Life is strange.
I began my career in the restoration industry because of two last-minute cancellations at my carpet and air duct cleaning business. My business partner, Larry, and I both had clients call us and cancel last minute, so we decided to meet up in a parking lot on a busy intersection to have lunch together.
As we stood in the parking lot eating from our lunches next to our wrapped vans, a truck drove up to us and the driver leaned out and asked us if we did carpet and duct cleaning. We responded “yes” and he held out his card and said he was the lead project manager for a very large restoration company in our area. He was looking for new subs for cleaning. We said we would be happy to work with them and we scheduled a meeting for the next week.
The very next day, an event which is now widely known as the Freeway Complex Fire in Southern California struck. From that point forward, I spent nearly every day of the next 15 years of my life on restoration job sites. It is funny how life puts us in positions and places which can change the trajectory of our lives in an instant.
We performed subcontracted cleaning jobs for the better part of a year as a result of the Freeway Complex fires and received a true education as to what it meant to be a restorer by watching this restoration company in action. I knew right away I wanted to be part of this amazing industry.
After finishing up with all the fire-related cleaning work, in addition to serving our regular carpet cleaning clients, we began to pivot our business toward water mitigation and mold remediation. By this point, we had added several staff members and truck mounts to fulfill all the work we were doing on restoration jobs. When the fire work began to wane, we needed to make sure we could keep our team intact by getting mitigation work of our own.
As we began to market our water mitigation service, it very quickly eclipsed our carpet cleaning revenue. We kept adding mitigation techs, estimators, and project managers. Mitigation work was becoming all-encompassing for us and it was beginning to get harder and harder to get excited about carpet cleaning. The problem was we had wonderful carpet cleaning clients and great technicians who were doing very good work. In spite of that, I kept thinking to myself that this carpet cleaning stuff was distracting me from our #1 revenue source and I started to think we should shut it down.
The thing is, I really love carpet cleaning. It was how we started in this business in the first place. I loved the equipment, the truckmounts, the chemistry, and most of all I loved working with my carpet techs. I really didn’t want to shut the cleaning down and have my great techs go elsewhere for employment. They were my team and my responsibility. Therefore, I had to figure out a way to make carpet cleaning work for our company and turn it into a real profit center instead of an afterthought.
So, Larry and I sat down and went to work on what business model would work for our carpet cleaning department and how we could maximize its revenue and impact. After looking at our book of business, we realized 90% of our cleaning work was residential and 10% was commercial. However, we got a fair amount of new water losses from our carpet cleaning clients and realized we could get even more losses if we turned our attention to three types of commercial cleaning, which we felt would increase our flood work.
First, I began to market to hotels, especially hotels with large ballrooms. These types of properties tend to have a lot of guests stay overnight for weddings and big events and tend to be more prone to water damage losses. Our philosophy was that if we are cleaning the hotel flooring on a consistent basis and doing a great job, the facility manager would become comfortable with our team and our company. Therefore, when water or smoke damage occurred, they would trust us to fix the problem.
We also came into the bidding process with these larger hotel properties armed with two things many of our carpet cleaning competitors could not o.er.
First, we created a complete scope of work for the year and would let the hotel pay us in equal monthly installments in the yearly contract to help their cash flow. Most carpet cleaners in our area were unwilling to commit to long term contracts and amortized payment schedules. We were more than willing to do this to get a chance to do not only the cleaning, but their restoration work as well.
Second, because we were a restoration company, we were accustomed to mobilizing many employees on a job at once, so we could knock out these big cleaning jobs by cross training our technicians and sending a large team to these venues to get the work done in a timely manner.
When meeting with facility managers, we would sell them on the idea that we could get the work done faster, at all hours of the day or night, and they would not have to pay all at once. We had many takers and began a journey into commercial cleaning that was not only profitable in its own right, but allowed us to get some of the largest water damage losses in our company’s history.
Next, I began a quest to get contracts with as many private universities and high schools in our area as I could. I liked them because they generally wanted to clean on a very consistent schedule, which was set far in advance, to coincide with their school breaks. That way I could plan all of these contracts for the entire year, versus lots of last minute jobs. Additionally, these types of institutions tended to have many restoration-related events. We fixed many a student-caused water and fire job at our private school clients. Again, they were more than willing to have us do the mitigation work for them since they knew, liked, and trusted us already.
Last, we used commercial carpet cleaning to go after those coveted property managers all restoration companies are seeking. We realized how much competition we had as Larry and his team of business development reps called on property managers for restoration work. So, to combat all the competition, we began pushing our commercial cleaning abilities to the property managers in hopes of gaining a relationship with them. We felt by doing this, we would eventually get all of the water and fire work as well. Our mindset was if we can “wow” these managers with our abilities in cleaning and continue to market our restoration services to them at the same time, we would eventually get all of the work. Happily, that was the case with nearly every property management company we ever cleaned for. We got in the door with our floor cleaning and created great restoration clients out of them in the long run.
I know it is understandable for cleaning companies to want to transition away from cleaning as they begin to do more and more lucrative restoration work. I also know many restorers scoff at the idea of having a cleaning division. However, I would argue that from my experience, having a cleaning division can be a driver of restoration work and can give you not only profitable and consistent cleaning work, but a way to increase your revenue in your restoration company.