A Closer Look at One- and Two-Man Crews

I've received a lot of phone calls and e-mails concerning my articles about one-man versus two-man crews. Many of the cleaners that contacted me were amazed that there were so many different factors involved in determining whether one or two-man crews were better.

A lot of people running one-man crews also thanked me for showing that the way they run their businesses does make sense. But, as I've said previously, there are many valid reasons to use two-man crews, and there are many successful carpet-cleaning operations that use one-man crews, two-man crews or a combination.

We talked about one-man crews having an edge in terms of income and profits because of the increased quality of the relationship with the customer developed by one-man crews. In my company we were able to deepen our market, or get more revenue from each customer, as they used us to provide a wider variety of services. And our repeat and referral business went up dramatically.

But two-person crews can also be formed that work fantastically well. To understand how, let's take a look at some of the changes in our society.

A pervasive sense of insecurity about the safety of our country due to acts of terrorism and general instability in the world has created the phenomenon of the "security mom." Security moms are disproportionately worried about terrorism and security issues. When you combine "big picture" security fears about the safety of the country with "small picture" concerns about the safety of children and the family, you have a very cautious customer to deal with. This can make your customers highly suspicious about having strangers in their home, especially men.

Another major change in our society is the dramatic increase in allergies and asthma. When I started cleaning you would rarely, and I mean once a year, run into someone who had asthma. But now asthma is growing at a rampant pace, increasing from 7 million sufferers in 1980 to over 20 million in 2001. There are now over 50 million Americans with allergies, and the number of cases of asthma and allergies is growing at an estimated 10 percent each year.

So how does all this affect the type of crews we have?

Let's go back to one of the main reasons that carpet cleaners like to have two-man crews. Carpet cleaning is hard, physical work. Simply put, an additional set of hands makes the work easier and faster and lets the crew do more jobs per day.

Now, previously I explained how, under normal conditions, one-man crews are actually more profitable than two-man. But the changes in our society that I have discussed above are opening up a new opportunity for two-person crews that some cleaners are now starting to take advantage of.

I say "two-person" crews because having women on your crews is an idea whose time has most definitely come. Women have a natural advantage over men when it comes to dealing with our predominantly female customers, often relating far better to other women than a man would, especially when it comes to cleaning issues. And a female technician will usually make a female customer feel much safer and more comfortable, even when the other person on the crew is a man.

Cleaners successfully using mixed male/female crews have changed the traditional roles of lead tech and helper somewhat. In this new scenario the woman does the talking (and selling) while the other crewmember (this works regardless whether they are male or female) is bringing in tools and equipment, pre-vacuuming and so on. I have seen owners who are on the truck every day hire women for this role; they stay in the background processing the job while the female tech handles the customer contact. Once the job ticket is written, both crewmembers process the job to completion.

But what about the significant additional costs of two-person crews vs. one-person? While a female technician/salesperson may write additional business, the real key to running two-person crews made up of at least one woman is to take advantage of mattress, anti-allergy and asthma, and environmental-illness cleaning opportunities.

The system to clean for all of these groups is, thankfully, the same. The recent development of cleaning products and treatments proven to help customers with these conditions has made cleaning for such people not only possible but very profitable.

Because these customers are cleaning for health, they tend to have not only more areas of carpet cleaned, but also upholstery and especially mattresses. In fact, mattress cleaning is the most important component when cleaning to help relieve the suffering of the 50 million Americans with allergies. And many of the 20 million asthma sufferers have attacks triggered by allergens found in mattresses.

Because these people often get significant relief from these cleaning and treatment systems, they typically clean extensively two and even three time a year, making them perhaps the very best demographic in the carpet-cleaning business.

Female technicians, as part of two-person crews, are important for two reasons if you want to take advantage of this enormous, highly profitable market. The first is that to get this kind of work, you need to demonstrate the amazing amount of dead skin cells and dust mite feces that build up in a mattress. And let's face it: there are some strong social taboos to overcome for a female customer to take a strange man into her bedroom and talk about her bed.

While I teach male technicians an almost foolproof way to do this, female technicians can break the ice much more easily, and women will often let other women into their bedroom and talk with them about mattress cleaning with little reservation.

The second reason is, once a customer sees what is actually in their mattress, they decide to have mattresses cleaned a very high percentage of the time. Because of the additional work and the fact that most mattress cleaning is a one-person job, the female tech can clean the mattresses or upholstery while the other crewmember processes the carpet. Portable extractors are ideal for mattress, upholstery and drapery cleaning. Not only can these units heat water to over 130 degrees, sanitizing the material being cleaned, they can be vented to the outside to expel allergens out of the living space. Or, if you have a dual-wand truckmount, the tech can use the second line with special tools to prevent over-wetting of mattresses and upholstery.

It really comes down to understanding that, no matter how much training and experience you or your male technicians have, women still relate better to other women most of the time. And, while I might take a lot of flack for this, in my experience, most of the time women out-clean men; they're more thorough, more patient, and more into the detail work.

So there you have it. In many scenarios, running two-person crews with a female technician as the primary contract with your customers can open up huge new markets for your services.

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