One-Man Vs. Two-Man Crews: Crunching the Numbers

July 12, 2006
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In my last article I discussed one-man vs. two-man crews, and my on-the-job research running a multi-city carpet cleaning operation for a major department store strongly suggests that one-man crews have a major advantage in terms of building repeat and referral business.

Yes, there are many solid reasons to operate two-man crews and, if you do, always remember that it is really important to develop and use systems that create relationships with your customers. And building these systems is easier than you might think.

And if you operate one-man crews, or are thinking about making the switch from two-man crews? You still have to build systems to address what your customers say they want. Do you remember from my May article what that is? They say they want two-man crews, because they would feel safer and because they were concerned about how long it would take for the job to be completed, in that it would be easier for two techs to move the furniture.

When running a one-man crew, be sure to create systems that address these concerns. Inform your customer that your technician will arrive in a lettered vehicle and that he will have a picture ID. Having your technician hand your customer a business card with his name and photo on it is also a powerful way to demonstrate that you are a legitimate operation.

When it comes to furniture moving, be sure to incorporate all the great tools that allow one man to handle furniture moving easily and professionally. Use Skidders or EZ Moves and a Lift Buddy or any of the great labor and back saving devices available. Not only will this silently answer your customer's concerns about furniture moving, these are great conversation starters and also create many positive Moments of Truth about your professionalism.

As far as time concerns go, remember that this is one of those issues where the customer says one thing and means another. They say they want the job completed quickly. But if it's done too fast they don't feel they received a good value for the money. So be efficient and don't waste your customer's time by being late or forgetting an important tool or chemical, but remember that you are better off in the long run to spend more time - within reason - on a job. And if you get a really large job, send two one-man crews to get it done.

Now let's get down to the nitty-gritty: cost.

Most owners look at the question of two-man vs. one-man crews just from the surface. After all, if I run two one-man crews, I have to have two vans, two truckmounts, two sets of cleaning tools and everything else. Plus, I have two lead technician salaries to pay. So why go that route? Not only would I eliminate $40,000 in equipment costs, two-man crews clean faster, do more jobs per day and the work is easier.

It seemed so obvious to me that two-man crews were less expensive that I probably never would have looked any further except for a technician named Carl Zeman.

Carl refused to work with helpers, and nothing I could say could get him to change his mind. He was such a good guy that I decided to test a one-man crew with Carl and see what the results were. Once I saw the results I expanded the test to several different cities. After extensive testing of one-man vs. two-man crews, I discovered that I was far ahead financially with one-man crews over a five-year period! That's right, in the long run it was actually less expensive to run one-man crews.

Let's look at the hard expense figures first.

We had two man crews doing six jobs per day with one cleaning vehicle (van, truckmount, tools and everything else). Now, if you run two one-man crews, this naturally means two cleaning vehicles. And each one-man crew will only be able to handle two to three jobs per day.

However, our one-man crews were driving and using the vehicle and the equipment half as much. In our test, the lifespan of the vehicle and equipment almost doubled. By itself, this recouped the cost of the second cleaning van over a five or six-year period!

Maintenance costs were essentially the same because we maintained our vans based on mileage. So the less a vehicle was driven, the less frequent the oil changes and so forth. And the vehicles weren't getting beaten to death every day. So it cost the same to maintain two vans as it did one. And gas costs were about the same.

But where I really made out was reducing the expense of new vans. Back in those days, I had to depreciate my vans on a three-year schedule (IRS regulations change, and there are different accounting systems you can use; always check with your accountant when doing this exercise for your company.).

To illustrate this, let's take a look at the value of a three-year-old Chevy Express one-ton van with 50,000 miles on it. Kelley Blue Book lists the retail value on this van as $13,165.

Now take a look at the exact same van with the same 50,000 miles on it, only three years older. The exact same van with the same mileage at six years old instead of three years old has a retail value of $8,440. That's a difference of $4,725. For just under $5,000 each, we got another three years out of our cleaning vans. And our insurance stayed down because it was a lot cheaper insuring a three-year-old van than a brand new one. And our equipment also lasted twice as long because it was only being used half as much.

This exact same van in the 2006 model has an MSRP of $25,824.20. So, would you rather "spend" $4,725 on your current vehicle, or fork over $25,800 on a new van every three years?

There are other significant benefits of going to one-man crews that I had not expected. A single technician using a cleaning vehicle had a sense of ownership, and therefore took far better care the van and the cleaning equipment. After all, there was nobody else to blame! I was also amazed at how rarely a one-man crew left cleaning tools on the job or lost small accessories, i.e. measuring cups and the like. With two-man crews there was never the kind of accountability a one-man crew has, and while it may seem like small potatoes, after a while all those little things add up to real money. And because my one-man crews took so much better care of their van and equipment, it had a much cleaner and more professional appearance.

So going to one-man crews was a big winner just on the basis of reduced expenses. But I was really surprised to find out that one-man crews were far more successful on the income side as well.

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