An Open Letter
Editor’s Note: Rather than running Jeff Bishop’s regular column, ICS magazine has chosen to print Jeff’s well-written and well-executed letter in response to the overwhelming amount of calls, letters and e-mails he received following the segment on “Bait-n-Switch” carpet cleaners that aired on Dateline NBC, Jan. 17, 2000.
Industry Associates, Foremost, I want to thank all of you for the overwhelmingly positive response I have received regarding my attempt to promote professional cleaning on a nationally televised program.
Please note that nowhere was “Clean Care Seminars” mentioned in the Dateline interview or on the MSNBC web page. From the outset, I emphasized that this wasn’t about me, it was about consumer protection and promotion of IICRC Certified professionals. My only regret was that, at the last minute, the executive producers of Dateline opted to eliminate the IICRC name and toll-free number. My reasoning, that most consumers who are subject to blatant bait-and-switch tactics are not Internet active, did not prevail.
Nevertheless, the IICRC did receive great coverage on the MSNBC web site, resulting in over 500,000 hits on the IICRC web page in the last two days, along with some 938 calls and e-mails to IICRC headquarters, resulting in almost 2,500 job referrals to IICRC Certified Firms - almost half of the total.
Reports are flooding in from IICRC Certified Firms who are getting referral jobs already. That’s what this is all about. The whole point is to direct consumers to some 5,000 Certified Firms and almost 18,000 Certified Technicians throughout the U.S. and Canada who are providing an honest, ethical service based on the science of cleaning and restoration. And although it isn’t as obvious, IICRC Marketing Director, Ruth Travis, a small business owner like most of you, has implemented on-going marketing programs that consistently promote Certified Firms and Technicians throughout the year.
Just because you don’t see the results every day, or see the IICRC name in national media every day, doesn’t mean it isn’t happening. But bottom line, you are the ones who make it happen at the grass roots level, who change consumer attitudes by offering a consistently professional service when consumers call you. Without you, I would have nothing to promote. We’re all in this together.
I’ve gotten almost 200 e-mails in two days. I stayed at the office until 11:30 Tuesday night and until nearly 10 last night answering e-mails. And that’s after teaching a 3-day course on commercial carpet maintenance and cleaning for some 10 hours a day. The IICRC staff has been doing much the same thing. I even spent some 45 minutes on long distance (my dime) to a consumer with a 3-month child who already is suffering from respiratory problems and wanted to know what she could do to provide a cleaner, healthier environment. I gave her the 800 toll-free referral number. Whoever gets that call, please, please do your best for that child.
The point is that we professionals have the solutions to some very serious consumer problems. Dateline shot some 5 hours of interviews from which they used a few minutes of footage. All the things that you wish had been said—about procedures, pricing, professionalism—were said during those 5 hours. Then, we set up a cleaning unit and went through the 5 principles of cleaning: dry soil removal, soil suspension (chemical, heat, agitation, time), soil extraction, grooming, and drying. We finally went to dinner at 10:30 p.m. It’s a lot of work. But there’s only so much that can be included in a 10 minute segment. It will be up to each of you in your own market area to pick up the ball and run with it, to say the rest, to answer all the remaining consumer questions. Several have asked me about my “$40-per-room” quote with an average room of about 150-170 square feet. That comes from conversations on pricing I’ve had all over the U.S., and from a pretty careful analysis by the FOX affiliate in Atlanta, GA, during a similar 4-segment bait-and-switch expose about a year ago. What it comes down to is that most legitimate cleaners are charging from 20-30 cents per square foot for cleaning in average market areas, with an additional 10-18 cents for protector. No way I’m trying to set a national price!
Coupons? Sure there are legitimate coupons. What I stated was that the “low-ball” coupons were fraudulent. Even a consumer should be able to figure out that a cleaner can’t drive a vehicle with equipment across a major market area to clean two rooms minimum for $6.95 each ($13.90 total). I even provided examples of legitimate coupons taken from our “Bishop Management and Marketing Manual.” So, relax if you’re using legitimate coupons that approximate the square foot price ranges I’ve quoted.
One cleaner took me to task for suggesting that a professional who understands the nature and location of carpet soil should not be forced by my comments to include vacuuming in his professional cleaning service. Sure consumers could do this: if they understood that the average residential carpet soil sample contains some 74% particle and fiber soil; if they understood how and where that soil builds up; if they have quality equipment; if it’s actually operating; if the vacuumed soil is properly filtered; and if they don’t break international track records running through their homes as soon as they see your van pulling into the driveway. Come on, we’re talking about professional cleaning, something consumers aren’t trained and shouldn’t be asked to do themselves. Why, if they’re going to be asked to vacuum themselves, why not suggest that they visit the local hardware store and rent an extraction machine for the rest of the job? Is equipment the only thing that’s different about professional cleaning? I’ve always thought it was knowledge and experience in cleaning science that made the difference.
Well, I could go on interminably. The bottom line is that this is a great time to be in the professional cleaning service industry. But we’ve got to do something about getting together, about cleaning up our own back yard. We need to identify and inform consumers about deceptive, fraudulent, dishonest practices. We need to let them know there are ethical, honest, caring professionals who can perform quality services according to IICRC S001 industry standards; who understand that the result of their work has a direct and positive impact on the health and quality of life of the consumers we serve.
OK, so I’ve had my 15 minutes of fame. Next week Dateline will be forgotten, I’ll be forgotten. I’ll go back to trying to convince you that education is the answer, that there is new updated information to learn in industry courses and at conventions, that there are books loaded with answers to your technical and management questions, that there are videos to show you and your staff how to clean professionally. The IICRC officers and directors will go back to their quixotic promotional efforts trying to convince some 300 million consumers in the US and Canada that Certified Firms have the answers to their cleaning service needs, while trying to run their service businesses - just like you—as well. You’ll go back to asking, “What has the IICRC done for me lately?” You’ll be back on the industry forums arguing vehemently and splitting hairs on minute technical issues, none of which will help you better manage your company and survive another year.
That’s life, that’s normal, that’s to be expected. But somewhere along the way, I hope that all of us, individually, will stop waiting for someone else to do the job. I hope to see us join together, to get involved in our industry through trade association membership, by reading technical books and industry publications, through professional education leading to IICRC certification, by adhering to industry standards, by becoming an IICRC Certified Firm and tapping into several million dollars annually in referral business from that network—even through involvement in the political process at local and state levels.
We’ve come a long way, but there’s much more to do. We’re all in this together.