Your clients have made very large investments in furnishings. One chair can cost $4,000. People used to furnish an entire home for a fraction of that when I first started cleaning. (And when it is time to clean that chair?) Think back to last time you “let your fingers do the walking” through the yellow pages. You would be greatly
surprised to know just how many people do find their cleaners this manner.

I’ve had yellow page ads for 36 years but they are a minor source of my business. The ads are primarily so that a customer can find my name easily. Lots of other firms have the same motivation. These ads are a good source if you do not already know of someone that you have been using or have been recommended to. However, if you are “in the dark, allow me to point out a few things and make some suggestions.

ONE: Find someone who cares.

This, to me, is the number one requirement and you can usually tell by listening to the person speak. Avoid talking to an order taker. Speak with someone who owns or runs the firm. Hear their personal evaluation of your cleaning needs, only after they have carefully listened to yours. Have them tell you precisely why they go through the cleaning steps that they do and give you the reasons why. With so many methods and techniques, here is where the uninformed easily get confused and misinformed. See how patient they are with you and if they are willing to go into details. Be sure to see if they ask you questions that get to facts that are important for you. For example, you may just call and ask to have your carpets cleaned but forget to mention that cat urine odor is really the problem. After the cleaning, you then discover that they don’t cover the urine problem with the cleaning but that it is an extra charge and then you are stuck with paying for the cleaning and you still have the odor.

TWO: Find out what kind of insurance they carry.

With your investment in furnishings (or even your home itself you can experience damage or loss due to negligence or improper work. Whomever you hire must have workman’s compensation insurance for their employees, property damage coverage and completed operations” coverage so that the firm will be able to handle damage problems that are sometimes unanticipated. If you find out too late that they have no insurance or not enough, the loss may be covered by your insurance but then that goes on your record.

THREE: Always get references.

How long have they been in business? Ask people who they have done work for previously. Most cleaners have a database that list customers by street address and may be able to indicate neighbors of yours that they have worked for. It does not hurt to ask them what kind of customer they like working for (this will make them stop and think for a moment and you can hear how they handle their answer).

FOUR: Ask about who will be doing the work.

Many firms pay a commission to cleaners (so-called independent contractors) who not only work quickly to make the most that they can on your job but, in addition, are seldom insured. Regular employees of a firm should have training and experience and only a few of even the better firms provide benefits.

FIVE: What is their policy if you have a complaint or concern?

Will they charge to come back and how long will it take? My belief is that a complaint is a “golden opportunity” to get back in there and show that customer precisely how you handle their needs. Anyone can turn on a machine or spray a chemical. It is the total package that is what you should be looking at. The cleaning, in my opinion, is about one-half of the relationship that you will have with your cleaner, the other one-half is the service. Are you getting what you bargained for? Finding someone who really cares about you, your furnishings, your home, will make all of the difference. The cleaning business, unfortunately, has many firms that offer so-called bargains. The problem is that you not only may not be getting a bargain by not being careful, you may also get more than you bargained for.

Mark Goodman is president & director of Fibermark Mark the Carpetbagger in Santa Monica, California. If you have a specific cleaning problem please call Mark at 310.399.2066 or fax 310.453.0610. If you have a subject or question you would like to see addressed in this column, please contact Mark Goodman.