ICS Magazine

Don't Spend Your Life "Hitting the Glass"

August 12, 2004
Don't be your own worst enemy

"We have met the enemy...and he is us."

The sound slowly woke me. Over and over again, something between a "thwack" and a muffled "thud" resonated in the room. As I came awake I realized a bird, a beautiful cardinal, was aggressively attacking its reflection mirrored in the window near my bedside.

The cardinal would spot its image and immediately fly at this "intruder." It would hit the glass full speed, fall to the ground, shake its befuddled head and fly back to its branch, only to repeat the process five minutes later. Talk about being your own worst enemy!

This destructive routine put me to meditating on the carpet cleaning industry (My wife Sioux says just about anything will make me think about carpet cleaning). Carpet cleaners are a great group: hard working, honest, salt-of-the-earth people. But far too many of them, just like that cardinal, are their own worst enemy. Why? Because they just keep "hitting the glass." And exactly like that unfortunate bird, many in the cleaning industry never learn. Have you seen any of these self-destructive behaviors in your fellow carpet cleaners, or in your own life?

Not investing in the very best equipment
Thriftiness is a quality to be respected. I was 30 years old before I allowed myself the luxury of ordering a cheeseburger instead of a hamburger. But when it comes to investing in income-producing business equipment, many of us buy the cheapest stuff available. However, the potential profit margins of carpet cleaning are so high that it just doesn't make sense to buy anything less than the very best.

For example, in the late 1970s my partner and I hit the glass for years trying to build our own truckmounts (talk about an exercise in futility). When that didn't pan out, we painfully worked our way through the low-end, marginal machines, losing money and years in the process. Finally, I learned that buying the best just made sense financially. The higher reliability and the faster production of the more expensive truckmounts always made their true, amortized cost much lower (not to mention your stress levels and blood pressure).

Not using the best chemicals
Labor will always be your greatest expense, especially when that labor is your own. On the other hand, even if you buy the most expensive cleaning products out there and use them wastefully, you'll never spend even 5 percent of your gross volume on chemicals. However, I still see carpet cleaners consistently "hitting the glass" by using home brewed stuff, off brands or watering down their cleaning agents. Let high-powered quality chemicals save you time and effort.

Not hiring the best employees
Listen carefully here. Life is too short to work with marginal, loser, wacko, weird people. Remember, business is supposed to be fun, and nothing is more fun (and exciting) than building a team of quality people working together toward a common goal. And yet, many carpet cleaners continue to struggle along with marginal employees.

Please bear in mind that is not just you who deserves the best. Your customers are entrusting your company with their homes, their possessions and their lives. Don't you have a moral and ethical, not to mention a legal, obligation to send quality individuals into their home? Not sure about a certain worker? Here is a good employee litmus test. Ask yourself how you would feel about this individual working alone in your home with your wife. If the mere thought makes you a little queasy, why would you inflict this employee on your unsuspecting clients?

Not charging enough
I don't want to beat up on an entire industry here. However, the sad fact is the majority of carpet cleaners do not charge anywhere near enough to cover their true cost of doing business while paying themselves a living wage and making the nice profit their hard work deserves. This is serious, self-destructive, hitting-the-glass behavior. Not only does lack of money keep you in the vicious rut described here, it also affects your family's future. Why do so many carpet cleaners not charge enough?

  • Fear - The carpet cleaning industry cuts its throat on a daily basis with the undignified parade of low-ball bait-and-switch pricing shamelessly displayed in every newspaper. Why? Because your competitors are all afraid to break out of this destructive cycle and be different. So don't beat your customers up for asking, "how much" on the initial phone call when low price is the only thing carpet cleaners advertise. I always ask my Strategies for Success students, "Can you imagine an electrical contractor advertising ‘We wire any living room, dining room and hall for only $99.99?'"
  • Ignorance - A lot of us, myself included, hit the glass when it comes to analyzing the books (I was always much better at making money than I was at tracking it, and I'm not alone.). If you don't know how much it costs you to do each and every job with all your costs included, you are at a terrible competitive disadvantage.
  • Low self-esteem - Where is it written in stone that carpet cleaners must always just struggle along and never have the opportunity to become wealthy? I don't want to sound like Tony Robbins here, but you deserve to be rich. "All things being equal, it is better to have money than to not have money!" I always say. The problem? As an industry we have a terribly poor self-image, one that needs a serious makeover.

    Not constantly learning
    Michael Gerber once said that what separates truly successful people is not how much they know. Rather, successful individuals are distinguished by their ravenous hunger to know more. How about you? Are you constantly learning, not just technically, but also on a business level? Are you always brushing up on your employee and financial management skills? Our industry now has some excellent targeted business-management seminars available. Do you read general business publications such as The Wall Street Journal, Inc., Business Week, etc.? (At least you are reading the very best industry-specific trade journal. Congratulations!)

    As far as I know, that poor, mixed-up bird is still hitting the glass as it attacks its own image. On the other hand, if you recognize in yourself one or more of the self-destructive behaviors listed here, you can change. Carpet cleaning is a wonderful industry, with virtually unlimited potential for you and your family...if you can break the habit of hitting the glass. Remember, there is no virtue in poverty.