- THE MAGAZINE
"This industry is one of the very few where it doesn't take very many dollars to say you're a carpet cleaner," said Gorrell, general manager of Stoll Rug and Furniture Cleaners. The longtime Toledo-area business has been owned by the Gorrell family since 1979. "You can buy cleaning equipment and stick it in the trunk of your car and you're in business. Some actually work that way," he said.
But Stoll, founded in 1937, has taken nearly every step a company can to project a professional image and adapt to the times with nearly 100 competitors.
"We have found that it's cheaper to maintain your customer base than to go out and have to find new customers," Gorrell said.
Keeping customers happy starts with being prompt, said brother Mike Gorrell, head of operations and a Stoll employee when the firm was owned by Jim Stoll, the founder's son.
"We have found that time is now the most important part of our job. It's not about money, Gorrell said. "People want you there when you say you'll be there and they're willing to pay for that."
For those who send rugs to Stoll's operations, the company uses a cleaning machine that resembles a massive wringer washer. It dries rugs in a room-sized dryer.
But most of its business is from residential customers or commercial clients who require the firm to use its fleet of cleaning vans. Clients include the Toledo Zoo, the Toledo Head Start program, and area restaurants.
"We have been using them for about six years," said Tom Cousino, owner of the Navy Bistro and Gumbo's restaurants.
"We're pretty old school in our mentality, and that means when somebody does a nice job for you, you stick with them until they don't do a nice job," he said.
Lately, Stoll has expanded its services to include cleaning grout, office dividers, stuffed animals, and synthetic surfaces. But offering different services wouldn't help much if the Stoll work crew were habitually late to their jobs, Doug Gorrell said.
Local environmental regulations require that wastewater collected from job sites can be emptied only into industrial drains. That means when a wastewater storage tank on a cleaning truck is filled, the crew must go to an approved drain to empty it.
The Gorrell family decided to put two large holding tanks in their cleaning trucks, whereas most firms have only one. That allows the firm to do jobs more quickly, rather than having to go back to the office to empty the tank each time.
Stoll has developed other ways to stand out. Its employees wear uniforms, get additional training as additional new surfaces become popular, and are taught to be friendly but get in, do the job, and get out as quickly as possible, Doug Gorrell said.
"We have found if you do it right, treat your customer well, you'll stay in business," he said. "What we have learned is that people are not buying the carpet cleaning. They're buying the experience, clean trucks, uniforms, personable employees.
"So the goal is to be as professional about the whole experience as we can."
Their father, Don Gorrell, planted the professional attitude shortly after buying the company and offering his sons the chance to help run it. The elder Gorrell, who is Stoll's president and CEO, had been an investment broker and knew the value of presentation.
"I told all of my boys that I was not intending to be an employee, but I would help manage it," said Mr. Gorrell, who is active with the National Federation of Independent Businesses.
Noting that many carpet cleaning firms were fly-by-night operators, Gorrell helped set up a multi-state professional association that emphasized standards and better bookkeeping and management.