ICS Magazine

Natural Stone Floor Care Takes Planning

July 15, 2003
Marble, limestone, granite, slate and other natural stone floors are being installed more than ever before. With these floors comes the need for qualified cleaners and restorers.

The demand and market is there. One advantage carpet cleaners have is a built-in market. Your customers already know you, like you and trust you. For carpet cleaners servicing the high-end market this makes for a natural (forgive the pun) diversification. For those wanting to service the high-end market, this may be a good way to enter it. Before running out and purchasing all the necessary equipment, materials and supplies there are some questions that need to be asked and answered.

The Plan
A good plan starts with familiarizing yourself with the market and service. Unfortunately, many cleaners take a casual approach to diversification, which is one reason they fail. Making an informed decision requires a good working knowledge of the natural stone floor care industry. You cannot obtain that without doing your homework. For example, knowing the number of households in the higher income bracket maybe helpful in determining your potential market. Check out your local competition: who are they, how many are there, how busy are they, what do they charge? Finally, reading industry trade magazines, attending industry events and networking with others should be a part of the plan.

IICRC Floor Care Technician (FCT) instructor and natural stone floor care expert Dane Gregory said during a recent interview that it is at this point, before going any further, that you have to ask yourself, “Am I willing to do what it takes, to make the commitment to education, time and money needed to become a true natural stone floor care professional?”

Without a plan, Gregory explained, you do not know where you are headed, so it makes no difference which way you go – either way you’re lost. A plan keeps you on track so you always know where you are going. It is your road map to success.

Marketing
Strategic relationships. How you market your new services can make the difference between success and failure. An obvious place to start is with your present customers. Along with traditional marketing techniques, try developing strategic relationships with others in the natural stone floor care value chain. Stone floor manufacturers and retailers, as well as architects, designers, builders and installers, can be excellent referral sources. Manufacturers and distributors of cleaning equipment, materials and supplies may be another resource. It is also important to connect with others in the cleaning industry to learn how they approach marketing.

Subcontracting. Subcontracting your services to other cleaning companies that do not perform the work themselves is another marketing strategy. These companies would rather offer the service to their customers, even if it means subcontracting out the work, than take the chance of losing the account to a company that offers both carpet and natural stone floor care. Imagine two or three carpet cleaning companies offering natural stone floor care as service to their customers, but with you doing the work. When handled professionally these types of relationships can be very profitable.

Word of mouth and referrals. Word of mouth and referrals can be two of your best marketing tools, says Gil Chenow, owner of North Shore Marble Maintenance, a cleaning and restoration company in Milwaukee. While building your natural stone floor care division, keep in mind that when you are doing one job you may be auditioning for the next. After the job is completed and the customer is totally satisfied, ask them to tell their friends.

Management Issues
Staffing. Most companies like to promote from within their own company, but don’t be afraid to look at the possibility of hiring for the position. Look for someone with experience that can help you reach your plan easier, faster and more profitably. Insurance. Let your insurance agent know you are considering diversifying into natural stone floor care and examine any insurance-related issues. After all, natural stone floors are a lot more expensive to replace than carpet.

Pricing. By doing your homework during the planning stage you should have learned industry averages and the going rates in your market area. However, to set your price you really need to know what it costs to do the job. What is your break-even point? How much do you need to make per man-hour in order to cover your expenses? From there, add your profit based on quality, value, workmanship experience, the risk being absorbed and what the market will bear.

These are just a few of the many management issues you need to consider before diversifying into any new service, to get you started thinking like a manager and not a technician.

Training
If you have completed your planning, you realized early on the need for training. You probably discovered several training centers and educational opportunities through your research. Evaluate them all and attend one or more of them. You are going to be cleaning and restoring floors that are very expensive, and without proper training you can damage them.

After your initial training period is complete, make sure to continue your education. Attend the same course and/or new ones, join a natural stone floor association, attend trade shows and read your industry magazines.

The late Ralph Bloss once told me, “Change is inevitable, growth is optional.” Equipment, material, supplies and techniques are always changing; you cannot stop it. You have the option of growing and learning or not. Choosing the latter will cause you to grow stagnate and die.

Equipment, Materials and Supplies
You have seen and read about a lot of different equipment, materials and supplies. It is very important to investigate different sources before making a final decision. The equipment you choose will last for a long time, so make sure it is equipment you want and need. One way to obtain good equipment referrals is to network with cleaners in the field. Visit with them at industry events, tradeshows, conventions and association meetings, or go online and participate in cleaning chat rooms. Other things to consider when making equipment purchases are the support, training and distribution systems the manufacturers offer.

It’s All About Choices
From the initial planning, managing and marketing to choosing training, equipment, material and supplies, you will be faced with many decisions. I know companies that attended a seminar and heard how they could make millions cleaning natural stone floors. They dutifully purchased the necessary equipment and supplies, only to have them sitting in a corner six months later because they did not have a plan.

Do your homework. Diversification can be both profitable and exciting, but should not be taken lightly.