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Predicting the Unpredictable

January 15, 2004
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Have you ever been thanked for a carpet-cleaning job well done? I'm not talking about the usual "thank you," but a handshake containing a $100 bill, followed by a complimentary card or note?

To some carpet cleaners that would be a real surprise, one as unpredictable as it gets. What about when you receive a call one year later from a customer you thought would never dial your number again? The same customer that, when you get to the jobsite, has left the key under the mat and a signed check on the kitchen table with a note requesting you to put down the correct amount. In addition, you notice a "thank you" note nearby; the customer feels that you do such good work that she doesn't have to look at it to compliment you on the job.

That is the height of job fulfillment and trust, and it happens to carpet cleaners across the country who know their jobs and do them well. It's comforting to know that this can and does occur; you just never know when it might happen to you. It is just one in a long list of unpredictable incidents for the industry professional.

Your truck, truckmount and chemicals can be categorized as areas of unpredictability. A lot can happen to them, and usually at truly inopportune times. The truck breaks down on the way to the job. There are not enough chemicals to finish the job. The truckmount freezes up, and you're only half done.

Chemicals and chemical selection can lead to major problems. Have you decided to cut corners and purchase that low-price cleaner from some major warehouse store? You've tried the product on your mother-in-law's house and it worked out all right. But when you used the same product on a lucrative commercial office job, it failed miserably.

Quality equals performance. Simply put, if you're paying for a quality product, you expect the performance to be there. It's a predictable, if not infallible, equation.

The secret to achieving a modicum of predictability where the unpredictable reigns supreme is to check everything the day before a job. Failure happens for a reason. The way to reduce the possibility of failure is by being prepared. This is your livelihood; you must program yourself to expect to run a successful business.

Consider the preparation of the chemicals you use. There are a variety of products that you will use, based on day-to-day requirements. However, the variety itself can be a problem. Missing one important chemical can be devastating to your day. Experienced professionals know for the most part what they will and will not require on the job. It is the freshman cleaner who usually runs into problems.

Assume that you are a newly appointed carpet cleaner, filling your van with cleaners for a day of jobs where you will be cleaning middle-class homes, nice-looking residences on the outside hiding unknown horrors on the inside. Whatever the nightmare you are about to confront, you have confidence in your trusty truckmount that fires up at the drop of a hat. Of course, that's if it has fuel in the tank. You did fill up your gas tank, didn't you? Remember, check everything the night before.

Be sure your chemical line is in order. Traffic lane cleaner is widely recognized as being an important part of any cleaner's arsenal, especially in situations with kids running amuck. To remove all those sticky lollipop spots, traffic lane cleaner will be sprayed on the traffic areas (after vacuuming, of course) and allowed to stand for 15 minutes to penetrate those sugary soils.

Remember, traffic lane cleaner is not allowed to dry. Once it dries it will require twice the energy to clean the carpet. Unfortunate, yes. Unpredictable, no. Applied correctly, traffic lane cleaner helps in the removal of heavy traffic soils, minimizing the grueling effort that otherwise would be necessary to get the carpet cleaned.

The second item needed would be, of course, a carpet cleaner, be it a powder or liquid. Its basic purpose is to remove soils as an overall cleaning approach. It cuts costs and is used by itself where the soil is basically on the surface (no heavy-traffic soils to contend with that require extra energy to clean as would necessitate the use of a traffic lane cleaner).

After the carpet is cleaned, a rinse is now in order. In this business, rinse is often preceded with the word acid. That word does not relate to a strong acid, as in battery acid, but an acid that is close in relation to acetic acid, e.g. vinegar.

When used in a rinse, the acid is positioned as a neutralizing agent. The minimal amount of residue left in the carpet from cleaning is basically an alkaline one; the weak acid will cancel out the ill effects of the residue and leave a soft carpet that feels just like new, at the same time helping to prevent browning.

Carpet cleaners are an innovative bunch; witness the neutralization of alkali residue by incorporating the rinse directly into the wash cycle of the extraction wand. The acid rinse is solubilized into the water of a 5-gallon feed bucket without any cleaner in the system. Just prespray the cleaner or traffic lane cleaner with a Hydro-Force or pump sprayer and then extract with the acid rinse solution.

The idea was developed about 10 years ago and is now considered a standard of the industry. Taking it one step further you can clean lightly soiled carpets with an acid rinse by itself due to the internal formulation incorporating surfactants that act as a penetrant to the lightly soiled particles. Bye-bye unpredictable result.

Deodorization chemicals are a necessity, especially in a house with one parrot, four gerbils, 11 white mice, two dogs and one little white kitten (obviously not your standard guest list, but not too far off the mark). The addition of three small children (who probably cause more stink than the animals) will require the service of some type of deodorizer. And true or not, it's been said that a clean, carpeted room without any deodorizer will not appear to the homeowner to be clean; that's how closely connected deodorization is to a recently cleaned room. Understanding this takes some of the unpredictability out of the homeowner's possible reaction to the finished product.

One final area of controllable unpredictability, possibly due to its overwhelming simplicity, is carpet protection. You know the scenario: 90 percent of the work is done, the carpet is fresh and clean, and all that is left to do is to apply a protector. The job is relatively easy and the cost to you is minimal, making the potential profit substantial.

However, many carpet cleaners have a tendency to shy away from the salesmanship that is required. The backbreaking labor of cleaning a carpet is no problem, but it is very difficult to approach a homeowner and sell her the benefits of having her carpets protected. Too many operators buy into the notion that the homeowner declining the service is "predictable," making an odds-on favorite for profit suddenly unpredictable.

Don't assume anything. If the homeowner balks at the idea, fine; be secure in the knowledge that you made the effort and, even though you were rejected this time, the odds are in your favor, add to which you still retain the satisfaction of knowing that you did your job successfully, putting a carpet in a healthy state and leaving with a check in hand and compliments in your ear.

Two results that should never be approached as being unpredictable.

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