Niche Cleaning: Can Stone Floor Care Improve Your Bottom Line?

Looking for an add-on service that will improve your bottom line? Stone floor care may be the answer, but this potentially high profit service comes with cautions.

As a soft and hard floor care professional, many barriers to entry will be avoided. The professional cleaner has:

* A trained eye that can see the soiled surface and knows when it is clean;
* An established customer base of hotels, office buildings, and other facilities;
* Trained personnel in need of additional specialized training; and
* At least some of the necessary equipment.

According to those who know, the three most important basics when entering this specialized area of commercial floor care are: 1.) Training, 2.) Training, 3.) Training - because stone cleaning and restoration is not like any other surface.

According to one of the top instructors in the industry, Fred Hueston, director of The National Training Center for Stone and Masonry Trades ( (800) 841-7199), "It is a natural product that reacts in unusual ways. Your best defense is to seek as much training as possible from reliable sources. Granite for example is a stone that should not be restored by the start up unless he has had some marble and limestone experience."

Richard Cross, vice president of Operations, Marble Life, Inc. ( (800) 627-4569), agrees, and cautions those who don't do test patches and skimp on training.

"With all the new popular stone available, initial and ongoing training are essential," he says. "Because restoration and maintenance cost is 70 percent less than replacement, stone floor care maintenance contacts are very appealing to the commercial property owners."

Rob Hanks, president of Hydro-Force Manufacturing, ( (800) 225-9807) adds, "There are thousands of types of stone with a variety of reactions to the cleaning and restoration chemicals and techniques. Learning to distinguish the different types is critical to a company's success in this area of commercial floor care."

The experts agree:

* Taking on the business as an add-on service or full time endeavor without the proper training means the cleaner must be prepared for the obvious or subtle peculiarities of each stone;
* Cleaners should not jump into the business with the wrong equipment; and
* Many new stone care professionals bid on jobs before they know the first thing about stone restoration and maintenance, and often under estimate the time required to do the work. The resulting loss of income is discouraging

There are many pitfalls in stone floor care, according to Hueston, which can be avoided if the cleaning professional knows what to expect. Stone restoration is time consuming and many cleaners fail to take this into consideration.

"The stone restoration and maintenance business is a thinking business," Hueston points out. "Problems cannot be solved by randomly applying various chemicals until the problem goes away, the contractor must know what the problem is before attempting to solve it. Qualified instructors stress this in their classes."

While a lot can go wrong, the pleasant surprise in this part of the cleaning and restoration business is that it can be very profitable and satisfying when a dull, scratched stone floor is returned to a clean and pleasing appearance.

What is the easiest part about adding this to their list of services?

Much of the same equipment used for carpet cleaning and floor care can be adapted for stone care. But the speed of rotation may require the purchase of new equipment.

"If the cleaner already has a good heavy duty floor machine and a good wet vac, he should be able to enter the stone restoration business for well under $1000 or less," Hueston said.

Training runs the gamut from free seminars to two-day training sessions costing $800, even week long events. As with anything else, you get what you pay for.

"Hiring can be trying for any contractor in our current economy," Hueston cautions.

A basic requirement: "A thinking individual with good problem solving skills." Because it is skillful work, be prepared to train and compensate the person well for the level of skill required.

All the experts agree that the best source of promoting the new service is the upselling promotions to the an existing customer base because it requires the only cross-over marketing, simply let the customer know you can do their stone work as well as carpet and wood floors. Direct mail to targeted audiences is another inexpensive way to let people know about your new service and offering tips on stone floor care to a Business Journal or the business section of the local paper is another great way to introduce the service to the public.

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