The 2023 Cleaning Industry Leaders Review
The cleaning industry is a highly saturated and competitive market. This means traditional marketing might not be enough. It’s often the “small things” that help set companies apart and ensure their long-term success.
Add to that the fact that out of necessity the traditional “carpet cleaning” company has evolved to offer many diversified services, including trauma cleanup and biohazard work, and you have a reason to be strategic in how you go to market and run your company.
However, as a business owner or leader in cleaning, finding that differentiator and developing business structures for success isn’t always easy. Looking at other companies can give you ideas. To help you with this, Cleanfax interviewed three successful entrepreneurs and discovered that what works for them can work for you as well.
Begin with a personal touch
When it comes to driving professional success as a business leader in the cleaning industry, compassion and personal drive go a long way. Matt Lovasz, a former police officer and founder of T.A.C.T., a Missouri-based specialized cleaning and emergency biohazard decontamination service company, knows all too well the impact that compassion and personal drive can have on the success and growth of a business. “We keep in mind that we are not merely providing a service that is needed. We are who our clients go to on the worst days of their lives. So, we work on understanding trauma and loss and making sure that we are the best company to call, not just because of our technology and training, but because we are the most knowledgeable, caring, and empathetic.”
Lovasz also emphasized the value of a healthy work/life balance even though many in this industry opt to overwork in hopes of bigger returns, “Taking time to work on the important things in life — family, friends, personal growth — is necessary to be the person you need to be to grow in an industry such as this.”
This same level of care and consideration was explained by Stephanie Henderson, the general manager of Carpet Tech, a family-owned floorcare, air duct cleaning, and restoration company started and headquartered in Lubbock, Texas. Owners Chet and Melinda Pharies have grown Carpet Tech exponentially since its humble beginning in 1994, with the core mission to serve people with honesty and integrity — and Henderson plays a major role in the continual growth and compassion of this brand likewise.
“I started at Carpet Tech after I graduated from college, expecting a job, not a career, but over the last 15 years, we’ve grown the business, and I’ve become part of the family,” Henderson related. “Today, Carpet Tech is my passion. When I started, we had a couple of desks in a small building with six or seven trucks. Chet, our owner, was a crew chief still running a rig and cleaning for customers daily. I started as the receptionist, and as the company grew, my roles evolved.
I have literally done every job at Carpet Tech except run a rig.”
In the same sense, John Clendenning, CEO at Carpet Cleaner Marketing Masters, was asked to share some of his key insights as not just a leader in the industry but a marketing expert with the results to back it up. Clendenning has years of experience running successful cleaning companies before he jumped into business coaching.
As he explained, professional success is all about continual learning and growth from a personal perspective, “I believe you always must be a student. Constantly studying and constantly curious to find more information and new ways to do things. Part of that is also being willing to teach others the knowledge you have acquired and be able to pass on that information.”
He also shared his thoughts on work/life balances and how this balance should shift with the growth of a business. “In the long run, a good work-life balance is very important in maintaining your physical and mental health and allowing you to recharge your batteries.” In the beginning when a business is just starting up, a disproportionate amount of time and effort needs to be invested in gaining strategic momentum if you want to be successful, he added.
“Strategically,” Clendenning continued, “a portion of that time should be invested in creating the documented systems and procedures you are building within your company. So you can start to hand things off to others as you grow — freeing up more of your time to work on your business and less time working in the business — which goes a long way in developing an ideal work/life balance.”
With these key insights, it is clear to see that a healthy work/life balance proportionate to the size of your company is crucial as is continuous self-improvement, empathy, and humbleness to drive professional success and retain clients for years to come.
Employee retention and satisfaction
Employee retention and satisfaction plays a major role in the success and expansion of companies worldwide. According to Gateway CFS, “Employee satisfaction translates into tangible effects that inevitably lead to a company’s increased profitability and success. For example, employee turnover is drastically lower for companies with employees who report a high level of job satisfaction.”
As such, the ability to find and retain the right team is crucial to a successful business plan for a cleaning operation. When asked about how they found the very best employees, Lovasz shared, “They have found us. People who are passionate about helping people in the type of situations we handle usually contact us and tell us why they want to work with our company.”
Henderson also explained the power of empathy for success: “I love our ability to serve people — both customers and employees. It’s important to me that Carpet Tech and our employees show genuine care and concern for others. Being in homes, we see their joys and milestones. We give them what we call the CT Experience — listening well, going above and beyond on the job, and even sending sympathy flowers or a note of congratulations” depending on the circumstance.
“So many of our team are young,” Henderson added. “Carpet Tech is often their first job out of school. We have an incredible opportunity to grow them financially, emotionally, and professionally. Some of our employees who started at 18 and 19 years old have been with the company for 10, 15, or even 20 years.”
This showcases the power of working on projects and sharing them openly with the community while also building up and believing in your team. When your work is compassionate and it shows, the right people will gravitate towards your brand.
Similarly, Clendenning added, “Finding employees in today’s day and age does seem to be a lot more challenging than five or 10 plus years ago. With the low unemployment rate and the need for staff with great people skills, it has come down to keeping an eye out for great employees who have provided you with exceptional service on multiple occasions and approaching them to discuss your job opportunity.”
Always be hiring is another mindset that can help. Advertising openings, letting staff and customers know that you’re looking for good people to interview, reaching out regularly to your church, recreation sports leagues, and other community organizations can help generate some awareness, Clendenning believes.
“Obviously offering a competitive wage, job perks, and benefits package will help attract quality people,” Clendenning said. “And having a dedicated hiring website, with job information and an application funnel can help build a list of interested candidates that you can reach back out to in the future as you grow and need more staff.”
Besides this, having a process where employees can bring their suggestions, ideas, and improvements allows our company to draw on the talents of people and keeps them engaged in their roles, he said.
Clendenning also knows the value of praise. “Publicly and privately celebrating employees’ wins, no matter how small — whether it’s a customer’s kudos for a job well done, going above and beyond to help a client or fellow team member, a training completed, a personal accomplishment — finding a way to honor and celebrate each team member is invaluable to their job satisfaction and willingness to give their best to every customer.”
Management and marketing for business growth
One of the biggest issues cleaning companies deal with is the uncertainty of how to manage and market their brands for actual growth and long-term success. After all, it’s no secret that posting on social media regularly is simply just one piece of a complicated yet crucial puzzle for profitability and engagement. It takes much more than getting noticed in your marketplace.
When asked about management strategies that work for his personal brand, Lovasz shared, “I try to think about what is the right thing to do and what would be best for my franchises. I don’t just copy what others do because that is the way it has always been done. All in all, do what is best for your market. You may need to add more revenue streams or expand the territory you serve first. But everyone should start trusting employees to do some of the work the owner is doing so they can grow the business.”
Similarly, Lovasz explains how top-of-mind awareness is key to their marketing strategy, “Besides using the best people to handle the online aspect of marketing, we want to become important and helpful members in our communities. We work to be the people that first come to mind when a tragic situation happens.”
Meanwhile, Henderson also shared some incredible steps for marketing and management growth strategies. “Outline the growth of your company, from its beginning to now. Share any revenue or percentages as you can. Chet started Carpet Tech from his garage with a single cleaning van, and we have had exponential growth ever since. Every year I have been part of Carpet Tech, we have grown. We have had a record year every single year. When I started, we had not yet hit $1 million in sales, and we ended 2023 with over $40 million in revenue.”
As Henderson explained, over the years, the company cultivated and grew additional service lines as the need and demand arose. “We started as a floor care and emergency restoration company. When we saw that so many customers needed renovation help after their flood or fire, we began CT Construction to help get our restoration customers back to pre-loss condition.”
During the pandemic in 2020, Carpet Tech rolled out disinfecting services for commercial and residential customers. This sustained the company and grew revenue once again to beat previous company records.
Each time Carpet Tech opened a new location was in response to seeing a need and an opportunity. In 10 years, the company has built the brand, grown service lines, and earned the community’s trust in Collin County.
“And for the first time in 2022, we saw growth across all service lines in all locations, not just cleaning and restoration, due largely to outside sales and marketing efforts to cross-promote services to consumers,” Henderson added.
Additionally, grassroots marketing has been critical to the success for Carpet Tech. Connecting with individuals, business owners, and managers, and networking in each city they serve, was paramount to success. “We are a very community-driven company, supporting nonprofits and answering needs where we can all around us,” Henderson said.
When Clendenning focuses on the future, he knows it takes a comprehensive strategy with both practical business sense plus some creativity. “I adamantly follow the doctrine of do, document, then delegate. By creating strong repeatable systems and procedures and having checks and balances in place to monitor that they are being followed, you develop a ‘systemized’ business that can be constantly improved and refined over time.”
Then comes the fishing aspect of marketing. “The more poles you have in the water, the better chance you have of catching more fish. You can’t rely on just one or two sources of leads and jobs,” Clendenning explained. “You need to be marketing online through organic reach, Google Maps, various paid lead sources, and social outreach. Offline, you need to be marketing and connecting with your database consistently, driving positive brand awareness in your community, and reaching out to referral sources and strategic partners.”
Constantly building and marketing your strong reputation goes a long way in helping to convert more of the traffic (those who see and hear about your business) into leads and inquiries, Clendenning added. “Having a system to nurture everyone who contacts us and staying in touch with them consistently for years, even if they don’t book a job right away, is a huge advantage.”
As the work comes in, it’s not time to rest. “To grow your company, you need to make sure you have the training, system, and procedures in place to deliver a truly excellent customer experience from all your technicians and new hires. Nothing gets around faster than poor service,” Clendenning said.
The final element of a strong leader and company is the ability to overcome obstacles and learn from past experiences and mistakes. As Lovasz shared, “Overcoming any personal thought patterns that need to be adjusted is crucial. If you have thought a certain way or reacted a certain way for your whole life and you learn that it is no longer serving you, changing that is the toughest thing I have done. I learn from people who have done that and what they did to change their thought patterns.”
When asked what he might do differently if given the opportunity, he elaborated, “I’m not sure I would do anything differently. There were mistakes made and things I wish did not happen, but I believe you must face adversity to grow. I do not know anyone who is at the peak of the mountain who has not said the hard lessons they learned along the way were crucial to their success.”
In an industry as competitive and yet closely connected as the cleaning industry, never forgetting where you started, learning from your past, and growing with your network is key. As Lovasz explained, his inspiration for being in the industry came from a close friend, and his initial success can be attributed to this friend as well. “The person who got me in this industry, and one of my closest friends, is Nick-Anthony Zamucen, founder of Best Option Restoration. Nick took a chance on me and taught me everything I know about business. He has been my biggest inspiration professionally. Besides artists and philosophers I admire, my wife has been my biggest inspiration. To see what she has overcome personally to become the mother and person she is today would be inspiring to anyone. She is the most caring, patient, insightful, and loving person I have ever met.”
When asked the same question regarding overcoming obstacles, Henderson shared, “Our main challenge is maintaining the customer experience from the initial phone call to the home with the growth we have had. With 15 employees, it’s easy to teach and practice the same processes, but with 200 employees, is difficult to maintain the feel of the brand and train people to do things the way Chet did when he started the company.”
The second challenge was the lack of any sort of blueprint to run a $40 million privately owned floorcare company. “So, we created our own processes and procedures and figured out how to maintain profitability with our growth,” Henderson explained.
Henderson also shared her thoughts on doing things differently if given the opportunity, “I would not change anything. Even in failure and challenge, I have grown into a better version of myself and the company with me. I believe we find success when we can learn from every experience, good or bad.”
Clendenning also had a unique answer to the question of overcoming obstacles. “I think one of the toughest challenges would have been the economic slowdown in 2008-2010. Our business has been around for 12 years and has grown steadily. But then, we were faced with consumers who were tightening their belts and who had less disposable income. What we realized is we needed to cut down on frivolous expenses ourselves and tighten our belts and market much more heavily than we’d ever marketed before. The simple truth is, you can’t land customers if you don’t get a marketing message in front of them.”
One solution to Clendenning was to market to his database more often and in more strategic ways. “We marketed to gain new strategic partners and referral sources. We marketed to the neighbors of our very best, ideal customers. We expanded our marketing budget, stabilized our revenue, and grew our market position during that downturn which set us up for explosive growth when the economy turned around.”
When asked what he would do differently if given the chance to start over right now, Clendenning expressed, “I’m not sure if I would do much differently because the journey of learning and adapting and growing has been a very important one to go through as an entrepreneur and business owner,” he said. “But, I guess if there was one thing that would help make the start-up and scaling stage quicker, it would be having the knowledge to invest extensively into effective, multi-channel marketing from day one. As a new business owner, it is easy to get caught up in feeling proud about bootstrapping and seeing marketing as an expense and not an investment in growth and future earnings.”
The truth, Clendenning added, is that he learned the business that invests more in its marketing, doing so more aggressively, will get over the start-up phase faster, and begin to scale into a viable and successful business that supports the lifestyle and goals the owner started out with.
Parting words of wisdom
As we concluded our interviews with these industry leaders, we asked them each to share a final piece of advice for business owners and leaders looking to grow their cleaning companies in 2023. These insights serve as the final key elements to help companies see the results they have been hoping for just in time for the new year.
- Clendenning: “Running a successful cleaning or restoration business is no different than any other type of successful local business. Those who dedicate a lot of time working on their business versus just working in their business — constantly thinking about and putting in place actions to improve every aspect of their business, building systems and processes to allow their employees to be successful — will stand out and become the go-to authority in their local marketplace.”
- Lovasz: “Find your reason, beyond the money, for why you are doing what you are doing. When you are discouraged or have a setback, focus just on that, even though it may be hard and painful. Also, consistency over time will make you successful.”
- Henderson: “Make your people your number one priority, and they make the customer their number one priority. Customer experience is everything! I also believe in training even your most entry-level helpers from a technical standpoint with the goal of growing them into crew chiefs. Our technicians need to understand the science behind their cleaning, know how to operate the truck, and maintain the equipment. The more they know, the better job they will do. It’s a bigger deal than it may seem to keep trucks and equipment clean and running perfectly.”
At the end of the day, everything boils down to having a strong connection with your customers and employees from a place of compassion, humility, consideration, and collaboration. With this mindset of transparency and empathy, your company is sure to succeed in this new year and see continual growth and success in the cleaning industry for decades to come.
Samantha Hager is the associate editor of Cleanfax. You can reach her at [email protected].
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February 21, 2023