For The Times They Are A-Changin’

Bob Dylan first said it in 1964, and he was right. I thought I’d do a little reminiscing on the last four decades and see if I could get down a few thoughts about innovations that have impacted our industry in several areas, concentrating on management, marketing and technical innovations that have contributed significantly to success in the cleaning and restoration industry.

I’ll divide this rambling discussion into five categories of innovations: management, marketing, on-location cleaning, fire restoration and water damage restoration innovations.

Beyond the ageless idea of “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you,” I believe there are several management concepts that have significantly impacted the cleaning and restoration service industry:

Income Projecting. This concept has been around since the early 1980s. It involves sitting down at the end of each year and deciding how much income a manager wants to make in the upcoming year, based on the company’s people, assets, programs and market condition. A manager uses the last year’s monthly income average, decides on a reasonable percentage of increase for the upcoming year and, using the “Rule of 78,” projects incremental increases income for the next 12 months. Then, by dividing the company goal by the number of crews, and further dividing the monthly crew financial goal by the number of working days in the month, a manager arrives at a daily goal for each crew.

Establishing financial goals for each production unit has an enormous positive impact in motivating employees to participate in achieving overall company financial goals, which helps distribute management’s burden in this critical area.

Commission Compensation. Well thought-out commission programs allow employees to “share the wealth” by tying their pay to actual production. It is the very essence of the free enterprise system, and the motivational impact is huge. The company makes money and the employee makes money; conversely, if the company is losing money, everyone – manager and employee alike – is motivated to do something to correct that situation.

Commission programs can be dangerous if not carefully constructed. A good one always is multi-faceted. It must address the management objectives of quality assurance, profitability, care of assets and teamwork. There is no such thing as a simple commission system that addresses all these priorities. Do it right or don’t do it at all.

Crew Teams. This involves breaking the traditional concept that two people must be on a carpet-cleaning truck. While two people still are involved, they are in separate vehicles and they have different job descriptions. One becomes responsible for selling residential and commercial work, and the other has the primary responsibility for work production.

The ideal situation evolves when one salesperson has the responsibility for selling the work for two production units. In today’s market, a dynamic crew team with one salesperson and two production vehicles can produce $300,000 to $400,000 annually.

There are several marketing concepts that have had a tremendous impact on the ability of many industry firms to legitimately increase the average income on a given job, without resorting to unscrupulous bait-and-switch tactics:

Targeting the clientele. Instead of using a shotgun approach to marketing, companies that have studied and targeted their “ideal customer” continue to succeed. Analyzing and understanding who that customer is in terms of needs, desires, social status, home and furnishings is tremendously important to the success of any company’s marketing effort.

Phone procedures. Phones are our link to our customers. Without proper telephone etiquette and sales technique, a company relegates itself to the same status as a bait-and-switch firm: “I’m the greatest and I’m the cheapest!”

I’m suggesting a simple three-point process of turning that inevitable question of “How much do you charge…?” into an opportunity for an on-site inspection and sales opportunity. The idea here is literally to double the average job ticket with less work, and to create a customer for life by getting a sales professional into the home or business, even if that sales professional is the technician who ultimately will be doing the work.

Selling the job. It is unfortunate that today’s cleaner too often equates a “salesperson” with some cowboy-boot-wearing, tire-kicking, loud-mouthed, used-car salesman. Nothing could be more erroneous, and nothing transpires in business until someone sells the product or service. Over the years, the industry’s most successful firms have acknowledged and exploited this fact by developing a sales procedure to be used by either a sales specialist or a technician.

Selling basically incorporates a six-step procedure that’s easy to follow: approaching the customer; establishing communication or rapport; determining the customer’s desires versus their needs; filling their need with features and benefits; closing and, finally, confirming the sale. When these steps become a procedure, sales cease to be a problem. Without a procedure, they always are a problem.

Option sales programs. If ever there was a “magic bullet,” surely this is it. It’s been used for some 30 years now. Customers prefer options when it comes to the goods and services they purchase, be it detergents, breakfast cereals or automobiles. Cleaning services are no different.

Packaging cleaning services in three programs and offering consumers three options in one brochure has impacted the profitability of cleaning service businesses enormously. All it takes is a 50-cent brochure and a complicated closing, such as, “Which do you prefer?” The average job ticket increases 50 percent to 100 percent, and consumers are delighted because they made the choice.

Contract sales. The idea of cleaning someone’s carpet or fabric and waiting for them to contact you for future services is ridiculous. Innovative industry firms have come to understand and appreciate the impact of contract sales on business stability and net worth.

Contracts apply both to residential and commercial customers. Residential customers already have contracts with their exterminator, cable TV provider, lawn service, maid service, pool service, HVAC contractor and others; why not with their carpet cleaner? Once a growing and successful firm cleans someone’s carpet, that customer should be serviced regularly under a residential contract – in short, they should become a customer for life.

On-location Cleaning
I’m not sure that it would be very smart to attempt a listing here. I think I’ll simply say that the advent of hot water extraction cleaning has been the single watershed event that has impacted the industry in the last 30-plus years. This applies to both carpet and upholstery cleaning.

Today, we’re finally fulfilling the true IICRC S100 definition of cleaning: locating, removing and properly disposing of soils from fabrics and surfaces. The “Principles of Cleaning,” as outlined in both the old and new revisions of IICRC S100, continue to serve as our touchstone for professional cleaning. They include dry soil removal, soil suspension, soil extraction, grooming and drying.

Simple and effective. Violate any of these principles and you’re only pretending to clean.

Fire Restoration
Several product innovations have entered the market in the last 30 years, which have had a profound impact on how we do fire restoration and smoke odor removal.

Dry cleaning sponge. Seemingly a small, insignificant device by today’s standards, the dry cleaning sponge solved a large number of problems for fire restorers. Before its advent, we simply blew off or used terry cloth towels to wipe smoke residues from delicate surfaces. This resulted in smearing and streaking, and a whole lot of contents items simply got trashed.

Today, in light-to-moderate soot situations, we salvage most of those delicate lampshades, wallpapered surfaces, books, artwork and a whole list of others with the humble dry sponge.

Wood-furniture restorer. Likewise, in years past, with severe smoke damage, short of bubbled finish, we still had to refer items to the refinisher for complete restoration. Then came the wood furniture restoration creams or gels. Today, in moderate-to-heavy smoke damage situations, we simply apply the wood furniture restorer, wait a few minutes, dissolve the baked-on, lacquer-like residues of smoke and soot, polish any discolorations out of the finishes and then wipe off the residue. From there, it’s simply buff and shine. Pretty amazing, come to think of it.

Ozone generators. We’ve been in the dry cleaning business for some 55 years now. One of our biggest problems before the 1970s was getting smoke odor out of delicate clothing items. That was before we were introduced to ozone gas, a super-charged oxygen molecule that attacks and destroys organic odor, including most smoke residue. The same goes for delicate draperies, upholstery fabrics, bedding, porous wood furniture…the list goes on and on.

We also began getting positive results using ozone gas on decomposition losses involving dead animals, trauma losses, and freezer and refrigerator power losses. The good news was that we didn’t have to wet delicate materials like books, paper, artwork and others with water-based deodorants.

Sonic cleaning. From dishes to electronics, sonic cleaning has come of age. This is a fast, safe, effective way to clean any reasonably durable material by immersing it into de-ionized water and an appropriate detergent and allowing the sonic machine to complete the task. The good news is, with a little pre-conditioning, the sonic waves can reach into delicate and complicated cracks and crevices to clean more efficiently and thoroughly than could be accomplished by the human hand.

Cryo-blasting. In the early days, baked or scorched-on smoke residue could be removed only with aggressive blast media. The job was thorough, but sometimes destructive to surfaces, and there always was a mess to be cleaned up when blast media was used on interior surfaces. Cryo, or dry ice, blasting solves many of these problems. Since dry ice sublimates (changes directly from a solid to a gas) the only residue left to deal with is that of the removed smoke. Moreover, the process is far less aggressive than sand or silica blasting when used by a trained technician.

Certainly there are other innovations I’m missing, but these five solved many of the restorer’s most painful problems.

Water Damage Restoration
The original innovator here is Claude Blackburn of Dri-Eaz Products Inc. In recent years, many of the newest ideas impacting industry technology – “Wet always goes to dry” – and procedures have come from the hills of Tennessee and Chuck Dewald’s East Tennessee Drying School. Dewald’s greatest lesson, even for the old time restorers like me, is simply to concentrate on drying the hard stuff (structure) and the easy stuff (carpet, pad) will take care of itself.

Certainly, equipment design and innovation has been impacted greatly by Kurt Bolden and his field-savvy crews, who tested and improved our equipment, affecting how we approach water damage restoration. Of course, the “Principles of Drying,” as enumerated in IICRC S500, have enabled the industry to focus on priorities for water damage restoration. Consider…

Extraction. The simple fact of the matter was, and still is, that restorers are leaving the vast majority of the water in absorbent materials like carpet and pad because they won’t invest in specialized tools and equipment and they don’t know how to apply extraction techniques properly. This is adding at least two days to the typical water restoration job while increasing the cost to insurance companies by some 25 to 30 percent. A recent study of extraction tool efficiency completed in January by the International Society of Cleaning Technicians proves that proper equipment and procedures can remove upward of 85 to 90 percent of water from carpet and pad, allowing these materials to dry in place in as little as 36 to 48 hours.

Evaporation. We’re finally using some sense and focusing air movement on the difficult-to-dry structural components instead of the easy-to-dry carpet and pad. We’re finally using enough air movement to get the job done correctly: one per 10-to-14 linear feet of wall length. Manufacturers are redesigning air movers to give us more than 40 percent more cfm at about half the amperage requirement. 220-volt power splitters are the norm on jobs rather than the exception.

Dehumidification. A huge leap in technology here as well. For the first few hours on a water loss, almost any high-capacity conventional dehumidifier will do a good job. But it’s the remainder of the job that becomes difficult. The introduction of low-grain refrigerant (LGR) technology has revolutionized drying and cut days off drying time while virtually making it impossible for mold to grow and amplify.

With changes in dehumidification technology, came the IICRC Classes of Water Losses (not “Categories”) and formulas for calculating dehumidifier capacity requirements. This leads to a better understanding of when to used refrigerant versus desiccant technology as well. Bottom line, if you haven’t been to an IICRC-approved three-day water-restoration class taught by an up-to-date instructor lately – say in the last three years - you don’t know water restoration, period.

Temperature control. Improperly mitigated water damage results in mold. That’s all there is to it. The two are inseparable. With quick response and proper extraction (drying principle 1) followed by sufficient air movement and the resulting evaporative cooling of wet components (principle 2), combined with rapid evaporation and a corresponding reduction of ERH due to adequate dehumidification (principle 3), today’s restoration contractor can virtually guarantee no mold. Temperature control simply extends the time envelope to the point that materials are dried long before most household molds can get started.

Moisture measuring equipment. I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention all the new developments in moisture detection and measuring equipment, along with the forms on which records are kept. Today, it is inexcusable for any water restorer to enter a job site without a “Daily Humidity Record” to document proper drying conditions by comparing outside, inside, dehumidifier, HVAC and unaffected-area psychrometric conditions. Inexcusable!

But even that document only demonstrates the potential for drying. No contractor ever should pack equipment and leave a job site without confirming on a “Structural Materials MC Record” that all affected materials are in fact dry. This way we can guarantee that future problems with mold growth will not develop from this loss incident. Amazingly enough, contractors and insurance company representatives alike are fighting modern technology and associated cost savings because, they say, “We’ve never done it that way before!” Alas, the seven last words of a dying industry…

These are just some of the concepts that really stick out when it comes to programs that have had a positive impact on this industry. Obviously, all of these concepts and programs are covered thoroughly with examples in books on management and cleaning and restoration procedures.

To borrow from Will Rogers, “Times ain’t what they used to be and they probably never was.” It’s important to recognize the impact of advances in our industry.

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