Consumers spent $4 billion in carpet cleaning in 2011, and it’s estimated that they’ll install another 14 billion square feet of carpet this year — all of which is going to get dirty and will need to be cleaned.
So, what does it take to tap into that market? The GoPayment Blog recently talked with Ryan Jones, owner of Coastal Cleaning in Corpus Christi, Texas, to find out how to clean up in this type of business.
1. Learn the trade. Professional carpet cleaning involves more than just running a machine over filthy floor coverings. To be successful, you’ll need to know how to address many types of soil, stains, and materials. “The best way to learn the trade is to work through four or five basic, industry-specific classes,” Jones says.
You can find approved classes and certification courses via The Clean Trust and the Restoration Industry Association. “An apprenticeship would be the next best avenue, if not an absolute necessity,” Jones says. “Time on the job and experience are important. There are too many real-world variables to overcome by just taking a few weekend classes. You need to be field-ready and -tested if you’re going to get the job done right.”
2. Choose a niche. You’ll need to diversify your carpet cleaning business in order to succeed, Jones says. You can clean residential and commercial carpets, upholstery, automobile carpets, draperies, and/or mattresses. You can also offer hard-surface cleaning and restoration, carpet stretching, and repairs. Jones points out that the real advantage of diversifying is the ability to meet — and capitalize on — all your customer’s needs.
“Mrs. Jones may have just called to have her carpet cleaned, but when she found out you could take care of her ceramic tile, that carpet tear in the hallway, her drapes and living room furniture, you just tripled your ticket while helping Mrs. Jones avoid the frustration of hiring multiple businesses over multiple days.” As much as half of your business can come from customers who use you for multiple services, he notes. This plays out in his business: Whereas a typical carpet-cleaning job commands about $200, his average ticket runs $300 to $350.
3. Make it legal. You’ll need to register your business name with your county, and in some cities you’ll need to apply for a business license. If you plan to offer carpet sanitation or disinfection, you’ll need a special certification in some states. The SBA has a list of each state’s requirements.
Although it’s not required, you should get bonded, which will ensure that your client is reimbursed if an employee steals or breaks something valuable. If you plan to work in the commercial carpet-cleaning industry, a surety bond will give your clients the peace of mind that if for some reason you can’t complete the job, they’ll receive what they need in order to get it done.
4. Purchase your equipment. You’ll need specialized equipment to run a carpet cleaning business, and you’ll have to choose either hand-powered or truck-mounted equipment. Most experts agree that truck-mounted equipment does a better job. You can find used truck-mounted equipment for about $6,000 online at sites like eBay. New equipment runs between $10,000 and $60,000.
Jones paid $20,000 for his equipment and says that it gives him peace of mind because it comes with a warranty. “If [my gear is] down for service, it’s not making me any money, because I can’t clean carpet,” he says. In addition, he says that it pays to stay on top of an evolving industry where new and innovative equipment hits the market every three to five years.
On the other hand, Jones says that buying some used equipment — such as buffers, mop buckets, ladders, carpet repair, and stretching equipment — can be worthwhile. He also says that although a nice, clean used vehicle isn’t bad, he would avoid the clunkers because in this business, appearance is everything.
5. Get a website. “An optimized website is vital,” Jones stresses. “This is how most of your potential customers will find or review you. Each year, we take a step up in either website content, structure, SEO, or online marketing, and each year it’s increased our phone calls and income.”
6. Spread the word. Jones says that word of mouth and a clean, accessible website are the most effective ways of marketing. “I cannot count the number of times a happy $65 customer parlayed themselves into a thousand dollars of referrals. Happy customers make great cheerleaders, and you want an army of cheerleaders. But you can’t find the next great cheerleader if they can’t find you.” In fact, in a recent survey by Cleanfax.com, 96 percent of the carpet cleaners who responded said that referrals were their #1 way to bring in new business.