- THE MAGAZINE
"To manage is to forecast and plan, to organize, to command, to coordinate and to control."
As in both love and war, in business the science of logistics is crucial. Logistics is defined as "the handling of the details of an operation." And nowhere are the details more important than the high-profit field of regular contract commercial carpet cleaning.
In residential work, an owner-operator can slide by with a great "dog and pony show," wowing the client with their great customer service skills (hopefully they also know what they are doing technically). However, commercial work focuses on just three words: reliability, production and profit. Here are some logistical details to help you achieve reliability, get high production and earn virtually obscene profits in regular contract commercial carpet cleaning.
Get yourself off the truck
As quickly as possible, start hiring employees instead of doing the commercial route work yourself. The uneven hours, as well as the strenuous work, will burn you out quickly. As an owner or manager, most likely your highest and best use is selling and organizing the logistical details of commercial work, not pushing the scrub wand at 3 a.m.
Document the details with a Job Profile Sheet
To achieve high production rates, your regular commercial accounts must unfold like a precision ballet. Every step and detail must be documented. If not, it is easy for an employee to "hold you hostage" psychologically, because all the details are in their head instead of written down on paper. Your Job Profile Sheet should include time and day of cleaning, alarm codes, which lights should be left on, location of freshwater taps and drain areas, emergency contact phone numbers and, of course, a sketch plan of what should be cleaned, along with cleaning method, furniture-moving requirements, etc. (For a free sample Job Profile Sheet, e-mail me at email@example.com)
Use a freshwater tank
It's no fun searching for a functioning fresh water tap at 3 a.m. Even worse, as I always told my employees, "If the wand isn't moving, we're not making any money!" You'll save five to ten minutes on each commercial job by unrolling the hoses and starting to clean immediately, then connecting the water supply line to top off your tanks before the next job. Save 30 minutes a night this way and you will quickly recoup your freshwater tank investment.
Don't be chained to a hot-water extraction scrub wand
Low-moisture cleaning methods and especially encapsulation have made some tremendous technical advances recently. These methods offer fast drying, low equipment cost, the ability to work in a secured building (no open doors for hoses) and, maybe most importantly, extremely fast production rates. One friend of mine, encapsulating alone on a moderately soiled carpet with no furniture moving required, was able to clean in excess of 2,000 square feet per hour.
Become a consultant
Don't get trapped into "commodity carpet cleaning." If your services are viewed as the same as everyone else's, how can you differentiate yourself? One way is by taking charge of the job specifications. Tactfully resist requests such as, "We've got 6,000 square feet of carpet in the store. So how low can you go per square foot? May the best (lowest-priced) man win!" This is a loser deal from the get go. But don't delude yourself into thinking that this business manager is cheap. He or she just may not know better. It is up to you to educate them.
When a business just wants a price per foot quote over the phone, start asking detailed questions about carpet condition and construction along with wear patterns, traffic and soiling type. Very quickly it will become obvious that you need to see and "test" the carpet. After doing so, confer with your client on setting up "zones" with different cleaning methods and frequencies indicated "in your professional opinion." Remember, he who sets the specifications controls the job.
Get the key
Listen carefully here. Nobody puts up with an irritation long term. And if you must make an appointment every month for job access, it will quickly become an irritation to both you and the client. The result? Sooner or later the customer will cancel the contract. Even if they don't bail out, you will suffer with less flexibility on job scheduling and repeated no-shows from their employees. How to get the key? Just ask. But you must ask properly. Here is my three-step "Getting the Key" system:
1. Methodically fill out the Job Profile Sheet. Be sure to ask the customer where to turn off the lights, which breakers to leave on and how to turn on the alarm. Painstakingly write down all information on the Job Profile Sheet in front of the customer. Then in a routine manner ask, "Now can you give me a home and cell phone number for an emergency contact if we have any questions while we are working in the business?" All of the above questions are a gradual "assumptive close," preparing the customer for the fact you will be working unsupervised in their business, which of course means that you will now casually say...
2. "And of course I'll need a key for access." One of two things will happen here. 1) The customer will explain it is against company policy for you to work unsupervised. At this point you may either turn the job down or ask for a trial period to prove your reliability. Once a manager knows you are trustworthy he may find a loophole in the company's rules. 2) However, if you follow the above procedure exactly a surprising number of business owners will agree. But especially with owner-operated businesses the owner will many times say...
3. "Uhh, I'll need to get you a copy made." This leads to many fruitless return trips and much nagging of the business owner on your part and once again you become that dreaded word, an "irritation." Here's how to deal with this challenge: "Mr. Jones, I was just on my way to have some copies made of keys for some of my other clients. If you will loan me your key for 30 minutes I'll have it right back to you."
These three steps to "Getting The Key" work (Of course, with some high security buildings you will never get the key. But these locations very likely have 24-hour security guards who will serve as your building "key"). If you absolutely cannot get the key, at the least get the contact information for the person directly responsible for access (not the owner or manager) because...
Once you have the key
It is now time to "blend into the woodwork." Once you have both the signed contract and the key there is absolutely no upside for you to be highly visible. To the contrary, every time you are noticed is just one more opportunity for the customer to ask him or herself if they want to retain your services. Here are two suggestions that will help keep commercial contracts long term:
First, if at all possible, your people should move and replace the furniture (Or even better, write the contract for "open areas" only and leave the furniture, especially file cabinets and desks, where they stand.). At first glance it may appear logical to include for the customer's employees to move the furniture. Not good. Why? Three reasons:
1. Most of the time the manager will forget unless you remind them, which of course you don't want to do! Remember, you and the woodwork: blend, blend!
2. It is a huge irritation for the customer to arrive at work in the morning and face a disheveled building that has to be put back into order. A good rule of thumb is to put everything back so perfectly the client doesn't even know you have been there.
3. Assuming you are using a two-person crew on commercial work (and you should), the person not actually doing the cleaning will have plenty of time to move and replace light furniture without slowing down the cleaning process. So why not include furniture moving in the cleaning price?
Second, never, ever call to reschedule the regular cleaning. Once again, if you call to change a previously agreed-upon cleaning date, it becomes easy for the customer to cancel or meddle with the contract. And who can blame him? You are the one who opened Pandora's box!
By getting your commercial logistics in order you will develop extremely profitable regular commercial accounts that will earn big bucks for you over the years...and then make even more money when you sell your company in the future!