Ask actual rug cleaners whether their work is “easy” and you will find their answer is not as much of an enthusiastic “heck yeah!” as the rug equipment sales person’s answer is.
If the rug cleaner is honest with you, he or she will tell you it is difficult but profitable work, better at some times than others. Anyone who tells you a service is “big, easy money” undoubtedly has something to sell you.
The truth is, whether a new service will be a profitable — or unprofitable — addition to a company depends more on that particular company than it does on that particular service.
Rug cleaning is no different. For some, it is the wisest choice for diversification. For others it is the absolute wrong choice.
To determine which one it is for your company, let’s take a look at the three biggest challenges when adding a rug cleaning division to a cleaning or restoration operation: Hiring the right people, creating the right production and gaining the right positioning.
Rug cleaning is a service built on details. Though the washing process itself is fairly simple, the rugs being handled are anything but simple.
Today’s rug market has more dangers for inattentive rug cleaners than ever before.
On the technical side, the shortcuts being made in order to get rugs to market faster and cheaper mean a rug cleaner needs to be able to spot bad fibers, bad dyes and bad construction types before the rugs get wet.
On the liability side, because the rug resale market is poor right now, cleaners have become a potential target for insurance scams and set-ups. People who cannot sell their Persian silk rugs for thousands of dollars may find a cleaner on whom they can blame damage in order to collect a payout through that avenue instead.
Hiring the right people to be your front line in a rug division is a crucial piece to success. There needs to be an attention to detail and a desire to learn about rugs, allowing employees to see problems before they happen and to document everything in order to protect the company from costly mistakes and unethical customers.
The more time before the wash spent inspecting and documenting, the less time that will be needed in dealing with problems.
A common obstacle I see that prevents a rug division from being highly successful is the owner’s inability to hire the right people. Shoving the closest warm body into a rug position without training, without documentation systems and without supervision to ensure the correct methods are being used every single time, is a recipe for an expensive — and preventable — rug disaster.
If attention to details and a desire to continually learn more details about new rugs coming to the market is not in the culture of a company, then deciding to add a rug division to it is not going to be the smartest diversification move.
All across the world, rugs are being washed using low-tech, low-cost systems, as well as high-tech, high-dollar systems.
The quality of the end job depends more on the person washing the rug, and whether he or she cares about the result, than on the equipment itself. This is just another reason choosing the right people is so critical to a rug cleaning division.
That said, there are tools and equipment that can help get key parts of the washing and drying process done faster in order to boost the company’s production. Having the physical space to handle the workflow is an important part of production as well.
Generally speaking, restoration companies tend to have an easier time setting up a rug cleaning division than smaller carpet cleaning companies do. This is because more often they have the ability to dedicate space, labor and training investment to get it up and running. They also tend to have drying equipment that can be modified for rug extracting and drying use, and they understand the aspects of creating an ideal drying environment to get rugs dry faster.
Getting rugs dried quickly and up on the finished shelves is often the biggest production obstacle that new rug cleaning operations have. If you can cut the dry time, you can boost your production and profits.
So if a company is operating out of a garage, or in a small space, then there is a bigger mountain for that company to climb in order to get to higher production levels than a company that already has space and time to spare to dedicate to cleaning rugs.
If a company is considering adding a rug cleaning division there needs to be an analysis of the space, tools and equipment already owned that could be used for that service. If that list is small, then the company should research how much the outlay of capital will be to get what is needed and how long it will take to pay that off.
In some cases, it might be a more profitable decision to add other types of services that can be performed on-location rather than building up an in-plant rug cleaning division.
In other cases, especially restoration companies with larger facilities, the start up can be much quicker and less costly, making it their smartest move for diversification.
If a carpet cleaner believes that, just because he bought a new truckmount, the community is going to be ringing his phone off the hook to clean for them, then this person should not get into rug cleaning.
The most common failure I have seen in the rug business has been the belief that the equipment sells the job for you. I’ve seen companies spend hundreds of thousands in equipment and machinery and space and yet have empty shelves.
If you build it, they may or may not come.
The biggest challenge of “the three” is getting the right positioning in your market so that you can attract the best customers and do business at a profitable price.
Low price, coupon-culture carpet cleaning companies have an extraordinarily hard time convincing customers that they are now “rug cleaning experts” who charge top dollar. Usually they need to establish a separate entity/ division and a separate marketing message to begin to attract a different level of clientele.
This is where having the continuing education and being able to be the type of rug cleaner who knows more about the rugs than the owners of them do creates the marketing advantage and trust.
Success in the rug-cleaning world in the high level of the market is built on relationship- and education-based marketing, rather than transaction and discount-based marketing.
If a company has a high level of repeat and referral customers and is at the higher end of its market in the cleaning field, focusing on the quality of the work more than the quickness, then this will be a more fruitful operation to add rug cleaning services to than a company who is attracting their one-time customers through Groupon-type services.
Marketing to create the right positioning for your rug operation takes time and money to get the right message to the right group of prospects. If you don’t have the patience — or the staff — to do it the right way, then another add-on service may be the more profitable choice for your company.
There is no magic bullet
If you have been in business for years, then you know that there is no magic-bullet service that has no learning curve but still piles money into your bank account.
“Easy money” is a sales tactic to take away business owners’ hard-earned money.
However, some services are easier to get up and running in some companies than others. And with the right people and tools, some companies can in fact create a much higher level of profitability and success than others.
The ones who do the best in the rug-washing field are the ones who genuinely enjoy rugs and enjoy building relationships with the people who own them.
It’s hard work, just like everything else is, but when you are enjoying what you do, it can be fun work, too. And that is as close to “easy” money as you are going to get in the cleaning industry.
Lisa Wagner is a second-generation rug care expert, NIRC Certified Rug Specialist and an owner of K. Blatchford's San Diego Rug Cleaning Company. Her blog at www.RugChick.com is the most visited and referenced website on rug education in the cleaning industry. If you would like more information about her online and hands-on rug courses, please visit www.RugClass.com.