Challenges of Retail Restrooms

9 minute read | October 18th, 2016



The volume of footfall through large retail environments puts a huge strain on each public area of the spaces, including the lifts, lobbies, restrooms and walkways. Just in 2015 Westfield Corporation had a total of 400 million visitors through their doors in 35 sites across the globe.

Due to the unique volume of visitors, and their seasonal nature, large retail environments face either accentuated or unique product and environment challenges. This means that these issues need a focused approach to resolution, innovation and product life-cycles to ensure that the center can retain it's level of brand perception, while increasing it's footfall. Below is a breakdown of the biggest and most common issues faced by shopping centers in their restrooms.

 

Water on the Floor

One of the most common issues in high footfall restrooms is water on the floor. Excess water in the restroom can come from several sources including:

 •  Splashes from sinks
 •  Drips from wet hands
 •  Splashes from urinals
 •  Condensation build up 

This is an issue for two reasons:

Health & Safety

Restrooms are one of the areas considered most likely to incur a 'slip & trip injury' in public buildings. In the USA, the average payout of a slip & fall incident is $19,000.

Visual Perception

In addition to the Health & Safety issues caused by water on the floor, it also projects a poor reflection on the hygiene and maintenance of the shopping center as a whole.

The UK Health & Safety Executive states that "It may not be possible to totally eliminate contamination but good design can reduce the risk of it getting onto the floor."

See how the Ribbon Collection can help reduce water on the floor >


Noise Levels

In a busy mall, with so many sounds and visual distractions vying for your attention, the restroom should be a place of calm, to regather and refresh. A user should be able to leave the restrooms feeling calmer and more relaxed than when they entered. Due to their open plan nature and abundance of hard reflective surfaces, a typical restroom has very poor acoustic properties, amplifying any sounds and sending it reverberating around the room. Actions like flushing the toilets and drying hands with a high speed hand dryer can increase the noise levels to well above 80dB.

This is particularly an issue for sensitive users such as small children, autistic users, or those with hyper-acute hearing. A study completed by Dr. Jon Drever for London University offers more in depth research on this. In his study, he quotes a user as saying –

"It's very painful for me. I won't go in restrooms that have them [high speed hand dryers] unless it's absolutely necessary and if someone uses the dryer while I'm in there, I plug my ears."


This is an issue to be looked at not only by product manufacturers, but by the architects in view of designing around noise reduction and absorption through use of materials and layouts.

 

Durability

Due to the high footfall environment, shopping centers can place demands on products that are above and beyond those seen in any other environments, except for perhaps airports. It all comes down to the age old tug of war - Capex vs. Opex spending. Lifetime costs are the most important figure to look at. Where this is ignored, we have seen large disruption to the user experience and damage to the shopping center's brand.

The correct use of materials and finishes is important when focusing on durability. Materials such as timber should be kept to an absolute minimum in a restroom environment, even so called "marine" substrates. Due to a restroom having such a high level of humidity, and residual water timber can warp and split, particularly causing problems if used under solid surface basins, as this can cause the whole basin to split.

Even the finish of the products can impact the visual impact over time. Shiny finishes on fixtures will show scratches and blemishes more clearly than matte or satin finishes.

The actual product life-cycles are also important. If a product such as a soap dispenser is tested to 1 million actuations, in an office environment, this could last anywhere between 5-10 years, however in a shopping center which receives 2 million visitors per year, this could last as little as 6 months.

 

Brand Perception

Brand perception can be diluted by several of the other issues we mention, such as lack of maintenance and water on the floor, but can also depend on the choice of products included, for example a lack of visual coherence between fittings, jarring with the user.

Within a shopping center environment, due to the amount a tenant-branded space, there are only specific areas when the actual center can add their own personal brand which include the lobbies, walkways, the exterior and the restrooms. Too often generic restrooms are built, overlooking the potential to create something of commercial value that offers an experience over and above what the competition may be providing.

 

Maintenance

This relates particularly to restroom consumables such as toilet paper, paper towels and soap which are used in large quantities and can disappear suddenly at peak times, increasing maintenance costs. If any of these items are empty in the restroom, it creates a very negative perception and experience.

In a recent study, 2 out of 3 users stated that lack of soap availability was their biggest frustration in the restroom. There are several potential ways which these issues can be reduced, for example the use of foam soap, which mixes with air, offering more servings per volume and integrating dispensers within the structure of the restroom, allowing for bigger quantities of consumables to be stored at the point of use. Learn more about benefits of foaming soap here.

To help alleviate the issue of running out of soap in high-use restrooms, we've created an Automatic Soap System that keeps soap flowing to all dispensers from a larger reservoir. Even better, the soap tank can be re-filled out of sight, leaving the user restroom experience clean and interruption free. For more information on the Automatic Soap System click here.


What does the future hold?

We believe that the solution is integration of products and systems into the build of the room itself, rather than stand-alone products. This means that designers will need to engage with manufacturers earlier in the design process. At Lovair, we strive to problem solve and innovate around restroom issues such as these. An example of a system that is self-sustaining and cuts down maintenance costs is the Automatic Soap Feed System.

We believe the restroom will become a destination, rather than a necessity, becoming an area where people come to refresh in a visually and sonically calm and pleasant environment, and where the shopping center can express their creativity through design.

Digitization is also becoming more relevant, empowering maintenance teams with full online visibility of current consumable levels, BIM integration allowing quick access to product and manufacturer data, and products that can connect with Building Management Systems to provide real-time performance data.

We believe the ultimate hand-washing experience is yet to be designed and there is much more to discover. But we are proud to be leading that search and we are passionate in our continuous striving for perfection. To learn more about us visit our about us page.

PUBLISHED BY
Justin Lovell

Justin Lovell

Managing Director, Lovair

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