Let’s face it; residential carpet cleaning isn’t an easy business. Carpet cleaners always face the challenge of “re-selling” to the homeowner each time the carpets need to be cleaned. Plus, in many parts of the country, cleaners must contend with the winter months’ slow time and slow cash flow. This “Always Stay Clean” (ASC) program will solve these problems by putting your customers on an economical monthly payment “service agreement.” It does exactly what it says it will do, guarantee that the homeowner’s carpets will “Always Stay Clean.”
Present the ASC program to the homeowner during the initial cleaning. At this point, the customer is impressed with their beautiful, “new-like” carpets and will be concerned with how long they will stay that way. Under the ASC program, the customer will pay you for their initial cleaning, just as they planned to do when they called you for scheduling. But then you will charge them a monthly percentage fee (this can be paid for with an automatic withdrawal from their credit card or checking account). This monthly payment will cover a six-month “traffic areas” cleaning and full cleaning at the end of the twelve-month period. This program will stay in effect until either the customer or you want to modify or cancel it.
Advantages of the ASC Program
Guaranteed Clients: Imagine the “glue power” you have over someone who has already paid for their cleaning months in advance. Your competitors can advertise cut-rate pricing, yet these folks are already committed to you!
These customers will be pre-trained: If you are in their home every six months, year after year, with the “ASC” program, you will become part of their family. The customer knows what to expect, and your complaint ratio will drop dramatically. Much of your lost time in residential work can be chalked up to “training” new customers on what to expect.
You will save money on advertising costs: Almost all the advertising money carpet cleaners spend is focused on keeping a stream of new customers flowing in. Why do they have to do this? Because an equal number of ex-customers are flowing out the other way. How much better to keep the old customers tied to you with an “Always Stay Clean” agreement and put the “would be” ad money in your pocket?
Much faster production: As this ASC program is structured, the traffic lanes are cleaned every six months. Production time will be faster than a typical “resurrection cleaning” required for a carpet that hasn’t been cleaned in years. Additionally, you or your employees will already know the house and layout, which makes a job go much quicker.
Scheduling will be easier and more efficient: When you are just “waiting for the phone to ring,” you are constantly being hit with the old “Can you do it this afternoon?” question. So, you scramble, work your people over time, show up late, and everyone is unhappy. With the ASC program, you call your clients weeks ahead to inform them that their regular cleaning is due, AND you will have a truck in their area on a certain date.
Give a “discount with a reason”: Everyone is looking for a “deal.” The ASC program lets you give your customers a great price based on their becoming part of a regular maintenance program. Remember that they are paying ahead of time for work you have not yet produced, which leads to the next advantage …
A more even production load: One of the industry’s biggest problems is the “dead months,” when people don’t clean their carpets. But with every six-month cleaning, the ASC program encourages your people to stay busy year-round.
Greatly improved cash flow: Imagine going to the mailbox on February 1st (If you can reach it in the four feet of snow on the ground!) and finding thousands of dollars of ASC payments for work you haven’t yet done. Which leads to …
Reduces the need for outside borrowing: By having your customer’s money for work not yet performed, you can use this “float” for operating capital. Every dollar in your Stay Clean Account is one less dollar you must borrow on a credit line or other business loan.
Adds tremendous value to your business if and when you decide to “cash out”: The biggest problem in selling your carpet cleaning business is much of its value is intangible. Your prospective business buyer will not see anything concrete to prove to them (and their bankers) that your past profits will continue to flow in. But if you can hand a prospect four or five hundred Stay Clean agreements, it will be both reassuring emotionally and justify your hopefully high selling price!
Disadvantages of the ASC Program
Of course, nothing is perfect, and the program does have its downside.
Once you start it, you can’t easily stop it: With the ASC program, you are legally and ethically holding money “in trust” for future work. So, look before you leap since it isn’t easy to get out of once you start.
Requires high trust from your clients: Remember that these folks will give you money for up to a year before you provide the work. Great for you, but scary for them IF you don’t have a reliable history of years in the community and a great reputation.
You must have your act together with the bookkeeping: Most of these folks will pay you twelve times a year. That’s a lot of little transactions that need to be tracked. It’s not impossible, but you must have your systems in place and not fall behind! (And you must have your payments tied to your scheduling times.)
Scheduling the work: Even though your ASC clients will have already paid for their cleaning in advance and will owe nothing to get the work done, many times they are so busy it can be tough to get the work scheduled. However, the best part of the ASC program is that you become a trusted part of their family, and often, they will have the work done when they aren’t there. Result? Faster cleaning for you!
You must sell the program to your clients: Even though the ASC program is a great deal for your customers, they can’t flock to sign up for something they don’t know about. You and your employees will have to inform them of the program and sell them on the benefits to them.
You must start from profitable pricing: One of the big selling points of the ASC program is it represents substantial savings for the homeowner over your regular pricing. But if you are already working at “rock bottom,” how can you discount your prices to make a regular maintenance program attractive to your customers?
How the ASC program works:
Always get your initial cleaning price paid at the time of the cleaning. This now allows you to ‘stay in front” of the homeowner because they will start paying right away for work to be done in the future.
Choose a percentage of the initial cleaning price (or the price of the covered areas, which may be more or less than the initial cleaned area) to charge monthly for your ASC services. Many of our SFS members use a 10% per month charge. Why?
10% is a nice round percentage that appears “harmless” to the homeowner.
Customers tend to think they are getting “two cleanings for the price of one” as they forget the two extra months in a year!
This amount will be charged monthly to the customer’s credit card or check Account. This is the same automatic withdrawal procedure that many mortgage and auto finance companies use. Customers are accustomed to this concept, and most will have no problem with it. Some (usually well-heeled) clients will offer to pay the twelve-monthly payments up-front in one check. And that is even better!
Six months from the time of the initial cleaning (more or less depending on your workload and truck routing), you will call the Stay Clean client and say, “Mrs. Jones, it’s time for your regular six-month “traffic areas” cleaning. This is where we will clean all the visible traffic areas of the carpets covered under your plan. However, we won’t be moving the furniture this time. We will move, clean under, and replace the dining room table. We will have a crew in your area next Thursday morning. Will that work for you?”
Twelve months from the initial cleaning, you will make the same call, except the cleaning will include moving the furniture. (If it was done on the initial cleaning.)
The ASC program should be set up so it ‘automatically renews” unless you or the homeowner wish to modify or stop it.
Do I want to do this?
Does the program make sense to you? After reviewing the pros and cons listed above, only you can decide. So, it comes down to whether you can make money with the ASC program. Let’s analyze a typical job:
We’ll assume that the initial cleaning was a $300.00 job that took you (including “chat time” and struggling with a fairly soiled carpet) about 3 ½ hours. Excluding drive time, this is an $85.71 hourly average. Not too bad.
But let’s also look at this job over the next ten years. While most say they have their carpet cleaned yearly, many don’t. This generally is not for lack of money but time! People genuinely believe they have their carpets cleaned yearly. Yet, if you examine invoices, you will find it often stretches out to eighteen months or two years between cleanings. So, if we accept an average of eighteen months between cleaning (assuming you even keep this customer for the next ten years, which is not guaranteed), this Account will return you $2,100.00. (Based on cleaning the carpet seven times.)
Now on the ASC program, you will be charging $30.00 monthly and receive a guaranteed $3,600.00! Plus, you will gain all the other advantages noted above, including a “locked up” client. But will it make sense on an hourly basis since you obviously will be doing more work?
Over one year, you will receive $360.00. (Not counting any additional work, the customer’s request while you are in their home.) Now let’s divide our “pool” of money up this way:
Six-month traffic areas cleaning: 5 payments @ $30.00 = 150.00 Time required to do the traffic areas: 1.75 hours
Net return per hour: $85.71!!
Twelve-month cleaning: 7 payments @ $30.00 = $210.00
Time required to do the full cleaning. * 2.5 hours Net return per hour: $84.00!!
** Remember that while we are calculating this full cleaning job at one hour less than the initial “resurrection” cleaning, the carpets will be much cleaner than they were the first time, plus you will know the job. And you will require much less time to chat with and orient the homeowner, AND you can schedule this job while you are in the neighborhood and/or have a slow day.
Remember that the calculations above are very conservative and are based on a fairly small initial job amount. As the initial cleaning amount increases, the numbers look even better. But once again, the big benefit to you of the Stay Clean program lies not so much in the hourly return as in the stability and value it brings to your company.
Marketing and Selling the ASC Program
Even the most revolutionary products and services need to be marketed and sold. The ASC program is no exception. The ASC program can and should be sold both logically and emotionally. Here are some ideas on using both logic and emotions to sell your clients:
The ASC program is a good deal. Never ask your employees (or yourself, for that matter) to push something on your customers that isn’t right for them. But the ASC program makes much sense financially for your clients, and it will be obvious to them once you explain it.
Everyone likes and understands the concept of planned maintenance. But regular carpet cleaning and the idea of maintaining a healthy home often fall through the cracks. Why? I thought you would never ask …
Time is just so precious to your customers. Sell the idea that with the ASC program, they never need to think about maintaining their carpets again. And, of course, they can cancel or modify the program whenever they wish.
Both in your written/spoken advertising and when describing the ASC program to the customer, be sure to use emotional words and phrases. Words such as bright, clean, sparkling, healthy, shiny, soft, lustrous, and beautiful are powerful expressions that grab your client’s feelings. Make no mistake about it. Residential carpet cleaning is more of an emotional buying than a logical maintenance decision!
One of the easiest ways to sell the ASC program in the customer’s home is to casually ask, “Have you heard about our new regular maintenance program for your carpets? We call it our Stay Clean program, and the name says it all! …” By their response, the customer will tell you whether to go further and simply describe what the program entails. Once people grasp the concept, the program sells itself!
One reason it is so easy to sell the ASC program is that Big-ticket retailers have been pushing the concept of “Service Agreements” for many years. Say, “Mrs. Jones, you know how when you buy a new refrigerator, the merchant simultaneously pushes you to purchase a service agreement? The problem is that this shiny new refrigerator may run fine for the next thirty years, and you will have wasted your money on the service agreement. But we both know your family (smile here) and know your carpets will get dirty again! So, the Stay Clean program is just a service agreement with a guaranteed value that you know you will need!”
Use visuals to help people understand the concept. (Those life insurance salesmen with flip charts know a thing or two!) Once again, when people understand the Stay Clean program, a large percentage will sign up for it. (Assuming they are impressed enough with their initial cleaning to want to do business with you again!) You can develop a graph showing the “ups and downs” of carpet appearance of the typical one-to-two-year cleaning cycle versus the Always Clean concept.
Be discreet here, but it may be appropriate to mention that many of their neighbors are on the Stay Clean program, and if they have already referred to a given neighbor by name, you can say that this person is a Stay Clean member. Peer pressure isn’t just powerful with our young folks. It works with any age group.
Don’t be shy. After describing the program and if the customer still hasn’t given any “positive buying signals,” such as nodding agreement or giving positive verbal feedback, ask them if they think the program will work for them.
On the other hand, never allow yourself or your technicians to be pushy in the customer’s home. It is wrong, counterproductive, and not needed with the ASC program. If someone needs it, they will readily sign up for it. But first, someone must tell them about it, which means you must …
Motivate your employees. While the ASC program virtually sells itself, you or your employee must at least bring it up to the homeowner and explain it.
Useful modifications and options you may wish to include:
One free spotting call per year. This greatly increases the customer’s “perception of value” but costs you very little. Very few will take advantage of the free spotting call.
Another valuable technique is to offer a discount on additional work done simultaneously because you are already in the home on the ASC cleaning. Remember that the customer is programmed to pay something when you visit. So, they will be extremely receptive to including a sofa cleaning or a deodorizing treatment, especially when you mention that they receive 15% or 20% off on additional services as an ASC member.
If you have trouble making the numbers work for you with your pricing at the 10% per month schedule, you can change the cleaning order or frequency.
Remember, if you incorporate “encapsulation carpet cleaning” or another “very low moisture, VLM” cleaning method, six-month “traffic areas” cleanings will be at a lower cost to you and a lot less fuss to the customer. These VLM systems offer very fast dry times and will feather nicely in the cleaned and non-cleaned areas. And you will save the set-up time of a truck mount.
Make the agreement both “easy to sign” and “open-ended.” You will never keep any carpet cleaning account based on legal language. Customers keep using your services based on your reliable and professional service and the pleasant experience they receive from your friendly employees. So, the agreement should state that either party (you or the homeowner) can terminate the agreement with either thirty days’ written notice or at any time. It is also good to clearly include what you will do in the agreement.
It is very safe for you and comforting for your prospect to include in writing that they can cancel the agreement (try to use this word instead of the more legalistic word “contract”) at any time, and any unused money in their Account will be returned to them. If they are moving, they will often use their credit to have the carpets cleaned after they move out or to clean the carpets in the new home.
Remember, these principles can also work great in the commercial sector!