Going Where the Competition Isn't: Commercial Cleaning Accounts

March 11, 2004
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"The most gifted members of the human species are at their creative best when they cannot have their way."
Erik Hoffer

Carpet cleaners are a funny bunch. Most of them fight like starving dogs over the "picked-over bone" of residential carpet cleaning, and totally neglect other, more juicy and profitable cleaning sectors. If you are getting beat up by the cutthroat, price-cutting competition found in the residential market, why not focus on a different cleaning area? For example, consider some of the advantages found in regular contract commercial cleaning accounts.

"Guaranteed" cash flow. For many carpet cleaners, carpet cleaning (and the cleaner's income) slows to a crawl in the winter. But with regular contract cleaning, the money just flows in year round.

"Amortizes" your marketing costs. The extra hassle of selling the work and setting up the job virtually guarantee you will lose money on a one-time cleaning. But if this account continues with you over the years, your start-up costs per cleaning shrink to almost nothing.

Much faster production. The first time on any job is a slow learning experience. But if you are cleaning monthly or quarterly, the work becomes like a choreographed ballet. Every employee knows their part, and your efficiency (and net profit) jump dramatically.

Much easier cleaning. All too often a commercial job becomes a "resurrection cleaning." Due to either budget constraints or, more likely, sloth and/or ignorance, the business has waited until the carpets are a disaster. Therefore, both you and your net profit suffer accordingly. But with regular cleaning, the carpet maintains its appearance and your work flows smoothly.

Apathy and inertia will protect your accounts. Brutal bait-and-switch competition is the bane of the residential cleaning market. Naïve and uninformed homeowners are always getting suckered by the cheapest offer. But business managers are busy people. If you are reliable, efficient and honest, they're very probably not going to bail out on you for a new, untried cleaner that is offering a bargain-basement price.

Fewer "bosses." Every additional person you work for has "pain in the butt" potential. But to make the same net profit with regular commercial cleaning, you may only need 10 or 20 clients, instead of thousands of picky homeowners.

Reasonable expectations. Not only does commercial work put you at the mercy of fewer clients, but business managers (usually) are less emotional and more reasonable. Since their families don't live on the carpets, managers (normally) are less exacting than the typical flaky homeowner.

Outsourcing is hot. Companies have finally learned that it is much cheaper and easier to sub-contract out work that does not require hands-on control. This fits carpet cleaning to a "T." No investment in seldom-used equipment, no employees with specialized training and no overtime or supervision problems due to the after-hours nature of carpet cleaning.

A need for "clean." Customers (and employees) of businesses everywhere are demanding a cleaner environment. Companies recognize that a sparkling clean operation gives them an important competitive advantage, and they are willing to pay for it.

No more beating your head against the wall. Once again, since all of your competitors are focused almost exclusively on the residential market, you will be amazed at how easy it is to sign commercial clients up.

It is easy to stand out in commercial. The few companies that specialize in commercial carpet cleaning often evolve from janitorial services. So they still tend to hire low-end employees and suffer from erratic service. Unlike the "dog and pony show" you must perform to win over the residential customer, it is so simple to excel in commercial. Just conduct yourself professionally and deliver what you promised when and how you said you would. Simple, right?

Simpler marketing. For your message to reach thousands of homeowners you must spend big money and have an imaginative ad campaign. But for the focused market of commercial work all you need to do is dress up, fill your pocket with business cards and start knocking on doors. This will be the cheapest and most effective marketing you will ever do.

Think seriously about avoiding the vicious price wars in the residential market. We can all learn from what quarterback Joe Namath said when he was asked why his passes where so seldom intercepted by opposing linebackers. He said, "I guess I just threw where they weren't." Quite possibly, years from now, when you reflect back on your incredible success in business, you will say, "I guess I just focused my efforts on where my competition wasn't."

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