Due Diligence: The Beginner's Best Bet

June 15, 2004
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Do your homework before starting any endeavor.


I am noticing, as I surf around various industry Bulletin Boards, that there appears to a very large number of "newbies" posting messages and looking for information on succeeding in the carpet-cleaning business.

In the early 80s I was a supplier of equipment and supplies for our trade. At the time, I was also the only person or business in Florida sponsoring training and certification courses in carpet and fabric cleaning. One day a gentleman, new to the business, came in and wanted to buy, "some of those foil pads to put under furniture legs after cleaning."

When I suggested to him that he may want to look into some training before he started going out to clean, he informed me that he had spent all of his money on a machine and other supplies, and did not have enough left to pay for training. Besides, he said, it's only floor cleaning, not rocket science. I don't recall seeing him again, and I often wonder what happened to him.

I received a call last week from a young man somewhere up in New England, a sales manager for a computer software company covering several states. As he related to me, he is gone several nights per week selling and was missing his family growing up, so he is looking for a change in profession. I'm not sure how he chose carpet cleaning but he called me asking for information on equipment, sources of training, and general knowledge.

I soon realized that I was speaking with an individual who stood to be very successful in our field. He already knew how to sell and, you've gotta admit, that's pretty important to success. That conversation, for me, drove home the point that if the gentleman that wanted some of those "foil tabs" had done his homework before buying equipment, he may have had enough money to buy the most important part of our business success: Knowledge.

So to this newbie, and all others, I say do your homework before you start spending money. What should you look for? A very good place to start is with technical training on the process and science of carpet cleaning. Add some business-practices knowledge.

Perhaps you should take some of the very fine marketing and management courses being offered today. Spend some time with an accountant or other financial specialist about care and handling of the funds you will be generating over the next 15 to 20 years. Prior to startup, it is important to have an exit plan. This should include your clearly spelled-out goals so, when you reach them, you can exercise your exit strategy and retire. As a 61-year-old semi-retired carpet cleaner, I can tell you from experience that you need to put some away for your retirement years.

It is also beneficial to do some research on the various specialty markets within the carpet-cleaning field. Decide what will be your market: Residential or commercial? Low-end or high-end? Installed carpets only or loose rugs? Floor coverings only or off-the-floor stuff too? Also, do some checking to determine if you just want to do fabrics or if you want to expand into stone, masonry, ceramic, vinyl tile or other surfaces.

After completing your homework, you may want to begin looking at equipment to help decide which cleaning system or method you will be using or selling. These days, there is quite a selection out there, including truck-mounted hot-water extraction; portable hot-water extraction; high-flow extraction; very-low moisture or dry compound extraction; and more.

When you start looking at equipment and supplies, you will find a plethora of tools, gadgets and attachments to go with almost any machine or system you select. Some of these items will be useful in your developing business and will pay for themselves in a short period of time. If you have a full-service supplier within a reasonable distance, you won't have to stock up "juice" or repair parts as much as if you must travel a distance or rely on shippers.

You will probably want to get a few different products to work with as you start up, to see which ones satisfy you and give you the results you desire. But don't stock up until you decide which products you like. Any hands-on experience you can get will benefit you immensely. Try to find someone nearby that will allow you to "ride along" and help you figure out how the jobs are done. There really is more to this than meets the eye. You probably were not born with the knowledge to achieve good cleaning results without a "little help from your friends." If you decide not to attempt upholstery cleaning, you won't have need for upholstery-cleaning attachments. If you're not going to be doing emergency water-extraction work, you won't need a truck full of blowers and dehumidifiers, but might want one or two blowers to help speed the drying process after cleaning the carpet.

Your most important purchase will be your primary production unit, the tool that will bring in the lion's share of your income. Attachments making it more versatile may be of value, but only buy the tools you will use and that will make you money, not those that will just be riding around with you on the truck. The purchase of upholstery-cleaning tools can wait until you have some experience and some training. A tool that only cleans carpets, but promises rapid drying, may not be worth as much to you as one that not only cleans carpet, but can be used for hard-floor care. The more tasks a tool can complete, the less it will cost you in the long run.

The best advice I can give you is to look before you leap. A bit trite, perhaps, but very true. I hope this helps you achieve success in your chosen field. Until next month, see ya!

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