This week’s featured Tips N Chat Throwback post is a guest editorial written by Michael Thompson regarding economic issues and how carpet cleaners are affected. It was featured in the January/February 1983 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!
A recent article by Michael Thompson, Marketing Director for Hydra-Master, in his company's newsletter was so profound. I felt it deserved repeating. It is published as a Guest Editorial, with thanks to Mike.
The economic downturn we are experiencing is having a devastating effect on many professional carpet cleaners throughout the country. Reports are constantly coming in of areas in which carpet cleaners are suffering decreases in business of 50% and more. Regional trade show attendance reflects these losses in sharply curtailed turnouts--cleaners simply do not have the money to spend on travel and lodging this year. Direct mail campaigns to carpet cleaners by suppliers are experiencing record returns of mail out pieces marked "correspondent unknown-undeliverable"-- a further indication of the decline in carpet cleaners. A telephone solicitation of carpet cleaners listed in the yellow pages - many with 1/2 page ads - produces a response from operators that the number called is "disconnected" or "out of service". Trade publications also reflect the malaise or demise syndrome affecting carpet cleaners-- classified ads in these trade journals point out the surrender of many of the industry's "finest." What the hell has happened to our industry?
I believe that many cleaners have forgotten their "roots." When they first began in carpet cleaning, they didn't run a half-page yellow page ad and wait for the phone to ring - they couldn't afford it. In most cases, they began their cleaning career as many a life insurance salesman began his sales career -- first, they sold their family and friends. From there, they contacted acquaintances and neighbors and before long, they had a steady stream of jobs because THEY ASKED FOR THE JOB! Later, as business grew, there came a day when they had a full schedule booked a week or so ahead and had to turn business away. From that point, our carpet cleaner had generally all the business he could handle. He began to be able to advertise in the Yellow pages and gradually increased his ad to a half page at great monthly expense. That done, he became complacent and turned his attention to the myriad duties of managing a growing and increasingly complicated service business.
Then the recession hit and suddenly the telephone stopped it's incessant ringing. Instead of having three trucks head out in the morning with full schedules, it dropped to two and then one. Perplexed, our hero sat in his office and grumbled about how bad business was. Meanwhile, across town, FBN (fly by night) Carpet and Upholstery cleaning were steaming ahead at full tilt doing business as usual ("your entire home carpeting cleaned for only $14.95 -- steam method"). Aware of this, our hero grumbles about the competition being "rip off artists" and "bait and switchers", all of which may or may not be true. The important question is: Are they getting the business because of their low price? Our hero says "yes" and that he can't compete because of his overhead costs - incurred while trying to run a "quality" cleaning business. I say "no", the price is not the reason.
The reason is plainly and simply that FBN Carpet and Upholstery Cleaning gets the business because they ASK FOR THE JOB! Day in and day out they run ads in the PENNYSAVER, the TV booklet in Sunday's paper, and in the local papers. They also, in most cases, run a "boiler room" telephone solicitation campaign calling homes all over their city ASKING FOR THE JOB! "Disgraceful" our hero grumbles, "unethical," his colleagues say--"high-pressure tactics" they chorus. In many areas, they exclude each "schlock operators" from their cleaning associations -- depriving themselves of the opportunity to learn from these successful people. In the mean-time, the public sees only one side of the carpet cleaning business -- the low price, cut-rate, discount-oriented, cut and run carpet cleaners. Is it any wonder carpet cleaning is unfavorably compared with scam businesses?
I think not - but what can be done? The answer should be as clear as the nose on your face: START ASKING FOR THE JOB! You need not set up an expensive "boiler room" operation in order to begin telephone soliciting. If your wife works with you in your business and has a good "phone voice", she can begin your program by contacting customers you have done work for in the past. Once they have all been contacted, obtain a "criss-cross" directory, (listings by street rather than name) and begin calling homes near your existing customers; when you contact these people, you can mention that one of their neighbors is a satisfied customer of yours. When this source of leads is exhausted, I suggest you begin calling people listed in the "criss-cross" directory as living in upper-income areas. The reason for this is that they are more able to afford (and need) your services. From there, you can move to middle-income groups, etc. I strongly suggest you follow up your calls with a direct mail postcard to the person contacted confirming your conversation and thanking them for their time in talking to you. THIS SHOULD BE DONE WHETHER OR NOT YOU GET AN ORDER.
In addition to phone solicitation, there are several things you can do to stir up business. ADVERTISE -- run as large a space ad as you can afford in your local paper. Accentuate quality work, length of time in business in the area, any specialty service you offer, a small free gift with every estimate or whatever else you feel will attract a response. Stay away from price -- you'll lose every time in a price war with the $19.95'ers. PROMOTE -- contact women's clubs, senior citizens clubs (offer them a senior citizen discount), garden clubs, etc., and offer to speak to them about carpet and upholstery cleaning. Explain why they need your service, your methods, etc. This is an excellent source of new business. COLD CALL SALES -- call on commercial accounts -- find out what their cleaning problems are and then figure out how to solve them -- you'll get the job.
The foregoing suggestions are only a few of the things you can do to get your business going again—you can come up with many more if you'll reflect on your past successes for a moment or two. The main thing is to get going NOW, not tomorrow or next week. The sooner you do, the sooner the "recession" will be over for you.