The State of Wellness in Restroom Design with David Leigh & Alan Gettelman | cA Weekly 04/21 - Full Transcript

July 27, 2021 - by commARCH
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The State of Wellness in Restroom Design with David Leigh & Alan Gettelman | cA Weekly 04/21 - Full Transcript


The following is a transcript of an episode of the commARCH Weekly Podcast Series. The full episode is available in video format on the commARCH site or in audio format on all major podcast platforms. 

cA: Welcome to the commARCH Weekly Podcast Series, a space to share and explore the latest thinking in architecture, building science, materials, and design. Before we begin, please remember to subscribe to one or all of our channels: YouTube, all major podcast platforms, and, of course, the commARCH website. In this episode, commARCH has a dialogue with David Leigh, the Vice President of Marketing at Bobrick, and Alan Gettelman, Vice President of External Affairs at Bobrick, to envision the health and wellness considerations of a post-COVID world.

Areas covered include: the rapidly evolving needs and expectations of both architects and facility management professionals in the face of current and future challenges, specific considerations for restrooms, including the reduction of touchpoints, and drawing conclusions from Bobrick's latest research survey on restroom management and associated technologies.

David Leigh is Vice President of Marketing at Bobrick. Leigh is responsible for Bobrick's communications efforts, including marketing research and engagement with the architectural community.

Prior to joining Bobrick, he had previously served as Director of Sales and Marketing for Koala Kare Products. Alan Gettelman is Vice President of External Affairs at Bobrick. Author of "A Planning Guide for Accessible Restrooms," Gettelman is a nationally renowned authority on accessibility standards compliance who has consulted on architectural specifications for decades.

Thank you for joining us this week. Let's hop into the podcast.

CA: Alan and David. Thank you for joining me! Before we get started onto the conversation, let's talk a little bit about Bobrick. Bobrick has really been a leading company in this space. And I'm not quite sure though, everyone really understands who Bobrick is and are caught up on that. So let's just spend like a couple of minutes just talking about Bobrick, who wants to start?

David Leigh: You want to go through the history?

Alan Gettelman: Yeah. Let me go over a little bit of history. Bobrick is a 115-year-old company. It was founded in Los Angeles in 1906. It is a family owned business. The current owners are the second family that have been involved. It is a interesting company in that it started out as a chemical company - it manufactured liquid hand soap and ammonia and a number of cleaning products used in the home and in the barn. And in 1908, the founder of the company decided that to sell hand soap, maybe he should develop a hand soap dispenser. So in 1908, he got a patent for the first hand soap dispenser valve issued by the patent office.

And that changed the company completely. And we became a - not just a chemical company, but a manufacturer of soap dispensers, which continues today. By mid-century, we were manufacturing a variety of accessories, dispensers, and disposals for paper and soap in the public restroom. And in the mid-1960s, we expanded that line of accessories to include mirrors and grab bars and all the items that you would find in a public restroom.

And we determined that a good way to sell that - the restroom products - was to talk to architects and to get into the architect specifications, for the mirrors and the grab bars and the soap dispensers that went into a restroom. In 1970, we added toilet compartments. And so we now have a very complete line of products to offer the building owner through the architectural specification. And that effort continues today.

DL: Yeah. And just to add to that, Dean, Bobrick today is really focused on bringing to building owners, architects - as they design a restroom space - we really focus on strong value propositions that Bobrick brings to a commercial building. That's, for instance, privacy in our partition and cubicle offerings, hygiene, which is certainly very topical today.

Alan does a lot of work in compliance, which is always very important for architects. And then of course, other more historical values that Bobrick has around economy and durability. Those types of things are all still present, but we approach the market from the perspective of solving problems in those areas. First identifying where the pain points are and then addressing those. You know, with COVID, it's certainly around hygiene.

CA: Yeah. Right now where Bobrick is focused is a big part of the conversation, internationally, a big focus. So what's, what's fundamentally changed in roles and expectations for all the different professionals that you communicate with. You said architects and owners and developers, but occupants and...

DL: We kind of see the market today as really moving through three phases. We're somewhat out of the phase of these constituents needing information on how to reopen a building based on various local standards or new requirements that are associated with COVID.
We're kind of out of the reopening phase and now the questions really do tend to focus on reoccupying and what do we need to do to bring employees back to work safely - tenants, patrons, into that space. And naturally in the conversation about hygiene and COVID, the conversation does come back to the restroom.

And we just did a survey of building professionals which really illuminated that. And then long-term - and I think we're all very excited - that there will come a day when people really are beginning to re-imagine the restroom space. There was conversation about that before COVID. Things have calmed down a little bit, but as people really begin to rethink things like gender equity, privacy, traffic flow and things like that - and wellness certainly would be a topic there as well. As people rethink what a restroom is and should be in that commercial space, that leads to some future conversations that we're really excited to be a part of.

CA: Well, what did you learn from the survey, that are questions in people's minds right now? And also opportunities for Bobrick to address?

DL: Well - I was just going to say, and then Alan can elaborate on it - the survey itself really pointed to a great degree of concern by architects and building professionals that the restroom is a key area.

Eliminating touchpoints is a big area, and a need to address that from the standards that are emerging around what is the basis of clean and operating hygienically. So it's moving certainly beyond just simply washing hands and into what can I do preventatively. Alan, do you want to talk about some of the - for instance, the touchless conversation.

AG: One of the things that the survey pointed out was that the restroom - hygiene in the restroom, was top of mind for occupants who are going to be reoccupying buildings, they want a healthy interior environment. They want surfaces that're clean. They want air quality that is a result of higher levels of filtration and operating to exchange air regularly through the day, and after the work shift. Some of the things that we are focused on in terms of restroom design, to help with the architect, help their clients, are two main thoughts: one is the concept of touchless and the second is physical distancing and we have some thoughts on restroom design that will help the architect.
The concept of touchless extends not only to the plumbing fixtures where you want to have water at the lavatory that is delivered by a sensor-operated faucet. You want flush valves on the toilets and the urinals that operate by a sensor that patron doesn't have to touch anything.

That touchless extends into the operation of your paper towel dispensers, and your hand soap dispensers. No one wants to touch anything in a restroom. There, they have peace of mind when they don't have to touch anything. And that also results in less daily maintenance. The point that can be made is that there are some accessories in the restroom where the patron doesn't touch anything, but the consumable that they're using. such as the paper towel dispensers, such as the toilet tissue dispenser, and also the paper toilet seat cover dispenser.

So there's a lot of ways to equip a restroom where the patron doesn't really touch anything. Physical distancing is a major best practice that we've heard for over a year from the CDC. And it extends throughout the restroom as well. And we want to talk about how that can be executed in the restroom in several areas.

We - first of all, you have the entry and exit area. You have the hand washing stations, you have the toilet compartments themselves, and you have the urinals. And physical distancing can be accomplished in several ways. First of all, if the restroom is large enough that it has two doors, it's a good practice to dedicate one door for entry and one door for exit.

You organize the traffic flow, so it moves in one direction. People can space themselves out. You don't have two-way traffic with congestion and people close to each other. Another practice that's used throughout the restroom to reduce traffic flow and to also increase physical distancing is to block off alternating lavatories, alternating toilet compartments, alternating urinals that can be done to keep people separated.

Another thought is at the lavatory countertop - countertops with multiple lavatories is a frequent design feature in public restrooms. It's a good thought to consider using a divider panel that goes from the countertop up to approximately 84 inches off the floor to separate those lavatories, separate the patrons at those lavatories so they can hand wash in sort of their own private space. Another consideration for privacy in the restroom and also creating more physical distancing and separation is to re-imagine the configuration of the toilet compartment. Toilet compartments typically have panels and doors that are 58 inches tall, 12 inches off the floor.

So you have air circulation over and under the compartment. What we're recommending is a compartments be extended to a minimum of 84 inches tall, and you go down to within three inches of the floor. This not only provides a more private enclosure for the patron, but it also tends to hold in the water plume that might result in flushing of the toilet.

Other things to consider are hand hygiene in the restroom at places other than the lavatory. For example, the toilet compartment. A lot of people like to use a toilet tissue to put in their hand to touch the grab bar or to touch the latch on the door. Another thought here is to provide a hand sanitizer dispenser, paper towel dispenser, waste disposal in each toilet compartment to facilitate people having good hand hygiene practice if they want to have protection of their hands and be able to clean their hands in the bathroom.

And at the exit of the restroom, we also recommend a hand sanitizer dispenser, paper towel dispenser, and a waste disposal for those people that want to use something in their hand to touch the handle on the exit. Those are just some things to practice both touchless operation within the restroom and physical distancing throughout the restroom.

CA:  Are you seeing certain building types rushing to getting this done right now versus others?

DL: There seems to be a lot of emphasis on employee space. So whether you're talking about Class A office buildings, professionally managed buildings, the large, property management groups are very active in this area.

I do want to go circle back for one second, Dean - all the elements of what Alan is discussing is included in what we now call our Hygiene Planning Guide. And so the Hygiene Planning Guide provides a very detailed way of approaching all the things that Alan discussed, whether that's from a design perspective or a product perspective.

CA: Great. And how is that distributed?

DL: You can go and request one on Bobrick.com and we will provide a PDF of that, for those people that do request that. Our architectural reps who are out there consulting with architects on their plans every day also have that guide and then, as well, facility people can request that through our aftermarket representation, who are very, very well-schooled on elements of how to clean and properly maintain the building as it already exists.

CA: So there's a benefit, anyway, despite this point in time - hopefully it's unusual - the healthy building now is actually going to be more realized.

DL: Absolutely. Absolutely. And there's a lot of emerging standards. Some of which are more for-profit, but Bobrick - as Alan talked about the history and the heritage of Bobrick - we are one of the original members of what is now the International Sanitary Supply Association. This is an association that's been in existence for, truly, decades - and their whole approach to the industry is to properly educate people on how to clean, how to make a healthy restroom. And so it's just reemphasizing that which they've always been teaching. We just add into that product solution and design considerations that help everybody to put it in the right context.

CA: I guess what you are also doing is empowering those individuals to have even more value to the owners and developers, where they have exposure to a lot of different buildings, they have exposure to you and your information, and now they can really provide some meaningful advice at a time when it's really needed.

DL: Absolutely. That's a great way to put it and that's really how Bobrick has always approached our representation in the field. They're consultants, they're independent business people. And so beyond just the products that we have - if it was a salaried sales force they certainly would be out pushing and offering Bobrick solutions - but keep in mind, these representatives typically have a line card in some cases as large as 20 different lines.

And so they can offer a lot of other solutions across a lot of different elements of a building, not necessarily all related to the restroom, but in many cases in our aftermarket group, all related to how to properly clean and maintain.

CA:  The idea of going back into a building and what the expectations of whatever that occupant might be expecting. It could mean you're going to lease that space or not. They're going to go to that restaurant or not. They're going to go to that concert or performance.

DL: And as our survey said, what are they concerned about? There's a consensus between architects and building professionals that the one area of concern that is top block is the restroom. So that's why we have focused or doubled down, if you will, on that type of education and that type of consulting.

CA: Mandatory, what used to be thoughtful.

DL: Exactly. It's bringing back to top of mind that which was already done or already known. And then we certainly have added new considerations, as Alan brought up, about how do you promote hand washing? How do you promote physical distancing? Not just because of COVID, but because of overall concern for wellness and just an appropriateness that has come up because of COVID, but won't go away.

CA: What about you guys? So when you're thinking about going out now and going to places, what are some things that go through your mind? Because you're so sensitive to this.

DL: That's a good question. You know, I was just in Vegas and of course, Alan is where the tourists have all left. So it's probably two very different points of view. But, being in Las Vegas last week, you are extremely mindful of both of those things: physical distance, and what is the environment. The best thing that I can do for myself is that I just wash my hands much more deliberately. So I'm looking for, is there soap? You know, so often before COVID you get a little squib of soap that wasn't even enough to develop a lather.

You really do need to have soap in the restroom. And if you're using a cartridge system and you don't have cartridges, you don't know what's available and I don't want to just use water. And then, the physical distancing is still - even though I've had my shots, I still have that concern - and Alan can certainly point out the opposite, when you're going into an environment where there's maybe no people.

AG: Yeah. Physical, distancing, and cleanliness are two things that are top of mind for me, even though I live in Snowmass Village, Colorado, where the ski season was down at least 40% this year in tourism. But, it's coming back with the vaccinations and we're looking forward to a robust summer up here, but I think cleanliness and physical distancing are still going to be top of mind for me.
And as David said, you go into a restroom and you want to see that it's clean and you want to see that it's well-supplied to support hand-washing.

CA: And you can even imagine apps like Yelp and others starting to report on those things too, that could have real meaning if somebody is going to go out to that place or not.

DL: That is truly part of that re-imagining, is a sense of reassurance, you know, that a restroom is being well-maintained. I don't know that - there's certain elements of that maybe smaller businesses don't care to participate in. Maybe a little bit more Big Brother when they have other bigger issues to do, but people do want to be reassured. And again, the best thing that people can do is both through regular cleaning and if there's an opportunity to switch certain products that are high touch to touchless: those doors, those soap dispensers, that just helps everybody, because it reduces the amount of cross-contamination where people are not touching things quite as often.

CA: I went for a walk this morning - we have sidewalks around our neighborhood - and realized I didn't have a mask on. I was just going for a walk, and somebody was approaching and she jumped off the sidewalk and went into the middle of the street when she saw me coming. And I'm like, "Wait!"

DL: It was real confusing in Vegas because they lifted certain standards over the weekend. And so you had people jumping into elevators, but no mask. And then immediately they do the, you know, cover with their arm routine or lift up their t-shirt to cover their mouth because it's a betwixt-in-between timeframe, right? And so they're saying you don't have to be covered. And so there'll be a little bit of a transition with that.

And of course everybody will. I hope people are always mindful of - a cough or a sniffle as we move into, you know, a new world. But the one thing that I would like to say that for our business is: businesses will be a lot more attuned to the restroom and what they can do to reassure people.

There's nothing like you know, walking into - and this used to be, I'm sure you remember this too, Dean - there were places in your travels as a kid or places that always stood for a clean restroom. You know - they marketed that way, we've sort of gone away from that as a society.

CA: Gas stations.

DL: Correct. And that applies to restaurants, that applies to tenant and employee satisfaction. And so, when you can reassure the people that are using the commercial restroom, that it is clean, that it is well maintained and the products have a role in doing that, that it is private - that's a new consideration - that through its design and through product selection, you can go a long way to making people a lot more satisfied with where they work and where they shop and where they, do their business.

CA: Yeah. I'm just thinking, should we have buttons in bathrooms that say, "It's okay to shake my hand, I just used Bobrick products."

DL: That might be a stretch.

AG: The customer, the client, the employee, has an expectation of the buildings they enter, and they're going to voice their expectations, to the people responsible by either asking for improvement or they're not going to go back.

And I think that those expectations for cleanliness and so on is going to be built into our society going forward. People are so comfortable - they don't like wearing the masks, but they're comfortable with this with the peace of mind that they provide in terms of protecting themselves and protecting other people that they're going to carry that consciousness forward in some manner. And we're all going to live with that.

DL: Yeah. Dean, just to put a plug in for Koala - we've done research at Koala, which is, you know - Bobrick owns Koala Kare, the baby changing station people. And we've done research over 20, 25 years now to that reinforces Alan's point alone, which is: accommodating families with baby changing stations is good business because people choose where they go out on that basis.

And I think that beyond just patrons with small children, you are also going to see that with the rest of the restroom because of the heightened sensibilities of that.

CA: Looking back when you have newborns and young kids, that would freak you out.

AG: We're going to enter the importance of the restroom away from home - going forward, an expectation that they're going to be clean and fully stocked and hygienic. This is going to be a Back to the Future, because in the 1950s, the oil companies were producing service stations and they were trying to use a clean restroom as an attraction for people to stop and purchase their gas. And Bobrick was very much involved with this with outfitting restroom service stations for the major oil companies throughout the United States, by giving, providing specifications for soap, dispensers, and towel dispensers, and waste receptacles that they would support the oil companies interested in clean away from home facilities.

This is going to be a Back to the Future. And buildings are going to have to do that going forward to attract customers, employees, and tenants.

CA: So the reason why our audience should reach out to Bobrick are a number of reasons, and real advantages to Bobrick, right? The history of the company and it's commitment. It's close to the market in coming up with solutions. Comprehensive knowledge about what's going on, not only in somebody's local area, but nationally, internationally. What should the audience do as a result of this conversation, this new knowledge? Obviously reach out for the hygiene stuff, what else?

AG: There’s a couple of things. Hygiene and accessibility are major requirements in public restrooms. So the architect who is working for clients on designing restrooms or redesigning restrooms should be asking their client property managers, "What are your standards for cleanliness? What are your standards for accessibility?" And they should have that investigative dialogue to understand what the needs are in a building to provide clean restrooms. And they should factor those needs into the space planning, and into the specification of the accessories and the partitions that are going into those restrooms.

A good example is if the restrooms are going to be cleaned every day in a multi-story building, "Where are the janitors’ closets? Are you providing adequate janitors closets on every floor so that the maintenance staff has the cleaning materials and the resupply requirements close at hand so that they can do an efficient job of cleaning?"

This thoughtful design is going to be critical for supporting the maintenance of restrooms because maintenance of restrooms has become much more important going forward than it ever has.

DL: Dean, I would just add that - Alan is absolutely correct - but I want to again, make a plug. There's an awful lot that building professionals and architects don't know. Our research showed that they don't really talk with one another about their requirements and their challenges. And so our reps, be they in more of an aftermarket space and from an architectural perspective, do have that agnostic view and tremendous amount of history and experience that can be brought to bear. So just behooves the audience listening to ask those questions.

They're not going to be sold to as much as they're going to be given advice. And yes, sometimes that advice leads to product solutions. But more importantly, it's going to lead to greater knowledge of what is needed. Sometimes those are requirements like Alan was talking about with, accessibility, but also now with some of the issues related to cleanliness, and it just behooves everybody to open up that dialogue and to talk with one another about getting to a best solution.

And we're here to help in that regard as much as sell - of course that's going to occur, but, more importantly, there's an awful lot of information that's out there that can be had by having those conversations.

CA: Great. Guys, thank you so much. Thanks to Bobrick too. Great information.

DL: Thank you. You enjoyed it?

CA: Good. I hope so. All right. Take care, all the best!

cA: The commARCH team thanks you as always for joining us for this week's podcast. Please remember to subscribe to the commARCH YouTube channel. Follow us on your favorite podcast platform, and take advantage of the commARCH website, where you can access all of these platforms and associated podcast transcripts. Until next time.

More information and resources can be found via Bobrick's website.

The commARCH Weekly Podcast Series is available on all major podcast platforms, including:
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