Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Video: How Surfactants Help You Clean!

Well it is Tuesday so it is time for a technical tip.  Today we had a conference call on the Home Cleaning Technician class which inspired me to shot this video in my basement.  I was going to download some fancy software and dress it up some more but I kind of like the obvious home made look :-)   This a couple of minute example of what we will be teaching in the Home Cleaning Technician Class.  I hope you learn from it.  For more details on the class go to www.isetoday.com

Monday, January 30, 2012

Three things every advertisement MUST have!

Before buying My Maid Service I spent 12 years working at Procter & Gamble in sales and marketing.  P&G is considered the world's best marketing company with over 40 Billion-dollar brands including Tide, Pampers, Gillette, and Pringles.  Grab your latest advertisement and review it as you read this article to see if it measures up.

At P&G they taught us that all effective advertisements must contain three things.  There are lots of cute things you see in ads like catch phrases and humor but if you do not do these 3 things the advertisement will fail.  Don't get lost in the cute.

  1. Make a Claim. - You have to tell your consumer why your product is going to make their lives better. For examples right now Pampers makes the claim “Helps maintain the natural healthy look of your baby's skin.”  In our industry we may claim things like “We will give you back your weekend.” Or to quote The Maids Home Services “Nobody outcleans the Maids.”  That is a great claim.  I really wish they did not have it trademarked.  
  2. Provide a reason to believe - You just told the consumer how great you are.  Now back it up. This is why right after the claim on a TV advertisement there is almost always a demo, some cool technology explained, or some back up piece of data.  For example Pampers will often say “Pampers Swaddlers with absorb away liners are the #1 choice of hospitals.”  In My Maid Service advertisements I always include the phrase “Voted the best in Cincinnati for 3 years in a row.” If you cannot use a third party endorsement you can talk about the cleaning products you use, the 39 item check list, or the experience of your employees.  Use whatever explains how you will deliver on the claim you made above.
  3. Call to Action – You told them what your are going to do and why they should trust you.  Now close the deal.  Tell the consumer what to do.  For example, “Call 513-934-3254 for $20 off your first cleaning” or “Join our email list to receive great deals.”

Look at all your advertisements and make sure they have all three of these.  Even the professionals make serious mistakes.  Just last month I paid thousands of dollars to be in one of those direct mail coupon envelopes like Val Pak.  When they sent me my advertisement it looked great and I showed it to all the people in my office.  No one noticed the error, including me.  Then I sat down and made a quick check for my 3 key elements.  There was no phone number or web address.  I had this great ad that the designer, my entire office staff, and even a 12 year marketing veteran did not notice had no way for the consumer to contact us.

So does this technique work?   Well it did for this article.  I convinced you to give me your valuable time to read my article.  Read the first paragraph again.  Claim  - I will teach you how to grow you business.  Reason to believe – I worked for 12 years in marketing for the world's best marketing company.   Call to Action -  Read this article and apply it to your latest marketing piece.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Measuring the pulse of my business

I have built my business around reoccurring customers. I will not turn away a one time job if we can fit it on the schedule but they are hard to predict and even a large one time clean is normally only $500. For the ease of the math, assume your average bi weekly (every other week) client is billed $100 a visit, they will spend $2,600 a year on for as long as you do business with them. Because they are so important to me, I have created a simply point system to track my business. Basically a client is assigned a value for the number of times per month we would clean them. Weekly clients are 4 points, bi weekly are 2 points, and monthly clients are 1 point. We then keep a running tally. If we gain a new client we add the points. If we lose them we subtract the points. I have a big board in my office that we reset every month that looks like below.

Name               Gain or Loss               Frequency         Value             Total
Smith, Jane       Gain                            Monthly            +1                 +1
Moore, David   Gain                            Weekly            +4                 +5
Burns, Linda      Loss                           Bi Weekly        -2                  +3

I like my system because it is a quick and easy to way to keep track of my business. Some people disagree with my system and say that some clients are worth more than others. Say for example a large home I charge $150 a visit is counted the same in my model as a small apartment we clean for $85 per visit. This is true, but I find over time it all seems to average out and you can drive yourself crazy trying to track your business down to the dollar on the fly. My software will give me the actual $ gained and lost each month when I run the report at month end but I like this system because it is easy to understand for all my employees. I think of it this way.  This system is about making sure I have my finger on the pulse of my company.  Just like there are fancier ways to measure health with extra equipment, there are much more detailed ways to keep track of your business.  But much like taking the pulse of a person, this method lets me quickly know if I have a problem or not without all the fuss and it is easy for everyone to understand.

I have this on a huge white board so everyone can see it. We take it a step further and write wins in Green and Losses in red. This keeps everyone in my office aligned on what really matters to me, adding more on-going clients than we lose. They know when there is a lot of green on the board I am giving extra hours and hiring. They also know if the board has too much red on it, I will have to start cutting back on hours.

In the example above we are plus 3 for the month.  This means we have booked 3 more on-going appointments per month than we have lost.  If we take the average cleaning charge of $100 from the example above, this means we have booked $300 a month in on-going revenue.  That is $3,600 a year.  I can tell all that in 30 seconds with no software or fancy reports.  That is how I keep my finger on the pulse of my business. 

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Lessons learned: No man can serve two masters

My blog on Groupon from Thursday made me think of another more general lesson I have learned and unfortunately it took several times of learning it for the lesson to really stick.  That lesson is no man, or cleaning business, can serve two masters.  Let me explain what I mean.  Most of you have learned that managing the expectations of one customer is hard enough.  What makes it even harder is managing the expectations of two people.  Let me give you a few examples. 

At some point, most cleaning service owners decide they want to work with real estate agents.  After all, agents know when people are moving into and out of town and clients often ask for recommendations.  However, more often than not, these relationships end in disaster.  Why?  The answer is simple, there are two masters.  Let me give you a few examples.  A realtor has a client trying to sell his house.  The agent recommends they hire cleaning service and recommends you.  You talk to the client listing the home and decide on a budget and scope of work.  You do a walk through and the client is happy.  The next day, you get a furious call from the realtor.  She has a standard of clean and we have not met it.  She expects a professionally cleaned house to look like X, Y, and Z and we did not do it.  We try to explain that her client did not want for and refused to pay for those services but she is having none of it.  She cannot show the house like this.  She has a reputation to defend and she will not refer us any more business unless we reclean the house to her standards. 

Lets look at another version of this I have seen.  You get a call from a landlord.  His renter is moving in and the house is basically clean, he already had it cleaned once and it met his standards.  His new tenant is not happy and wants a few things touched up.  The landlord agrees to pay for up to 4 hours of touch up work but not a penny more.  You get there and the landlord is right but this is a VERY picky tenant.  She wants every black mark off the baseboards, the fridge to look like brand new, and all the windows and tracks spotless.   You call the landlord and explain that it will take more time but he is having none of it.  4 hours is enough he says.  The place was already clean, make the renter prioritize.  The renter is furious, she wants her house spotlessly clean and it is our fault because we are refusing to do the work.  Everyone is unhappy and you are stuck in an impossible situation.

It has taken far too many times to learn this lesson but more often than not, if there are two parties to a cleaning service, it is going to end badly.  You are almost always better off to just walk away from these kinds of jobs.  They create far too much heart ache for the amount of money involved because they are almost always one time jobs.

Why groupon will kill you part 1

I am going to write an entire series on why not to run Groupon.  Part one, it is bad for your reputation.  All of these sites are designed to encourage impulse buying.  There is a time limit ticking down and a deal they will lose if they not act now.  People are busy and they DO NOT READ THE OFFER!  No matter how clear you think you may be in the offer, they are not going to read it.  They are going to skim it an make assumptions then press buy and their credit card gets charged.  Then they call you to schedule the serve. 

Compare this to how we normally sell our services.  Someone calls us and we talk to them either in person or over the phone.  Some people have crazy expectations.  Some people are outside our area.  Some people call the day before a major holiday and want to be scheduled before the holiday.  In each of these cases we explain what we can and cannot do and let them know we cannot help them.  They then move on to another service.   Bullet dodged.

Let me explain what happens with Groupon.  They skim the offer and read “house cleaning $75”.  They go great, my mother in law is coming this weekend and I really need more 6,000 square foot house 30 miles away from town cleaned and they press buy.  They almost never call BEFORE they buy.  I know people that sold 1,400 coupons and 12 people called before they bought.  Now you are thinking, but Derek, my offer was very clear.  When they call I will just explain I cannot give them what they want and they can get a refund from Groupon or give it to a friend.  Well yes, that is what would happen if we were dealing with a rational person but lets be clear, this is NOT a rational customer we are talking about.  This is the person that calls you for a quote and you decline their business and suggest they call your worst enemy to cuase them pain and torment.  This is evil impossible to please customer has already bought and paid for your service.  No one screaned this impossible to please customer out of your system.  These people will tear you to pieces on line because you did not deliver on their EXPECTATIONS. 

I did a small test with a Groupon like deal.  I am thankful every day I did a small test and only sold 54 of these.   I had one man that I sold a coupon just like I described above.  I kindly explained that I could not do what he needed done and to call Groupon and get a refund.  We did not even try to clean this guy.  I even pointed out that the offer said on it we could not guarantee days, we only services these areas, and the offer was for only 4 hours.  It did not matter.  This man was FURIOUS.  He had company coming.  He bought a coupon to get his house cleaned and we were letting him down.  He needed his 6,000 square foot (plus basement) house cleaned tomorrow on Friday and it was 20 miles outside our service area.  I very calmly pointed out the details of the offer but it did not matter.  I even told him how to get a full refund.

 Now the coupon was very clear.  If this went to court I would win in 45 seconds.  But in this case I get tried in a new court called on line and social media.  This gentleman, and I use the term very loosely, then went online to Yelp, Google, City Search, and anywhere else he could find and posted terrible reviews on how he had scheduled a cleaning service with our company and we refused to deliver what he was promised causing his big family reunion to be a disaster.   Yes I responded on line but it lowered my star rating and a lot of people do not read the comments and now my average is lower.

Some people I have shared this story with said I should have cleaned him just to keep him happy.  I disagree.  This man was impossible to please and basically an evil human.  If I had managed to get the 10 hours of labor clear on 24 hours notice to clean his home for $37.50, this is the kind of person that does not treat people well.  He would have mistreated my employees maybe causing me to lose some employees.  I would have had to bump other good full price paying clients.   I would have lost hundreds of dollars and he probably would still write a bad review.  I was *&%$ the second he pressed that buy button.  All I could do is minimize the damage.  For this reason Groupon, Living Social, and any other web platform that sells my service without having the client first talk to me, is doomed to fail.  We must always talk to the client first to make sure they have realistic expectations before they buy because no matter what disclaimers you have, if you cannot meet their expectations after the purchase they will not be happy.

Executive Leadership Training for Residential Cleaning Companies

this picture was taken right around the corner from the hotel!

I am still in Orlando today.  I am on the board of the Association of Residential Cleanings Services International and we meet three times a year in person and this the big annual planning meeting.  We have a great plan for the year.  However I what I am really excited about right now is the ARCSI Executive Leadership Conference.  ARCSI has two big events a year.  The Convention is a 4 – 5 day event with lots of training tracks specific to our industry, big speakers like Annie Duke and Tom Peters, and a trade show with thousands of vendors of cleaning products and supplies.  The ELC is a much smaller and more intimate event.  It is a two day event and it is focused on business issues, not cleaning business, but any business.  This year is no different.

This year is no different.  This year the speakers are on sales, employee law, disaster planning, and pricing for profit.  Disaster planning hit especially close to home this year because two ARCSI members were hit by disasters.  One had her business and many of her customers flood out and another had her office building catch on fire.  Could your business survive this?  This is what one of our speakers will be covering.

I personally am excited about the sales training.  This is not one of those 1 hour previews then they ask you for more money for more details.  This is an all day long sales training starting at 8:30 AM and ending at 5:00 PM.  But we are not done yet.  After a break for dinner we get back together for two hours to break into teams to develop sales plans to take back to our businesses.  We want you to leave with a real actionable plan to take home.  Some people think they do not need sales because we are residential cleaners and not making sales calls on businesses.  I would strongly disagree.  Every in person estimate and networking event is sales.  To be clear, this is not a sleazy style of sales.  Real successful sales is understanding the pain points of your customer and bringing them solutions customized to their needs.  Sales is effective communication.    Here is the link to the official event page.

The board learned the hard way a few years ago to always try out of hotel before we have a meeting somewhere so for this meeting the board stayed in the hotel for ELC.  It is a fantastic hotel.  It is on the Disney campus and it is right across the street from downtown Disney which is full of restaurants and entertainment including Cirque de Soliel. 


The ELC room rate is $99.00 a night and includes parking, high speed internet, and resort fees which is quite a deal.  The rooms are very nice and they include a refrigerator which saves a ton of money because you can keep breakfast and drinks in your room.  There are great pools and free children’s activities on the weekends.

Finally, this is one of the best weeks of the year to visit Disney. This is a great chance to mix some business and some pleasure.   In my opinion it is the best week.  Some weeks like right after Thanksgiving are a little less crowded but it can be cold.  (yes it dies get cold in this part of Florida).  April is a great time because the weather is warm enough to enjoy the heated pools at the hotel if you want but not hot at all.  And because it is right after Spring break ends, the park is largely empty.  You don’t have to take my word for it.  Here is a list of the top 10 weeks to visit Disney and this week is in the top 10.


I am going and I hope to see a lot of you there too.  You do not need to be a member of ARCSI to attend.  Also don’t worry if you do not know anyone.  Shot me an email to let me know you are coming and I will meet you the first night to make some introductions and make sure you have someone to hang out with and get some meals.  email derek

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Sticks of Stone to Scour Nasty Zones

I am sorry I have not posted for a few days.  I took Sunday off and then due to some bad weather in Atlanta I was stuck in airports most of the day Monday.  Today I am in Orlando for a board meeting of the Assocation of Residential Cleaning Services International (www.arcsi.org).   It is Tuesday so today is a product tip. 

This week I thought I would write an article about one of my all time favorite tools and in my opinion, a highly under rated cleaning product, the pumice stick. We have used pumice sticks to clean up some of the worst messes we have ever seen. We do a lot of really terrible homes in our business and we always use a pumice stone in these homes.

Pumice Sticks are just like the sound. It is a stick made of pumice which is lava stone. Some are sold on a handle and others are just a stone. Pumice works by scouring off stains. A pumice stone is very abrasive so we only use them in two places. First, pumice stones are great to remove stains from inside toilets. We do a lot of real-estate cleans of vacant homes with terrible hard water stains in the toilets from sitting unused for months. Often even the strongest toilet bowl cleaner will just turn the hard water stains blue, making them look even worse. This is when we whip out the pumice stone. Just rub the stone on the hard water ring and it quickly disappears. It has not failed me yet. The other place that pumice stones shine is in ovens. When we do move-out cleans for apartment complexes the ovens are normally a disaster and oven cleaner barely touches the stains. Once again use a pumice stick, with water to lubricate it, and all the blackest build up will come right off. 

Another great benefit of pumice sticks is they use no chemicals at all. They are 100% green and use nothing but water. I occasionally have customers that want an oven cleaned but say we cannot use oven cleaner because they will have a reaction to it. I let these customers know I can clean their oven with nothing but water and a pumice stick. These sticks do have some limits. First they wear down quickly and they can be expensive at $2 - $3 each so I only use them when all else fails.  Sometimes you can find them at dollar stores and if so, stock up.  The other problem with pumice sticks is if you use them somewhere they are not designed for, like in a sink, you can cause a lot of damage. But when used properly these little sticks will scour away your problem area.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Trying to cram a lot of education into two days

Well it is Saturday so I am working.  Today is a little different because I am still in Charleston and today I am in a meeting with 3 other cleaning business owners.  For the last two days we did a run through of the Home Cleaning Certification class.  For the next several days we are tweaking the material then on Tuesday we are teaching the class again to some actual employees from our companies to see if what works for the owners also works for the techs.  For those of you that may not know, The Clean Trust (Formerly IICRC) has created a home cleaning certification program and I partners with 3 other cleaning companies in creating a training school for this program.  (www.isetoday.com)   In February we are teaching the class in public for the first time and it is really important we work all the bugs out so this first class is just blown away by the content.

 This is really hard work and not to different from what most of us face day to day in our companies.  Cleaning involves a lot of science, customer service skills, and some art all mixed into one.   Trying to train someone on this is both one of the most critical things we do and the hardest.  Generally we do not get people that did well in school as employees so trying to do a traditional class room experience followed by 160 question like we are doing is a challenge.  We need to make sure we address needs of adult learners and different learning styles. 

However the win can be so huge.  Let me give you a real example from what I read in Linked In groups today.  A cleaner posted she had a client with a marble shower.  She has a lot of soap scum build up.  She is not sure what to do because she does not want to damage the marble.  Her decision was to call a professional stone care company and pass it to them.  I am hoping that after taking a training class like ours the tech will understand a few principles.

      1.  The marble her shower is made out of and the soap scum both contain the same basic ingredient, calcium carbonate.   Acid is an effective way to remove calcium carbonate but it does not know the difference between soap scum and the shower stone.
      2.  Acid strength is measured on the pH scale and different cleaning products contain acids of different strengths but this can be determined by reading the MSDS sheets.
      3.  The only 100% sure way to fix this problem is probably to diamond grind and polish the marble, a very expensive proposition.
      4.  Anything we tell a client up front is an education.  Anything after the fact is an excuse. 

So this is how I would want a fully educated tech to handle this.  “Mrs. Smith.  Soap scum is made up of dissolved minerals mostly calcium carbonate which are deposited on the walls of the shower then the water evaporates.  Unfortunately, your shower tile is marble which is also made from the same basic minerals.   I can remove the soap scum but there is a good chance that the acid will damage the tile as well.  To minimize this risk I am going to start with a relatively weak acid and work up slowly until the soap scum is removed.  If I do this and damage the stone, the marble will have to be diamond polished to repair it.  Right now the other alternative is to just skip trying to clean it and go straight to diamond polishing.  Mrs. Smith, would you like me to attempt to remove the soap scum knowing the risk to the tile?”   If yes have her sign something that she understands the risk.  Regardless of her decision, I would talk to her about how to maintain the shower going forward so this does not happen again. 

So that sounds all good but for this to work I need my cleaner to understand how to identify the tile in the shower as well as the soap scum that is causing the white film.  She needs to understand how to remove soap scum and that the solution to soap scum causes damage to the tile.  She needs to know the pH of cleaners and understand how to rank them in order of strength.  Finally she has to be able to communicate all of this to her client.  This is a really big challenge and this is just for one example.  We need to cover every surface and material in the home.  This is why it is so hard to be a truly great home cleaning company.  This is an incredible amount of training we need to provide and at the same time we are under huge pressure to keep our prices as low as possible because the perception is “anyone can clean a home.”

This is both our challenge and our opportunity with the HCT program.  By teaming up with The Clean Trust we can educate consumers on how important it is to find a trained cleaner for their homes and we have given them a means to find one through the certification program.  However the challenge is actually delivering the training in 2 days in such a way that they can pass 160 question test and then take and use that knowledge in their day to day work.   I am very excited about this work because if we can make it work it is a true game changer for our industry.  In addition, everything I am learning on how to teach these classes I am applying back to my own training programs.  I wish I had all the answers on this one but I do not yet.  All I can do is promise we are working very hard to figure it out.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Midnight Adventures in Business Ownership

This article was originally published in the Association of Residential Cleaning Services International's newsletter but it is the most mentioned of all my articles so I am reprinting it here.

Normally these articles are written to educate but this week this article is a combination of entertainment and venting. I just had a very bad day, or rather night. It all fell apart. Most people that write about their business seem like we have all the answers and you probably imagine our businesses run like some perfect machine. Hopefully you can see in this article that we, or at least I, by no means have a perfect company and maybe laugh a little at my expense. It also shows how important it is to do what ever it takes to keep the client happy.  Sometimes you just have to tell someone that will understand the crazy things we do for our business.

I have a new commercial account for about a month, an ice cream parlor about 5 minutes from my office. We have to clean it after 8 PM and before 7 AM. The job is small at only 2 hours a night but it is 5 nights a week for about $12,000 a year. A nice account. The person who had been cleaning it is leaving because she moved further away. She gave her notice two weeks ago and we have had no problems. Last night was her last night and she was to meet the new guy, train him, and hand over the keys. It should be cake walk as all she had to do was supervise the new guy and get paid the same as when she did the work. They were supposed to meet at 8:30 PM.

I get text at 8:30 that she is running late but is on the way and will be there by 9:00 PM so I go to bed. At 10:45 I get text that she never showed up and the new guy went home and called another employee who sends the text me. I have a back up person, but of course she is out sick this week, so I get the clean the place. No big deal. I will just get up at 4:00 AM and do the work from 5:00 – 7:00 AM. But I cannot sleep. I am mad and I find myself worrying that maybe it will run late and not be done by 7:00 AM when my BNI networking group will meet at this restaurant. So not only will I lose the customer, my networking group will see what terrible job we did.

So I give up and decide to clean it so I can go to bed when I am done. At midnight I am trying to sneak out of the house and I find my wife is up. She was too wired from Roller Derby practice to sleep and I do not want to tell her what is up because I do not want to be told at midnight how she told me not to take the account, which she did, and that I ignored her, which I did. Im already in a very bad mood and being told how right she was at this time will not be good for our marriage.  So I make idle chatter with her about how great derby practice was when in truth I am not hearing a word she is saying.  I wait for her to go to bed at 12:30 and then drive to the office which takes about 30 minutes.

Now it really gets fun. I lost my keys at home (because I lose things all the time and the women in my life, my wife Becky and GM Rachel make sure I remember things) and I was using my backup set. I get to the office at 1:00 AM, and of course my key does not work. Turns out it is a key to the office next door where we used to be until we moved to the larger space. My back up keys have the old office keys. I remember that both offices have attic access in the bathroom so I go into the empty office and pull myself into the attic. I discover three things.
  1. The personal training is paying off because I can pull myself into an attic with no ladder. About the only good news of the night.
  2. The attics of the two offices do not in fact connect.
  3. Climbing around in an attic at 1:00 AM, using a cell phone as a flash light, in a building you do not own is an incredibly stupid thing to do. I can only imagine what would have happened if I fell or hurt myself in an office no one uses and no one knew I was in.
So I get down and manage not to kill myself. It is now 2:00 AM and I am debating the merits of cutting a whole through the drywall with my keys McGiver style into my office and paying the landlord to fix it. Then I remember the mail slot in my front door. I spend about another 15 minutes trying to turn the knob with my arm in the mail slot. I pray no police officers drive by. I can touch the knob but not turn it and I am tearing my arm up.

Then I notice, there are screws on the outside of the mail slot. So I drive to Walmart at 2:45 AM and I buy a screw driver. I drive back, take the mail slot cover off, and now I can turn the knob. I get in and fix the mail slot. I get the back up key to the ice cream parlor and drive there. It is now 3:00 AM. I clean the parlor and since I am so worn out it takes until 5:30 AM. I go back to the office and nap on the couch until 7:00 AM when the first employee comes in, then I start my day on 2 hours of sleep and no shower after cleaning a greasy dive.

Account saved. Now I need to figure out how I am getting the keys back from the now very former employee. I also need to change the mail slot since I now know it easy to break in and there is not very good police patrols in my area. After all I spent nearly two hours breaking into the business and no one noticed. Finally, I have to find a way explain what happened to my wife in a way that will not result in bodily injury because she can take me in fight, roller derby remember, and she proof reads my articles for me every week. Isn't owning a business great?

How trying to get coffee this morning proves Chemical Free Cleaning will work

A lot of people keep telling me that this chemical free cleaning company is a bad idea.  I am constantly told that no one cares about green cleaning much less cleaning with nothing but water.  Even some companies that do offer it tell me they don’t think their customers really care.  Everyone seems to agree that no one will pay a premium for it.  They all seem to think I am nuts.

Well today I tried to go to breakfast with a friend.  I say tried because it became quite an adventure.  We are not at home so we would pull into a place, go in, then we had to leave.  They used foam cups and he will not drink out of a foam cup.  We did this 3 times before we FINALLY found a place he could get a cup of coffee.  Remember this is a $2.00 cup of coffee at most and we spent more than that in gas much less time driving from place to place.  The reason why he cared so much?  He said studies show that hot drinks leach the toxins from foam and that gets into his body.  He also will not eat anywhere that uses a microwave including his home because the excitement of the water molecules breaks down anti oxidants and creates free radicals.  This guy is my customer.  This guy will pay for chemical free cleaning.  He cares if there is chemical residue on his floor, shower, and counters.   He knows natural does not mean safe.  This guy cares a lot and it is not a price decision it is a health and life decision for him.  He spent 45 minutes looking for a place to give him coffee in a paper cup this morning.  A bi weekly customer will generate $3,000 - $4,000 a year in revenue so I only need to find 250 people like him to hit $1,000,000 in revenue. 

 My nemesis this morning
It is true if I do mass marketing most of my customers will not care.   But if I really think about who this guy and where he goes, I can find more like him that will care.  I need to go where this customer is and not expect him to come to me.  I need to fish with a line and hook and not throw a huge net,  He probably uses gets his food from a farm coop or CSA.  He probably goes to a Yoga studio.  He subscribes to health publications.  He is highly educated on the topic of health so I can reach him there.  Not only does he exist but he is very easy to locate because it is a very specific niche and no one is serving him.  No one is speaking his language.  This is why the new chemical free cleaning company is going to be a success.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Groupon is causing me flashbacks to 2000 and not in a good way

UGH!  Another cleaning company is running a Groupon today.  It is immensely hard to sell my services at full price when it seems like once a month someone is offering deeply discounted services.   It seems like every company in my area runs one of these offers once, gets burned, and never does it again.  However it seems like Groupon finds a never ending string of victims.  The last 3 companies are little start ups I have never heard of before and they probably will not survive the experience.   I know Groupon and the copy cats will die because they are not delivering enough value.  But in the meantime it is just no fun to be getting my butt kicked my people losing money on purpose.  It also brings back memories.

My Maid Service is not the first company my brother and I have worked on together.  Way back in the frontier days on the internet, my brother and I had a web site called
www.theaquaticshop.com.  Shawn is a very serious animal enthusiast and breeds fish, reptiles, has a dog, a couple frogs, and a falcon.   His house is literally a zoo but he takes fantastic care of his animals.  Shawn saw an opportunity to set up a web site to sell hard to find high end supplies needed by people that keep fish rooms, not fish tanks.   It was a small community and Shawn had a great reputation.  My home just happened to be near the largest distributor of pet supplies in the world.  Shawn would run the community and I would pick up and ship the orders.   It seemed like a great idea.  We would provide a far greater catalog than the local store and at better prices.  The high end stuff we were selling was not in most stores and if it was they sold 2 or 3 a year so they marked it way up. It  We opened our doors in November 1998 and it was a huge success….. for three months.   Then in early 1999 Pets.com opened.

Pets.com was backed by venture capital funds and Amazon.com.  Our most profitable items were medications.  Pets.com was selling them for 25% less than our cost AND offering free shipping.  They were killing us.  We could not figure out how these guys were making money.   We tried to hold on but in March of 2010 we declared defeat and shut down the shop.  You can provide the best service in the world and offer great advice but when the other guy is selling 50% less than you, there just is nothing you can do.  Pets.com had over $100 million in venture capital funding and they went public at $14.00 a share raising even more money.  It was the dot com boom and Pets.com was everywhere.    In November 2010, after just 18 months and it was over .  Pets.com burned through hundreds of millions of dollars and shut down.  Once it all fell apart it became public that Pets.com was selling most items for 25% less than COST.  Hah, just what we always knew.  But it was too late for us.  We had closed up shop.

So what does this lesson have to do with Groupon?  Well I think Groupon is pets.com part 2.  They are growing like mad but they are losing money on every sale.  The businesses they buy from are by and large not happy with the results.  And they are causing pure havoc on every industry they touch.  Pets.com just hurt the pet care industry.  Unfortunately, Groupon is hurting every small business in America.   The good news is I do think the ride is nearly at an end for Groupon.  Just like Pets.com, the news is coming out that Groupon is losing money, their suppliers are not happy, and the glow is coming off them.  So hold in there.  Every now and then I wish Shawn and I had kept theauquaticshop.com.  We knew what Pets.com was doing was not sustainable but we just could not tolerate the pain anymore.  Don’t make that mistake.  Hold on, Groupon will fade just as Pets.com did.  In the meantime.  DON’T EVER FALL FOR IT AND RUN A GROUPON!  I will run another article on why later but please do nothing that feeds the beast and keeps it alive for another day.

Get this blog emailed to you!

Amy Armour made a great suggestion and aksed I add the ability to have this blog emailed to you.  There is a now an email box in the top right of the page to get updates emailed to you. 

For those that like to play more with technology, I have set up a feed burner page so you can make this a feed on your My Yahoo page or even in Microsoft Outlook.

http://feeds.feedburner.com/ CleaningForALiving

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Product Tips - Magic Erasers

One of my favorite products is the melamine erasers.  Most people use the term Magic Erasers which is the Mr. Clean branded version but they are all basically the same.   All melamine is made by BASF in Germany, although various manufacturers modify the melamine by improving its scrubbing qualities, compressing it to increase it’s life, or adding a cleaning solution to the foam base.  At the end of the day they are all made from the same raw materials. 

What most people do not understand about melamine foam is it actually works as a very fine sand paper because of its very fine micro-porous structure.  It is important to always use a liquid with melamine to provide lubrication.  Melamine is very effective but it can damage some surfaces including flat paints and counter tops.  As a result you will always want to test them in a non obvious location.   Some of my secrets - they work great in showers with the fine white spots of soap scum that other things will not remove, they clean white sink basins like new, and they can remove a kool aid stain from a counter top.   (Although melamine may remove the shiny finish so always get permission to take the risk first.  I always say I can remove the spot but I may leave a dull spot and the customer almost always would rather have a dull spot than a red one.)

The other problem with these erasers is price.  If you buy them at retail they can cost from $1.00 - $2.00 each.  I buy imperfect (not perfect shapes) erasers from
www.spongeoutlet.com.  They work just as well as any brand and they cost only $0.33 each (with shipping) if you buy them in the case of 300 shown below. 

Monday, January 16, 2012

Road Trip Day One - Chemical Free Cleaning in Charleston

My posts for the next couple of weeks are going to be a little different because I am on the road from 1/16  to 1/27.  Today I am in Charleston visiting Castle Keepers.  Tom and Janice Stewart have an amazing company and I come here when ever I can to learn.  Their company is larger and FAR more organized than mine.  Tom is an engineer by training and everything here is very well documents and just runs in a different class.  Everyone has strong and weak areas.   Operations is my weakness and Tom is an operational genius so I come to learn from the master.  Castle Keepers has also gone nearly 100% chemical free meaning no chemicals at all, just using water as much possible yet still providing a superior level of cleaning.  I am sorry if it sounds like and ad for Castle Keepers but I admire this greatly about them which one of the reasons I am here. 

I mentioned in my last post that I am hoping to launch a new company in July to offer chemical free cleaning in Cincinnati.  I have decided to do this as a separate company for a few reasons.  1.  I think operationally it will be too difficult to run two different business models in the same company.  2.  I come from Procter & Gamble and a larger percentage of my customers work for P&G.  I do not think people that work for one of the world’s largest makers of home cleaning products are ready for chemical free cleaning.  3.  I believe in niche marketing and letting this new company focus on the health and environmentally focused customer will be successful versus My Maid Service which focuses on the dual income family with pets that just wants help and free time.  4.  One of my employee’s has a daughter with severe allergies and she is passionate about chemical free cleaning.  Enabling her to pursue her passion by making her the general manager gives lets me keep a super star employee and to grow in new ways.  This is not a passion I share.  I understand it, but I cannot sell it as well as she can.  So my conclusion was the best approach was to set up an entire new company that does chemical free cleaning.  I know some people will think this is nuts, but it was my solution and one I am excited to see.

I am also excited to start something new from scratch again.  I have said before that I wished I could start my company over with all the things I learned.  I would be so much more successful so much faster.  This enables me to do just that.  It is going to be an exciting journey.

OK, I rambled some but at least you know why I am looking at setting up a new company.  So why am I in Charleston for a company that launches in July?  Well like I said above I am trying to learn from the first go round.  It is so much easier to get it right the first time.   Humans hate change.  Once you have a system in place they will fight you like mad when it you try to change it.  So we are trying to make sure we do lots of research and we have all the pay, work process, and pricing issues figured out well in advance.  At P&G we used to have a saying on my team “Sell a little, learn a lot” which is what we are trying.  We are basically test marketing systems and pricing in our market.  For ideas we are visiting different companies that have already done it.  We do not have all the answers yet, but by July we hope to.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

My company - background

I have realized by some of the questions sent to me that I may need to give you some background on my company, or rather companies. I spent 12 years at Procter & Gamble so I am a strong believer in different brands with different management for different customers. At P&G many brands like Tide, Cheer, Gain, and Deft are all owned by the same company but each brand has a team assigned to it and they are rewarded for the results of their brands. I have sort of done the same thing here.

My Maid Service is my biggest company and the parent company. Back to my P&G example, this is my Tide. My Maid Service has been in business for 14 years but I bought it in November 2007 so we are going on 4.5 years now. My Maid Service is 100% owned by my brother and I and we are not a franchise. We have tripled the company in the last 4 years. http://www.mymaidservice.net/ is the Cincinnati website. 3 years ago my brother, Shawn, opened My Maid Service Dallas. His office is now almost as large as the Cincinnati office and he will probably pass us this year in terms of revenue from maid service clients (he has no commercial division yet). http://www.mymaidservice.com/ is the Dallas website. Both offices use solo cleaners, paid on commission, driving their personal vehicles. I have a General Manager in charge of My Maid Service Cincinnati named Rachel. Shawn runs the Dallas himself.

ACS Cleaning Services is my commercial cleaning company and it only operates in Cincinnati right now. I also bought ACS but less than 2 years ago and we have grown the business to be 4 times larger than when we bought it. David is the General Manager for ACS Cleaning Services. ACS is not as high margin as My Maid Service but it is the fastest growing part right now. Back to my P&G Example, ACS Cleaning is my Gain. http://www.acscleaningcinci.com/ It is going to be an interesting year for ACS. In Commercial Cleaning you kind of work your way up the food chain from smaller accounts to mid teir and then finally the big ones.  In the last 2 months we have been invited to big on two very large projects.  I am both excited and terrified to win these.

I will be launching a new company in June to do chemical free cleaning. Carole is the general manager for this company and she is doing all the work to launch it and she is running some test teams to work out the systems and to test the marketing and pricing. This will be a premium priced company. We expect it to be smaller than My Maid Service but with better margins. This company will use company cars, teams, and the employees will be paid hourly. In my P&G example, this is my Dreft. A smaller brand that will never be huge but can earn very nice margins.
I meet with all my general managers once a week to talk about their key measures, progress on projects, and where they may need help.
Finally I am a partner with 3 other cleaning service owners of the Institute for Service Excellence. This is a school for other cleaning companies and it is the first school certified by the Clean Trust to teach the new Home Cleaning Technician program. This school will be the topic of other articles in the future but I want to be up front that I own part of it since most of what I will be doing and writing on next week will be related to the school. The website for the school is http://www.isetoday.com/ There is no P&G example for this one.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Another Saturday of work and loving it

It is another Saturday and I am working at the office. My wife gets mad at me because I work on Saturdays from 10 AM to 3 PM but I really like to come into the office alone on the weekend. I can write on the white boards and draw out my ideas and crank up the music. I can brood over my problems and try to develop solutions. I do not have many hobbies except comic books and all things science fiction so I this is my hobby. I love business. For me it is a full contact sport. It is daily trials of your skill versus others. You practice daily, try to develop your skills and those of your team. You hope to win more than you lose but sometimes you get your head handed to you. This is one of those weeks. Below is basically my stream of consciousness of what I am working on when it is quiet on Saturday and I can really look at things.

So far 2012 has started really strange for us. We are down 5 customers right now which is a really bad start to the month. We are having some quality problems sneaking back in. I was not keeping a close enough eye on our trainer and she got burned out and the last 5 people that came out just were not up to par. We did not have a very good formal training program. We took one of our senior cleaners and had her work with trainees for 4 – 6 weeks to teach them how to do the job. It is not a very formal system put for years it has worked for us. But no longer. She drifted too far from what she was supposed to be teaching and generally lost interest in doing the job and I did not notice fast enough. To make it worse we have had very few good leads coming in. I am mad at myself for letting it go on for too long. In this business reputation is everything and training is key. The informal approach just worked too good for too long and I got complacent.

On the flip side I am so happy with where we are on fixing it. My two General Managers got together and over two weeks completely revamped our training system and that is what I am reviewing first. A lot of other great companies like Marvelous Maids and Castle Keepers had given us access to their materials. They developed a great illustrated technical cleaning guide. We also did a guide for the things that have nothing to do with cleaning. They created a daily training plan and check lists for both the trainer and trainee to sign off that things have been covered. Finally we created a 65 question test that covers policies and procedures that they must pass with an 80% of above. Then they created a plan to retrain all the employees we are having problems with and to make sure every employee gets at least a brief retraining. I am really proud of what they have done. This is the kind of stuff I expect from larger companies like P&G. It is great to see us growing up and even better to see us growing up when I had so little to do with it.

Looking at the customers losses. One customer cancelled because she said her kids are now cleaning her home as they got older. She is a very long time customer and it really surprised me. She is also one of the customers that goes back more than 4 years when I bought the company and she was still somewhat undercharged. I also noticed she opted out of our newsletter this week. I do not like this at all. Even if she was having her kids clean the house I would have expected her to keep following us as she used us for 8 years and may at least be curious what we are doing or what to get her carpet cleaned or something in the future. The cleaner I had assigned to her home has been the same for a very long time. That cleaner asked for this Friday afternoon off which is when this customer’s next appointment would have been so I sent one of my office staff to go check if she poached a client. (a tip for other cleaning service owners, client’s don’t normally change their schedule when they dump you. If you want to see if they hired another firm or your employee there is about a 90% chance they will be there on the next appointment time.) No one was there which was good. I hate that I have to watch for such things but I do. However I am still very unsettled by this customer. She swears nothing was wrong. I think I am going to try to visit her at her business. She is a small business owner and maybe I can appeal to her for the really really. At the end of the day I just do not think my cleaner who used to be a rock star has been cleaning up to par. When someone tells me they are going to have their kids clean their home it tells me something is just wrong and we are not blowing our customer away.

The next customer we lost is a messy divorce. Completely legit and once they get done fighting over who gets what I hope to get one or both of them back on. I have to create a system to make sure we stay in touch with clients like this other than the newsletter. Too much going on right now but I will add it to the project list.

The next customer is almost funny. They cancelled for financial reasons. Today my commercial cleaning company got a request in the mail to sub contract for Vanguard Cleaning Systems which just opened a franchise in our area on November 30th. The owner, my former client. So I guess he is low on cash since he is taking a big risk. Not sure what to do with this. I will never sub contract for a commercial cleaning franchise but that is a whole other topic as to why. However I am not sure if I should call him and congratulate him and meet with him? I think yes. I am not sure much will come of it since I DESPISE the franchised commercial cleaning model but he is in my business and I should at least say hello (once again this does not apply to the maid service franchises which are a completely legitimate way to get into my industry. Commercial cleaning franchises are a huge scam in my opinion to make low income minority people pay for the right to get a minimum wage job, a fact backed up by a lawsuit Coverall just lost in the Massachusetts Courts.)

The next client cancelled because we could not arrive by 8:00 AM to clean her home. This frustrates me because we are always very clear on arrival time but this client two cleanings in demanded we started coming at 8:00 AM and we said we could not do it . She refused to give us a key or any other form of access and said all her other cleaning services had no problems meeting her time demands. It just does not work for us. Everything we do including when our office opens is around an 8:30 – 9:00 AM arrival time. I am frustrated as to why this was not understood up front. I will need to make sure this is something that is being covered when we book a new client. That being said, clients will not always understand everything you say but I always hate to lose people for what seems like stupid reasons to me.

The next client cancelled because we did not lock her front door. My cleaner swears she locked it and even double checked it. This is a great very reliable cleaner but she has HUGE problems with locks. She calls all the time and cannot get the key to work but when a supervisor goes out it opens right up. This is another one of those very frustrating things. I lost a customer for a seemingly easy fix but at the same time I just do not know how to correct this issue. How can I teach someone how to use a key and locks? This is a really good cleaner and employee but she just cannot to manage locks. I will have to ask my GM Rachel to ponder this one.

The next lost client is for financial reasons. She has written us good reviews on Angie’s List including when she left so I know the quality of service was OK. Mad people do not write a good review when they cancel. However this one also still bothers me. I have 3 cleaners that literally lose 1 or 2 customers all year due to death and moving. They never lose a customer for financial reasons. I mean NEVER. I refuse to believe it is just dumb luck that makes this happen. They are doing something that makes the idea of not using My Maid Service inconceivable. I need to figure out what it is and replicate it. To be clear this was a satisfied customer but having satisfied customers will put me out of business. The economy is making people make choices. I need to make it so we make our client’s lives so much better that they will never consider getting rid of us. I need to really work on this over the next two months. This is the stuff that makes a company great. In a good economy being a good company is enough but to keep growing we need to be fantastic and I need to figure out how to bottle that magic and make is a system, all with lower income employees and a highly physical and in a not very well regarded industry. The challenge of my business.

Another cancellation because we were helping clean his mom’s house and she is in the hospital. Not much we can do there to have kept him but we missed an opportunity. We know so much personal information on our clients and he just told us his mom is in very poor health. I have an entire card display in the office with the idea we can send cards to clients when things come up but to be honest not a lot gets done with it. I need to fix this. Once again this is the magic part but magic has to have a system behind it. How do I build amazing customer service into my company when during the day we are so focused on the basics of getting people where they need to be and dealing with the daily emergencies of broken equipment, customers that locked us out, and traffic?

Total count, 3 clients I could have done nothing about (divorce, new business, mom in hospital). 1 client I should not have lost at all (key issue). 3 clients I should have been able to keep if we had been better than just good. That means if I can figure this out we would have only been down 3 customers instead of 7. (FYI I said we were down 5 because we sold 2 new ones so far so if we had only lost 3 we would only be down 1 client right now, a much more manageable number). Two that I lost should have left as raving fans and I missed the opportunity. There is something here I am missing. Time to stand in front of the white boards for a while and something to bring up in my weekly meetings with my General Managers. This is what I do on Saturday.