ICS Magazine

You Can’t Follow the Crowd

February 6, 2003
Following the crowd may keep profits out of reach.


“Freedom is the greatest fruit of self-sufficiency.”
Epicurus
(3rd century B.C.E.)

Freedom is a wonderful word. As a “lone wolf” solo carpet cleaner, you have chosen a wonderful freedom. You are free from the problems and worries of managing employees. Congratulations! But my guess is you also want the “freedom” of financial independence that wealth can bring. Sadly, very few lone wolves ever successfully achieve both of these freedoms at the same time.

Talk about being between the Devil and the deep blue sea. It’s either no employee worries, no people problems and no money, or else spend your life drowning in a sea of people problems while (maybe) becoming wealthy. There has to be a better way. Yes, you can be financially successful as a lone wolf carpet cleaner. But you can’t run your business the same way as the big boys.

Big cleaning companies with many employees can maximize profits by piling on people and earning a small hourly profit from each of them. But there is only one of you. And since your gross business income will inevitably be far less than that of a large company, you must achieve the largest net profit possible in the least amount of time (actually, this sounds like a good goal for a company of any size). In addition, you must retain a sizable amount of this income and put it to work to provide for a comfortable retirement.

What is the absolute best way to keep more money in your pocket? Spend less and/or buy smarter. Yes, I know this is stating the obvious. But it bears repeating because everyone, including myself, ignores the simple truism of thrift. Here it is again: The fastest, simplest, easiest way to add to your business or personal bottom line is to hold on to more of what you currently make (for specifics, see the January ICS installment of To Your Success, “Is a Dollar Saved Really a Dollar Earned?”).

After you have dealt with your overspending addictions, here are some more ideas for lone wolves looking to achieve financial freedom:

Change a negative into a positive
All these years you have been creeping around, somewhat ashamed that you work alone while all the big, faceless companies you compete with have dozens of technicians on the road. But why not glory in and brag about being a lone wolf? Market (and price) yourself as a proud and fussy carpet cleaning “craftsman” obsessed with getting the job “just right.” Become the slightly eccentric and memorable individual you have always wanted to be, a perfectionist with your customers’ carpets and health. By repositioning yourself as “carpet cleaning artist” passionate about your current “masterpiece,” you will be able to …

Start charging more, a lot more
People are happy to pay more for the personal attention they receive when they fly first class. Yet most owner-operator carpet cleaners do not capitalize on the huge advantage they have over large companies: the “first class” experience of having the owner doing the work. With today’s personal security concerns and demand for quality, you can and should be charging more for providing the personal attention of a master craftsman.

Quit competing with the large companies on price. Your customers will be delighted to pay for the prestige of having the owner of the company tenderly care for their home if you require them to do so.

Increase each job ticket with up-sells
Since you can only do so many jobs per day, to really rake it in you must maximize your profit on each job. One easy way to put more money in your pocket is to up-sell protective finishes, deodorization and other high profit add-ons. Large companies usually do a lousy job of up-selling after they are in the customer’s home (high-pressure bait-and-switch operations are another matter).

Friends buy from friends. When your customers trust you, they will purchase additional services. As an owner-operator, you can capitalize on your winning personality to sell more and make more on each job. Wouldn’t it be nice to do one less job each day and make more profit than in the bad old “bang the job out” days? You do this by up-selling to your clients that respect and trust your recommendations. Let’s see the big boys match that with their legions of still-wet-behind-the-ears technicians.

Find a niche
A medical specialist almost always makes more money and commands more respect than the traditional family doctor. It is the same in the cleaning industry. Instead of slugging it out with the $49.95 rug suckers, why not look for a specialty? Doctors attend school for years to specialize, but you can specialize instantly just by changing your marketing. Why not become an “upholstery specialist,” a “spotting consultant” or a “urine deodorization expert”? Maybe your kids won’t go to school bragging about your new specialty in urine removal, but you’ll laugh all the way to the bank!

Think outside the box
Have you always had a burning desire to clean carpets and upholstery, or did you go into the business for the emotional and financial freedom it allows while building a secure future for your family? If you are not in love with pushing the wand, nowhere is it written you have to be a carpet cleaner. You are in business to make as much money as possible in the least amount of time and, hopefully, enjoy yourself along the way, right? If you can achieve these goals more easily by doing ceramic and stone cleaning, hardwood floor refinishing or even by opening a different business, do it!

You can be successful as a lone wolf owner-operator in the carpet cleaning industry, but not by blindly following the marketing and management tactics of larger companies. Instead, cleverly reposition yourself with the ideas above, and you will achieve the vision of Christopher Morley:
“There is only one success- to be able to spend your life in your own way.”