ICS Magazine

Measuring Success

December 1, 2006


Running our cleaning company years ago, we decided to start a second value-oriented company that would charge by the room for carpet cleaning. Our idea was based on the proliferation of per-room-priced competition, and we hoped we could do it better and smarter so we could actually make a profit at it.

One thing we found necessary in figuring our profitability and technician workload was, rather than just measuring the number of rooms and halls, we actually had our technicians measure the square footage of each room so we could calculate time, materials, labor, and profit by the square foot. In spite of per-room pricing for the customer, we actually ended up measuring everything anyway. Because this new division of our company was measuring, and our core cleaning and restoration division was also measuring, I investigated improved measuring methods and came across a few options.

Even though the company was growing, we closed down our per-room priced company after about a year of operation. We found it difficult to make the same profit as with our higher-priced, higher-service company. We enjoyed offering high-end services such as carpet and fabric protectors, precision upholstery cleaning, and pre-vacuuming, and getting well paid for it. The per-room pricing type of customer was not in the market for these extras, nor willing to pay for high-end service.

Now, back to measuring. Everyone has used the metal tape measure. This is still the standard for many professionals. It is very exacting and an inexpensive tool to own. When the customer was interested, we would often have her help in the measuring, letting her take the main end and tell us what the actual measurement was. This gave her “buy-in” to the measurements and eventually the price we would charge. The only problems with the measuring tape were the extra time it took and the fact that it’s a less than sophisticated method. It was also a problem when measuring big rooms where the tape wasn’t long enough.

I then discovered the rolling tape measure. This was a lot of fun to use and we found it very quick to roll the device over the carpet and get the length and width for a square foot calculation. I was impressed with it and our techs fell in love with them, so we bought one for each truck and estimator. One day a tech reported to me that he thought we might be getting our measurements wrong. The rolling tape measure did not measure the same as his tape. As we investigated this, sure enough, we found that measurements could be off as much as 10 percent short and some as high as 10 percent over. We found that the roller would apparently slip or skip depending on the texture and type of carpet we rolled it over. As it turned out, we didn’t have to panic because we generally came out close to the actual square footage as all the rooms were measured out and averaged.

Then I was introduced to the first versions of ultrasonic measuring devices. As I understood it, Polaroid used a similar concept to measure distance and focus their cameras. The first ultrasonic device I purchased was about $250, somewhat more than I wanted to pay to put on every truck, but I was impressed with its speed and accuracy. Some of the current ultrasonic measuring devices are much less expensive and use a laser for targeting purposes, which helps avoid inaccurate measurements.

Along with the high-visibility laser to reference the target area, these units use advanced ultrasonic technology to send out narrow beams of sound waves that “bounce” off flat, solid objects back to the hand-held receiver. Sophisticated electronics and a microprocessor convert elapsed time into a distance measurement and display it on the LCD. The better units can store the measurements, compute the area as well as the volume, and recall them later when needed.

Now that they are much more affordable, I would encourage all professionals to have and use an ultrasonic measuring tool. It wouldn’t hurt to keep the trusty metal tape measure handy as a backup in case a battery goes out or you leave your ultrasonic on the last job. But as your primary measuring tool, by all means, step up to ultrasonic measuring. It’s quick, it’s accurate, and it helps assure your customers that they’re dealing with a technician who is up on the latest technology.