“It’s not what you know, but who you know that makes the difference”, Anonymous. That quote is never more accurate than in today’s marketplace for cleaning. How many of our companies actually seek out other professionals to help build our business, while helping those professionals build their businesses?
Our marketing efforts are always challenging to get our companies to a level of success. When I work with cleaning professionals as a consultant, I find that each company has a different level of understanding about the marketplace they choose to service. A lot of companies use this information that they have unearthed as a baseline for continued marketing efforts. In other words, they continue to do what they have always done, expecting different results like higher levels of sales. To actually achieve higher levels of sales, we must do different marketing efforts to reach those higher goals.
With basic marketing plans, we seek to advertise our services to everyone in a geographical radius with an enticement to purchase. This plan works in the beginning of our company history, because we will find that a number of clients like to switch companies easily when offered a reason to switch. This marketing type will bring a new company to a certain level of revenue. To build on that revenue base, we need to add to that marketing piece with additional marketing resources.
One such resource is networking. By using relationships to add cheerleaders to the market, we get better market penetration than we can ever get with our own devices. By utilizing a relationship with a flooring supplier, we can convince them we know how to maintain the floors they sell properly, resulting in a better impression of the flooring, which could bring more potential sales to the flooring store because longer lasting flooring is what every flooring consumer is looking to purchase.
But why stop there? We have so many more potential referral sources to explore. How about the mat rental companies? They replace walk off matting each week, or multiple times per week, at many commercial buildings all over your market.
Do you think they know which buildings are doing a good job of maintenance, and which ones are not? That route sales professional has access to the front office decision makers, or at least the receptionists in each office to make a quality introduction to a professional maintenance company. Our payback to the matting driver is to also refer them into buildings we currently maintain as a professional courtesy.
Many buildings also need a professional sweeping service for their outdoor parking lots and parking structures. With the understanding that outdoor maintenance affects the interior maintenance quality, our quest would be to find a quality professional sweeping service to service our existing clients and have the sweeping service offer us referrals into buildings they currently serve. Since we sell to the same customer type, but offer a different service package, there is no potential for crossover, or competitive behaviors.
A book by Harvey McKay, an envelope manufacturer from Minneapolis, Minnesota called “Swim With the Sharks, Without Being Eaten Alive” is a great book on this type of business networking. Harvey believes that the better network you build, the more successful you can become. Give it a try and see if you can build something through networking.
The residential cleaning market is dwindling as we speak, from the economy to the lower volume of carpet being produced and shipped into the residential marketplace. If our companies just stick to our original plan of cleaning residential carpet, our market will shrink despite our best efforts to limit the financial impact.
A regular market for our services is the commercial market. They have plenty of carpet still being produced, shipped and installed. They have plenty of soil entering the building. They sometimes lack the sophistication of proper cleaning techniques themselves, and could use our help.
Our reluctance into this market seems to be on several levels, such as time of day of cleaning. Our other foray into this market caused us to work not only in the daytime on residential carpet, but at night too. This quickly turned us off to the idea and caused us to look elsewhere for market improvement.
Another reluctance was the sheer size of many commercial buildings. We did not have the manpower, equipment, or even the knowledge on how to set up a commercial cleaning plan for maximum profit potential. Our truck-mounts could not possibly reach deep into the bowels of the building, our hoses and trucks would be open to vandals late at night and even with dual wand techniques, we just lacked the effort after the first attempt to devote any more time to this enterprise.
Not to mention the price most commercial buildings were willing to pay. Our response was “I AM NOT WORKING FOR THAT TINY AMOUNT, I DON’T CARE HOW MUCH CARPET YOU HAVE!” We would just blame the low-ball carpet cleaner and curse our decision to get into this industry in the first place.
Well, time to buddy up with your local commercial enterprise again; but, this time plan a little before going out to close accounts. Choose only the buildings you want. Choose only the buildings you find that close at an earlier time in the afternoon. Choose only the buildings that will let you get them on a cleaning plan where you get to the carpet before it looks like a farm field. In other words, employ a marketing system that lets you be in control of the sales outcomes.
One word. Encapsulation cleaning. Well that’s two words actually, but two words that will change your thinking about commercial cleaning forever. This system will bring you from the “one tool” cleaner to the multi-truck operator in no time. Let me say one more word. Pile lifter. Ok, another two words, but just pile lifting the carpet can save your customer thousands of dollars on early or premature replacement of their carpet. The more dry soil that is removed from the carpet, the less fiber loss occurs, the longer carpet lasts. Simple numbers. Speaking of simple numbers, since you can clean much more carpet per hour with the encapsulation process, you can charge less per square foot, and still be profitable. Your cost of service numbers go way down and customers on a schedule will be cleaning cleaner carpet. Sounds like a win-win to me.
Sitting in the back of a training program recently, the questions from the students were fast and furious. “Can’t you just give us the information so we can just do what you did?” “Is there a way to just get forms, business templates, and a list of services so we can just duplicate what you did?” “Can you show me exactly how to act during the inspection of the flooring, the complete sales process, with scripts, and what the final customer surveys look like so we can just go to market?”
These are typical questions seen at many industry educational events. Not a group of questions designed to understand the process of selling or servicing customers, but a “shortcut” to just get the procedural steps, without a basic understanding of how the steps work in sequence, or how the steps need to be adjusted to the types of customers you have chosen to build your business upon. Or the types of questions that are also known as “How to find the “magic bullet”.
Everyone of us want to have the magic bullet to be successful, but the magic bullet is not something you can just purchase from someone else, whether it be a competitor, trainer or received by attending a trade show and conference. It is human nature to be impatient with the path to success, but one must understand the path to success is actually a path. Crossing a path usually takes a certain amount of time to complete the journey. No one can cross the path without actually walking down the path. The act of crossing is measured in the actual time it takes to complete the journey.
The crossers that actually have a map of the path will arrive first. The map to your path to success is a business plan. It is amazing how many cleaning companies have not thought of a simple planning phase to start the journey down the path. They have no idea on which customers to target for services, which services to offer and at what price. When asked for specific information on basic job or procedural costs, most companies have no idea their actual costs. When asked which types of customers, buildings or services are the most profitable for their company, they shrug, guess or justify to themselves why that type of information is not important to their company. When asked which types of potential customers offer the most potential for profit, for their specific company, they simply do not know.
High-level discussions within management groups need to take place to begin this planning phase. An outline of the current state of the company has to be developed so it can be used as a starting point of planning to what the company will look like in the future. Many successful companies use a one, two and five year planning structure. This will give management and labor a direction from which to make decisions that will not be based on emotional feelings, but rather from a knowledge of which direction the company is headed.
Planning is the basic structural need for any company destined for success. Too many companies just follow the path that the customer dictates to them. Once customers feel that they control the vendor/customer relationship, they begin to assert themselves in other areas like pricing and such. Know the feeling? Having a basic plan in place eliminates the need for the magic bullet. A company that knows exactly where it is headed is less likely to be searching for a single tip or nugget of information to define success. They are also less likely to actually need one. A company on a success path already knows what the magic bullet is: a great business plan.
Have you ever wondered just how marble and other interior stones get so shiny? They have been polished with abrasives to that mirror-like image you see on the floor. This process of polishing stone with abrasives dates back centuries, with the Greeks and the Romans seemingly perfecting the craft in the early days. Because of the great shine, how long the flooring lasts, and the perceived and real value of the product, stone is one of the most sought after floor coverings in the world today.
The more rare the stone type, the more costly it is to purchase. However, the cost of the stone has no bearing on how the stone needs to be maintained during it’s life as a floor covering or countertop. Economical stone as well as very expensive stone needs to be properly maintained to ensure it’s appreciating value.
As professional cleaners, it is our job to understand the maintenance needs of each stone variety and be able to develop a comprehensive cleaning program to meet the needs of that particular variety. Stone identification is a complex series of questions to be asked by the cleaning professional culminating in a diagnosis of the stone’s likely maintenance needs based on the stone’s characteristics, the soiling and potential soiling conditions, and the maintenance practices utilized by the customer currently.
As professionals we need to recognize how the stone will behave when placing into a cleaning position. We need to fully realize how wetness will affect the stone material. Other ideas to generate are how will the stone act when encountering detergent application and how damaging could abrasive soils be to the stone finish. With a polished finish the light reflection could be compromised with shallow or deep scratches marring the flat, shiny surface causing it to appear dull where everyone walks. We must also fully prepare ourselves with these answers BEFORE we place any cleaning processes on the material.
A simple way to find these potential problems before we begin is to perform a comprehensive surface inspection. By applying three basic tests to each stone floor we inspect, placing distilled water on the surface and watching if it enters the stone’s pores, we will then know the stone is porous, and could possibly stain with liquid spills. By seeing if the stone could be harmed by cleaning detergents, we simply place any potential cleaning product we might use, in the proper dilution, on the back of an uninstalled tile and view either the chemical reaction or lack thereof.
The last test we need to perform is an abrasion resistance test. We need to know just how “hard” or “soft” the stone is compared to other mineral based substances. Sand and grit from outside the building can scratch softer stone, like some marble or limestone, while harder stone like granite may be much more difficult for this grit to scratch. Also when finding out this information, the softer the stone, the less abrasion resistant. The less abrasion resistant, the more shine maintenance it will require. In other words, the more scratches the floor receives, the longer the entry mats need to be, the more dry soil removal is required and the more often the stone will have to be polished with abrasives.
Restoring stone to it’s original factory luster used to be a much more difficult process until the invention of synthetic abrasive pads, Spinergy Pads. These diamond pads will correct, by abrasive polishing, minor scratches and light etches. Etches on stone happen when acidic products are used on calcium-based stone and the acid dissolves the calcium component. When that happens, the stone appears to be dull in the areas where the acid product made contact with the surface.
In the past, only highly skilled craftsmen performed stone restoration, after years of apprentice work under a master mason. Bringing a stone to a mirror finish is still not simple, but if you know how to use a floor buffer and are willing to practice, you could easily create a new shine which could look almost as good as the factory finish or perhaps even better than factory shine. These abrasive pads fix minor abrasions to the surface even though they are not as aggressive as traditional diamond pads, and don’t take off as much of the surface.
With the new Spinergy abrasive pads, the grit pattern follows the old rules of the lower the grit number the more abrasive the pad. Many manufacturers of these synthetic pads are not able to provide a grit size higher than 3000. Most factory polishes are already higher than 3000, so each time the highest pad in the sequence is used, the floor is “finished” with a lower level of shine, and it appears to be duller than when originally installed. Be sure to find a system that will employ a grit size higher than the original shine to eliminate the potential of duller stone after restoration services.
Stone does not have to be mysterious any longer. Use the techniques outlined and then find a good training program to instill confidence in everyone associated with the stone. Your building will shine as bright as the stone flooring.
How deeply do you need to look when evaluating a building? The real questions is: If you are not looking deep enough, how can you be sure the building qualifies to be part of your company’s future?
The first part of a management and marketing plan for a building service contracting company should be the types of buildings (customers) that will help your company move forward into a profitable future. The great part about the exercise of protocol development is that it can be whichever protocols you choose as a service provider. At Interlink Supply, we have a class to help you determine which buildings are best for your company, forms to help you in the evaluation process, and tools and equipment to ensure the building is maintained properly once you have secured the account.
The first evaluation that can be a determining factor for serviceability, and sometimes finding out about the attitude of the prospect is the outside condition of the building. Pulling into a litter filled, overgrown landscape area, sun faded parking lot should give us a set of clues to help determine if our company values will be met by signing a prospect to a contract.
Perhaps thinking about sales prospects like a college football recruiter can give us some insight into how we should prepare our potentials list. Collegiate recruiters are certainly looking for more than just a competent set of skills to play a position, they are looking for intangibles that could include team chemistry, academic skills, personality, future potential and ability for the recruit to sway other recruits to attend the same university.
Similar things can apply to our recruiting focus. Does this prospect have the right stuff to earn our services? Will this prospect help us sell other prospects? Will this prospect help our staff feel a sense of pride or accomplishment when servicing this building? What will this prospect do for our customer chemistry? Will they fail to understand basic maintenance practices, causing misunderstandings with staff? Will this prospect be respectful of our professional attitudes, and training?
Prospect attitude is certainly something to address as we build our prospect list, but not the only thing that should be listed. You may want to determine which types of buildings your company can service most profitably. Does your company work better in a campus type building setting? Perhaps your company thrives in high rise or low slung style buildings. Which part of your city or region makes the most sense from an employee recruiting method? Do most employees drive directly to the building, or do they rely on public transportation?
Other building considerations could be the type of activity that occurs in the building. School or cubicle farm? Large building with cafeteria where most employees stay the entire day, or where the traffic load from employees leaving and returning to the building brings in much more soil from outside rather than having a controlled environment from traffic, but employees have the ability to eat lunch at their desks.
Office only or office and factory where shop employees can track all manner of soil types onto many different types of flooring and restroom surfaces? How about amount of outside traffic like retail buildings, malls or indoor shopping centers, versus retail environments where moving from store to store can be affected negatively by weather related issues?
There are so many different variables that need to be addressed by a plan of action to find out where we should spend our marketing time, dollars and energy. A complete focus of that activity, matching it with the right prospect mix will target a very specific group of prospects that in the long run, will help us grow profitably.
Since planning is the first function of management, our company managers must plan for these specific types of prospects, or we just end up taking whatever comes our way. Unfortunately, that approach may not give us the type of customers that are exactly the type we need for a profitable future. Think about this when you are setting up a sales route to help your business building strategy.
Continually anticipating that all cleaning and maintenance has to be restorative is like having only one tool in your tool chest. “When the only tool you have is a hammer, all your problems begin to look like nails.”
What that means to us in our businesses is that we have to be open to other methods and protocols for cleaning and maintenance. Often times a periodic maintenance operation can be used in situations that require maintenance, but not specifically restoration maintenance. That opens up the possibility that time, money or effort can be saved.
Case in point: using encapsulation methods for commercial carpet care. In an overall building maintenance operation, routine dry soils can be captured with a vacuum. But what about low profile carpets? Does the vacuum air flow chamber really get as deep as the soil has fallen? How about the beater brush? Is it capturing the soils as well in the commercial environment as in a household?
What commercial carpets need is a series of maintenance options that include vacuuming, but also have a method or concept for physical brushing of the carpet fibers to get soils removed as deeply as possible.
The Brush Pro machine (available in 17” and 20” models), have the ability to act as a “junior level” pile lifting device. The traditional pile lifters are still the greatest tool in our arsenal to physically remove ground in dry soils in commercial carpet. However, the process of implementing this device is a time consuming cleaning method, and the pile lifter is simply not as versatile as the Brush Pro machines.
The act of physically brushing the carpet pile is not a new concept. Pile lifting was routinely done in early versions of a complete carpet maintenance program when hot water extraction was a relatively new venture. The advent of better HWE equipment has caused a shift in the concepts of carpet maintenance. Now there are a number of commercial buildings waiting for the carpet to lose its appearance and having high performance HWE used to bring the carpet back to a better appearance.
This view of waiting until dirty to clean must be stopped. It is causing carpet to be replaced too often for diminished appearance than necessary. It is our job as professionals to show our potential customers just how to properly maintain these commercial carpets using a combination of new technology and old fashioned common sense. Physically brushing carpet fibers will retrieve more dry soils!
Recently a demonstration of this was completed. In a commercial classroom, an IICRC Master Textile Cleaning Technician, using a two motor upright vacuum, with proper vacuuming techniques, vacuumed the carpet. After several overlapping passes, the cleaner declared the carpet free of most dry soils.
Immediately after the vacuum process, a 17” Brush Pro machine was used without any cleaning detergent (dry passes) to see if the pile lifting capability would remove any additional soils. The results were astounding!
Using the brushing method with the Brush Pro removed a lot more dry soils. The two papers in the photo were on the left after dry brushing, and the right after complete encapsulation, drying and re-brushing with the Brush Pro. After completion of the demonstration, we were then told that 5 days previously, the carpet had been truck mount hot water extracted by an IICRC Certified Technician. All of the soils shown on the paper were left behind by that extraction. Did I mention that the cleaning area was 5X5 feet? Multiply that room by a whole floor of a commercial building and wonder just how much soil are we leaving behind.
Carpet longevity is an issue we can use as a entrance point into the maintenance sales process. Just remember that you need more than a good hammer to get the job done.
One of the biggest challenges for growing service companies is the consistent delivery of services across multiple clients. Service delivery systems are notoriously inconsistent for any number of reasons, but mainly because most cleaning service companies are reluctant to apply a systems approach to delivery.
Many cleaning companies start out with an owner/technician selling services into their community, and then working with their employees at the job site delivering what they sold. As the company grows, the owner/technician drops the technician label and continues to sell more services, without being on the job site every evening and quality begins to fall off.
Companies at this point begin to align the ranks with “site supervisors” to bring quality levels back to the original specification, only to then face a shift of labor forces and possibly a revolving door of rank and file employees who cannot get along with the site supervisor. Many times this is where growing companies face the owner stating the mantra of the small service company. “I just can’t find good help!” The owner, feeling that they need to be everywhere, race around in full micro-manage mode, thus alienating the site supervisor, and round two of the employee hustle begins, finding new management staff to complete contracts. It can be just a bit overwhelming.
Contrary to this model is the consistent, systems driven company. Numerous businesses subscribe to this theory, but most are not in the cleaning industry. Any business with multiple locations needs to have quality systems in place to ensure accurate delivery of goods or services. Think McDonald’s. This company employs many people, most who are hired by local franchise owners, and consistently serves up a quality experience for each and every customer in thousands of locations throughout the world.
Their company was built on a system of service delivery by thinking more of how the experience was going to take place, rather than the actual creation of the product they sell. The idea was to replicate the experience by creating a system of tasks designed to complete the experience for the customer with a multitude of workers trained in the delivery system, not just the individual tasks the workers had to complete. Each worker had to understand how their task fit into the system and that the system is the product. This process takes a commitment to the worker, and the training program needs to fulfill the worker’s need to understand the concept to buy-in to the system philosophy.
This systems approach begins with a plan. Planning is the first function of management. It is the team leader’s job to plan the systems processes, tasks, and outcomes to have consistent delivery. Without a plan, we just move along much like a sailing ship without a steering rudder. We move wherever the wind blows us and that lack of control can be frustrating. Owners and managers need to take some time to look at the business model and see where systems can be utilized. Ideas for systems can include, but are not limited to; recruiting, interviewing, marketing, selling, tasking, purchasing, training, administrating, and disciplining.
A sample system could look at the interviewing process as a series of systems designed to staff your company with the best and brightest candidates for employment. The system could include a method of devising a recruiting program to offer employment to workers of a certain desirable attitude or work ethic. A series of questions could be developed to ascertain the attitude you are looking for, or call out any attitude you do not desire of your staff. Your recruiting program could then have a system to eliminate any candidates that fall short of your attitude benchmark.
A management staff person could then devise an interviewing process that calls for multiple interviews, asking a series of acceptable questions to delve further into the attitude issue. These interviews could be conducted by at least two different managers to solicit multiple opinions on each candidate to ensure proper fit into the company culture.
This systems approach may seem cumbersome at first, but once in place, the process can continue with small adjustments along the way. Your company could then develop other systems for all other company functions. That is the price of consistency. It is a powerful tool, but done correctly, and placed in the hands of competent managers, it moves companies forward much more rapidly.