Imagine an early January morning. You're safely snuggled under your
blankets, hiding from the frigid weather. It's cold out there -- and you don't
want your tepid tootsies to land on the cold, cruel hardwood floor. But wait
-- you have carpeting. Mornings seem less cruel when you can burrow your toes
in avocado green shag.
Whether it's patterned, industrial or shag carpeting, North Americans
love their floor coverings.
People with carpets need to protect their investments. Carpeting may not
be gold, jewels or stocks, but it is expensive. All it takes is a few well-placed
stains before a beautiful carpet looks like a disaster area. Business owners
need sparkling-clean carpet to protect their image -- so a dirty carpet represents
lost cash. Who are the white knights that fight stubborn stains? Enter the
humble carpet cleaner.
"Carpet cleaning is definitely a growth industry," reports John Downey,
editor of CleanFax magazine. People may have a whole lot of carpet, but they
don't have a whole lot of time. That fact is good news for carpet cleaners.
"Baby boomers are getting older and more affluent. They'd rather turn to professionals
than do it themselves."
Charles Barfoot, owner of California-based carpet cleaning service, has
tracked carpeting trends for over three decades. Semi-retired but still cleaning
carpets, Barfoot worked with woolly floor coverings for 35 years.
"I've been in carpet for the last 35 years in installation, selling and
cleaning," Barfoot says. He serves both residential and commercial clients
and sets his own schedule. "It would be possible to see four to six clients
in a day and still do a very thorough cleaning job for each one."
An industry veteran, Barfoot has had his share of memorable jobs. One day,
a small lump netted him a generous tip. "My customer said the carpet needed
to be re-stretched as well as cleaned -- they had bought the house from an
estate sale about six months prior."
A strange shape in the carpeting caught Barfoot's eye. "[I noticed] there
was a small lump along the wall. Upon pulling this part of the carpet up,
I found an envelope containing $500." Although Barfoot returned the cash,
his good deed did not go unrewarded. "She did give me a tip of $100."
Barfoot has always been his own boss. "I have always been self-employed.
I guess the main incentive is that I am very independent and enjoy the freedom
of choosing my hours, more or less, and being my own boss."
Barfoot warns that choosing your own hours doesn't mean only working between
commercials. "Being your own boss often means longer hours than a 9 to 5 job.
You have to wear many different hats, especially in a small business."
Wearing many different hats means you do everything -- cleaning, marketing,
and sales. "There are a lot of other carpet cleaners. You have to offer not
only good cleaning, but also be able to present yourself in a way that will
make them feel comfortable with having you in their home or business," warns
Barfoot. "You sell yourself as well as your service."
Once you've made your sale, you're the professional and the expert. "You
are a business person -- you have to act like one. Don't overcharge and don't
put too small of a value on your time."
Keep start-up costs in mind. Although Downey believes it's an easy business
to get into, he also warns initial investment is the key. "You'd need a truck-mounted
cleaning system and a $30,000 to $50,000 investment if you wanted to turn
it into a real business."
However, a base model portable extraction machine will only set you back
around $2,000 -- and you can start part time. "If I was starting right now
I think I would go with the portable and work my way up to the truck mount,"
Despite the cash, there are some disadvantages. Carpet cleaning is hard
work -- and grueling on your back. "You will be on your feel a lot, so if
you have back problems, this is not the job for you," advises Barfoot.
Carpet cleaners also work closely with chemicals, which may cause problems
for some folks. "It is very rare that the cleaning solution will bother the
customer, however, you do this over and over, so you have to be careful to
not breathe the fumes when mixing."
But don't feel like only Superman can do this job. Marilyn Guille used
to own a janitorial service.
"Being female was a bit of a roadblock. There was often an assumption that
I wasn't strong enough to load and unload the van, move heavy furniture out
the way, etc. I overcame that simply by becoming more and more confident and
competent," she says. "You have to have brain and brawn."
Ready to go? Barfoot advises a little self-exploration before opening up
shop. "Think it over very carefully. You will be dealing with all kinds of
people. Some are nice, some are pains in the neck. You have to be nice to
all of them."
It's also a good idea to decide how, where and when you'll work. "You need
to make a basic decision first: if you concentrate on residential carpet cleaning,
then Monday to Friday, 9 to 5, is pretty typical. If you want corporate or
commercial contracts -- which are much more lucrative -- then it's the opposite,
because you can only work when the workers have gone home -- evenings and
weekends," says Guille.
The wrong combination can lead to burnout -- fast. "I did both, which meant
I had to be available seven days a week. No wonder I only lasted three years!"
Despite the demanding hours, there is one benefit both Barfoot and Guille
enjoy -- the freedom and flexibility of self-employment. "There's no feeling
that can compare to being responsible for yourself and your work, taking pride
in a job well-done, and knowing that you're the boss," remarks Guille.
For self-employed carpet cleaners, that freedom equals a lucrative career
option. "As long as there are floors and people, carpets will need to be cleaned.
I think the future looks very good," says Barfoot.
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