Breaking Into Commercial Carpet Maintenance
By Dane Gregory
Everybody who works in our industry believes they clean commercial carpet. Empty apartments, the local hamburger joint, or an occasional office clean do not put you in the commercial space. Not by a long shot. True commercial property maintenance requires contracts between both parties that spell out the scope of work, the professional responsibilities of each party, and payment details.
When I started my “janitorial service, floor cleaning, window cleaning, carpet cleaning, building service, floor stripping, pressure washing, anything-for-a-buck” business way back in 1984, I specialized in calling on commercial properties. I learned very quickly about specialization and how it affected customer views and opinions about my company. Offering too many service options caused some would-be clients to look elsewhere for a carpet specialist.
My business had to get serious about learning customer focus. I know that some of you reading this article can actually be a specialist in several things at the exact same time, but our customers do not believe we are capable of such diverse brain power.
However, our industry has a low angle of entry; it does not require any additional education like completion of high school or a college degree. In other words, we do not look like a highly educated industry. Now before some of you fire off blistering emails to me, I don’t agree with most customers. I believe we are a highly educated industry in specialty services. Our knowledge base may not be extremely wide, but it sure is deep.
Our challenge is to create a first impression for potential clients that demonstrates the depth of our expertise. Moving yourself into the uber-competitive commercial maintenance marketplace is not for those who are uneducated, unprepared, or unwilling to listen to different ideas. The commercial maintenance market demands business management skills that are very different from how we manage in the residential market.
Develop a commercial business plan
Every move in your commercial carpet program must start with a plan. You have to plan your market to your strengths and decide who to approach and how. You will need a marketing plan that addresses your current level of customer service and grows all aspects of the business as your client volume increases. In some cases, this may require sitting down with a fiscal year calendar spreadsheet and arranging your forecasted monthly revenue into action steps as revenue climbs.
Many of the students with whom I work lament the fact that they are unprepared for additional customers because they do not have the proper staff ready, trained, and able to take on the influx of new clients they have been sending sales staff to lock down. You need to have the plan laid out with the help of senior management staff to address the overall systems, marketing, administration, and production to be ready for new business. All departments of the company have to grow simultaneously, which means you must trust your department heads to help you all arrive at the same place at the same time. This is perhaps the hardest part of company management.
For example, it could happen like this: You or someone from your sales team is sent out to recruit new business. They work hard and land a whale of an account, which will take several production staff members 40 to 50 hours a month to complete. If your management systems are not prepared for this new account, it could set off a chain of aggravating and damaging events in your company.
Perhaps your administration staff has not had enough time to fully vet and train new hires to take on the additional hours. You ask your residential production staff to handle the overflow hours, resulting in overworked staff, overtime hours, and less profit. Depending on how long your management systems are out of sync, your 55-60 hour per week production staff may begin to get frustrated and cut corners, and you may end up losing not only the new account, but also your great reputation and possibly several trained production staffers due to unhappiness.
On the other hand, if you plan your move into the commercial carpet cleaning marketplace with scheduled intervals to recruit, interview, hire, train, and develop new staff, you will be better able to match your sales increases at parallel time frames. Your administrative staff can also develop internal documentation, employee information, and billing systems at the same time for the whole company to arrive at the destination: more business and higher profits.
Commercial carpet cleaning versus maintenance
Once you have a business management strategy in place for the commercial market, you need to develop a strategy for your cleaning services. When it comes to commercial accounts, the money is in the maintenance program, not the cleaning operation.
Work to develop commercial carpet maintenance methods where labor can be minimized. For example, search for clients that do not heavily soil their carpets to make your processes easier and faster to complete.
You may be wondering, “Who the heck is going to hire me to clean clean carpet?” Companies that want or need to project a higher standard of clean to their clients, that’s who. Think medical, dental, chiropractic, high-end office, high-end retail, fine dining restaurant, health club, boutique hotel, luxury spa, or any other type of business that a client would expect to find very clean.
A process using low moisture techniques may be necessary to produce large volumes of clean carpet in a short amount of time; therefore, your maintenance program must be dialed in perfectly to ensure you do not allow too much soil to build up in your clients’ buildings or campuses. Using low moisture techniques on carpet that is heavily soiled will be very frustrating for you, your staff, and your clients, so regularly scheduled maintenance cleanings will be necessary.
Tips for efficiency and sales
Using digital measuring programs and spreadsheet tools can help to efficiently develop the building plan for commercial accounts, making administrative aspects of the job easier. Laser measuring tools that interact directly with company tablets or computers will give you a leg up on your competitors while also creating a tech-savvy first impression for your customers. Using technology to get information to the client more quickly will add to your professional credentials.
Develop a marketing and sales plan to find those types of commercial clients that fit well with your company and staffing. Train the sales staff on how to maximize your brand value to the target clients that fit the profile of where you want to do business. Once you have found your “lane,” stay in that lane until you have implemented another action, sales, admin, and production plan to grow and diversify further.
This is where organizational discipline is paramount. Very few companies can be all things to all people. Basically, this is about finding a niche for your business and exploiting that niche for all the revenue you can produce.
To sum up, to grow your business into the commercial carpet maintenance arena you need a complete management system approach to your company. Administration, sales and marketing, and production are the systems to grow strategically and concurrently. Everything starts with a plan!
Dane Gregory is the sales manager for Carpet Cleaner America. He works with commercial cleaners to help them build their businesses by adding services without a lot of additional cost. He also helps them with technical aspects of cleaning carpet, tile and grout, and stone surfaces. He instructs classes for each floor surface as well as the Commercial Cleaning Initiative, which covers all these floor surfaces.