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Where's the Money? Carpet and Upholstery Cleaning Can Boost Revenue

Written by  Dawn Shoemaker

Guess what? A lot of building service contractors (BSCs) out there don’t make much money cleaning buildings. Why is this? The cleaning market has always been competitive, and many customers still undervalue the importance of cleaning and maintenance.

But the recent downturn in the economy has only exacerbated the problem. It has affected the cleaning profession possibly more than any downturn in the past. More than ever, some customers are looking for the lowest prices they can get, making it very difficult for BSCs to make a healthy profit on their services.

So if BSCs don’t earn enough money cleaning their customers’ buildings, why do they do it? They do it because they have found other potentially lucrative opportunities, charging for add-on services, such as window cleaning, floor refinishing, and carpet and upholstery cleaning, to round out their business menu.

Carpet and upholstery cleaning can provide many possibilities for added revenue, and offering an array of quality services may increase a BSC’s appeal. But before a BSC runs out and purchases a new carpet extractor or other type of cleaning equipment, he or she should ask these questions:

  • How can you tell a nylon carpet from a wool carpet?
  • How can you determine if a chair is upholstered in a natural fabric or a synthetic?
  • What is the difference between a spot and a stain?

Answers provided below.

The point here is that cleaning carpets and upholstery is not as easy or straightforward as one might think.

Learning the Ropes

BSCs in the United States who want training in carpet and upholstery cleaning have several options, such as the IICRC (Institute of Inspection, Cleaning and Restoration Certification). This nonprofit organization not only provides instruction in best practices, but it also sets standards for the carpet and upholstery cleaning industry. It offers a variety of classes on topics from general carpet cleaning to repairing and reinstalling carpets or controlling odors. In addition, the Building Service Contractors Association International (BSCAI) offers a variety of training programs, many of them related to carpet, fabric, and upholstery care.

At least two national distributorships with locations in different parts of the country offer training programs as well. Many classes are coordinated with the IICRC, while others are taught by IICRC-trained technicians or other experts in fiber and fabric cleaning. These are just a few of the options out there.

For BSCs who want to add carpet and upholstery cleaning to their list of services, training and education are a must. Carpet cleaning is a science, and no cleaning professional wants to learn this science by trial and error on a customer’s carpets. With proper training, however, BSCs can become experts in this field of cleaning.

A Look at the Equipment: Interim Cleaning Methods

When it comes to carpet cleaning, there are entry-level machines, which are used for “interim” carpet cleaning, and higher-end systems, used for deep cleaning. Let’s start with a discussion of interim cleaning equipment.

Some reports indicate that the two most popular ways carpets are cleaned in commercial facilities are shampooing and bonnet cleaning. There are many reasons for this. Most BSCs have buffers or 175 rpm floor machines. Adding an attachment that allows the machine to shampoo or bonnet clean carpets is relatively inexpensive, and little training is needed. As cleaning agents are applied to the carpet, the machine provides the agitation to help loosen and remove soils. Further, carpets cleaned using this method typically dry fairly quickly—a key benefit. That means if an office hallway is cleaned in the evening, it most likely will be relatively dry by the time the facility opens for business in the morning.

There are also dry methods to clean carpets, including encapsulation. While the dry methods have their differences, the technique is similar. A cleaning agent is applied to carpets and attaches to soils. Usually the cleaning agents are “worked in” to the carpet using a special machine. The carpets are then vacuumed, and with each vacuuming more of the cleaning agent and soils are removed. As with shampooing and bonnet cleaning, these systems are generally inexpensive and relatively easy to learn. And because no water is used, there are no concerns about drying times or blocking off areas that are still wet.

However, while these methods have their benefits, they are called “interim” for a reason. They can help remove surface-level soiling in a busy carpeted walkway or make an office carpet look brighter and cleaner, but they do not deep clean carpets. When carpets need to be deep cleaned, a carpet extractor is necessary.

A Look at Equipment: Carpet Extractors

According to Mark Cuddy, national sales manager for U.S. Products, makers of professional carpet cleaning equipment, the most practical type of machine for BSCs to select is a portable carpet extractor. “Truckmount systems are limited because the hose can only reach so far,” he says. “For a multifloor facility, you just can’t use them.”

Some carpet cleaners prefer truckmounts because they can be powerful machines. Cuddy argues that portable carpet extractors not only offer greater versatility, but they also have come a long way technologically, and many are able to clean even the most heavily soiled carpets without sacrificing quality.

According to Cuddy, a quality entry-level system costs around $2,000. These systems generally have the following features:

  • A 50-200 psi pump (adjustable) to tackle different soiling needs
  • A two- or three-stage vacuum motor for effective moisture removal
  • A 10- to 13-gallon solution/recovery tank
  • Heat (heating the water/cleaning solutions is typically found on more advanced portable systems)
  • A durable roto-molded body

“If BSCs do their homework and make a good selection, an entry-level unit can provide excellent performance at a modest price and [provide] years of service,” says Cuddy. “Many cleaning companies start with a system like this and find it is all they need.”

A higher-end machine can cost $2,500 or more. Cuddy advises that more expensive machines should be selected by “BSCs that do a lot of carpet cleaning or want to offer carpet cleaning as a separate service to both residential and commercial customers.”

Higher-end machines usually have features such as these:

  • Adjustable 500 psi (lower psi for delicate upholstery, higher for soiled carpets)
  • A more powerful vacuum system for greater moisture removal
  • Heat, which can improve the effectiveness of cleaning chemicals
  • A 14- to 16-gallon solution/recovery tank
  • Low moisture system (these systems use less water and have advanced moisture recovery systems)

“I would also look for a system that has earned the Seal of Approval from the Carpet and Rug Institute,” adds Cuddy. “[The CRI’s] independent testing verifies it meets high performance standards with less impact on the environment.”

For those BSCs offering green cleaning programs to their clients, many manufacturers now have green-certified carpet chemicals that work with most carpet extractors. Many spotters and other chemicals used for cleaning are also now certified by leading green certification organizations.

Accessories

Many other moderately priced tools and accessories are available to BSCs. However, must-haves are a spotting kit and a spotter. Some spotters look like miniature carpet extractors with small solution/recovery tanks. They are typically lightweight and can be used for spot cleaning both upholstery and carpets.

BSCs have many more types of carpet cleaning systems to consider, including walk-behinds, multi-purpose or dual-surface systems that can clean carpets as well as floors, as well as air movers that reduce drying time.

Nevertheless, of all the items discussed, training and education are the most important. Proper training and education ensure BSCs learn not only best practices for carpet and upholstery cleaning, but also about the products, accessories, and equipment that will best meet their needs.

Dawn Shoemaker is a freelance writer for the professional cleaning industry.

 

ANSWERS:

How can you tell a nylon carpet from a wool carpet? How can you spot a natural fabric on a chair compared to a synthetic? The answer to both of these questions is the same. To determine the kind of fabric, carpet cleaning technicians often do a “burn test.” A few carpet fibers are trimmed and then put under a flame. Various kinds of fiber have different colored flames, odors, and other characteristics. By knowing those characteristics the technician can figure out the type of fiber. This is often the most effective way to identify different fibers.

What is the difference between a spot and a stain? A spot tends to be on the surface of the carpet/upholstery and can be removed. A stain is more permanent. It may have actually discolored the carpet fiber or fabric. However, in some cases and with the proper spotting equipment, repair is possible.

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