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How to Get Off the Truck!

September 18, 2007
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Adding a second truck? Congratulations…I think. Kudos to the fact that you have enough business (you do, right?) to add another truck. But I’m concerned you may end up like many cleaners who have tried to expand and failed.

Cleaners across the country have added a second truck and subsequently struggled with a multitude of issues they never could have imagined in their worst nightmare. Faced with dealing with employees; organizing the office; maintaining two trucks instead of just one; keeping the schedule full and wearing all the hats, so to speak, eventually gets the best of them.

They finally throw in the towel because they don’t really understand what has happened to them, and they haven’t planned their growth. They thought they were just taking the next, natural step in their business. What they didn’t realize is that the dynamics of the business changed, their role changed and now everything is completely different.

I have been a one-truck operator (actually it was the trunk of my car, so I guess that made me a one-trunk operator!), and I currently have a 14-truck operation. Reflecting on the transitions during each step, I realize that you need to plan your moves carefully to increase your chances of success.

The first thing you should ask yourself is, “Why do I want to grow?” I know it may be as simple as being too busy to handle all of the work. It may be that you have done a good job selling your services and people like what you do, so now you are having a hard time keeping up. This may be the worst reason to expand, and should not be the primary reason that you grow. If you are going to grow, it’s obviously a requirement that you have enough revenue coming in to do so, but the criteria for growing should be that you are after something else, not just to keep up with the volume.

Maybe you want to get off the truck. Maybe you want a different lifestyle. Maybe you want to grow a business that’s saleable. Maybe you want to make more money than you are making now. Maybe you realized you can’t clean carpet forever.

Adding another service vehicle may or may not bring in more money, and it may or may not give you a better lifestyle. It depends on how you set it up, and whether there is profit associated with the extra sales. So ask yourself, what are you really after? Your business exists for one reason and one reason only: to help you achieve your life goals. So ask yourself what it is that you are after in life. Don’t expand just because you are under pressure to get the work done; instead, raise your prices and do less work.

You must realize that by getting off the truck, or adding a second truck, you will become a manager instead of a cleaner. You may be required to remain the cleaner as well. So now you have two roles instead of one. Probably the biggest challenge for entrepreneurs is learning how to lead and manage people.

Unsuccessful expansion is usually the result of not being good with people – not knowing how to get them to do what you want them to do the way you want them to do it. To be successful as a two-truck operator, you are required to learn that skill. The good news is, there is ample material and resources available to help you learn the much-sought-after skills of being a good manager.

There are several business models for a two-truck company. One model some have used is to simply add another truck with another cleaner while staying on the original truck themselves. This model rarely works. If you are just trying to add revenue and you have someone that doesn’t need any support, it may work well. But trying to manage another truck while you are working on the original truck is, in my opinion, insane.

There are some cases in which cleaners find the perfect guy to run that second truck. He’s almost like a second owner. This is a rare occurrence. You also need to think about whether you plan to expand beyond the second truck. If so, this would not be a good model to build your infrastructure on. Also, if you lose your superstar, you have an empty truck sitting in the driveway. Now you are on a search for the next hard-to-find “co-owner.”

The model I like maximizes the first truck and builds infrastructure before adding the second truck. If I had it to do all over again, I would use the following model: you hire an assistant to work on the truck with you. This person becomes your protégé. He will be your next technician. He will be trained by you. He will clean the carpet just like you.

The next step is to add an office assistant to handle the paperwork and office duties. Your cleaning assistant cleans and stocks the truck, pulls the hose, pushes the wand and does all the dirty work (you even have him drive between jobs so that you can plan and organize). Your office assistant enters the job tickets, makes the bank deposits, does the filing, etc. Once you maximize the first truck, you now have infrastructure that serves as a foundation for adding your second truck.

It is important to first get the single-truck operation with two employees functioning well. This gives you an opportunity to learn how to lead employees while they are under your direct supervision. This will help prepare you for when you have unsupervised field employees. It also offers you the opportunity to get your office organized and integrate systems into your business. Make a goal to produce $20,000 per month with that one truck so that you can adequately fund the next phase.

Now that your cleaning assistant is trained as a lead technician, you will hire an assistant to work with your technician. Train this person to be a lead technician. Your original technician will be helpful in modeling what you have already taught him. You will purchase your second truck and use it as your vehicle. You will spend your time supervising the jobs; providing on-site training as well as communicating with your clients; doing spotting jobs and supporting larger jobs with the second vehicle.

Resist the temptation to run the second vehicle full time at this point. You need to build infrastructure! When your technician’s assistant is fully trained as a lead tech, you will launch your second truck with him as the technician. Next, hire an assistant for each of your technicians and immediately begin to train them as co-technicians. The end result is that you have two trucks with two technicians. If someone calls in sick or quits, the schedule still runs. If you have to fire someone, the schedule still runs.

When you get ready to expand to three trucks, you have a technician-in-waiting. Having four technicians helps on big jobs as well. Four wands can make a big difference on a large commercial job.

This will be the most challenging time of your career. This process will require lots of hard work, organization, and much trial and error. Hiring and training a net of three people (you will likely go through many more than that to net three) while continuing to run your business is no easy feat. But, if you will make the investment in building it right, you will end up with a strong two-truck company with lots of depth and capability.

Other models may be easier, but most are too fragile and undependable. At any moment they can turn into disaster. With this foundation, there is no limit to what you can do. When you get “off the truck” you become the “Customer Service Manager.” Now you can set your sights on becoming the “General Manager” and, eventually, the “Owner of a Turn-Key Business System”!

One last word: This model will not work unless you are charging enough. To have two men on both trucks will increase your payroll and administrative costs. You can manage your assistant tech’s schedule based on the routes. Schedule the smaller jobs on certain days and let the lead run solo that day. You may even be able to rotate one assistant between the two trucks, but the idea is that if someone quits, gets fired or can’t come in, you aren’t left holding the wand.

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