Carpet cleaning is a classic “bootstrap” business – and a favourite of ours. It would be challenging to find another start-up where a single person has the potential to do so much with so little. Initial costs are relatively low (especially if you already own a small truck or van), and with a little marketing know-how, you could be earning your living as a professional carpet cleaner sooner than you think.
Apart from your vehicle, equipment costs are moderate – consisting of a carpet cleaning machine, accessories, and chemicals. Additionally, most people run their companies right out of their homes, so there is usually no need for a high-priced commercial location.
Your carpet cleaning business can be run just fine with one person as long as you are physically able to do the heavy lifting and manual labour by yourself. Later, additional staff can be hired to handle any increase in workload.
You will succeed in this business through your ability to successfully market yourself and by the quality of services you provide. In other words, you need to stand out in this highly competitive business.
Methods and Equipment
There are many ways to clean a carpet. Some rely on hot water extraction, while others use an oscillating bonnet to shake dirt loose – still others employ dry foam, shampoo, a carbonated solution, or a completely dry chemical compound.
A shampoo solution is applied to the carpet with the bristles of a floor buffer. Afterwards, the carpet is vacuumed thoroughly to remove dirt.
We don’t recommend that you use this method in your carpet cleaning business because it is really only capable of surface cleaning, at best. In fact, most of the dirt is just spread around. The shampoo actually contains optical brighteners to assist with the look of clean. The truth is that the dirt is still there and will eventually come to the surface as it is attracted to the shampoo residue.
Low moisture foam is brushed into the carpet. It encapsulates any dirt that is there and is then vacuumed away. Many critics believe that this method does not get into the fibres deeply enough; thus, it only cleans the surface. Because of this, it is just marginally better than the shampoo method. The foam also contains optical brighteners and is prone to attracting dirt just like the shampoo process.
There are a few popular machines and franchises available that use this technology very successfully, however. Dry time is very fast – typically, within 30 minutes.
This is a true dry carpet cleaning method. A dry compound is sprinkled onto the carpet and then it is agitated with a special two head machine to get it deep into the fibres. The chemical particles trap the dirt and it is then vacuumed away. It is very important to really vacuum well, both before and after the application.
This method results in the carpet being immediately usable after the cleaning. This is a huge selling feature.
The hot water extraction method relies on powerful jets of water that are injected deep into the carpet fibre. The “steam” actually refers to the mist created by the jets, and not actual steam. Almost instantaneously, this water is extracted using a high powered vacuum and collected in a waste-water container. Normally, this entire procedure is performed using a single cleaning wand that is dragged across the carpet. One part sprays, while the other sucks up the dirty solution.
This method is preferred by most carpet manufacturers because of its “deep cleaning” characteristics.
There are two types of hot water extraction machines:
A truck mounted unit is contained within the carpet cleaner’s van and is either powered by the vehicle, or self powered using its own engine. A vacuum hose and solution line run from the van to the house and are connected to a cleaning wand (similar in looks to a regular vacuum wand).
The advantage of the truck mounted unit is that it is extremely powerful. It provides more PSI for the spray, and more CFM for the vacuum. The bottom line is that you can get more solution into the carpet and extract more using the powerful vacuum. Carpets dry cleaner and faster using a truck mounted unit.
The main disadvantage for a truck mounted unit is cost. The machine can be 10’s of thousands of dollars – excluding the price of the truck. Another drawback is portability. You are limited to a fixed hose length from the van. While this may be ok for houses, it normally can’t be used for apartments.
This is a portable hot water extraction unit that uses the same method as the truck mounted unit. The disadvantage is that even the most powerful units will not create the same power as the truck mount. Some portable manufacturers have reached the upper limit as far as portable power goes. In fact, a few machines even require separate electrical cords for the vacuum and the solution – to be plugged into separate circuits in the house, so as not to blow a fuse.
Though, not as powerful as the truck mount, these units provide more than enough power for most jobs. You would be hard pressed to see any difference.
The major advantage of this type of carpet cleaner is portability. You can take this completely self-contained, and relatively powerful, machine in many places where you could never use a truck mount. The unit contains a solution tank and a waste water unit that is dumped at the end of each job. Another advantage for the beginner on a shoestring budget is price. These machines can sometimes be picked up, used, for a few thousand dollars.
Solution is sprayed on a carpet before a rotary machine is passed over it. The machine has a cotton pad that wipes the dirt from the carpet fibres. Several pads may be used during a cleaning – these are washable. Some machines simply use a rotating pad, while others use an oscillating feature that literally shakes dirt loose and captures it in the pad. Such a setup is also known as pad cleaning. Great care must be taken to avoid distorting the fibres and, thus, ruining the carpet.
Though it’s not a dry cleaning method, the low-moisture procedure leaves the carpet almost walkable. This is a great selling feature when you can boast a 1 hour drying time.
Most carpet cleaners start with minimal equipment and then upgrade as they grow their business. Chances are, you will be specializing in either hot water extraction or oscillating pad, as they are the two most popular methods these days. Hot water has been around longer and is preferred by most carpet cleaners, not to mention most of the major carpet mills. However, pad cleaning is starting to show strong competition. Some carpet cleaners use both methods, and depending on the job, will use one over the other.
If you are starting out in hot water extraction, it is advisable to get your feet wet with a portable unit. A new unit will cost $3000-$6000, depending on the model you get. Fortunately, most equipment suppliers will have a good used inventory, and you might get a used or re-conditioned machine for half that price. Additional accessories, including a cleaning wand, upholstery tool, and an inventory of chemicals will add several hundred dollars to the grand total.
If you decide to use oscillating pad cleaning, you will likely have to buy the machine new. Pad cleaning isn’t quite as popular as hot water and used machines are harder to come by. Count on spending $3000-$4000 for a complete start-up kit, including the machine, chemicals, pads and accessories.
The carpet cleaning business can be very competitive due to its relatively low start-up costs and the fact that it can be up and running quickly (at least compared with other service businesses).
Depending on your location, you will likely find the market to be anywhere from very competitive to saturated. In fact, open your local yellow pages book right now and look at your competition. It’s a little disheartening isn’t it? And that’s not counting the numerous flyers that are distributed daily offering a “3 rooms for $19.95” deal. It’s almost enough to make a person think twice about the business. How can they be making money? How will you be able to make money?
Well, all is not lost. Think of it this way: Everyone had to start somewhere. Even companies that dominate the market today were most likely small time operations in the beginning. In ten years I’m sure you will hear people complaining that it’s too competitive and that they should have started 10 years ago.
Competition is a reality and is part of the business world. Wherever there is profit to be made, you will find competition. In a way, it’s a good sign and just proves that the venture will generate money.
The good news is that, regardless of the amount of competition, there is always room for one more. Another business jumping on board is not about to sink the ship and bankrupt the industry. However, you must be prepared to promote your venture in new and different ways. In other words, you need to stand out.
Here are some ways to get an edge on your competition:
Think, live, breathe, and practice exceptional customer skills.
At the end of the day, it all comes down to how satisfied your customer feels. Listen to any feedback, positive or negative, and use it wisely. No matter how you look at it, the customer pays the bills and should be treated accordingly.
Treat your customers fairly, give them outstanding value for their money, and they will keep coming back – and they’ll also bring their friends!
Can you assume that all companies get this critical point? No; and quite often, it’s just that little extra effort that makes a world of difference and allows you to leave other companies in the dust.
Know your competition
You should at least be aware of who your competitors are. You know the old saying: “Keep your friends close and your enemies even closer.” Well, enemy is a strong word – let’s just say adversaries.
Why? Well there are many reasons, not the least being that you can keep tabs on the pulse of the business by being mindful of any overall changes in strategy. If everyone suddenly starts changing their price structure, then maybe it’s something you need to look into. Be mindful of the fact that we’re not talking about mimicking any of your competitors, just watching the industry as a whole.
What are the big guys doing?
Chances are, you will discover that the market is dominated by two or three large companies, with the remainder handled by varying sizes of smaller operators. In many cities these large companies can account for over 50 percent of the entire trade.
Keep your eye on their pricing and marketing techniques. Look for the proverbial, “chink in the armor.” You just might find a way to do something better.
Additionally, you should:
• Maintain a professional image. Nothing says more about you and your company.
• Be approachable and helpful. Having a friendly disposition will go far in this field. It’s amazing that more people don’t get that simple point.
• Explain everything to your customer. Let them know that you have taken care of all the details. Give them the piece of mind that things have been handled by a professional.
• Add a freebie to the bill, and make sure you label it, “No charge.” It doesn’t have to be much, just a little bonus. People are thrilled when they get something free – that’s human nature.
• Provide a guarantee on all your work. No questions asked. While it’s true that the competition is fierce – and that some firms are offering “loss-leader deals” just to get a foot in the door, it doesn’t mean that there is no money to be made. It also doesn’t mean that you have to do jobs for next to nothing. People will pay for top quality service. There is no need to price yourself out of business. In fact, there is a decent amount of money to be made if you can rise above the competition.
Sourcing your equipment
Needless to say, you aren’t going to be cleaning carpets with light-duty, consumer-grade machines you can buy at your local big box store. As with any service business, you have to have professional equipment to do a proper job year over year. A household carpet cleaning machine will not last and will not have the ability to do a decent job. You need professional grade psi, vacuum pressure, tank capacity, etc. Not only that, but you’ll look a little silly doing a job with such a machine.
The first place you should be looking for your equipment is a professional carpet cleaning supply company. They have the machines that real carpet cleaners use day in and day out – and they also sell the chemicals you are going to need. Additionally, they may have classes that you can take to acquire the skills you’ll need to get started. At a minimum, they should give you training on the machine you are going to buy.
Professional carpet cleaners develop a relationship with such a company. Equipment, chemicals, service, advice – it’s all in one place.
If this isn’t feasible, then you’ll be pleased to know that you can still purchase professional machines from well known online retailers.