ICS Magazine

Be Bold, Take Control and Make a Profit

August 14, 2002
Roll up your sleeves and take a stand

I have been offered more than a few opportunities to purchase existing carpet cleaning businesses by owners who wanted to quit or were being forced to quit by health or economic concerns. Each time I am approached it is the same story: the business is run by an excellent, well-meaning technician/owner and has scores of loyal, happy customers.

These customers should be loyal and happy, getting the low prices and great workmanship that they are. But on examining the books I learn the truth: There is little or no profit in this business, and its prime lender's initials are I-R-S.

This business is doomed because the tired owner is the business and the low prices are the main product. If I were to buy it and bring the pricing up to where it should be, I'd lose most of the customers. So I elect not to buy and, sure enough, within a couple years it goes out of business, happy customers and all.

A troubling pattern exists in our industry. When a new company opens up in town, it damages new customer growth for other operators in the area because the owner sets his prices so low that no one can beat them. But the thing is, who would want to? He prices himself so far below everyone else it is unclear with whom he is competing.

In time the new owner will join the rest of the low-ball marketing wizards in the unemployment line. But not until he has made the public think that the other companies, the well-run companies, are ripping them off.

Wouldn't it be great if carpet cleaners were forced to take a business course before they could get a business license? So many professional cleaners refuse to give their work the high valuation it deserves, even in companies that have been around for a long time. Somehow they manage to get by on minuscule profits, being either too afraid or too lazy to price their work at a professional-quality level. I could understand the low prices if their work reflected them, but these are usually very good technicians.

I have been preaching this ever since I met Ed York some 30 years ago, and my fervor has led to my being called a number of unpleasant things by a number of confused business owners. I have never understood what is wrong with charging top dollar for top-quality work, or making a decent return on the risk and the grueling work it takes to run a cleaning operation. I don't see what is wrong with having the resources to hire and pay for the best personnel and in being honest with the IRS, all while saving enough to retire.

We don't set the price of our work; the cost of doing good business sets it for us. Stop making uneducated guesses that belittle the importance and value of our profession. I recall an occasion when my then-wife went to visit family while I stayed home to tend the business. One of her brothers asked her where her husband "the garbage man" was.

Pay your people, including yourself, living wages. Stop worrying about what the other guy is charging; how do you know he knows what he's doing? All those trucks driving around with his name on them do not mean he is making money. Sit down with your accountant and figure out what it takes to run your business and meet your goals.

Be bold, take control, and actually make an honest profit. I have faith that the day will come when we compete by who is the best, not who is the cheapest. Think about it. Until next month, see ya!