A Horse's View

What’s the view like from where you sit?

"Every man takes the limits of his own field of vision for the limits of the world."

I've been called a horse's behind before. Sometimes I even deserved it. How about you? But could it be that, in the cleaning industry, we all fall prey to looking at life through the eyes of a horse?

I recently saw an interview on CNN with an expert on horse training who stated, "Horses see men as being larger than the horse is." Wow, heavy stuff. Here you have a horse that weighs over 1,000 pounds, has vicious hooves and teeth and is so tall a man has to look up at it, and yet the horse is afraid of this huge "man object." An interesting tidbit, but hardly a transformational concept, right?

But then I started meditating (as I often do) on the carpet-cleaning world. You see, all too often we adopt a "Horse's View" of our business universe. Even though you and I are part of an exciting, dynamic and potentially incredibly profitable industry, we often view everyone and everything else as "bigger and better" than we are.

If our view is that everyone else is bigger and better, logically this makes us, as carpet cleaners, "smaller and worse." Just like Dennis Miller, allow me to rant for a moment on what this intimidated "Horse's View" of ourselves in the business universe leads to, specifically...

Not charging enough. Horses don't expect much out of life. Straw, water, a roof over their head in winter, maybe a little grain. Are we all that different as carpet cleaners? Where is it written that carpet-cleaning-business owners can only achieve middle-class status? Why do we need to stay a blue-collar profession? Not to sound like Anthony Robbins, but don't you deserve to become wealthy? Think about it: You work like a dog with no paid holidays (in fact, you probably worked over the last holiday!) and no benefits; you're on 24-hour call; you take huge risks and you live, eat, breathe and sleep your profession. Now, if a Wall Street stockbroker or a cardiologist met these work standards, they would be rich! Why not us as carpet cleaners? Because we are horses!

The solution? Raise your prices on all residential work by 10 percent today (I mean this. Do it!). Six months from today, do it again. Trust me, the vast majority of your customers will not even notice the increases, and the few that do comment won't really care. Now, what to do with this windfall?

Not paying enough. Why does it remain an accepted fact that carpet-cleaning technicians have to stay lower-middle class forever? An experienced and trained technician works harder, knows more and has much higher customer communication skills than employees in other service industries. Yet the pay scales in our business for the most part remain abysmally low. Why? See my first point.

The solution? Take part of your price increase "windfall" and give every single one of your employees a $2-per-hour raise effective immediately. They've been underpaid for years and likely still will be after this raise. But even so, you will be amazed at the boost in morale.

Not setting the bar high enough. Horses aren't fussy about who they hang out with. Neither are a lot of carpet cleaners. After all, when someone doesn't respect their industry, their company or themselves, they tend to hire any warm body (if you doubt our industry hiring practices, just peer closely at the fellow driving the next carpet-cleaning van you see speeding by. It probably will not be a pretty picture!).

Sure, I recognize that not paying enough affects the quality of applicants coming through your door - all the more reason to pay your people more! But still, we tend to hire folks that reflect our perception of both the industry and ourselves. So have you looked, really looked, at your employees lately? My rule in analyzing a potential or current employee is, "would I feel comfortable having them working in my own home alone with my wife?" If I did not feel good about this scenario, why would I inflict this individual on my customers?

The solution? Increase the starting salary of a new technician so they will earn at least 20 percent more than they could in any comparable job - not just cleaning carpets - in your area. Can't afford to pay more? Yes you can. Here's why and how you can dramatically increase the starting pay of your employees:

  • The "thoroughbred" employee you attract with higher wages will work harder and become productive much faster than the low paid "mules" you have been using.
  • You must implement a written daily "Fast Track Training System" that includes daily testing to organize the training of your new hire and get them "paying their keep" sooner. Don't have a written training system? E-mail me at stoburen@homefrontsuccess.com and I'll send you the technician-training system I used for many years.
  • Don't forget: within six months you will be grossing 20 percent more than you are now. Invest part of this "new money" in better people.

    Not saving enough. Horses don't normally enjoy a luxurious, worry-free retirement. Sadly, a lot of carpet cleaners don't either. Instead, they face the carpet cleaner's version of getting "sent to the glue factory," i.e. "growing old on the wand." Now, this long work career is great if that is what you want. But somehow that wand isn't quite as much fun for an elderly carpet cleaner who is forced into continuing to work when he would much rather be enjoying a comfortable retirement.

    You see, horses live day to day and that is what too many of us do. We don't have a consistent Personal Investment Plan (PIP), so we grow old depending on the farmer ... I mean Social Security, to take care of us in our old age. Does anyone feel really good about Social Security being your only recourse for retirement?

    The solution? Right now, today, make a firm resolve to "pay your future first." Set a percentage of every business deposit that will be automatically swept into your PIP account. Some put the percentage at 2 percent to 5 percent of their business gross volume. Others aim for 10 percent to 15 percent of their salary. But the idea is to have a continuous stream of money entering your PIP. Have questions? Then pay for a session with an impartial financial consultant who will advise you on your investment options (don't go to a "free" advisor who works on commission as, inevitably, their advice will be tainted.). Then religiously fund the investment strategy you choose.

    Not thinking enough. Horses are condemned to the life they were born to. They don't play the "What if?" game and think outside of the box. But sadly, neither do many carpet cleaners. They just keep on following the stampede of other carpet cleaners engaged in a negative cycle of bait-and-switch pricing and questionable business practices. This non-thinking management style inevitably leads to bitterness, resentment and an unfulfilled life.

    The solution? Someone far wiser than I stated more than 3,000 years ago that "There is salvation in the multitude of counselors." This is a lonely business; reach out for advice, help and, maybe most importantly, emotional support. Benefit from business books and audio training courses. Join local and national industry trade groups and attend their meetings and conventions. Distributors fill a vital role in providing affordable seminars. Set a goal of attending at least two training seminars every year.

    Finally, a huge resource is the "band of brothers down in the trenches" found on the ICS magazine Bulletin Board at http://www.i-boards.com/ics/. You may need a thick skin at times, but the knowledge, advice and, yes, the fellowship and camaraderie found there is priceless.

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