After more than two decades serving our country, James B. Bonner III turned to the carpet cleaning industry to find a reprieve from gunfights and a way to help his fellow veterans launch fulfilling careers after their service. Heaven’s Best Carpet Cleaning Northern Virginia, owned by James and his wife Kelly, is a USMC wounded warrior-owned-and-operated company with a goal of hiring as many veterans as possible. But James doesn’t stop there. In addition to hiring veterans, he puts a high priority on taking care of all his employees, providing perks like a company bar and an employee boxing and mixed martial arts gym, modern employee benefits that make employees stick around.
James and Kelly have operated the company for the past nine years. With 36 employees, a 25,000-square foot facility, an in-plant rug washing operation, six truckmount systems, and multiple other vehicles, Heaven’s Best offers a multitude of services including carpet, upholstery, tile, and hardwood floor cleaning; stain and odor removal; air duct cleaning; and oriental and area rug washing and repair. Four years ago, James and Kelly also added a restoration division to the business, operating as Spartan Emergency Water Removal. Next month, the company will close on a second 30,000 sq. ft. building next door that will provide the space needed for Spartan’s new packout and storage services.
From years of service to the service industry
James is a U.S. Marine Corps veteran and wounded warrior. Following his military service, he continued to serve as an FBI agent, SWAT operator, Miami Division SWAT commander, FBI supervisory special agent, and a private military contractor.
“After 20 plus years as a professional gunfighter, suffering with PTSD, burned out from too many deployments, operations, and a very busy training schedule—and trying to maintain some semblance of family life and marriage—I decided to make a radical career change to save myself,” James says. “I knew that I wanted to open up my own veteran business, and I also want to use it as a venue to hire and help vets.”
James didn’t have any business experience, so he started looking into different franchise options, thinking a proven business model would increase his chance of success. During his search, a sales rep from Heaven’s Best Carpet Cleaning called James out of the blue. “I laughed at first and said, ‘I don’t clean carpets;’ however, after speaking to the sales rep, I began to like the idea of the service industry,” James explains.
For one thing, James’ entire career had been about service, and the business he envisioned starting had service to fellow veterans at its heart. The low start-up costs for Heaven’s Best also appealed to James, as well as the fact that he could start slowly, working from his own garage until the business grew.
Challenges met, lessons learned
As much as James looked forward to this new chapter in his career, it comes with its own set of challenges familiar to all entrepreneurs: finding customers, hiring good employees, and knowing how and when to grow and diversify.
“I sometimes say it was easier kicking in doors and arresting armed bad guys than owning and building a business,” James says. “In my old career, I was able to step away from it and be off duty. You’re never off duty when you own a business, especially in the beginning.”
After five years working out of the garage, James and Kelly moved into their present commercial location in 2015. Although Heaven’s Best has maintained 30-35% yearly growth from the start, in hindsight, James feels he slowed the growth of the business by operating out of the garage for so long. In the beginning, James and Kelly found themselves holding back the growth of the company until they built the infrastructure to handle more volume and new services.
James reflects, “Once I finally moved into a commercial location, that’s when the company really started to explode because I was able to start doing in-plant rug washing, packouts, and contents cleaning…It’s also important to move your business out of your home to get some type of separation between work and family life.”
To market the carpet division, James and Kelly focus heavily on SEO strategies to ensure Heaven’s Best is potential customers’ first pick. They have had success with email marketing, holiday specials, and yearly cleaning reminders for repeat customers. They also offer referral payments and prize giveaways for flood job leads. This year, for example, the company gave away a motorcycle and several cash prizes.
Growth plans and advice
After nine years running a business he didn’t expect to be in, James has found great satisfaction in the industry as it gives him the opportunity to help people in times of need. Additionally, he and Kelly feel that it’s a stable industry with growth potential as people are more willing to have carpet and upholstery cleaned before spending the money to replace it. One reason they branched out into restoration work is that it is insulated from economic downturns because, unlike carpet cleaning, it’s not an elective service.
Since the carpet cleaning division is part of a franchise, James can’t really expand beyond his assigned territory, but he still has plans to grow and improve the business through updating SEO techniques, increasing marketing and social media presence, and developing more commercial work. And James and Kelly have big plans to grow the restoration division of their business, with 2020 goals to hire more marketing and sales reps to increase commercial accounts and contents work, and they even have plans for a second location.
For those new to the carpet cleaning industry, James advises owners never compromise their integrity. He also recommends placing high priority on finding and keeping the right staff.
James says, “Hire slowly and fire quickly; the wrong employee can be very detrimental to your business. Hire good employees, take care of them, and compensate them well; a company will never be great until the employees love the company.”
See how three industry companies found success, learn from their journeys, and decide what your own path to success will look like. Check out the other companies featured in our 2020 Carpet Cleaning Industry Leaders Review: