Carpet Cleaning Business Management / Carpet/Rug/Upholstery Cleaning

Building Commercial “Toll Booth” Routes

August 1, 2012

Talk about a love/hate relationship! I loved the large income that commercial carpet cleaning brought me. After all, I had covered my basic overhead with my residential cleaning jobs. So whatever commercial work I scared up was virtually free money! The new car payments, family vacations and an occasional night out with the missus, all funded by the regular income my commercial cleaning accounts brought in! But even so…

I hated commercial carpet cleaning!

Why? I detested being stuck cleaning carpets late at nights and on weekends instead of hanging out with my friends. (And I will never regain that irreplaceable and oh-so-very precious time with my family!) Even worse, while I enjoyed cleaning residential carpets I despised having that dreaded 11 p.m. greasy Chinese restaurant hanging over my head all day! 

Then suddenly one night, I realized my highest and best use in my business was not pushing a cleaning wand at 3 a.m.! Sure, I wasn’t “too good” to pull a 16- or 20-hour shift. Been there, done that - and my guess is that you have too! But, if you roll in exhausted at 5 a.m. after a long and grueling day (and night!) what is your productivity going to be like that day?

The problem was my business was all about me! I did everything! My residential clients had been spoiled and coddled by my personal presence in their home for years. So if I tried to send my helper to do the job, invariably there would be loud outcries and bitter complaints. (Even if I knew my employee had done perfect work!) In other words, I had created my own personal monster!

Then one day as I was paying a toll on the freeway it hit me! The man taking my dollar bill was a reliable, honest person performing a routine, boring job. And that phrase “routine, boring job” perfectly described my regular commercial, contract carpet cleaning accounts! I realized my commercial accounts seldom, if ever, saw me! So why was I killing myself with late-night and weekend work when I could easily replace myself with a reliable, honest person performing a routine, boring job?

So how about you? Are you stuck in the old “trying to do it all yourself” rut? Are you missing out on important (and fun) times with your family and friends? Let me share how I cleaned up big time with commercial contract cleaning and without being enslaved to the “double shift demon!”

1. Focus on signing up regular service agreements: Sure, I would do the occasional one time commercial carpet cleaning job. But my bread and better was the regular income, or “toll booth” service agreements, brought in. (By the way, the phrase “service agreement” always sounds much better than “contract” to management.) So always include at least three price options in any commercial cleaning proposal. I would quote the prospect a price for their requested one-time service (I call this a “resurrection cleaning”), but I also included two lower prices for regular maintenance “open access” cleanings. NOTE: “Open access” just meant I had a key or code that would let me pick a flexible time for the cleaning.

2. Achieve commercial “critical mass”: With just one or two scattered commercial jobs a month you’ll never be able to hire regular employees to get you off the wand. So you must focus on that sales and marketing! This column is focused on the logistics of building a commercial “toll booth” operation, but let me share the most important concept I ever came up with: Commercial account sales should be a process - not an event! NOTE: For a step-by-step guide to selling commercial carpet cleaning download my free Special Report “How to Sell Commercial Cleaning” at

3. Explore scheduling alternatives: The problem for you personally doing commercial cleaning is the hours. So when signing up a new regular commercial account don’t automatically assume it has to be done late at night or on weekends. Get creative! NOTE: For example, many medical offices are closed one day per week. Wonderful!  Just schedule their regular cleaning right in among your residential work! Or many high-end restaurants don’t serve breakfast. Great! Just get an early start to your day - roll in there at 6 a.m. and hit your first residential job with $200 or $300 already in your pocket!

4. Schedule your after-hours work on the same night of the week: Most businesses don’t care when you do the work. So subtly take control of your scheduling by saying, “OK, we’ll be cleaning your carpets the first Monday night of each month.” Your goal here is to develop a “toll booth route” of no more than six hours of cleaning every Monday night. So you might schedule a real estate office at 6 p.m., then move to a hair salon at 7:30 p.m., followed by a specialty retail store at 9 p.m. and then finish it up with a small restaurant at 10:30 p.m. (Remember to group your routes geographically for minimum drive times between accounts.)

5.  Repeat your scheduling process: Now when you have the first Monday night of the month filled up, start filling the second Monday night. The key here is finding regular commercial accounts which you will entice to sign “open access” service agreements by offering discounted prices. Your goal is to develop a consistent six-hour cleaning schedule for every Monday night. NOTE: Remember that you don’t have to sign up monthly accounts. For example, you may have two every-other-month accounts that alternate on your first Monday schedule.

6. Develop simple procedures for each account: After signing up a new account, ask the manager to give you a tour. Fill out a job profile form with account access information (i.e., operating hours, alarm codes, lights and breakers to be left on, hose bib locations, etc.). (For a free sample of the Job Profile I used just go to )

7. Find a part time employee(s) to run your routes: Don’t hire a full time employee for commercial work. Why not? Let me count the ways:

  • Commercial cleaning is hard physical work performed on a brutal schedule.  (Remember, that’s why you are hiring an employee - because you don’t want to do this stuff anymore!) Forty or more hours per week of this demoralizing work will eventually burn out even the most hardened veteran! Instead, you want to …
  • ...keep your people hungry for more. By never giving an employee more than two nights (or one weekend day) per week, they will be available for more fill-in work if needed. This means your current part time workers …
  • ...won’t be able to “hold you hostage.” If just one or two employees do all your commercial work you will need them more than they need you! This skewed relationship quickly leads to emotional and financial blackmail where your employee calls the shots! On the other hand you should …
  • ...compensate your part time commercial employee(s) very well. You can afford to pay a high hourly rate given that (unlike full time workers) there will be no dead time in their part-time schedule. In fact, many of our SFS members pay a 25% commission rate. Since your employee should be grossing over $100 hourly, this translates into a $25 or more per hour salary which isn’t bad for a part-time job!

8. Repeat the hiring process: After you have filled up two nights per week, (congratulations!) don’t give your first commercial employee more work, even though he will beg for more hours and just piling on the work will be the easy way out for you!  Resist the temptation! Instead, add another part-time employee, which spreads your risk and gives you expansion capability.

And finally…

Build multiple commercial “toll booth routes” by repeating these eight steps again and again!  (Remember, multiple routes and multiple part-time employees gets you out of the “all my eggs in one basket” trap!) 

Now is the process above easier to write about than actually do? Absolutely! Let me be honest here and simply say that building my commercial routes was one of the most agonizing times I ever endured in my life. But after several years of routine commercial sales work, it felt so good to kick back with a cold one knowing my “toll booth collectors” were out there making money for me!

Large institutional accounts fit in beautifully with the commercial toll booth route concept, so next month I’ll cover, step-by-step, how to sign up the “big boys.” Plus, I’ll share more hints and procedures on building commercial “toll booths” at the ICS Presents Connections to the Cleaning & Restoration Industry panel in Las Vegas at 9 a.m. on Wednesday, September 5, 2012.

Did you enjoy this article? Click here to subscribe to i Cleaning Specialist Magazine.

Recent Articles by Steve Toburen

You must login or register in order to post a comment.



Image Galleries

The 2014 Experience Conference and Exhibition

A look in photos at the 2014 Experience Conference and Exhibition, which was held from April 24-26 at the Embassy Suites Convention Center and Spa in Frisco, Texas.


Beginning April 21, Google will start judging websites based on their mobile friendliness. What exactly does this mean to you cleaning website? Find out in the latest edition of The Hitman Advertising Show, which will also cover tips and suggestions on getting mobile compliant.
More Podcasts

ICS Cleaning Specialist Magazine


2015 April

The April ICS issue features content on concrete polishing, green cleaning, air duct cleaning, injection sprayers and new products.

Table Of Contents Subscribe

Janitorial Work

In addition to residential and commercial carpet cleaning, do you do any janitorial work on the side?
View Results Poll Archive


The Carpet Cleaner's Book of Unlimited Success! (ebook)

Don’t worry about the recession or about your competition.  Now you can be the owner of over 400 ways for carpet cleaning professionals to make more money and get more jobs!

More Products


Director_Buyer.jpgThe premier resource and reference guide for the cleaning and restoration industries.

Click here to view


facebook_40.png twitter_40px.png youtube_40px.png


Truckmount.jpgEquipment listings and specifications from the leading industry manufacturers.

Click here to view