Add-On Services: Diversification or Diversion?

October 19, 2000
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How do your views differ from our sampling of cleaners who were informally polled on ICS' website? Will you agree or disagree with each argument?



Go into a room filled with carpet cleaners and ask them what they think of add-on services. You may get responses that range from disapproving groans to enthusiastic nods of approval. Some may argue that if you serviced your customer base properly, then how could you have the time to offer add-on services, while the rest will point out that by not offering add-on services, you are failing to service your customer base properly and to its full potential. However you look at it, it goes back to the argument of what came first, the chicken or the egg?

We decided to ask ICS bulletin board participants how they felt about add-on services. They were asked the following:

1. Do you offer add-on services to your clients? (If you answered no, then please explain why you do not offer add-on services).

2. If so, what type of service (cleaning blinds, color dyeing, hardwood floor restoration/maintenance, stone/tile/marble care, air duct cleaning, selling vacuums, etc.) do you offer?

3. What type of equipment or chemicals do you utilized for this service(s)?

4. How do you market your add-on service(s) and how does it differentiate from your carpet cleaning or restoration marketing campaign?

5. What type of return rate do you average on the sale of these add-on services? (Example: $.40 per sq. ft. on cleaning carpets versus $1 per sq. ft. of maintaining hardwood floors).

Read on to see how your peers answered these questions.

John Rupich, JR Cleaning & Restoration, Paramus, N.J.:

Although I try not to be too pushy about add-on sales, it is definitely a moneymaker. I tend to be a little truthful about whether or not someone should get that extra room cleaned or stain guarded, and I know I have lost a lot of money because of this, but I feel my customers appreciate my honesty rather than just a high-pressure sale. I make sure to mention to them that I would love to take their money but to be honest, you really do not need this or that. It goes a long way with my customers.

As far as marketing my services, I would like have a bunch of different business cards for each service I am trying to market--one each for carpet and upholstery cleaning, restoration work, pet odor removal services, and for tile stripping and waxing. This way, I can represent myself as a specialist in that particular area rather than a person who does a little of everything.

Daniel J. McKeown, The Carpet Doc, Maryland Heights, Mo.:

I "steam" and "dry" (pad) clean carpets and "steam" clean upholstery only. The reason I do not offer add-on services is that I am not qualified to do so. I will not dye carpet because I do not have the knowledge to do so. The same with hardwood floors or air ducts. I will not do any work that I am not qualified and experienced to do to MY satisfaction. The main thing I do is clean carpets. I clean carpets very well and I do not want to spread myself too thin by trying to do too many different things.

Gary Heacock, Heacocks Custom Cleaning, Portland, Ore.:

I wash loose rugs in-plant. While it is not totally an add-on service, I consider it a part of my cleaning business. Anything from store walk-off mats to the finest Orientals and animal skins.

The average fee is $1/sq.-ft., with no upper limit--it depends on the item, its cost, difficulty of cleaning, etc. For example, the store walk-off mats cost them $30 for a 3' x 5' mat. That's $2/sq.-ft. Others might like to think about doing this, too.

Fon Johnson, DR Cleangood, Powell, Tenn.:

We are somewhat different from many of the others here, as we specialize in commercial cleaning. We specialize in floor care only, other than a handful of small jobs where we do some other services only to retain those accounts. We used to offer full-blown janitorial services, maintaining a couple hundred thousand square feet, with eight employees. After enduring many hassles, we dropped back and "punted," and now specialize in what we do best.

We do commercial carpet cleaning, and we also do water damage (on a small scale), vinyl tile, ceramic tile, terrazzo and marble (although we are learning more about this specialized service), and limited hardwood cleaning. We do not go any further into hardwood, but send referrals to an excellent company here in town that specializes in hardwood refinishing. Likewise, they send us any tile work, which they don't do. At one time we did dust control (dust mops, and entry mats), but we found it to not be profitable enough to compete with the larger companies who specialized in this field. As the company grows, we plan to add spot dyeing, as well as other services. However, we won't over-diversify.

The equipment involved in hard floor care can vary, basically depending on how large scale you want to go. You must have the basics, which are a rotary floor machine, a good wet vac, mops and buckets, and hand scrapers, as a minimum to do the job right. If you wish to do larger floors (more than 4,000 square feet), then look into a propane burnisher, an auto scrubber, and if you are serious about doing much large scale work, a propane stripper. We utilize all of the aforementioned.

Some people don't understand how we can be profitable with some of our pricing, but you have to see a four-man crew strip 20,000 sq. ft. of tile in one night to understand (I am referring to the sliding scale based on square footage, which is another story!). The main chemicals used are strippers, sealers and finishes, and neutral cleaners.

We really do not "market," as work just finds us via word of mouth. This is not enough to grow quickly, but allows you to grow at a controlled rate, while providing quality service. We are serious about doing quality vs. quantity, and we try to charge accordingly.

As for prices, you just opened a can of worms! We strip floors from $.10/sq.-ft. (for large area propane stripping), to as much as $.40/sq.-ft., or more if the job is bad. Hard floor care can be every bit as competitive as carpet cleaning, if not more so. Anyone can buy a used rotary machine for a couple hundred bucks, and they're in business. There are many (unfortunately) who work for meager wages, and don¿t understand the concept of running a business. They simply own a job. Anyone can learn the hard floor side, and make decent money at it. One must strive to do the job right, and the jobs will follow. Once you establish yourself as doing quality work, you will weed out the price shoppers, and brokers who will not pay for quality. At this point, you can command almost whatever rate you wish (within reason). We strive to maintain high quality work, and provide it at a price that is fair for all involved.

Finally, hard floor care may not pay off as well as carpet cleaning if you compare the costs involved with stripping. The key to making a profit is to set up a maintenance contract for burnishing, scrubbing and recoats. This is a great way to provide steady income, which is nice during the slow months! A simple mop (or auto scrub) and burnish is fairly easy work. A good maintenance schedule provides steady income, keeps the floors looking nice on a consistent basis, and reduces the need for strip cycles. This puts more money in your pocket, keeps you from working as hard, keeps clients happy, and keeps that all important steady cash flow rolling in.

Joey Shaw, EMS Carpet Care, Alexander City, Ala.

In an ideal world, no add-on sales would be sought (with the exception of selling protector). We would just stay busy cleaning carpet. My reason is based on the old K.I.S.S. principle. Every new service that we offer has to have trained employees to do it and a set of processes to deal with it. From my experience, I have yet to find an add-on service that rivals carpet cleaning in revenue produced per hour of labor ($85-$100). If we market our carpet cleaning services effectively--enough to stay busy--then our business becomes simpler to run and becomes more profitable.

Extra time should be spent on marketing our primary business rather than diversifying into services that are harder to provide and pay less per each hour worked. Doing one thing very well is always better than doing several things poorly.

Summary

As the responses indicate, add-on services are not for everyone. However, if you do choose to diversify, then take the time to learn everything the service requires by taking the mandatory courses.

Finally, don't practice your newly added rug or leather cleaning service by attempting to clean your client's antique Oriental rug or soiled leather sofa. The investment you make in educating yourself will be insignificant compared to the cost of your mistake due to carelessness or the lack of information.

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