ones. It is easier for housekeepers to keep the areas within and around the dispensers free of mold and bacteria, he says.

“Best Western is the only one that has dealt with this in a sensible way,” Green Suites’ Bornholdt says.

Pineapple Hospitality’s Burgers says, however, that cartridges do not make sense and add to the carbon footprint of the dispenser. “Environmentally and economically, it is the wrong way to go,” he says. “I don’t know of any other brand that has gone backwards like this.”

Swisssol’s Weber says that the cartridges his company sells are 100 percent recyclable and are made from recycled material. Green Suites’ Bornholdt adds, “We put together a recycling program for our Best Western customers.”

To See or Not to See the Fluid Level

Whether a dispenser is translucent and showing fluid level or “solid” or opaque and not showing fluid level impacts the labor associated with dispensers. Translucent dispensers need to be topped off with fluid each time a guestroom is vacated. Opaque dispensers, which often have a “window” on the dispenser to indicate fluid level, require far less attention. Vendor opinion varies on whether to go the translucent or opaque route.

“We get mixed comments from hoteliers,” Swisssol’s Weber says. “Some believe it is important to see the liquid level while others do not.”

“We sell slightly more translucent bottles than solid bottles,” Dispenser Amenities’ Wallace says. “The hotel will want to keep those topped off more often. As far as the guest is concerned, there is no preference.”

“My personal preference is to use a solid dispenser,” Pineapple Hospitality’s Burger says. “When you can see the level, it puts more pressure on housekeeping to keep dispensers full. Most of my hotels are choosing the solid dispensers.”

“We have steered away from translucent containers,” Green Suites’ Bornholdt says. “There is a ‘creep factor.’ When you see a dispenser that is half full, it is like seeing a hair on your pillow. There is no value in seeing how much product has been consumed.”

Of course with a translucent dispenser it would only appear partially full if the housekeeper fails to fill it—a possibility in a busy hotel but certainly not the norm.

Many Options from Which to Choose

Dispenser Amenities currently offers a wide variety of dispensers in four different styles. “In those styles we make four to five different finishes in one to three sizes,” the company’s Wallace says. “AVIVA is our most popular dispenser.”

Pineapple Hospitality offers a variety of dispenser systems as part of its GreenSpa line. “We are getting ready to bring out other branded dispenser lines—higher lines,” Pineapple Hospitality’s Burger says.

Green Suites offers a variety of dispenser models, including its higher-end EcoSlim line. Swisssol offers seven different brands from its Spa Collection. The company’s Press+Wash dispenser is its unique patented drip free system.

Bottles with Pumps

Whereas most vendors mentioned above primarily sell the more traditional wall-mounted dispenser types of systems, other vendors specialize in bottle type dispensers with pumps at the tops of the bottles. Aquamenities’ Amenity Station system includes polished, brushed or powder-coated finishes. The fixture is customizable to any amenities brand the property is using. The bottles, which do not show fluid level, feature a stainless steel one-way pump that will not take product back in. Bottles are filled in housekeeping, not in the guestroom. Aquamenities’ dispensers are available from other vendors as well. Gilchrist & Soames is one example.

Ready Care Industries offers a dispenser line called Ecoeclipse that Suzie Sommer, senior vice president of marketing says has a natural no-dye, no-parabens line of amenities that goes along with it. Unique to Ready Care is its dispenser lease option. Bottles are available in frosted, white, clear and amber.

“You can go natural, have integrity, and spend less,” Sommer says. “We see these dispensers as the wave of the future.”

Environmental Case for Dispensers

Building the environmental case for dispensers is not difficult. They replace the billions of little plastic bottles that are disposed of annually. The bottles must be manufactured and transported. There is also packaging waste. Most plastic bottles are not recycled. In fact, according to the Plastic Pollution Coalition, most plastic waste is landfilled, downcycled, incinerated or exported to other countries. “Recycling of plastic is costly and does not stem the production of virgin plastic product,” the Coalition says.

Most plastic bottles are thrown away with most content still in the bottle. Only a small portion are donated for reuse to organizations such as Clean the World or the Global Soap Project.

“Consumers realize a plastic bottle is a wasteful habit,” Pineapple Hospitality’s Burger says.

“Dispensers are 1 percent of the waste of the amenity bottles,” Green Suites’ Bornholdt adds.

Understanding the Financial Upside

Just as easy as building the environmental case for dispensers is building a case from an economic standpoint. Ken Haworth, president/designer at Aquamenities, says one of his customers—the owner of a 477-room hotel—was paying $.84 per day for the small plastic bottle amenities but is now paying just $.16 per day while using dispensers.

At another property (a Pineapple Hospitality customer), a manager ran a dispenser test in 10 guestrooms for 90 days and experienced a 96.4 percent positive response. The cost per day before the dispensers: $.35. The cost after the dispensers: $.16 per day. Over a year’s time, the hotel manager said he would save more than $13,000 at the 322-room property.

The amount of savings will vary depending on whether or not a property goes “whole hog” as one vendor said and eliminates all plastic bottles and bar soaps from the guestroom or just some of them. Some properties still offer bar soap at the vanity. Scott Cowger, innkeeper and co-owner of the Maple Hill Farm Inn & Conference Center in Hallowell, Maine, says his property does that. Cowger says his staff even includes a card in each guestroom discussing the environmental benefits of the dispensers.

Dispensers for Public Spaces

Outside of the guestroom, dispensers are commonly used in public restrooms, lobby, pool, and fitness room areas. Zep Superior Solutions recently introduced a new line of FUZION dispensers for these locations in both manual and touchless versions. According to Greg Hill, product marketing manager for Hand Care for Zep, his company’s foaming soap, which is available with the dispensers, actually helps save energy and water because less time is needed to rinse hands of the soap—as compared to other liquid soaps. Two of eight of Zep’s soap products are Green Seal and EcoLogo certified. “All of our bottles are recyclable,” Hill says.

When considering guestroom dispensers, be sure to also check out RoomService Amenities, Marietta Corp., Dial Professional and the American Hotel Register Co. When considering dispensers for public areas, be sure to also check out GOJO Industries.

Glenn Hasek can be reached at editor@greenlodgingnews.com.


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