The CRI SOA Program: 5 Years Later

February 5, 2010
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To my mind, nothing is more rewarding than seeing hard work pay off. Five years ago the Carpet and Rug Institute, after countless hours of research and deliberation, introduced the Seal of Approval testing and certification program for carpet cleaning products and equipment.

I continue to be proud of the program’s growth and accomplishments. As an example, in its first 5 years the family of SOA participants has grown to include nearly 300 cleaning solutions, more than 80 extractors, 120-plus vacuums, and approximately 60 deep-cleaning systems – all listed on the CRI web site. There are also more than 830 SOA-certified Service Providers listed there.

I think 5 years is the ideal point from which to review the SOA Program, examine its development, detail the changes we’ve made so far, and share plans for the program’s future.

Most of you are likely aware how the SOA Program got started. In the late 1990s the CRI, concerned about carpet’s slow decline in market share over several years, commissioned a nationwide consumer survey to help find out why this was happening.

The CRI discovered that consumers’ number one complaint about carpet was that they did not know how to clean it properly. That came as quite a shock to us, because we knew emphatically that carpet could be cleaned and maintained quite well, and that many carpet cleaning professionals in the industry were doing fine work. Obviously, we needed to take a closer look into the situation.

The CRI put together a cleaning product field study that produced some disturbing findings: of over two dozen carpet cleaning products purchased at retail stores and commercial distributors, only a handful of them worked as well as plain water. Some even damaged the carpet or left a sticky residue behind that attracted dirt and encouraged resoiling.

These findings formed the backbone of what later became the testing parameters for the solutions category of SOA testing. In the end, these disappointing first results produced a positive outcome: as SOA testing identified problem products, conscientious manufacturers reformulated their solutions so that the entire industry moved ahead.

In short order, the SOA Program added a testing protocol for extractors and vacuums that incorporates technology borrowed from the NASA space program: X-ray florescence, or XRF. XRF scanners are capable of exact measurements of soil removal, down to one-thousandth of a particle.

Professionals at the independent laboratory that performs the SOA product testing cite “dozens and dozens” of situations where SOA testing has led to improved formulations.

As pleased as I am with the growth of the SOA Program, I think it is even more important for CRI to do all it can to increase the market share for each SOA participant and Service Provider, and our efforts in that area have been impressive.

In the past year alone, CRI has enhanced the Service Provider program with new language that emphasizes the importance of ethical business practices and good customer relations. This new SOA “code of conduct” requires certified providers to uphold a high standard of accountability, responsibility and customer-oriented service.

The agreement also reaches out to carpet manufacturers and equipment and sundries manufacturers, with provisions for honoring warranties and providing consumers with correct information on product usage and cleaning and maintenance. Earning the SOA logo gains manufacturers access to powerful information they can use to quantify their advertising claims, and offers those whose equipment failed the opportunity to modify and improve their technology for future attempts.

The agreement also strongly recommends that Service Providers be certified by the Institute of Inspection, Cleaning and Restoration Certification.

Last year, CRI introduced new “toolkits” of professional marketing materials for Service Providers and SOA solutions and equipment manufacturers. These downloadable toolkits include customizable versions of a press release, brochure, Frequently Asked Questions and talking points fact sheets.

Any SOA participant who has not received their new toolkit should contact SOA Manager Pat Jennings at pjennings@carpet-rug.org.

On the CRI blog at www.criblog.org, CRI marketing staff James Beach and Bethany Richmond write about carpet-related issues, many of which discuss the benefits of using SOA-certified products and Service Providers. There’s even a special collection of “Seal of Approval Success Stories” that really puts SOA in the spotlight.

Have you seen CRI’s YouTube video about Seal of Approval cleaning? It dramatically shows how SOA products, equipment, and Service Providers can handle even the dirtiest carpets – in this case, a Chattanooga-based restaurant called the Jet Stream Grill.

With no set maintenance schedule and a shortage of walk-off mats, this restaurant had developed some of the dirtiest carpet CRI had ever seen, but after a thorough cleaning by an SOA-certified firm, the difference was night and day. Watch the video at www.icsmag.com or go on YouTube and enter Jet Stream Grill in the search window to find it.

Since its beginning, the SOA Program has existed with the sole intention of giving all consumers – businesses and individuals – a better way to tell the carpet cleaning products and services that work from the ones that don’t. We knew from the start that there would be a certain degree of push back to the program, and CRI continues to keep an open ear to potential ways the SOA Program can be improved or expanded.

The CRI committees dealing with SOA issues need the input of committed and active members – if you think you might be interested in participating, contact SOA Manager Pat Jennings or me at wbraun@carpet-rug.org. You don’t have to come to Dalton - many of our committee participants are just a teleconference away.

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