- THE MAGAZINE
The Carpet and Rug Institute’s Seal of Approval Program has been a source of controversy in the pages of ICS, on industry Bulletin Boards, at trade shows and everywhere in between. The SOA Program was launched in 2004 to test the cleaning effectiveness of spot removers, pre-spray and in-tank cleaning chemicals. But it was the subsequent implementation of testing for deep-cleaning extractors and systems and the decision of Shaw Industries to tie some of its residential carpet warranties to the program that got tongues wagging.
To try and take some of the confusion out of this polarizing issue, ICS invited James Beach and Ken McIntosh of the CRI; Paul Joao of The Butler Corp.; IICRC President Ruth Travis and professional cleaner John Braun to lunch during the Connections Conference and Exhibition in Clearwater, Fla., to discuss the CRI SOA Program and how they see it impacting the industry.
ICS Cleaning Specialist: Welcome everyone. Let’s jump right in: James, describe if you could the SOA Plus amendment for truck-mounted cleaning units, how this came about and what it was in reaction to?
James Beach: Obviously, when we launched the SOA Program, we had…I don’t want to say it was a firestorm, but we had a lot of people who expressed concerns because there was not a place for them, there was not a category, there was not a home for them in our program. And we looked at it and said, ‘you know, you’re right, there’s not,’ and absolutely, when we put the program together, we did not want to be exclusive of people who do a good job. That is not the premise behind this program; we want to be as inclusive of people who are good cleaners as we could be.
So when people had a lot of valid concerns and they came to us, we took it back to our Cleaning and Maintenance Issues Management Team, and they agreed there were some holes there that maybe we could fill. In fact, some people within the industry who brought up these concerns, they sat in on the meetings, and they helped us craft what we call the SOA Plus. It involves the orphans, the equipment that is no longer being manufactured. There’s a lot of good equipment out there that is…the manufacturer is no longer in business. There’s a lot of good equipment out there that the manufacturer no longer makes, it’s an older model. We were like, ‘it’s doing a good job, we need to come up with a standard where we can get these people in.’ And I think that the Cleaning and Maintenance IMT did a good job; they came up with standards, minimum standards, a way where these people could do it without spending all the money on the testing itself. There’s a minimum standard; if they meet it and sign an affidavit and they use the SOA products, the cleaning products, they’re eligible.
What we heard, and again this wasn’t our bailiwick, but the big concern was the warranty work, and the majority of the people we spoke with wanted to make sure they were eligible to do the warranty work, which means they have to be an SOA-approved product, and we tried to provide a way for that, so that’s how it came to be how it is right now. And that said, I don’t think it will end there. We’re gonna listen. We don’t want to be exclusive, we want to include as many good people as we can. With all of our other programs…if you look at our Green Label, it continues to expand, we’ve improved it four times over 12 years. I think we’ll continue to do it with this program as well.
Ruth Travis: Well, realize that I have only been president [of IICRC] for six months, so I couldn’t have influenced this program as much as everyone has said I have. I think IICRC’s responsibility, and part of our mission statement, is to be a conduit of information between industry partners. Certainly, the carpet industry is a partner to the cleaning industry. We clean the product that they manufacture.
Our involvement with CRI goes back to the beginning of IICRC. Larry Cooper was right there when he was president, and every president has been part of this communication process. We are friends, we’re acquaintances, but as far as influence…I am one of many people who sit on these committees; sometimes they listen to me and sometimes they don’t. But we’re there, and I think it is important that we do have a voice, and we are welcome to be part of the process.
As far as helping develop them, I’ve sat in on some meetings and been on conference calls of some meetings, but I’ve also missed some meetings. It’s like any other committee: you can be part of it – and I’ve always been welcome, that’s never been an issue – but as far as influence I don’t think I have more than anyone else.
James: If I can just add to what Ruth said, one of our missions at CRI is to reach out to all stakeholders. Obviously IICRC is one of many of what we consider allied stakeholders. They’re a very good partner to us.
ICS: One of things that has come up is that Ruth was part of an SOA committee that is now defunct, and I thought that you might…
Ruth: On my Web site, I do list my involvement as an instructor working in the industry, and the original seal of approval program was, gosh, how many years ago, it’s a long time ago…
Ken McIntosh: It’s been a long time.
Ruth: And it was originally the one that CRI introduced. They were doing a seal of approval for installers and carpet cleaners, and we were involved in that one because we felt that CRI was trying to re-create something that was already in existence, which was IICRC. And I think it survived, what, a year? Wasn’t real successful. And that was the original seal of approval program. It’s got nothing to do with this one whatsoever. But the name is a good name, and it’s got some recognition. So I was on that committee, and that was dissolved many, many years ago, and now I’m involved with the Cleaning and Maintenance Issues Management Team, one of about 38 or 40 people.
Ken: What I would like to say in defense of Ruth, that this particular IMT, Issues Management Team, calls on a lot of experts in all industries, IICRC, SCRT and so forth. Ruth has contributed, but so have many, many experts, to this particular effort.
Ruth: One other thing. I did have a carpet cleaning business for 15 years, so I do know about carpet cleaning. And I think maybe some people don’t understand that. I ran a business, a professional business, and we had portable equipment, and we finally broke down and bought a truckmount machine, and I’ve run it, I’ve been there, I’ve done it, I’ve pushed the wand. So I do have some history with this.
ICS: John, you’ve run a successful business for the past 10 years in Pensacola, Fla. Something you said back in January on the ICS Bulletin Board, and I quote, ‘I feel the IICRC should be in tight with the CRI, but this nonsense of mandating what equipment we can use is foolish.’ Is that something you still feel and, as a professional cleaner, what is your take on the program, and what it seems to be doing or not doing?
James: There is a way for all truckmounts to be part of the program. They still have to go through a process to do that, but we’re not seeing any truckmounts that we think wouldn’t pass the original test.
John: I think that, from a cleaner’s standpoint, what we are concerned about is…let’s say I just spent 80 grand on a fleet of truckmounts, and now this truckmount manufacturer is not going to be approved. I’m going to be pretty upset. That’s the main thing that I think most cleaners out there are upset about, as far as the program goes. And not to say that it’s a bad machine, ‘cause if you just spent $80,000 on three or four truckmounts, they better be pretty good machines. And you better be able to be CRI approved.
James: That goes into they’re upset because the machine is not going to be approved because of the warranty work, and one thing that I really want to clarify here is, the warranty? The Carpet and Rug Institute had nothing to do with that. We put together a testing program. And to go back even further, why we put together a testing program was, the market share of carpet has fallen over the years. Part of our job was to try to find out why this was happening, why more people are deselecting carpet as their floor covering. We did a survey, and across all sectors, from the facility manager to Suzy Homemaker, everybody, the No. 1 issue is a cleaning and maintenance issue. They’re not buying it because they can’t clean it and they can’t maintain it. They have problems with that.
Well, being in business ourselves, we know that carpet is not hard to clean and it’s not hard to maintain. Technology today makes it more soil and stain resistant than it’s ever been. So we started testing some of the chemicals, and bingo, out of 25 products we bought off a store shelf, four or five of them clean better than water. And water’s not a very high benchmark. So we started thinking, OK, that’s part of the problem. Then, as we got into the XRF technology that allowed us to get into testing the extractors, hey, some of the extractors leave more water than others do, some of them do a little more damage…
John: But truckmounts, I mean, I think the main beef that a lot of the guys have about this is the Rug Doctor machine is approved, but yet their $40,000 truckmount might not be?
James: The mills saw the program, and they’ve never had anything that they could link their warranties to, and so some of them started linking them to them. Immediately that kind of started this big uproar. You know, if those warranties weren’t linked to it, we wouldn’t hear anything about it. Nobody would care.
Ken: I can’t imagine anyone being concerned about a truckmount unit not passing, being SOA certified. All the experts that have worked with us, you know, that’s no particular problem.
John: But I think still, the question is, what does that company have to go through, and are they willing to go through it? What type of procedure are you going to put them through to get them certified, and how much are they going to have to pay?
Ken: John, have you seen our write up on the truckmount units? How you can be certified and so on? I think if you make a study of it, it answers all your questions and concerns, including cost. The important part of this SOA program that everyone is overlooking is the Service Provider. You need to be a Service Provider and use the SOA equivalent in chemicals to be under the warranty. That’s the part that everyone is missing.
ICS: And by Service Provider, you mean…?
Ken: The company.
ICS: You’re not referring to certified firm?
Ruth: Right. There will be a link between the Service Provider and CRI.
Paul Joao: For Service Provider, you’re speaking in terms of the person that is doing cleaning for, let’s say, Mohawk or Shaw retailers specifically?
Ken: Let’s say Ruth still has her company. She needs to be a Service Provider using the SOA chemicals and the SOA-approved equipment, extractors; doing that, she’s a Service Provider that meets all the requirements of the warranty.
Ruth: I think that other thing about the testing that maybe people aren’t aware of is that the information that’s gleaned from the test goes back to the manufacturer. It’s not for public knowledge. We’ve been asked, ‘who failed?’ It’s nobody’s business who failed; that information belongs to the manufacturer. The neat thing is, if they did perform poorly, they have the opportunity to go back and improve their equipment, or improve their chemical, and then retest. The whole idea is to raise the level, raise the quality of either equipment or chemicals.
The third part of it is tying in that individual who’s trained, which we’re thrilled for since IICRC’s going to be included in that. It’s a really good program that promotes professionalism. I mean, that’s all we all want, professional service providers, and this is a way to get there. I was just in a meeting in Las Vegas, with a group doing scientific research related to the cleaning industry, and the one thing they said, the most important thing, is that you have testing that you can verify the things you are saying. Yeah, you’re a great carpet cleaner, but have you ever tested how your chemical works? No. Now it’s been tested and you can say hey, mine does the best it can possibly do, and it doesn’t have all these bad things in it that can hurt the carpet. That’s a great selling feature, I think, when you go out to talk to a consumer. Consumers want information, they really do, and this is a way to prove to them that you’re not just blowing smoke. This whole program will set everybody apart from the bad guys.
Ken: But John, in that particular case, if the truckmount manufacturer does not want to do it, all he needs to do is to give you an affidavit that he’s not going to do it, and you can be a Service Provider for $25 after that. We have tried to recognize good machines without putting a terrible burden on someone, cost-wise.
ICS: Speaking of manufacturers of machines that have not yet been submitted for testing, Paul, Butler to this point has not yet submitted its machines for testing…
Paul: No, no we have not. Actually, probably about a year and a half ago we were about ready to go ahead and have our system tested, but a lot of questions kept arising, and we wanted to see if there was going to be an amendment made. In fact, I had sent a letter to Ken. One of our customers had contacted me specifically and asked me, ‘will Butler be certified?’ and I said well, we have intentions to, we haven’t made a decision on it yet, there are several questions out there that remain unanswered, and I believe that someone faxed this (holds up the SOA Plus amendment document) to me or e-mailed me the revisions that you were just mentioning, that you held an IMT meeting on March 27?
Paul: Many of the questions that they had were, ‘where does that leave my system?’ We have customers that run 25-year-old systems out there. ‘Butler, are you going to get certified, and if you do, where does that leave me?’ I couldn’t answer that. I don’t know where that leaves you…
Ken: I believe the document does answer that.
Paul: So you guys went ahead and had a meeting, and you did answer some of the questions we sent you in a letter to address some of these issues. That was the biggest concern that we had, because we had many people that are in this industry, well-known people, that run our equipment and they are also doing services directly for Mohawk, cleaning for a lot of the carpet mills directly, and they wanted to know because they’re running Butlers. And I said well, if you have to replace your Butler System now with a new one, that’s just devalued your old system, that’s not right. And these are things that we have to find answers for, and hopefully the CRI can clarify some of these answers for us before we go ahead and test our equipment.
We also had other issues that I brought up in the letter, in regard to…let’s say we have machines out there that are CRI approved. Is there going to be any way to police these systems in the future? In every state you have to have every vehicle inspected on an annual basis. A system that leaves our facility as CRI-approved today, and depending on who the operator is, tomorrow the jets could be clogged, the filter bag may not be clean. He could be out doing a terrible job with that system, whereas somebody who has a machine out there 25 years old. He’s meticulous, he takes care of it quite well, and it’s working probably better than that new one.
And will there be an opportunity, let’s say, for distributors in the industry or manufacturers who are open to serve as…to be able to have somebody on an annual, or 2-year or 5-year basis, have that machine inspected, and maybe some kind of verification sent back to the CRI stating yeah, everything’s working properly? So these are some of the concerns that Butler had as a manufacturer. Talking to some of the other manufacturers – and I’m not going to sit here and say that I’m a representative of them, because I’m not – some of the concerns were pretty much the same. Also, you had mentioned the fee. For a company like ourselves, it’s not a big fee, no, because we make one machine. It comes in several variations, and we address that in our letter, as well as the wands, the different wands that will work with the system, because different wands will give you different results. But there are manufacturers out there that have a dozen or more different models. And some of them probably are looking at the price tags on that. And that’s probably why you’ve only seen some of them with only one or two submitted for approval. So those are some of the concerns we’ve had as a manufacturer.
In reviewing this letter from your meeting in regards to the amendments that you’re going to be making, some of the questions I had, from a manufacturing standpoint…it looks like you set a blower size, a pressure rating and a heat rating. Are those pretty much going to be the specifications that you’re going to be going with?
Paul: One suggestion that I may make, and it may be something you want to look into, in the blower aspect you put #3 blower. Vacuum systems, even though they may be the same size, can vary in terms of performance depending on how they’re set up in any truckmount system, depending on the relief valve systems that are set up now, depending on the RPMs they’re running those vacuum blower systems at, and of course so the CFM rating, and the vacuum system, will vary from one manufacturer to the next even though it may have the same vacuum blower sizing on it.
Temperature – and these are just suggestions – you have 160 (degree) water temperature generated at the unit. Manufacturers can also change the location of their sensor, which will not give you the most accurate reading in terms of temperature. We as a manufacturer emphasize the location being right before the water exits the system into the hose. Others may go ahead and put that in another location that could be more advantageous for them. There are a lot of things that, I guess, the variables…
Paul: Let me ask you this. Why a silver, bronze and gold? Why not just pass or fail?
Ken: Because you have the opportunity to get on the NASA program, and they thought is was important to have levels of performance and so forth.
James: And we put that before the committee. That was a decision that they made; every program we’ve had in the past has been pass or fail, so this was something they thought would be a marketing opportunity for some people. Obviously I don’t think that if somebody passes as a bronze, they’re going to market it as a bronze.
Ken: A lot of people may come in, have some of the problems you’re talking about, and so it’s bronze, and so they go and figure out how to make it perform as a gold, and that’s good. If they improve on it, that’s good for carpets, that’s good for the manufacturer.
Paul: I guess the reason I’m questioning it is, the consumer, it probably doesn’t really matter to the consumer…
Ken: All the consumer needs to know is you’re a service provider for the warranty, and it’s up to the cleaners and you guys to promote your equipment and the advantages of it, it’s as simple as that. And we’ve given you all those kinds of tools to do it.
John: But does it have 160 degrees of water? Does it have 350 CFM? But yet you won’t pass the truckmount?
Paul: What are the standard requirements for a portable? Has anybody set that?
Ken: Well, the extractor’s the same as for a truckmount, from the standpoint of performance, efficacy and so forth, the testing. But not a minimum standard, no, we haven’t set that.
James: Our new SOA is just for the truckmounts.
Ken: But the Rug Doctor…I saw a cartoon that I really enjoyed from the standpoint that, are you going to go into a home with an SOA-approved truckmount unit, or are you going to go into a home with 17 Rug Doctors? That’s what you’re facing, you’re not facing one Rug Doctor doing the same job as one truckmount unit. So what is the problem with that?
John: The problem with the Rug Doctor is you’re telling homeowners on one side to get professional cleaning, on the other side you’re telling them the Rug Doctor is OK to clean your carpet, by approving the Rug Doctor.
Ruth: But the next leg is going to be that you have to be a certified firm to perform the service. That’s the beauty of the…Shaw is bringing into this process the fact that you have to have a trained technician.
ICS: So does it void their warranty if the homeowner uses the professional-grade Rug Doctor with the Seal of Approval on the equipment?
Ruth: If they use…well, it depends on whose warranty it is. If it’s Shaw’s warranty, then yeah. On certain types of products, and I think that’s the other thing a lot of people don’t understand. Not everything that Shaw is producing is going to be under this type of warranty. There’s only certain grades of carpet that they’re going to enforce this particular warranty with.
Ken: No, I don’t think we’ve passed that judgment.
Ruth: That’s up to the mills to decide, that’s a mill warranty thing.
Ken: One last thing on Rug Doctor. Whether it’s certified or not, the consumer probably is not going to use it very many times, if for nothing else than the work involved, not because of the quality of it. And that’s where you come in.
John: But you’re still telling [the consumer]that it’s OK.
Ken: It has been tested and performed at that particular level.
Ruth: And I think that the thing you have to keep reminding people. It’s a test. It’s a performance test, and those particular units did a good job of extracting. But, are they like a truckmount? No. And that’s why they have the bronze, silver and gold. And Rug Doctor is a pretty smart company to go and have the tests so they can go out and market the heck out of units and get everybody all riled up over something that’s pretty…when I was young I rented a unit, contaminated my whole house with some stuff out of it, and that’s the last time I ever cleaned a carpet with a rental. And I think there’s surveys that I think Mohawk has done: people may rent it one time, but they won’t rent it twice.
We’re talking about professional cleaners here, we’re not talking about consumers doing the cleaning here.
Ken: I doubt very seriously if the Rug Doctor is a Gold SOA product that it’s going to get any more business than it has in the past. The consumers are not looking to do work, and it takes work to do it.
People are misinterpreting the SOA program. If you look at from the cleaners’ standpoint as well as the carpet manufacturer, under a warranty, if there is a dispute, if the cleaner did it correctly or not, if there is a claim by the consumer, is it the cleaner or is it the carpet? This system allows the cleaners to have a clean bill of health that they know how to clean the carpet, and they probably cleaned the carpet correctly. As opposed to ‘did you use the right system?’ This identifies the right system for the cleaners to have a clean bill of health under the warranties.
John: But I don’t think the real problem is guys using the wrong truckmount. The real problem is using the wrong chemicals, they’re not educated properly. It’s not ‘they’re using a Butler or they’re using a Bane.’ It’s that they’re not using the right chemistry.
Paul: When you have issues with a truckmount it’s usually maintenance related, like I was addressing earlier. Something that Werner Braun addressed in the letter that he addressed back to me was in regards to floor wands. The type of floor wand, the number of jets, will make a difference in how well you can clean a carpet, and I’m sure you gentlemen know that.
Ken: Let me interrupt right there. [Professional Testing Laboratories] has demonstrated that the wands affect the test, affect the performance of the cleaning and so forth, and that is what we said earlier, we have seen truckmounts that can go from a bronze to a gold just by changing the wand, and everybody knows that. And we have started testing wands, and we have to get together with the experts and decide if we want to write a minimum standard for wands. I don’t know.
Paul: There are a lot of companies that buy our system, and they don’t buy it with a floor wand. We have no idea what wands they’re using with our system.
Ken: It might be the possibility that we test all the wands and we rate wands. I don’t know what we’re going to do. But it is a critical situation.
ICS: One of things I’ve heard from manufacturers about the testing is the issue of the wands. They go through the test and then after the fact they’re told, well, your machine very very well in the area your wand covered, but you didn’t get all the coverage you needed. It’s kind of like saying ‘jump as high as you can,’ and then after being told that ‘well, if you’d had springs in your shoes, you could have jumped higher.’ It seems like there’s a lack of a standard in the testing protocol.
Ruth: The problem is you’re almost talking apples and oranges here. You’ve got individual testing of chemicals and equipment, that’s one program. And then the system, which is kind of what you’re talking about, when you tie the chemical and the equipment and the technician together, you’ve got the system. And that’s another level of this thing. That’s what bothers me: people go ‘oh, what about this guy who hasn’t had his truck maintained for 10 years?’ That’s called integrity, and that’s why you bring in the professional firm, and that’s why they’re willing to sign an affidavit that says they’re going to do it. You know, Paul, you can’t…not everybody tells the truth, and we know that.
Ruth: But at least if you get them to sign something, and I’ll go back to certified firms, where you have a code of ethics and minimum standards for their certification, you’re tying in that human factor that you hope they aren’t lying to you.
Ken: Let me reply to one thing he’s talking about. We test the PTL testing equipment as specified by the truckmount supplier. If it’s a bad wand, it’s a bad wand. We don’t monkey with that whatsoever.
James: The difference between the extractor testing and the system test, the extractors are all tested the same. It’s laid down, the carpet moves underneath it at the same rate, four passes, boom, it’s X-rayed with the XRF and you get the results. The systems, you send in your system, tell me what chemicals to use, if I want to pre-vacuum, you tell me how I need to use it, and we do it. Unless it’s something wild and crazy like, ‘you need to make 27 passes with it,’ or something, then we might question it.
ICS: There’s been a number of comments made about the designer soil used in the testing. Can you describe this soil, and maybe clear up some of the misunderstandings about it?
Ken: The synthetic soil was engineered to relate to regular soil to the best of its ability, to the elements in it, and it seems to be working pretty good. There is one question about, can you add more stickiness to it, can you add more oil, less oil, etc. All of that will continue to be optimized as we go forward. But irrespective of all this, if you look at the test, it’s a tool to compare others with. It’s a comparison tool. Can you say that our test relates to your house, or his house? It’s not set up for that, and people can’t accept that, but it’s set up as a testing tool. And I think it does a good job. It’s very repeatable, we can identify what elements were extracted, what elements were left in, and so from that standpoint the XRF is an outstanding tool to use. Now if somebody can come up with a better one, we’re open to it.
James: From what Gary Asbury tells me, the soil, there was a major vacuum manufacturer who sent in bags from across the United States, and they analyzed them, and they came up with something they thought that had characteristics that pretty much encompassed everything across the United States.
Ruth: I think Ken’s point is the greatest point of all. It’s a test, it’s repeatable. How do you measure it? Here’s how you do it. And it isn’t a different soil for this machine or that machine. If you ever have the opportunity…these guys are so open to anyone who wants to show up on their doorstep and hang out. The doors are not shut. Anybody’s welcome to be part of this program. That’s what I think is so funny: don’t sit at home and criticize, get involved.
Paul: Has anybody looked at the impact of the different variables of water? You use your type of water in your study, but other types of water out there, mixing with that same product, may have a different result.
James: It has been discussed. Obviously, a different pH here from there…
Paul: Some people are using water softeners, but a lot of them aren’t.
Ruth: See, I think that goes to the next level, where you have a trained technician. You learn that in your courses, you talk about water softeners. That’s all discussed in the IICRC courses. I know water softness or hardness is a variable in cleaning, and in your town you know that as a professional cleaner.
Ken: The SOA program is not a research program, it’s a testing program to judge and rate vacuum cleaners, extractors and so on like that. You could get into a very elaborate research program with things like what you’re talking about, and there are merits to doing that, but right now, we feel like the SOA protocols and parameters we’ve got serve a very good purpose.
Paul: I’m just saying that a great product in the lab may not be a great product out in the field.
Ruth: But it’s your product, it’s not their product.
Paul: I’m just saying that the water isn’t always going to be the same, and you may have a different result.
Ruth: But the neat thing is, they’re using the same water for everybody.
ICS: Before we adjourn, does anyone have any final thoughts they’d like to share?
Ruth: A lot of this information has already been put on the IICRC Web site and on the message boards. IICRC is committed to making sure all the information gets out, but it’s up to all of use. If there’s one criticism, it’s communication. We’re really bad about that. We sat in an industry association board meeting, and this information has been sent to them in writing, it’s on the IICRC Web site, it’s on their Web site, and these guys still haven’t seen it! What, do you want to come to your house and read it to you? We want to criticize, but yet we don’t want to take the time to look for more information. So help spread the word.
Ken: When you ask the consumer at home, would you like me to clean your house with a truckmount, or would you like to go get a Rug Doctor and clean it yourself, and see what kind of answer she gives you. She doesn’t want to do that work, even though the Rug Doctor is a good performing extractor. So you guys are really missing a good opportunity to promote your business.
James: There is a lot of confusion, and I think Ruth hit it on the head with the communication part. But I think a lot of cleaners out there, the ones that want to be critical, they say we put it out there based on the surveys, based on the market share. But if people aren’t putting down carpet, then cleaners aren’t going to have carpet to clean. So, you know, we’re all in this together, and I fully see this program will continue to evolve. Every chance we have an opportunity, we’ll improve it. That’s how we’ve done every program at CRI, and I don’t see us approaching this one any different.
ICS: Everyone, thank you for coming.