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Face to Face: Choosing the Right Tools

July 12, 2002
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A site visit will help you stand out from the crowd.


"Man is a tool-using animal. Without tools he is nothing, with tools he is all."
Thomas Carlyle (1795- 1881)

It has been more than 10 years since I sold my cleaning/restoration business, yet I still get a touch of nostalgia when I hear the throaty rumble of a truckmount operating in the distance. I loved all my business "toys." But over the years I learned that they were the least important part of my business. Your business success is not based on fancy dehumidifiers or an elegant truckmount. Your economic security will be provided by a foundation of delighted, loyal customers singing your praises to everyone they meet. However, before you can wow these people with your undoubtedly great service, you have to get the job.

To "sell" your prospect with a great pre-inspection, you need the right tools. You can't show up at a $500,000 home carrying only a tape measure and a crumpled business card. Here is what I carried to perform more than 10,000 carpet cleaning inspections:

A leather-encased clipboard with a calculator
Do you want to convey the image that you are the best? Then invest in quality. Don't use a K-Mart clipboard if you want to convey a Nordstrom's image (e.g. always make sure your business cards reek of "precise professionalism").

Holstered "duckbill" napping shears
These little scissors do it all, from trimming loose fibers during the pre-inspection (a nice touch) to opening up the carpet to check on stain penetration. And they look professional holstered on your belt.

An ultra-sonic measuring tool
Ultra-sonic equipment impresses homeowners, delights their children and saves you time. Most good ones will perform your square footage calculations and keep them in memory. What more could you ask for?

Inspection lights
You can't inspect, or charge for, what you can't see. Remember, you are putting on a show for this potential customer. So carry both a high-intensity light and a black light for locating pet urine. Be sure to carry a spare set of black-light goggles for the customer.

Clean white towels and bottles of spotter
Always ask if you can "pre-test for soil removal" the area the homeowner is most concerned about. While the competition is focusing on pricing, you're building credibility by playing "show and tell" with your spotting skills. Once you've finished, present the bottle to the prospect as a gift from you.

Here's a great marketing tip: include a "Free Lifetime Refill" policy on all your give-away spotter bottles, whether you do the job or not.

A high-quality, high-class photo album
I am always amazed at the money and effort carpet cleaners pour into their four-color brochures, only to have them look exactly like the competition's. Homeowners want to know who and what will be working in their house; they're not interested in seeing professional models and generic marketing material. So shoot photos of your equipment; employees; trucks; office; before-and-after shots of carpets; and different homes and buildings you've worked in. It doesn't hurt to include a photo of your family either (the underlying message: "Help keep these children off food stamps!" as well as "I can't be too bad if my kids are this cute!").

You can also add "thank you" letters from your customers (with their permission, of course) and your IICRC certifications. Be sure to list out, with photos pasted in, all the other services you offer. You may wish to include a brief biography of yourself and your company as well.

Be sure that everything in this album is high-end, from the binding and photos to the graphic design and layout. If you don't have the skills to perform these tasks well, hire a professional (You can always trade out their services for carpet cleaning!).

Miscellaneous
I carried, but did not always use, a pH pen, a bone scraper, a carpet awl, a magnifying glass and a hand-held grooming tool. Invest in a high-quality leather "catalog case" with hinged flaps to hold your equipment. Expensive, yes, but this investment will last for many years.

Shirt and tie
These go on you, not in the case. Yes, I know, there isn't one cleaner in fifty that wears a tie to do pre-inspections. I didn't either when I first started. But when I began wearing a shirt and tie, I found homeowners treated me with more respect and chose my services more often. Even more important, they were willing to pay higher prices! Dressing for success is more than a cliche; it works!

You've invested the marketing dollars to get this prospect to call. You're now spending valuable time and money on the pre-inspection. And, most important, this potential customer may be worth tens of thousands of dollars to you in repeat and referral work in the future.

But sadly, many carpet cleaners muddle their way through a pre-inspection and then, when the homeowner understandably doesn't book the job, they slouch away muttering something about "lousy price shoppers."

What a shame. It doesn't have to be this way, and it won't be if you follow the pre-inspection steps I'll be sharing in upcoming pages of "To Your Success."

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