- THE MAGAZINE
A funny thing happened to me on the road to middle age. It suddenly occurred to me that physically, I could not quite do the things I did 20 years ago.
That’s right. After 20 years of feeling invincible and being the best I could be, I started to feel, well, old. And while 48 hardly qualifies for Medicare (and the Depends can stay on the shelf for a little while longer), after long days of pushing the wand and moving the furniture, getting out of bed the next morning without feeling like someone used me as a battering ram doesn’t come quite so easy.
So, to the young newcomers to our great industry, take heed: the present is the time to make choices for the future. Allow me to explain.
1982. 27-years-old and eager to conquer the carpet-cleaning world I, with the assistance of a helper (I hesitate to use the word “tech” in deference to the professional techs out there) get started on the road to independence and riches. After a year or so of alternately building a client list and trying to roust my “helper” out of bed in the morning, I decided the only way to truly control the quality of work and eliminate both call backs and irate customers, to say nothing of removing a major source of my daily aggravation, was to go it alone.
The more I worked alone, the more I scoffed at all the two-crew vans I passed on the road. Why in the world would a diligent, responsible, professional need a helper anyway? I certainly didn’t. I was booking two to three weeks in advance, finding myself content with the volume of work, the quality of my customers and, most importantly, my earnings.
I sure didn’t need any help with lugging hoses or shifting furniture around. It took a bit longer to complete a job but I sure slept well at night, never logging an employee complaint and enjoying total control. I coasted through years of building a loyal repeat/referral business, earning a comfortable living and running my own shop. Sounds like all you could ever want, right?
Well, not exactly. It took a while, but Reality, riding in the back seat of Father Time’s car, appeared unexpectedly at my door. And he wasn’t there to ask directions.
It took me almost two decades to realize that I owned a job all these years, not a business. When I went on vacation, so did the job. When I stayed home with the flu, the job stayed home with me. Translation: No Armand = No cash flow.
Yes, everything was running smoothly and efficiently. I made a good living without employee-related hassles or the stress that comes with punching a clock for someone else. Yet while you may plan for every contingency, it is the inevitabilities that sneak up on you.
1998. Slowly coming to the realization that I may not be able to do this forever, at least not at the pace I used to, I hire help. Again. But this time I get lucky and, after a few years of training and working together, my tech (and I do mean tech) now handles the work alone. I should also mention that, during the training phase, he was the one pushing the wand. Experience is priceless. My time was spent watching and assisting, as well as conversing with the client and up-selling additional services.
The quality of work remains high, and we are adding an additional van this year. My habits and procedures have been stamped onto my tech, who is now ready to train the next hire. I can go away and rest easy knowing my turnkey operation is firing on all cylinders When pain hits every single joint in my body all at once (believe me, it’s a question of when, not if), I can park myself on the sofa knowing my clients are still receiving the quality work they have come to expect.
While being an owner/operator has its upside, time moves quickly, sometimes cruelly. If I could do it over again, I would have continued my early quest to find and train the right kind of help, which would have led to my writing this month’s article from Maui rather than Jersey!
Now is your time to make choices. You can make a comfortable living as a solo act, and this is fine if expansion is not in your plans, but you had better begin preparing for your retirement now. The years creep up on you quickly and show no mercy. And while I have no complaints, I occasionally wonder what I would do with the last 20 years if I had them to do again.