By Jeff Cross
The 2018 Carpet Cleaning Industry Leaders Review is about success. Lessons learned. Obstacles overcome. Challenges tackled. Take a few minutes and read on and learn what you can do to make your own company a success story.
Marleen Geyen knows challenges and how to overcome them. She has faced them in the past and squares off against them every day as she builds her commercial carpet cleaning company.
Marleen is the owner of Geyen Group South Inc. based in Tampa, FL. She has owned the company for nearly 14 years and serves the entire west coast of Florida from Tampa to Naples. With 14 employees, seven trucks, and commercial carpet cleaning, furniture cleaning, and fabric panel cleaning offerings, there’s plenty to do to keep her busy… especially since she resides in both Minneapolis and Tampa, commuting several times each month.
The company, purchased by Marleen in 2004 from Dupont, specializes in government buildings, corporate headquarters, event centers, professional offices, and condominiums. “I have always had a desire to own a company and be responsible for its growth and challenges,” she says.
“I had dreams of owning a company that was south of Minneapolis and near the beach, but I never see the beach,” she adds, laughing.
While Marleen faces the same challenges virtually all business owners tackle daily, she has an additional one… language. “I do not speak Spanish, and I have Spanish-speaking technicians,” she explains. “However, my operations manager is bilingual and translates when necessary. I also use an app that translates. The technicians are willing to work with me to understand the conversation. We use a large white communication board in the office as well, and it keeps us on track.”
To ensure her staff is the best in the industry, Marleen is a firm believer in formal training. She contracts with educational professionals and consultants to present training sessions in customer service, human resource issues, security guard interaction, and cleaning methods and techniques, such as IICRC workshops, just to name a few. Not many in the industry have the need to train their staff on how to deal with security guards, but with the clientele Marleen enjoys, it’s a must.
“We work with government accounts, and these require strict insurance, bidding, and employee requirements,” she explains. “This added another level of business that I hadn’t experienced in the past, or understood. Our salesperson is very good at government RFPs (requests for proposals) and has led the company in winning these accounts.”
Yes, business is good for Geyen Group South.
Growth: It’s happening
After Marleen purchased the company, the market experienced a downturn, and profit margins began to shrink. It hurt, she admits, and the company has worked hard to increase profitability since those lean times. “I work at sustaining 10 percent annual profit growth every year,” she says. “We have hit it regularly.”
Part of the equation to profitability is in the Geyen Group’s employees.
“The industry has been a vehicle to hire people who are recent United States residents,” she points out. “I require everyone to attend our training so they can be the best and most informed commercial carpet cleaners in our area. They have pride in what they do.”
Because of this pride, and how she treats her employees, Marleen is proud of the fact that “I do not have employee turnover. I have a staff of dedicated people.” As she explains, her workers are proud of what they do and enjoy the benefits her company provides regarding supporting their families and giving them the freedom to live as they please.
Marketing that works
Her salesperson, mentioned previously, is on the board of IFMA, the International Facility Management Association. This has paid huge dividends over the years for Geyen Group South. “We get most of our referrals from her interaction with the organization’s members,” Marleen explained.
The company is also a member of the Chamber of Commerce, the American Hotel and Lodging Association, and the North Hyde Park Association and serves on the advisory board for South University and the Hillsborough County Small Business Committee.
Besides networking with these influential groups, Marleen notes that the company website is a strong marketing tool. “It draws people and gives us a serious presence with information that can be used to understand our industry,” she says. “We created the site to show who we are, not a cookie-cutter design, but personal to Geyen Group South.” She also created what she calls a website “knowledge tab” where she blogs information and has informational articles posted to it regularly.
She adds, “I am active on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter. I work at keeping on top of the Google search words.”
Although the company is already enjoying a 10 percent growth in profit each year, Marleen plans to keep working to grow those numbers.
“I plan to increase sales in a few of the communities we currently have a small number of accounts in,” she says. “Right now, almost all our business is in the Tampa and St. Petersburg areas, and we can grow by expanding our services in smaller communities around the area. We have the staff, equipment, and trucks.”
Her plan is to create a strong campaign using digital communications and, most importantly, personal visits. Marleen is going to be spending some time out of the office soon.
If you need a good example on how a commercial carpet cleaning company can become successful, keep a close eye on Geyen Group South.
Mark Saiger likes to clean. But he didn’t plan on it being his career choice.
The Saiger family is rich with a history in the cleaning industry. It all started with Mark’s father, Don Saiger, now “80-years-young.” Don was a school band director and carpet cleaner in his younger years and was responsible for starting the Saiger legacy in the cleaning industry.
“I said I would never be like my Dad,” Mark says. “I was also a very active musician and music educator. Dad won! With a family in the cleaning industry for 50 years, it was hard to escape.”
While the family has been in the cleaning industry for more than half a century, Mark Saiger started Saiger’s Steam Clean in Grand Rapids, MN in 2001.
Mark’s brother Kirk operates the original company in Bemidji, MN, that Mark originally started in 1981 with his father’s encouragement. That included a carpet cleaning machine, a stockpile of chemicals, and a “go forth, young man” attitude. And another brother, Dave, runs a cleaning company, also in Bemidji.
You wouldn’t be far off the mark if you said the Saiger family is somewhat known in their respective towns as the go-to company for cleaning services.
Saiger’s Steam Clean is a family owned and operated company in a rural northern Minnesota community. “We are among beautiful forests, lakes, and some of the most awesome scenery,” Mark says, “but also some of the coldest extremes in the month of January.
“I cleaned the coldest day on Minnesota record,” Mark remembers. “The actual temperature was minus 60 degrees Fahrenheit, and I did it with a truckmount. We are known to be cold weather cleaning experts. We had to learn it. We like to eat.”
That day sticks in his memory not only as having cleaned on such a cold day, but also that his truckmount, hoses, and tools didn’t freeze up. He had to hustle to keep things moving.
His company operates two truckmounts in a community with a population of 11,000, with another 8,000 peppered around on local lakes. His wife, Shari, runs the office, “trying to keep money hidden so I don’t spend it,” Mark says. He employs Aron Jewett, his son-in-law, and one additional technician to do the work, although Mark frequently finds himself on the truck. He can’t help it. He likes to clean.
Saiger’s Steam Clean once offered restoration services. In fact, the company thrived doing the work. But Mark decided, for various, reasons to shut down that division in 2012 to concentrate on cleaning. The services they offer include carpet cleaning, furniture cleaning, and tile and grout cleaning.
Musician, carpet cleaner… chemist?
In the early days, the Saiger clan would buy large stainless-steel portables to clean carpet. Then they bought the manufacturing company and made their own machines. Mark said he was too young to remember how many they made and sold, and used themselves, but they worked fine.
“The chemistry side was a must, as we had the machines,” Mark recalls. “We had to seek out chemistry to clean with.” Over the decades, the company found many products that worked well even in cold weather.
Fast-forward a few years, and Saiger’s Steam Clean decided it needed to make some improvements in the chemistry it was using to clean with… so the family worked closely with Harvard Chemical, specifically one of the company chemists. “I approached them with an idea about something totally different and unique for cleaning agents,” Mark remembers. “We went through lots of testing, frustration, and we almost gave up. But then we hit a point in the recipe that just started to work.”
Saiger’s Sauce 1 was created.
“Similar to making a new chocolate chip cookie,” Mark says, “with time, testing and feedback, we finally found something that really worked great.”
But it’s not just about one cleaning product any longer. “We have expanded from the original Saiger’s Sauce 1 even to include an odorless version.” Now his start-up chemical supply company has several products that encompass not only cleaning, but also deodorizing, oxidizing, and enzyme action. The products are used by companies across the country and even overseas.
Saiger’s Sauce, born from a previous musician-turned-carpet-cleaner, is getting the attention of the industry.
Building a business takes time, as Mark will attest: “I built my business working another job, sometimes cleaning three houses in the afternoon after teaching music at school. I was determined! Every time I had extra money I would reinvest it in new equipment.”
Besides hard work and determination, Mark makes sure he keeps up with what’s current regarding marketing methods. “There have been so many fast changes in marketing,” he observes. “What we did in the past might not be applicable now.”
Besides word-of-mouth and hard work, Mark puts much effort into online marketing. He is very active with social media. Yet, hard to believe, “the local phone book still gets some looks around here,” he says. “Our area is slow to being like the big cities.”
The largest impact in his area was deciding to feature the company color “blue” and having the vans professionally designed and wrapped.
“We learned from our design mistakes early on, but my marching band background helped me recognize what needed to be done to make our vans readable,” Mark says. They came up with the tag line “Bring on the Blue!” to separate themselves from nationally-branded companies. “Just about everything we own is blue. I’m not sure if I even own a shirt these days that doesn’t have a company logo on it.”
Saiger’s Steam Clean, and its chemical division Saiger’s Sauce, are success stories worth watching and imitating. Keep them both on your radar.
Sometimes, a bad experience can turn out just fine. That’s what happened with Jack Solloway.
Jack launched Soil-Away Cleaning & Restoration Services in Hooksett, NH, nearly 30 years ago. His early career was spent in the corporate world, but he knew that wasn’t his ultimate vision of a satisfying, long-term career.
“I knew I wanted to start my own business. During my search to get out of the grind of corporate, I had a terrible experience with a cleaning and restoration company in my own house,” he recalls. “I said to myself, ‘I can do this better.’”
So, he did, and Soil-Away was born. Somewhere out there, if they are still in business, one of his competitors is somewhat responsible for where Jack and his company are today.
Soil-Away is a family business — now two generations strong, as Jack’s son, Joshua, helps run the company — and has 26 full-time employees, 15 work vehicles, four trailers, and offers carpet cleaning, furniture cleaning, air duct cleaning, and water, fire, mold, and biohazard restoration services. They service much of New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Maine. Although the company offers virtually all cleaning and restoration services, it got its start solidly in cleaning.
“Over the years, we have evolved steadily, adding and subtracting several related services along the way,” Jack says of the company’s transition.
After his negative experience with a cleaning and restoration company and the subsequent decision to jump into the cleaning arena, Jack steadily grew his company. After approximately 20 years, he decided to take on a business partner.
“I was a sole proprietor for a long time and then decided to partner up to help grow the business,” he says. “There was some upside, but overall it did not go as planned.” The partnership severed, resulting in Jack once again in sole-owner status. “Everything happens for a reason, but there were some hard lessons learned during that period.”
Jack’s vision of owning his own company has deep roots. “I would say the entrepreneurial spirit and work ethic that I developed as a youth was an indicator that one day I’d start my own business,” he recalls. He was always one to focus more on working, side projects, and networking, even in his younger years. “This was prioritized over schoolwork and following the traditional educational path of my peers.”
Making it work
Coming from the grind of corporate America, Jack knew owning his own company would be fulfilling but also a challenge at times. His plan was to build a business and grow it steadily.
“We are a ‘slow and steady wins the race’ type of company,” he says. From the first day in business, he has concentrated on quality work and ensuring his customers didn’t have the same type of negative experience he had in his own home.
Like most companies, Soil-Away values the impact that referrals have on company growth. “We rely heavily on referrals,” Jack explains. “There is no magic bullet for marketing. We make sure our customer experience and workmanship are top notch. You cannot cut corners when it comes to serving your clients.”
In addition, Soil-Away employs full-time business development representatives to build and retain business relationships in the communities it serves. Having qualified staff to ensure there are only positive experiences with Soil-Away’s clientele has resulted in continued growth and profitability.
On top of that, Soil-Away invests heavily in online marketing, as Jack knows growth can’t be limited to relying on existing customers. Client attrition happens, and the company regularly enjoys a steady flow of new customers.
“I am very proud of where we are,” Jack says, “but there are always ways we could have done it smarter and faster. It is too easy to get sucked into the day-to-day business operations.” Yet he has found balance, and it’s working.
Advice and admonition
While every company needs revenue and profitability to exist, Jack’s philosophy goes beyond the dollar. He says, “Our work is engaging and impactful. No two days are the same. You can always be learning and improving. Most importantly is the opportunity to help people.”
For anyone getting started in the industry, he encourages them to reflect on their motivations. “This is a mature industry now,” he explains. “Ten to 20 years ago, it was still in the growth phase, and most people jumping in were passionate about the work. Today, I see a lot of people entering this field for the money.”
As he said, money is a great motivation factor and important to any company, but “it won’t provide you with true satisfaction. You want to make sure you are motivated by serving others, or else you’ll get burned out.”
Getting burned out can be a problem in the industry. But Jack’s advice is to be a student and never stop learning. “Read business books, attend conferences, and network with other business owners,” he suggests. “Don’t go a day without learning something new. Make sure to share what you learn with others.”
While Soil-Away is a successful, growing company, Jack isn’t done quite yet. There’s more to do.
Jeff Cross is the executive editor of Cleanfax and is an industry trainer and consultant. He can be reached at [email protected] or 740-973-4236.