ICS Magazine

Consumer Marketing: The Missing Link is You

January 1, 2007

There’s a new marketing approach that’s literally being handed to professional carpet cleaners on a silver platter as I type. I just spent two days with board members of the World Floor Covering Association, a 5,000-plus-member organization representing primarily carpet retailers and allied trades, especially installers.

Carpet retailers have expressed concern about a newly announced Shaw initiative. It requires consumers – and professional cleaners – to use Carpet and Rug Institute Seal of Approval chemicals and equipment to maintain warranties on residential carpet produced after Jan. 1. Further, Shaw will be requiring the use of IICRC Certified Firms to maintain warranties on residential carpet produced after Jan. 1, 2008.

The problem that the industry overall has, and one that retailers have expressed concern about, is that consumers don’t or won’t know about Shaw’s requirement to use certain chemicals, equipment and, eventually, companies, to maintain warranties on their carpet. So not long after the meeting, the WFCA sent out a press release endorsing the Shaw announcement and “pledged to assist in alerting its retail members of Shaw’s new warranty policy and noted that to be effective in truly making the consumer aware that their carpet can be cleaned properly.” To anyone who has ever marketed carpet-cleaning services, this has “huge opportunity” written all over it.

Unfortunately, warranty specifications usually are the last thing on customers’ minds when they shop for new carpet. But sooner or later, any carpet will have spots, stains or soil, and eventually it will need maintenance and cleaning. Driving the CRI SOA initiative is the fact that many of the chemicals tested by the CRI don’t clean any better than water and, even worse, they leave disastrous re-soiling residues. Similarly, equipment doesn’t always measure up to the manufacturers’ marketing claims.

Therefore, to resolve these problems, along with a need to identify trained and experienced cleaners, Shaw has opted to direct consumers to quality products, confirmed by testing, and to IICRC Certified Firms with certified carpet technicians on staff. But who informs the consumer about the need to use CRI SOA chemicals and equipment and, eventually, IICRC Certified Firms?

It’s a collective responsibility that we all share. Carpet manufacturers have developed brochures that inform consumers about the need to use quality products and firms. Carpet retailers have the responsibility at the point of sale to inform consumers of maintenance and cleaning responsibilities.

Third, professional cleaners, who are in literally tens of thousands of homes daily, can contribute to educating the consumers about warranty responsibilities. Problem is, cleaners only interface with customers a year or so after the purchase when the need for cleaning arises. Since we all know that “IICRC” isn’t on the tip of every consumer’s tongue, the reason the cleaner is there is probably because of his or her reputation for quality services, rather than certification.

What I am suggesting is a fairly simple marketing plan that helps both retailers and the consumers they serve. If all of the 3,500 IICRC-Certified carpet cleaning firms commit to help inform carpet retailers in their area, using copies of the Shaw warranty announcement and the WFCA press release, those retailers could pass the word to consumers about the need for using approved products and professionals to clean carpet under warranty, using Shaw information brochures.

The real marketing benefit for IICRC Certified Firms comes when identifying themselves as the professional cleaning firm of choice in their market area. It’s a win-win plan. Not an IICRC Certified Firm yet? You can solve that problem by visiting the IICRC website and downloading information on how to become one.

Let’s hit one more issue: I have professional cleaners inform me all the time that they are the “greatest” in the cleaning industry, and that they don’t need IICRC certification to make them qualified professionals. Despite the fact that it’s usually the experienced people who get the most out of an IICRC-approved training course, I won’t argue with that. Maybe you are the best there is. But you know what? The cut-rate, bait-and-switch competitor says the same thing. And without certification, the customer doesn’t know the difference until it’s too late!

Consider this: you’re probably a pretty experienced and competent driver. Yet the state requires a license in order for you to drive. Does that make you a better driver? Probably not, but it does identify you as someone who is educated and experienced enough to drive.

Similarly, while IICRC certification may not make you a better cleaner, it identifies you to carpet manufacturers, retailers and consumers as someone who has made the effort to become qualified and recognized by an industry authority. The Certified Firm program identifies professional companies that employ certified techs. So until a better system comes along, you would do well to check out the IICRC Certified Firm program and the benefits your company will receive, both current and future.

It’s a mutually beneficial relationship: the IICRC needs you and you need the IICRC. It’s as simple as that.