This week’s featured Tips N Chat Throwback post addresses sub-contracting between competitors, written by Ed York as a Pied Piper column. It was featured in the March 1978 issue of Tips N Chat, the “magazine published for the benefit and enjoyment of on-location carpet cleaners”. Remember to check back every Thursday for a new throwback post!
I had the opportunity recently of visiting the St. Louis, Missouri area. The weather was sub-zero and the falling snow was literally whipped back and forth by the cold wind, but I must admit I felt exceptionally warm inside. It came from seeing the results of a small regional trade association made up of active carpet cleaners. The St. Louis Carpet Cleaners Association is definitely not the largest, or the oldest, or the best looking, but they certainly top the ladder when it comes to members working together. I hear reports from other associations about their group's unity, but for the most part their real cooperation is between members many miles away, and not next door.
St. Louis is definitely different. It has been five years since they first banded together to challenge the Better Business Bureau's false and vicious, anti-steam cleaning campaign. While they handled the BBB in record time, they also found a common reason to be friends. They found they could give better service and make more money by backing each other up. A system of sub-contracting was developed, after realizing most of the membership consisted of owner-operator shops that couldn't handle the rush of larger jobs. Rather than go into hock to purchase a standby van and equipment, they simply "subbed" the extra work to a "competitor" that had attended FCSA's operator school. This also allowed the small operator, who had no work that day, to utilize his non-working equipment.
One story I heard concerns a carpet cleaner who, while away for a short vacation, left a job for a member to do. The member received an emergency job and "subbed" it down the line. Before the job was completed (on time, I might add), EIGHT different carpet cleaners had been assigned the job. When the main contractor returned, he found a happy customer who had never known there had been a problem. In fact there wasn't a problem, because the job had been done correctly and on time.
In my various talks with the members, the point continued to come up on how they worked together and how they had all profited by the "subbing". I was pleased to receive so many kind remarks about my help to them in those early years and for introducing the idea of sub-contracting between members, rather than fighting among competitors. Well, St. Louis, I thank you, but you deserve 100% of the credit. Suggesting is easy, but it's taking those first wobbly steps that take courage. You have proved it will work. I stand up to salute the ST. LOUIS CARPET CLEANERS ASSOCIATION.
~ Ed York (1978)