Five simple and effective steps can create a clean and safe retail environment.


By Mike G Zahajko

Retail leaders predict that COVID-19 will have the biggest impact on their business in 2021, and the need for safety and cleanliness remains a top priority for convenience customers. A Harris Interactive poll of more than 1,000 people found that 94% of those who regularly visit a c-store would avoid a business if it appeared dirty.

How would your business be impacted if customers knew that according to a study of germs in public places by Kimberly Clark, gas pump handles were identified as the “germiest” public surface? In the study, 71% of gas pump handles were tested to have “highly contaminated” levels of microbes associated with illness and disease.

While social distancing and masking up have become the new norm, customers have also come to expect frequent surface disinfection and protection. In the recently released 2021 Retail Industry Outlook: The New Rules of Retail, Deloitte highlights health and safety as a top priority for customers and employees.

Worse yet, it is not just word of mouth that store owners must be concerned with these days—social media has upped the stakes as consumers share their experiences, good or bad, without a moment’s hesitation. This leaves store owners at the mercy of thousands of reviews and topics of uncleanliness that will adversely impact their business. Top reviewed aspects of the customer experience include customer service, safety and cleanliness.


Five Steps to Spring Cleaning

Spring cleaning presents the perfect opportunity to focus on the cleanliness and safety of your store. Below are five simple and effective steps to create a clean and safe retail environment:

Step 1: Establish and Communicate Your Cleaning and Safety Standard. The world is full of a lot of unknowns right now, causing widespread fear and apprehension. Providing clear standards increases confidence and reassures employees and customers by letting them know what extra precautions and steps are being taken to ensure their safety.

While trash or oil stains in the forecourt are not COVID-19 focus areas, a clean store is a safe store from a customer’s perspective. The general cleanliness and appearance have a big impact on the level of safety felt.

Step 2: Create a Cleaning Schedule. The simplest way to implement and stick to a cleaning plan is to create a schedule. First, determine all the surfaces—indoors and outdoors—that need to be cleaned, disinfected and protected. Then, categorize them into hourly, daily, weekly or monthly tasks. Given the current circumstances, most tasks will be carried out hourly and daily, such as:

  • Fuel nozzles, touch screens, monitors and keypads
  • Countertops such as checkout and self-serve areas
  • Hand sanitizing stations
  • Bathrooms, doorknobs, cooler doors
  • Soaps, paper products and squeegee stations

Build your own or download a free poster at and hourly checklist at

Step 3: Clean, Disinfect and Protect. To keep surfaces free from contagious diseases, high-touch surfaces should be cleaned, disinfected and protected.

Cleaning: Removes surface-level dirt and germs and lowers the risk of spreading infection but does not kill bacteria entirely.

Disinfecting: This includes the use of chemicals to reduce pathogens to safe levels. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control recommends cleaning and then disinfecting to kill germs and further reduce the risk of an infection spreading. When disinfecting, be sure to read product labels for important details such as required contact-time and safety. Certain products like bleach can cause a dangerous chemical reaction if mixed with other cleaners.

Protecting: A new line of defense available for retailers includes solutions that provide long-lasting surface protection, by turning existing surfaces into antimicrobial touch points. These EPA-registered products can be applied by store personnel and will destroy 99.9% of microbes that contact the protected surface for up to 30 days in one application.

Step 4: Implement Employee Training. COVID-19 and social distancing restrictions have impacted employee training, making it more difficult. High employee turnover makes training critical. Implement a cleaning program with comprehensive training to ensure site standards. Effective training also lowers the highest cost of cleaning: labor. Employee labor typically accounts for 80% of the cost of cleaning. Use online training, digital and collateral instructions and video conferencing for best results.

Step 5: Monitor Performance. Setting this into motion isn’t enough to create sustaining change at your stores. If you want enduring results, you need to “inspect what you expect.” Peter Drucker said it best, “You can’t manage what you can’t measure.” Leverage customer feedback, mystery shops, leadership audits and process compliance to measure cleanliness.


Prioritize Cleaning

The importance of site cleanliness and standards is not new. In fact, you probably already have a backroom closet full of products and hours of labor each week dedicated to cleaning. The challenge is that the day-to-day standards are not consistent from site to site. Further, the customer experience in the forecourt fails to match the expectations for inside the store.

Two keys to success:

  1. Make cleaning a priority
  2. Get a cleaning partner with products, training and ongoing management support

Gasbuddy data from over nine million consumer visits found that “during Q3 2020, stations with above-average cleanliness ratings drove 21% more visits than their below-average competitors.” Cash in on spring cleaning by following the five steps above.


Mike G Zahajko, is the executive vice president, sales for CAF. CAF is a leader in outdoor cleaning and c-store image solutions. For more about CAF, visit