Technology Can Aid in Pricing and Production

November 6, 2003
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Technology can be a most valuable ally.

One of the principle topics of discussion on carpet-cleaning bulletin boards and in the mainstream media concerns the upward spiraling costs of operating a small business. Many expenses, such as insurance, fuel and chemicals, are not easy to control. When rising costs cannot be effectively controlled there remain few paths to profit except through increased production.

Production can be increased by employing bigger, faster, equipment; lowering the quality of the work; scheduling more carefully to avoid lots of travel time or, in some cases, by adding manpower. Electronic equipment may also offer a means of increasing production, reducing the time required to complete certain tasks while increasing their accuracy.

Measuring for bidding purposes is part of the job for most of us, usually involving an extending tape measure or a rolling measuring-wheel device. The introduction of laser measuring devices has made the job easier, faster, more accurate and "showier." Many technicians outfitted with laser measuring devices have said customers are quite impressed by the equipment. And cleaners armed only with a tape measure will often round up or down when confronted with foot-and-inch figures (how many of us can multiply fractions in our heads?) Laser devices can multiply fractions instantly so no rounding is necessary (rounding often loses money for cleaning companies that charge by the square foot).

Some devices may not save production dollars but may make a task easier to accomplish. I'm getting on in years (and maybe getting a little rusty) and I find that a laser pointer is an easy, effective way to point out to my assistant the location of the spot that needs treatment. Another entry in the makes-it-easier category is an inexpensive set of headphones or walkie-talkies to allow voice communication between team members on large-square-foot jobs, or on jobs that go up several stories. No more yelling down from the fourth floor for someone to "get some more pre-spray up here!"

One of the most common of electronic tools is the moisture sensor, also known as a "urine detector." This tool will help you locate hidden urine deposits as well as identify spots caused by detergent residues such as would be left by some do-it-yourself spotting products.

A black light, or long-wave UV light, causes some substances to "fluoresce," or glow. Urine will glow a yellowish color, while some detergents and all optical brighteners will glow blue-white. These tools may help to determine the source of spots and such without having to disengage carpet to inspect the backing. A pH meter or pen may also shed some light on the nature of residues that are causing spots. These tools work better if they have pads rather than pins at the point where they contact the carpet fibers (pins may actually go past the contamination you are trying to measure and give a false reading.).

The tool I have been most impressed with is the videophone. Your technician can actually e-mail you pictures and/or video of jobs (perhaps before they begin?) so the office person can look at the conditions on the job and make suggestions. This helps greatly with things like, "Should I clean this Oriental rug?" "How much to clean this sofa?" Your tech can send you before-and-after pictures of the job for your records right from the source.

Actually, a simple digital camera can be used to compile photo sets of jobs, including before-and-after photos. Why go digital? Let me answer that with the age-old question asked by a thousand cleaning professionals: "So, where does this chair go exactly?" A digital camera is no longer the large expense it was just a few years ago; there are even disposable versions available at a wide variety of locations.

I hope this helps you to do a little thinking about how to use the ever-cheaper (and smaller) wonders of electronic technology to help with the continuous quest for profits. Keep on thinking and until next month, see ya!

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