The Realities of Tile and Grout Restoration

Two caucasian male hands cleaning kitchen grout of an old, dirty tile floor with environmentally friendly hydrogen peroxide, baking soda and a scrub brush.

While many cleaners and restorers find expanding into tile and grout restoration to be a lucrative addition, those new to this area often find it difficult to know how to sell their services.

Add to this that customers occasionally find fault in the end results of tile and grout restoration, due to unrealistic expectations, and you realize there are some challenges to overcome when diversifying into tile and grout.

Luckily, as with most things in life, becoming knowledgeable of the topic will prepare you for your new service.

The three most common customer complaints are:

  1. The grout is not perfectly uniform — some areas cleaned better than others.
  2. The grout was just sealed, and a couple of stains appeared already.
  3. The grout is already dirty after only a few months.

These are all legitimate concerns, especially if realistic customer expectations are not established at the point of sale.

In the customers’ defense, the three most commonly asked questions are: “How well will the floor clean up,” “How effective is the sealer,” and “How long will it last?”

If you allow the entire sales process to focus on these three questions, you are setting yourself up for a rough and bumpy ride. Why? Because going down this path will often lead to overselling the service.

Take, for example, the following quote left with a customer: “Tile and grout cleaning with sealing. Truckmount cleaning with steam, pressure and extraction. Application of commercial-grade penetrating sealer. Total — $650.

The impression this quote gives the customer is that the grout will be perfectly clean and sealed and, therefore, will not get dirty. In reality, the grout will be cleaned but may not be perfectly uniform in color, and the grout will be sealed but will still get dirty.

Since we all work very hard to get customers, keep them happy, build our businesses through referrals and retain repeat business, it is very important to be realistic and to present your customers with options and solutions. The goal is not only to sell a job and get paid, but also for the customer to make an educated and informed decision so that in the future they are calling to use your services again.

Rather than have the customer thinking, “The last time I used their services the results were OK, but even though they sealed my floor, it still became discolored over time,” make sure the customer understands the services you perform.

A part of the problem is that leads and sales opportunities are valuable, and oftentimes we are compelled to capitalize on these opportunities and forget about the long term consequences. Would you rather have a sale today or have a customer for life?

Over the years I have realized that most issues are a result of what is said or not said at the point of sale more so than the work itself.

How do you take control of the sale? Present the customer with options, and become a knowledgeable professional.

There is nothing wrong with presenting a customer with a $450, $650 and $950 dollar quote for the same service. This way those customers who choose the less expensive option realize that the restoration may not be 100 percent successful, but they are willing to accept this in exchange for a lower cost.

Providing customers with service level options also helps customers understand the pros and cons of different services you can provide. You may be surprised by how many people choose the most expensive option when presented with all the options.

How nice would it be to walk into a sales call and not even have to sell? What follows is a sales process that works and will increase your closing ratio, eliminate most call backs, improve customer retention, increase referrals and increase your job average.

What you need

  1. Assemble a sales kit — something that is no larger than a small tool box. It should consist of 16 ounce bottles of your most commonly used cleaners, a scrub brush, terry cloths and 10-15 two-ounce bottles of color seal.
  2. Change your mindset; you no longer are selling tile and grout services. The only thing you’re selling is a demo on every sales call.
  3. Become knowledgeable, and tell it like it is. Do not worry about what the customer wants to hear.

How to do it

Clearly explain that it is impossible to determine how well a floor will clean up without doing a demo. Do this in a manner that makes the customer feel that it is the best thing for everyone involved.

Ask the customer to pick a spot for the demo, recommending the highest trafficked or most discolored area. This will give the customer the best indication of the cleaning results since less soiled areas clean up better.

The demo will help sell the job for you if your contact is the sole decision maker, especially in commercial settings. But those customers who are not the only decider generally will ask you to leave the demo for others involved in the decision process, so the demo will still help with the sale.

Explain that there are three service option levels to choose from, and quickly demonstrate and price all three. Use your sales kit to perform the following three options on the customer’s floor. This will establish a realistic level of expectation for the customer and will help the salesperson determine the degree of difficulty of the job.

Once the customer commits to a demo being done, follow through on performing all three options.

  1. Clean only: Take the cleaner and scrub brush from your sales kit. Apply the cleaner on the grout, scrub and wipe it dry with the terry cloth towel. It is best to clean an “X” on the floor.
  2. Clean and clear seal: While there really is no need to do a demo of clear seal, you must mention that this is an option once the areas has been cleaned and explain clear seal’s purpose.
  3. Clean and color seal: Pull out a color that matches the original grout color or that is close to the color of the tile, and apply a bead of color seal on one of the lines and wipe the excess color seal off the tile with a damp chamois. Always assure the customer that the color seal can be removed after the demo since it is not fully cured (To remove, apply a very high pH floor stripper, and scrub — repeat if needed). It is very important to only color seal one or two of the lines you have cleaned.

The goal is to visually display the difference between the options. Once the samples are done, avoid getting into a discussion. Tell the customer to allow everything to dry while you start measuring and pricing.

Once this is done, present the customer with the three options priced accordingly, and honestly answer their questions. Do not try to persuade them in any direction. This way there will be no misunderstandings, and the customer can select the service that meets his or her needs.

Establish customer expectations

The demo will establish most of customer expectations, and will force the customer and salesperson to address the pros and cons of each option.

All you need to do is get comfortable discussing the three service levels. This will eliminate a lot of misunderstandings.

  • Clean only: The tile will usually clean up well. The grout will be the only challenge. Sometimes it will clean up like new, and other times it may have some permanent discolorations. There is nothing wrong with a 90 percent improvement, as long as the customer is aware of it up front.
  • Clean and clear seal: Clear impregnating sealers will not hide grout discolorations and imperfections. It will make the grout less porous and keep stains closer to surface allowing for better cleaning results in the future, which must be communicated to the customer.
  • Clean and color seal: Color seal restores grout to a like-new condition, hides discolorations and makes the grout non-porous.

All grout will discolor over time, so how long a floor stays attractive will depend on traffic and method of maintenance.

A floor that has been color sealed is easier to maintain, will be perfectly uniform upon completion, will look better for longer, is less expensive to restore and will insure consistent results in the future. All this must be explained to the customer, as well. There’s a reason color sealing is the most expensive option.

I am not suggesting that all grout should be color sealed. I am suggesting that offering it and using it as a tool to set expectations will help differentiate you from your competition and ultimately help with customer satisfaction.

Setting a realistic level of expectation and providing your customers with options are the keys to success in the tile and grout restoration business.

Many people entering this field place too much emphasis on searching for a “magic” chemical or process that will work effectively in every situation. Using the appropriate chemical and equipment is very important, but every area is different. There is no single method or chemical that will be effective on every tile and grout installation.

Remember, when you address potential problems prior to a job, you will be viewed as a knowledgeable professional. Acknowledge them after the fact and you are only creating excuses. If you take the time, at the point of sale, to do a demonstration of the above options and effectively explain the pros and cons, all your tile and grout nightmares will quickly turn into happy customers.

Steve Aleric has 17 years of experience running a service business and is familiar with the challenges associated with adding new services. He specializes in helping businesses grow through effectively implementing tile and grout restoration services. He can be reached at (216) 916-7775 or [email protected].

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