Cleaning & Restoration Association News

Oh, To Do It All Over Again ... Part II

You can't put the genie back in the bottle.

"You choose, you live the consequences. Every yes, every no, every maybe, creates the school you call your personal experience."
-Richard Bach

I've never claimed to be real smart. However, I am very stubborn. In fact, I credit much of my business success to the fact that I was both too dumb and too mulish to give up. I struggled along, committing one "business boo-boo" after another and yet, somehow, miraculously, not only surviving but prospering.

What I wouldn't have given for a business mentor to share with me the mistakes he had made, in the hope that I might avoid them. Last month we looked at three of "Steve's Top Ten List of Business Blunders I Made." Posted in no particular order, they were:

  • Not buying the very best equipment (and chemicals).
  • Not replacing worn out equipment often enough.
  • Not maintaining a "reserve" in equipment, finances and employees.

    Speaking of employees, let's focus on the care and feeding of these vital creatures (sure, you can go it alone but for most of us, aging bodies and a growing customer list dictate hiring workers). So once again, in no particular order, we'll continue with "Steve's Top Ten List of Business Blunders I Made" with the hope that you won't repeat my mistakes!

    Not searching for and hiring the very best. Like too many other carpet cleaners, I subscribed to the Theory of Warm Bodies:
    A. Due to fear, inertia and sloth on my part, I delayed advertising for, interviewing and background checking potential employees.
    B. When the work overload became agonizing I would scream out "Just get me a warm body in here! I don't care who you hire as long as they can push a scrub wand!"
    C. I don't need to tell you the rest of the story. One agonizing hiring mistake after another.

    Pay attention. As the owner or manager of a growing carpet cleaning business your most important job is finding quality, exciting people that are willing to share your vision. Life is too short to waste it working with marginal individuals, not to mention the obvious legal, liability and ethical issues of sending a loser into the private sanctum - the home - of your customer.

    The solution? Always be "stalking" quality people for prospective employees. When you encounter someone giving great, energetic service with a beautiful smile, ask him or her if they would consider a career change. Give them your card and ask them to call you. Of course, to entice these winners away from their current employment you must offer good career prospects.

    Not orienting and training new employees. Think about the insanity of this particular business blunder. You spend weeks interviewing and reference-checking prospective new employees. After much time and effort, you at last find a winner. You bring this quality young man or woman on board with much fanfare...and dump them out on the job with virtually no training. Sure, you show the new tech how to start the truck, mix the chemical and run a scrub wand. But the emotional dynamics of working with a customer twice their age with ten times their income level are totally ignored. The result? Complaining customers and intimidated, burned-out technicians that rapidly quit, thereby forcing you to start this whole sad process once again.

    The solution? Implement a "buddy system" by assigning the new employee a mentor who will give both personal counsel and follow a daily written "Fast Track" training system for their first month of employment. Your trainer (who should be your best employee) earns a "mentoring bonus," and your new hire gets formal training and a shoulder to cry on during that first critical month.

    Not paying the most. Maybe this is why you aren't hiring - or keeping - the best employees. Here is a thought-provoking question: Who earns more money in your town? An IICRC certified technician or a journeyman electrician? Why? Does a certified tech know as much an electrician? Absolutely, maybe more. Does a carpet cleaning technician work as hard physically as an electrician? Very likely even harder! And we wonder why the best and brightest of our employees quit and move on?

    The solution? L.L.Bean once said, "I always thought if I paid 20 percent more than any of my competitors I would keep employees that are 40 percent better than average." Ask yourself, "Do I pay my people at least 20 percent more than they could earn doing comparable work in my market area?" If you aren't paying this 20 percent premium, prepare yourself to consistently lose your best and brightest to higher paying or more prestigious employers.

    Another rule of thumb is to pay your employees enough that they can afford to buy a home in your market area. After all, the American Dream is home ownership. Quality young people who want to own their own home will keep moving on until they find a company that will help them achieve it, and who can blame them? Of course, to escape the three blunders profiled above, you must avoid this next blunder:

    Not charging enough. This is probably both the most common blunder in our industry and the most destructive too. Very few carpet cleaners even remotely understand the true cost of doing business. So they fall into the old trap of setting their prices based on what the competition charges. This results in the carpet cleaner's common business strategy of "losing money on every job but making it up in volume." If you are always behind the eight ball financially, you will limp along cutting corners - including not paying your employees enough - which in turn will lead to disastrous consequences later.

    The solution? Set yourself apart by providing a high level of "Value Added Service," which in turn will create Customer Cheerleaders who will enthusiastically promote your premium services at no charge to everyone they meet. (Note: For a detailed explanation of Value Added Service and the concept of consistently making the Cheerleader, contact me and I will e-mail you my 19-page Special Report, "Ten Essential Strategies for Success in the Cleaning Industry," free of charge.) Once you can consistently provide Value Added Service, start charging for it. Then, when the big money rolls in - remember, the premium you charge over the "going rate" will be almost completely profit - invest it in three areas: better equipment, a better life for yourself and your family, and maybe most importantly, invest in superb employees that are a joy to work with and who will share your vision of success by always making Customer Cheerleaders.

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