ICS Magazine

Mill Warranties, Home Depot and Chem-Dry

March 2, 2007


I am constantly on the road teaching, and during the last three months or so I’ve been hit with many questions about two issues that are raising serious concerns among carpet cleaners.

The first issue is that beginning in 2008, Shaw Industries will be requiring IICRC-certified technicians to perform cleaning in order to maintain warranties on carpet manufactured after Jan. 1, 2007; other major mills expected to follow suit. The second is Home Depot’s purchase of Chem-Dry.

Many cleaners worry that these changes are going to negatively affect them. And yes, they will, if we allow them to. But the reality is that these changes could result in a windfall of new business.

Let’s start with the new mill requirements. Many cleaners are up in arms about this for a variety of reasons, mostly because cleaners are fiercely independent and hate being told what to do. But if we take a closer look, we might see these industry changes from the proper perspective. In other words, how can your carpet-cleaning business profit from these changes?

Regardless of your personal feelings about the IICRC, certification and mill warranties, there are powerful marketing reasons to be a certified firm and employ certified technicians. The worst thing you can do is to procrastinate, sit back and do nothing.

I am a firm believer in IICRC education and certification, and the bottom line is that you will not be able to take advantage of these opportunities unless you are a certified firm. In today’s market environment, certification is even more important than ever before. And the most important marketing benefit of certification with regard to the new mill warranty requirements is the opportunity it gives cleaners to develop relationships with perhaps the most important referral source of all-carpet retailers!

So, those who want to fight the system, go ahead. But those who want to see how to make more money, stay with me.

Whenever you are trying to develop a business relationship, you need to be thinking about what’s in it for the other party. What do carpet retailers need, and what might be in it for them if they develop a referral relationship with you?

First, the carpet retailer has a serious business interest in keeping his customers happy, just as you do. Chances are a carpet’s warranty is one of the factors their customers base their buying decisions on.

The retailer needs to have a reliable, high-quality carpet cleaner to refer their customers to in order for them to maintain their new carpet warranty. And if that cleaner understood how he could further cement the relationship between the flooring retailer and his customer by providing value-added service, it would be even better.

The retailer is in a highly competitive market. Since adding carpeting and other flooring to their product line, Home Depot has become one of the largest carpet retailers in the United States. Now, that business had to come from somewhere, didn’t it? You’ve probably guessed that it came right out of the local carpet retailer, whether franchise, co-op or independent. This means retailers aren’t too happy about Home Depot in general, and do everything they can to protect their market share. And with its purchase of Chem-Dry, Home Depot is using carpet cleaning as a powerful marketing weapon. Home Depot is trying to take the carpet customer off the market forever by selling them the carpet, caring for it throughout its life cycle, and then replacing it when the time comes. And, by cleaning for people who didn’t purchase their carpet from Home Depot, they are positioning themselves perfectly to sell them new carpet when it needs replacing.

These are very serious issues that most carpet retailers are concerned about, and they will be interested to hear how you can help them meet these challenges.

There is a third major concern facing carpet retailers that you can help with, and that is “liability cleaning.” Many retailers work very hard to provide extremely high levels of service, selling high-quality products and so on. But at the end of the day, they are at the mercy of the installer.

Every retailer routinely has issues with installers that track mud into a job, spill a soda or otherwise create a minor cleaning situation that needs to be resolved in order to keep a new carpet customer satisfied. So, when you go to meet your local retailer, make sure you explain the new market realities and how you can help the retailer solve a number of business challenges she’s facing.

As an IICRC-certified carpet cleaner, you can not only meet the new warranty requirements, but you can also keep their customers’ carpet looking great, something that reinforces the idea for homeowners that they received a good value when they bought their carpet at XYZ Flooring instead of the Big Box.

Let the retailer know that you understand how you have a unique opportunity to reinforce her reputation with her customers, and that you will take every opportunity to let her customers know what a good decision they made buying their carpet at her store.

In addition, by actively referring you, the retailer will be able to “offer” carpet-cleaning services, so she may compete with Home Depot when it comes providing to a full-service package.

Finally, offer to handle their liability cleaning for free, or at a greatly reduced rate. You’ll take care of a major problem for the retailer that can really build a positive relationship, and this simple activity can be a major marketing weapon for you. Cleaners who take care of retailers’ installation-related cleaning problems find they often develop cleaning customers for life from these visits, and sometimes end up selling additional cleaning services on the spot. Remember, the very best customer is a referral from an independent third party – like the carpet retailer they purchased their carpet from in the first place.

Home Depot’s purchase of Chem-Dry and the new mill warranty requirements are examples of the powerful influences at work that give you the opportunity to develop referral relationships with carpet retailers. Remember, there are many cleaners who have built their entire success on retailer referrals. Yes, in the past it may have been difficult to get a retailer’s attention. But today there is more natural leverage than ever before to help open the door to a conversation about developing a mutual alliance and referral relationship that benefit both the retailer and the cleaner.

A final word about Home Depot and Chem-Dry: go online and take a look at their automated quote system and see the prices they are charging. Many of you will realize that it is time to raise your prices! New mill warranty requirements and Home Depot’s purchase of Chem-Dry could be the best things to happen to carpet cleaners since hot-water extraction!