Commercial Carpet Cleaning

March 8, 2005
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As with the residential segment, commercial work has both drawbacks and advantages. Quite often, commercial work is scheduled sometime outside of a regular 9-to-5 day, and the red tape involved can result in a lengthy wait for payment.

On the other hand, commercial work is not nearly as seasonal as residential, meaning a steadier revenue stream. During the long, dark, cold days of winter, when residential customers often have no desire to have their household upset and work drops off drastically, the commercial client still needs to have the carpet and other fabrics serviced. This can really add to cash flow during otherwise slow periods.

There are several differences between commercial and residential work, including such factors as soil load, drying window, pricing and production rate. Residential carpets are sometimes real pigpens; soil is allowed to build until it is no longer tolerable. It seems as though most residential customers don't own a vacuum, or else it has been relegated to the depths of the hall closet, reserved for use when the arrival of company is imminent. Spills in the home often are dealt with "eventually," and can present a major challenge to removal attempts.

Commercial carpets, on the other hand, generally receive some level of maintenance cleaning accompanied by semi-regular vacuuming. "Soil control" is a often a large part of the commercial customer's maintenance plan, and may include walk-off matting at entryways as well as regular cleaning of exterior walk areas or parking lots. The powers that be often are motivated to control soil being brought into a property by the industry estimates of the cost to remove soil once it has been brought into the buildings; these estimates are generally in the range of $500 to $800 per pound to remove soils. These costs include such things as regular vacuuming and cleaning. It becomes much less expensive to prevent soil from being tracked in than to pay for its eventual removal.

Drying continues to be a major challenge when cleaning commercial properties. Often there is no appreciable level of air exchange or air movement, making drying difficult at best. The inconvenience of damp carpet is further complicated by the wicking that accompanies slow drying. The property manager calls you on Monday to report that the carpets you cleaned Friday night are dirtier now than before the cleaning was performed. At least in a residence you can open some windows or doors to enhance drying. The placement of air movers may enhance drying, but that requires the cleaning crew to have access to the equipment. Proper wanding techniques, such as taking time to make an extra drying pass, can also help to speed drying. Properly performing equipment, whether it is portable or truck-mounted, is essential to satisfactory cleaning regardless of the method being used.

Pricing on commercial work can be quite competitive, while the average residential client is much more flexible on pricing. For this reason it is necessary that the cleaning process used on commercial accounts must generally be a high-volume process if income per hour projections are to be met.

The constraints of dry time, pricing, and production rate have brought about a paradigm shift in commercial carpet cleaning. For many years, the conventional wisdom about carpet among end-users was that it could not be satisfactorily maintained. Today, the carpet manufacturer's growing awareness of the need for regularly scheduled maintenance, accompanied by the carpet owner's increasing appreciation for the fact that carpet maintenance will definitely prolong the useful life of the carpet, thereby reducing the life-cycle cost of the carpet, has fueled an increased demand for cleaning in the commercial arena.

This shift has resulted in the rebirth and recycling of an old-time process called shampooing. This rebirth has been driven by the arrival of a new generation of carpet shampoos with unique properties, including a dry non-villainous residue and the ability to capture the dry soils in the carpet in an easily removed crystal. This process, known as encapsulation or crystallization, offers the high production rates that allow cleaning contractors to offer a competitive price and still realize a profit, and facilitates rapid drying, which allows the carpet to be cleaned and dried without wicking problems.

Generically, this process would be classified as a very-low moisture process. There are other VLM methods, including cylindrical dry foam and bonnet. Successful use of the crystallizing chemistry on hundreds of millions of yards of carpet has done much to put to rest the belief that carpet cannot be satisfactorily maintained in a commercial environment.

Next time you are tempted to dismiss commercial cleaning as something you are not interested in due to strange work hours, low pay and tough drying conditions, think back to the slow, dark months of winter and recognize the boost in cash flow that commercial work can provide. Update your equipment and cleaning technique, and reap the many rewards of commercial work. You have to admit, cleaning at midnight is preferable to sitting home and twiddling your thumbs.

These are my thoughts; I hope they help you in deciding the direction your business should take. Until next month, see ya!

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