2022 Carpet Cleaning Industry Leaders Review: Phoenix Carpet Repair and Cleaning
By Amanda Hosey
Robert Atlas’ Phoenix Carpet Repair and Cleaning was born from a series of personal challenges that forced him to restart his life at 43. Atlas’ road to success is a highly unique one, guided by a male stripper, evangelism, a Craig’s List ad, and an unrelenting entrepreneurial drive.
A winding journey
Atlas was 19, living in Las Vegas, and looking to start a business and make a name for himself when he befriended the “male stripper by night and carpet installer by day” who started him on his carpet care journey. “He wanted to get me involved in stripping, and I said, ‘Thanks, but no thanks. I’m trying to start a business.’”
Instead, his new friend taught him carpet repair in vacant apartments, and Atlas used the knowledge to start Atlas Brothers Carpet Care. Though his brothers soon left the business, he continued to run it for twelve years, making “a lot of money, but also a lot of mistakes.”
During that time, Atlas became deeply involved in his church and eventually decided to devote himself completely to it. He sold his business and went to seminary school. He and his wife both worked for the church, traveling the world planting churches and loving doing it.
But then financial tragedy struck. Atlas, who had set himself a goal of owning 40 rental houses by retirement, felt the full effect of the retail bubble burst and resulting Great Recession as he faced foreclosure on his 13 rental homes as well as his personal home. As much as he loved his work, he knew he had to change careers to something with a larger paycheck to support his family and save himself from financial devastation.
Atlas found himself in “corporate America” and realized quickly it wasn’t for him. “The company I was working for wanted me to do things that weren’t moral and lie and cheat,” Atlas explains. “I told them I wouldn’t do it.” Atlas was only seven months into a year-long contract with the company. Already fed up with the unscrupulous conduct, he reached the last straw when the company began forcing him to work Sundays against his beliefs. After turning to a lawyer, he was released early from his contract.
Atlas still faced looming debt, and at the same time, medication prices for his wife’s very rare bone disease became astronomical due to a manufacturing problem. He needed money coming in fast.
After recalling the set of tools from his old business stored in the garage, Atlas had an idea that changed the course of his life and career. “I put an ad on Craigslist just saying, ‘Carpet repair man: I can repair your carpet for a fraction of the cost of replacement,’ and my phone started ringing off the hook,” he says of his company’s humble beginnings. He soon started doing carpet repair out of the back of his Jeep before changing into a suit to look for a “real job,” but he found no one was really hiring because of the economy.
Meanwhile, the money was rolling in from carpet repair. Atlas says, “I just realized there was something there.” His brother-in-law built him a website, and things took off. His first month brought in $2,500, the next month $4,500. “Within four months, I was at 16 grand a month gluing together and stretching carpet with no cleaning involved. It just grew from there.”
An impressive destination
Phoenix Carpet Repair and Cleaning has grown, changed, and spun off over the last 12 years, firstly with the addition of “and cleaning” to the name. Atlas focused the business on repair only for the first six months. Knowing well of the high start-up costs for a quality truckmount and other needed supplies, he purposely chose not to offer carpet cleaning at first.
“There’s a lot of moving parts on the cleaning portion of the business. I really struggled with the thought,” Atlas reports. He subcontracted carpet cleaning but quickly found himself dealing with too many mistakes from the contractor. Finally, he realized the best course of action was to take the service in house.
For more than 11 years, the company has performed carpet repair and cleaning, while also adding upholstery cleaning, tile and grout cleaning, and rug cleaning and repair, with four trucks servicing the Phoenix metro area. “Primarily the thing that makes our business different is we position ourselves as a carpet repair specialist, and our add on is carpet cleaning. It’s pretty much the opposite of most other companies,” Atlas explains. “Our slogan is ‘Repair it; don’t replace it.’”
Phoenix Carpet Repair and Cleaning also has produced two other companies with Atlas at the helm. Two years ago, he expanded into restoration with Phoenix Water Damage Services, which specializes in water mitigation. Before that, Atlas created his new retirement plan—what he refers to as “area-exclusive locations” through which he mentors new carpet repair company owners and sets them up in their own location, using his system for success.
“When I began my business, I realized I could duplicate this,” Atlas recalls of the expansion project. “I started buying up all the carpetrepair.com sites [in areas with more than 750,000 people], like dallascarpetrepair.com, lasvegascarpetrepair.com, and so on.” Before long, Phoenix Carpet Repair and Cleaning had given birth to its first area-exclusive location in Dallas. Atlas now has created 36 of these locations, with a goal of 80-100 by the time he retires in three to five years. He says it’s the thing he’s most excited about right now, adding, “It really fires me up.”
Building a name
Before Phoenix Carpet Repair and Cleaning could give birth to 36 other locations and a water damage company, Atlas first had to create something special in the original. To do this, he began positioning it early on as a “premier company.”
Atlas feels many in the industry underprice and “cut each other’s throats” in the process, but he avoids this by never offering coupon or value pricing. “We’re a bit more expensive than most,” he reports, explaining his company earns its premier position in a few ways.
First, he loves to network, which he uses to his advantage, connecting with the people he serves, both in the field and online. Second, he aims to make his company the expert—through informative articles for and conversations with customers that educate them (like info on COVID-19 during the pandemic) and prove the company’s quality as well as through its fully trained staff. He says, “Even my office staff has gone through IICRC classes, so they aren’t just pretty voices on the phone; they also know what they’re talking about.”
Third, the company cleans only homes, no apartments. Lastly, Phoenix Carpet Repair and Cleaning puts forward a professional appearance. Atlas says, “All our trucks are wrapped professionally, uniforms, name badges, the whole nine yards, to really give that premier look and feel when we show up.”
Atlas’ marketing efforts also are key to Phoenix Carpet Repair and Cleaning’s success. He runs ads on Google; uses Yelp, Angie’s List, and Home Advisor; and utilizes third-party, paid review sites to stay in the top of searches. Atlas says he has worked hard to develop white-hat SEO strategies that keep his company ranking first on Google—strategies he now teaches his area-exclusive location owners so they can quickly become number one in their own areas. Atlas says, “It’s not like one silver bullet. It’s like a whole chamber full of bullets to get there.” Phoenix Carpet Repair and Cleaning now has more than 5,000 five-star online reviews.
“I have found a nice, sweet spot,” Atlas says of his carpet-focused company, which does $1,000 to $1,500 per truck per day. He isn’t looking to expand the company any further. Instead, he is focusing on the restoration addition, which is already poised to surpass the cleaning company in revenue, and his area-exclusive business, which he plans to keep growing to fund his retirement.
For those just beginning their journeys
As Atlas has learned, it is important to try new things and be open to and ready for change in one’s career. He recommends the same readiness for change to those just starting or looking to grow. Atlas says, “I think one of my biggest mistakes is I should have started doing water damage about eight years ago. It’s a very lucrative business.”
Atlas’ adaptability has helped him throughout his career. When the pandemic and its resulting shutdown hit, Phoenix Carpet Repair and Cleaning lost 30% of revenue, but the lessons he learned during the Great Recession had prepared him in many ways for that unexpected change. “You always have nest eggs saved. You have to plan for stuff like that,” he explains. “I guess when I lost the houses during the Recession, I learned I needed even bigger buckets for resources. Now I’m positioned better than ever.”
Perhaps most important to finding success in the industry is consistency, according to Atlas. “Nowadays people seem to be really inconsistent. Your employees need to see you be consistent,” he says.
Creating strong systems is key to consistency, Atlas explains. He reminds those new to the industry, “You are not always going to be a one-man show,” and stresses the importance of preparing early. “I travel a lot, and my business runs the same whether I’m here or not because of the team and systems we have in place.”
Atlas’ own systems enter every aspect of his business, from his marketing efforts to his hiring process. Hiring, he acknowledges, has always been a tough spot, but especially so during and emerging from the pandemic. It’s his biggest challenge. Atlas says he would normally run an ad and have multiple applicants, but right now, he’s been looking for help for six months.
When he does get promising applicants, he has a system in place for hiring and keeping the right people. Quality candidates do a traditional phone interview followed by an in-person one for the right people. Then successful candidates are taken on a day-long ride along to gauge whether the interview matches up with the real world.
Finally, new hires are given special motivation. New employees are told upfront if they stay with the company for a year and do a great job, Atlas will cut in half the $15,000 start-up cost for an area-exclusive location. “So, if they want to make $55,000-$60,000 a year and stay here with me, great. I’d love to keep them long term. But if they want to make more money and have their own location with coaching by me, that’s great, too,” he says. “That’s inspiring for people who want to be their own boss someday.
“A lot of people are insecure. They don’t want to see anyone do better than them. I’m the kind of guy who loves to see people do well.”
Atlas loves connecting with people—employees, customers, and industry peers. In fact, after years working off the truck, he went back out in the field because he was bored sitting in his office and missed meeting “interesting people.” He strongly recommends others in the industry see the huge benefits of networking.
“When you’re a one-truck operator (or even a three- or four-truck operator), it can be Groundhog’s Day. Every day it’s different challenges, but the same things,” he says and suggests getting away from work a few times a year for industry events. “Going out of town and rebooting helps me stay focused,” Atlas says. “Go out of town for a few days, learn some stuff, get a certification, and come back and apply and implement that.”
Amanda Hosey is the managing editor of Cleanfax. She has worked as an editor and writer for more than six years, including four years with Cleanfax. Reach her at [email protected].