Color Correction Conundrum

I've been in the cleaning industry since the mid 80s, both working for someone else and owning my own companies. And I can honestly say that, during the past 20 years, I've earned a substantial income performing color correction services.

I've heard from so many cleaners about the success they've had using color correction skills, I thought I'd share a few ideas to inspire you to recognize the opportunity that color repair offers you the next time you clean a customer's carpet, rug or upholstery.

Any serious professional cleaning technician should know that color is the primary reason consumers choose a carpet or area rug. They simply aren't concerned with fibers, yarns, construction or even stain resistance; they usually only want it to match the interior décor they created or hired someone else to create - the draperies, wall paint, furniture, etc. So when something causes a spot, stain or discoloration that ruins their perfect decorating scheme, consumers search for a cleaning professional who can make things right again.

If you're thinking, "I don't want to offer color correction services," you're simply giving up the potential for valuable customer relations, as well as income and referrals as a "true pro" from your customers, because, with every spot, stain or discoloration comes a room or house full of carpet, rugs and upholstery to clean. And most of your customers will be thrilled to know that your company can provide them with all these services when the need arises.

It's my opinion the most common reason for color loss is the use of cleaning agents that contain bleach (sodium hypochlorite). Just check the local grocer, big box store or janitorial supplier for the numerous cleaning solutions they carry which discolor nylon or wool fibers. The opportunities for color-correction services are unlimited. But, like any add-on service opportunities, professional cleaners must look for them and then communicate to customers their ability to repair them. Trained professionals can market color-correction services to current customers; hotels; motels; office buildings; janitorial and maid services; real estate agents; insurance adjusters (as an alternative to full carpet replacement), and apartment complex managers.

After attending an IICRC-approved Color Repair Technician course and another specialty spotting class, one of my students actually sold his carpet-cleaning truck and invested less than $1,000 in equipment and supplies to open up a "color correction" service. That's a very small investment to make a great income with a relatively uncomplicated operation. Today he provides a spot-cleaning and spot-dyeing service for consumers, hotels and businesses in his community. And the added bonus is that he only works three days a week!

Consider the opportunities that exist for those with apartment complex cleaning contracts. Typically, it costs well over $1,000 to replace carpet in a two-bedroom apartment. If a complex owner or manager can squeeze one more rental out of the existing carpet through cleaning and correction of unsightly discolorations, it saves considerable time and money. While you may have to charge a low price for cleaning the carpet to compete in this highly competitive market, you can make considerable extra money on carpet repair, stain removal, spot dyeing and overall room tinting. Many companies are making well over six figures performing these types of color repair services. Best of all, most color correction services for apartments with the same colored carpet aren't that complicated, because dyes can be mixed and matched in advance.

Room dyeing or tinting carpet in hotel rooms, RVs and boats is another great opportunity. In most cases, professionals are either enhancing existing color with a dilute dye solution in existing hues, or dyeing the whole carpet brown. Remember before offering color correction services, carpet must be cleaned first, discolorations or stains corrected, and only then can trained professionals follow-up with overall dyeing, as appropriate. Three services, three separate charges.

Several years ago, I traveled several hundred miles to perform a spot dyeing in a customer's master bath. After cleaning the whirlpool bathtub, a residential maid service dripped dilute bleach on the customer's carpet, which required a relatively simple color repair. Total time for cleaning and neutralizing the affected area was less than an hour. I charged $425 for the service, including travel time and mileage.

Another specialized color-repair service involves pet urine discoloration on rugs and carpet. Since 72 percent of homeowners own at least one pet, there's great opportunity here. Of course, before performing color correction services, professionals must clean and decontaminate affected areas, so they can charge for not just one but three services. And opportunities abound for color-correction services on high-value Oriental and designer rugs subjected to bleaching or pet damage. Even "painting" exposed foundation yarns and white knots on Persian rugs is a form of color correction.

I've performed a stain removal-spot dyeing on a $15,000 Oriental rug. After an over-enthusiastic, improperly trained technician chemically burned a 3-inch area in the rug, I was called in to try to correct it. First, I used a mild reducing agent to first remove the 1-by-3-foot red wine stain that was the cause of the call in the first place, then followed up with re-dyeing some of the adjacent areas. Total charge for that 8-hour service was $1,000 plus travel expenses.

Tea washing rugs is another color-repair service you can offer. Furniture or fabric wall panel dyeing is another potential income opportunity for color-correction technicians. Nylon or wool color-related problems can be correct it with acid dye. Cellulosic fibers require basic or union dyes.

I've performed color correction on carpet that was installed on the walls of commercial buildings. I've also twice corrected discolorations on walls because the customer wouldn't invest in UV film for the windows. Remember, if it sun fades the color once, it will happen again unless the consumer takes preventative measures.

Side-match correction - feather blending - can be very lucrative for more experienced technicians, especially in commercial buildings. Side-match problems are caused by carpet-dye variation that is apparent usually when carpet is seamed in rooms greater than 12 feet wide. According to Clean Care Seminars' "CRIS Glossary," this may be caused by several factors:

End-to-end variation - The color variation occurs where the carpet's color is applied progressively lighter or darker as it moves down a continuous dye line. The side-match problem shows up when sections from opposite ends are seamed side-by-side, thus displaying a contrasting difference.

Un-level dyeing - This variation occurs in the uneven application of dye across a 12-foot width that contrasts with other portions of the same roll at a seam.

Roll-to-roll variation -This condition becomes apparent when different rolls of carpet from different dye lots are seamed together and display variations in color (light/dark contrasts). Usually, this is encountered on larger, commercial installations. Installer judgment must be relied upon to prevent this unacceptable situation; however, it is usually correctable with "feather blending" if the variation is 10 percent or less.

Edge color variation - This occurs when color is lighter at carpet roll edges (particularly where selvage is still present), but the color variation extends only a few inches in from the seam. Side-match problems in this situation may be minimized if the installer trims the edge to a point at which color variation is inconsequential before seaming (usually approximately 2 inches to 3 inches in from the edge at which the selvage was trimmed off).

Optical illusions - This apparent (not actual) changes in color is caused by fold marks, roll crush or seam peaking and may be corrected with reinstallation, re-stretching, steaming or hot water extraction and immediate grooming.

Finally, cleaning or color enhancement is a simple way to brighten up carpet that has lost color in traffic areas because of using high-pH cleaners or slight sun fading. After a thorough cleaning, color-correction professionals add dye to an acid rinse and run it through a dedicated portable; or they just apply a tint with a hand-pump or Hydroforce sprayer. Color is feathered into surrounding carpet, the excess is wet-vacuumed out, and the carpet is groomed.

What about pricing for this service? Well, it depends on several factors. Normally I charge a minimum service fee of $100 to $150 per hour. I've also charged by the number of spots, the size of the spot, by the room or in the case of side match correction, by the linear foot. Remember, this is an art!

How much trouble and expense is required to diversify into color restoration, and what's the income potential? Try this: for the next few weeks, just keep your eyes open as you service current customers' cleaning needs. I'll guarantee that you're overlooking or simply ignoring many color correction opportunities that your customers would gladly pay someone to perform, if the service was made available. Remember, most consumers have no idea you can perform this service, and even better than that, only 14 percent of your competition is offering color correction to their customers. The market is wide open.

The best part is that you already have most of the equipment and supplies you need, so any additional investment is minimal. Most IICRC-certified cleaning professionals already have the basic training necessary to make the transition to color correction. In fact, the IICRC-approved CRT course is required for Master Textile Cleaner status. After taking the course, the only thing left to do is to practice, practice and practice some more to develop a little confidence. Certification training develops the expertise; practice develops the art.

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