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When to Say "No Thank You"

September 8, 2005
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While good, competent cleaners never want to turn away or decline a job, there comes a time in every business when it makes good sense to do just that.

A professional never wants to admit he or she may be 'out of their league' but even the most experienced vet can find themselves in that situation. Many years ago while I finishing up a large carpet-cleaning job, the homeowner asked me if I had time to clean her sectional. I actually had plenty, as this was my only job on that particular day. It was also winter, and so the more work, the better!

The sectional was black cotton with a satin finish, sitting in a formal area and looking seldom used. In fact, I figured a light shampoo and extraction would do it. Translation: a piece of cake and an additional fee on an already large ticket.

After applying a fast-drying shampoo with a soft horsehair brush, I extracted with my upholstery tool. As I moved on to the next cushion, I noticed very faint, but obvious, vertical lines on the freshly cleaned cushion. I towel-dried with a soft chamois and they actually became more apparent. It turns out my upholstery tool was actually scratching the material!

This piece required a solvent cleaning, which at the time I wasn't prepared or trained to do. I reluctantly made the call to walk away rather than risk any additional damage. I could have exerted less pressure on the tool but realized it wasn't worth the risk. I was, in fact, out of my league with this delicate fabric. The homeowner appreciated my honesty - I did retain her as a client - and, though I hated to lose the extra income, I referred her to another cleaner who had been dry cleaning furniture for years. Immediate frustration aside, I knew this was a much better move than having to have purchased the piece when all was said and done.

The same thing can, and does, happen when cleaning carpets. We were called to a doctor's home a few years back to clean his off white, plush, nylon carpeting in a large hallway and stairwell. While pre-inspecting, I noticed very small, yellowish, pea-sized spots leading from the bathroom through the hall towards the stairwell. I pointed this out to the homeowner, who informed me that her housekeeper had spilled "cleaning detergent" in these areas. At least, this is what she suspected.

As I started to clean, several others immediately popped up. I stopped and declined to go further. The "cleaning detergent" was in fact a bleach-containing agent. This carpet was a cleaning mine field, hidden horrors laying in wait for an unsuspecting carpet cleaner! The seven or eight spots already revealed by me would have surely doubled or tripled in number as water hit more and more of the carpet. My water, and guess who's getting set up for the fall? If you said the housekeeper, I say to you WRONG! While I hated the idea of losing an appointment, as well as the time already spent, it was worth the piece of mind. The customer wanted assurances I couldn't give. My options were limited. Even a quick dry method would require some moisture, though the risk would be less. The customer wasn't prepared to accept more spots. In fact, she initially though I could remove the existing "damage." If I took my best shot, it would just end up badly for everyone. Ah, well, another job best lost.

Experience and education are keys to success in any trade, as is having the maturity to know when it will just be better to walk away.

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