Batteries Power the Cleaning IndustryBy Graeme Golucki | August 14, 2018 << Back to Articles
These days, floor machines such as scrubbers, extractors, and burnishers are more or less required to efficiently clean and maintain any large facility. These integral pieces of custodial equipment are so ubiquitous that few in our industry pause to think about what makes them go. But look under the hood of any floor machine, and odds are you’ll find a deep-cycle battery, more than likely one from U.S. Battery Manufacturing Co., which has been powering these tools of the trade for more than 90 years.
U.S. Battery was founded in 1926 in San Diego, CA. For the first few decades of its existence, U.S. Battery focused on the automotive and marine industries, manufacturing both deep-cycle and starter batteries. Following a move to Corona, CA, in the mid-80s, the company shifted its focus to deep-cycle batteries only, specifically, flooded lead acid (FLA) batteries. These batteries primarily were used to power golf cars, aerial work platforms, and boats. In a fortuitous set of circumstances, it was also about this time that large floor machines began gaining popularity in the cleaning industry and these machines were powered by FLA batteries as well.
“By the mid-80s, our company was heavily focused on developing deep cycle batteries for the golf industry,” says Mike Wallace, creative manager for U.S. Battery. “But our owner at the time—John Anderson—saw an opening to expand to other markets. Our US2200 model battery was popular in the golf market and extremely versatile. Anderson found the same US2200 could be used to power floor machines. The size and energy requirements of the floor machines and golf cars were very similar making it an obvious transition for us over the next few years.”
Mike’s father, Don Wallace, chief marketing officer and executive vice president for U.S. Battery, has been with the company for more than 20 years and was on hand as the company transitioned to focus exclusively on deep cycle batteries. “When I first started, we were spread out across a lot of markets,” he says. “We were trying to manufacture a wide-range of products, but Anderson really had built our reputation on deep-cycling products.”
In addition to manufacturing batteries, Don recalls the company also had 10 retail locations in Southern California. Eventually, the decision was made to end the retail business and narrow the company’s focus on manufacturing deep-cycling batteries. According to Don, that became U.S. Battery’s niche, as the company zeroed in on producing batteries that powered equipment and vehicles as opposed to batteries that started vehicles.
Around the time U.S. Battery pivoted to focus on deep-cycle batteries, the company realized it needed to get its products in front of the markets it wanted to power. To do this, the company began displaying its wares at trade shows such as the PGA Merchandise Show, the Golf Industry Show, and to reach the cleaning industry, ISSA’s annual North America trade show.
“Attending and exhibiting at the ISSA Show keeps us in sight of all the people in the cleaning industry,” Don says. “The show is a prime market for us, providing excellent exposure. One of the criteria when I started was saying we need to be at our primary trade shows, which includes ISSA. Not a lot of companies manufacture batteries at the level we do. So if we’re not out there with a presence on the show floor, we would be conspicuous by our absence.”
Mike agrees with his father’s assessment of the ISSA Show’s importance. “Compared to some of the other industry-focused shows [where we exhibit], the ISSA Show seems to appeal to both the manufacturers and the key decision-makers across the supply chain,” he says. “Every year, all of our sales folks want to go to the ISSA Show because a lot of their customers are there, and this has consistently been the case no matter what city [hosts the show]. ISSA helps us to make the connections we need and to put U.S. Battery in front of the industry’s leaders.”
Another important aspect of exhibiting at the annual ISSA Show is the feedback booth staff receives on the show floor. “The ISSA Show gives us a fantastic chance to meet a wider range of potential clients,” Don says. “Throughout the year, our sales people primarily only speak with product manufacturers and other buyers. But during the week of the show, we get the rare opportunity to meet with end users and discuss their needs when it comes to batteries. It’s an invaluable experience and we’re very happy that ISSA provides us that avenue of direct contact.”
The More Things Change…
While the cleaning industry has seen its share of market disruptions during the past two decades, the battery market has remained relatively stable for U.S. Battery. “In my opinion, FLA batteries still prove the best choice if cleaning companies do required maintenance,” Don says. “Over the years, we’ve tried to make maintenance easier to manage with features like a single-point watering system and an exterior indicator light that alerts an operator when the battery requires watering.”
Even though the company’s FLA battery line has been challenged by the rising demand for lithium batteries in the cleaning industry, the company doesn’t seem phased by the competition. “There’s been a perceived notion that lithium batteries are a greener option,” Mike says. “While that might not necessarily be an accurate idea, that’s the impression most users have of lithium batteries. And sure, there is less maintenance involved than FLA batteries, but when lithium batteries die, there’s not much you can do with them because there’s no uniform standards for recycling them yet.”
Mike goes on to posit that FLA batteries are actually greener and provide better sustainability than their lithium competition. “By their nature, batteries are not something most customers think about regularly,” he says. “But FLA batteries have been around for more than a century. Users assume because they’re not the new shiny thing, they’re not as green [as lithium batteries], but that’s not the case. FLA batteries have been around for so long that there is an effective strategy in place for recycling. And our design team is not static when it comes to our batteries. We’re constantly coming up with improvements to remain competitive with lithium. At the end of the day, Don says, when you break down the staying power of a FLA battery, you are really getting the most bang for your buck.”
The future seems to offer more of the same for U.S. Battery, and Don is more than okay with that. “Of course, there is going to be change, both in the cleaning industry and in battery manufacturing,” he says. “But we’re a private company that has grown in leaps and bounds since I started here two decades ago. I see companies like ours continuously working to find ways to improve existing FLA battery technology. As long as we continue to remain the best value for our customers, which I truly believe we are, U.S. Battery will remain a key partner in powering the cleaning industry for many years to come.”
About the Author.
Graeme Golucki is ISSA's digital strategy editor and can be reached at [email protected]; phone, 800-225-4772 (North America) and 847-982-0800.