Pro's Corner

I sat down with Steve Johnson. We talked about how to offer a new service, confidently sell it to your customers, and correctly price it

What do couch cushions, leather armrests, odors, and money all have in common? They are all part of a profitable business.

It’s possible (even likely in some cases) that you could make hundreds of dollars more per job. The key is to be able to translate your skillset into something that is valuable for the customer and is profitable for you. So, how do we make this happen?

That’s what we’re going to talk about today.

I sat down with Steve Johnson one of our product specialists, a long-time industry instructor, and former owner of a very successful cleaning business. During our 45-minute conversation, he taught me A LOT about what you could be doing right now to add additional services to your business, and increase profitability. In our interview we break down:

  • How you can increase your revenue by using many of the tools that you already have
  • How a professional presentation is the key to earning more money on the job
  • The importance of identifying a niche that you’re good at and offering this new service
  • The importance of pricing to be profitable


Drew Crawford: What’s the typical mindset that is holding cleaners back from offering a new service?

Steve Johnson: Sometimes it’s a lack of information, they didn’t know what they didn’t know. Sometimes it’s the concern of not being a salesperson. The good news is that you don’t have to be. We’re professional cleaning technicians, we’re indoor environmental specialists —that’s what we do. The customer called us because they want to make their home or business a better, cleaner, and healthier environment to live or work in.

You get paid to do that, and it’s actually kind of fun. You want to make sure that you do it in the most professional way and the most efficient way, but at the same time, understand that it’s okay to get paid for your services. So let’s help you be profitable while performing these services. As stated, you don’t have to be a salesperson. You just need to implement this simple formula:

  1. This is what it is
  2. This is what it does
  3. This is how it works
  4. This is how it will benefit you in the long run

That simple formula has made a lot of companies a lot of money. It helps the contractor and the property owner to get out of their own way and understand the VALUE of the service being offered.

DC: Let’s say you show up at a customer’s house for an appointment. At what point would they approach this conversation and use this formula?

SJ: That’s part of the learning process. Some technicians will just start going through all of the additional features that they offer. That’s not necessarily the best time to do it because the customer may already be wary of a sales pitch.

Get in, meet the customer, do a walkthrough, make sure that you do a pre-inspection. If you’ve never been to the house before, make sure you properly identify the fabrics and fibers you’ve been asked to clean. Ask the customer if they’ve had any trouble spots in the past or any pain centers that were not properly resolved. A common problem is with odor. This is where somebody came in and charged a bunch of money and didn’t necessarily eradicate the odor. Why was that?

This is where your professionalism takes over. You’ve involved the customer and now they are active in outlining the scope of the job. They are now your salesperson.


carpet cleaner-1

How do you identify what new services you should offer?

We’re not ever suggesting that somebody become the jack-of-all-trades and master of none. What we’re suggesting is to make sure that you identify the services that you like to do, those you are good at, and especially those you’re profitable at.

This is a scenario where you need to be honest with yourself.

What do you like to do? This is the easiest one to answer.

For example, you might like to do carpet, tile and grout, and upholstery.

A more important question might be, what do you NOT like to do. If you don’t like a specific service, why is that? Is it too hard on your body, do you not have the right equipment, have you not been properly trained, do you feel like the market is saturated. What is the reason you don’t like it and is there a way to get around it?

Most times when a company prefers not to offer a specific service, it’s because of one or more of the above points.

Honestly, outside of physical capabilities, these are very easy to overcome. If it means providing more value to your customer and creating more profit for your company, it should probably be considered. Also, profitability most times is the key to taking something out of the “I don’t like it” category and moving it into the “I LIKE IT” category.

DC: Any further tips on deciding on a new service to offer, and learning how to clean a new surface?

SJ: You first have to recognize the need for the service and be certain you understand how to clean it properly. Take upholstery cleaning for example. It’s imperative you have the right product and the right technique. You can’t just take your high pH traffic lane cleaner, dilute it down, and get after it. 

You’re asking for trouble. Suddenly your profitable upholstery job is no longer profitable. Chemistry is your lowest cost of doing business. Be prepared to handle the job properly. Make sure you invest in the right upholstery tool. There are upholstery tools that may cost $500 or $600—but there’s a reason that they cost that much. Can you get a $120 upholstery tool? Yes. Is it the same upholstery tool that you want to use on somebody’s $3,000 dollar sofa? Probably not.

You need education, training, proper technique, proper chemistry, and the proper commercial carpet cleaning equipment.

When somebody says that they don’t like to do that, that’s not for me, or that they’ve never made money at that service, there’s a good chance that they didn’t have the right product, the right technique, or a combination of both. There’s another good chance that they probably weren’t charging enough. That’s a confidence issue or a lack of knowledge.

In over 35 years in this industry, one common denominator as to why someone wasn’t charging enough, is they were NOT PREPARED to do so. They didn’t have the right product, the right technique, or the right training to justify a higher price.


DC: So let’s say I wanted to upsell upholstery cleaning. Would I do a walkthrough with a customer in the beginning, ask them questions about it, and help them identify some problem spots?

SJ: A perfect example is something that is old school, but still taught today. Go over and pick up a couch cushion. Pick it up and ask them if you can do a quick test. Take one hand and smack the cushion. What happens – you get a cloud of dust.

Another old-school method is to take a terry-cloth towel and put it over your vacuum hose. When you vacuum the arm or vacuum the cushion you see a dust ring on your towel. This is a great visual for the customer and helps bring up the question, when’s the last time that you had it professionally cleaned?

Maybe it’s not visibly dirty, but you educate them that it attracts soils like everything else, and you encourage them to vacuum it once a week or once a month depending on their usage, and let them know that it will stay cleaner a lot longer.

This is when you can let them know that you can measure it up and let them know what it will cost to be professionally cleaned, but if it’s not that dirty you can just encourage them to vacuum it, or you can do it personally.

Cleaners often use a horsehair brush and their powerful extraction machine to just dry-vac a piece. It’s not uncommon to get $35 or $40 for 10 minutes of work by doing this. Figure out what your target hourly rate is and what your time would be and set your price.

Educating your customer is key to add-on services not only for that job but future jobs. If somebody doesn’t know about it then they’re not going to ask about it.

Your customers need to know all of the services you provide. This needs to come through verbal communication as well as shown in all forms of media which include (but are not limited to) invoices, marketing pieces, business cards, and especially your website. Make sure your website has a few before-and-after pictures and that they are rotated out regularly.

If your customer does not know you provide a service, that’s your fault, not theirs.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard or seen where cleaners pull up to a house and they see another person there doing another service that they provide. I’ve seen this on social media twice this week already.


Photo of grey sofa in modern living room

DC: Follow-up question to this: what are some good pain points to target for upholstery?

SJ: The first one is identification; you have to know what you’re cleaning. By learning how to do it the right way, by going to classes, by listening to the right people, you will learn to love upholstery cleaning (or any other service).

The good news is that with the advancement of chemistry, cleaning tools, and training, upholstery cleaning is far easier than in times past. It also helps that manufacturers are developing and selling more family-friendly fabrics. Back in my day, upholstery was all about aesthetics and feel, with very little concern for cleaning.

Don’t be afraid of cleaning upholstery, the training is out there. There are a number of good instructors in the industry and we work with many of them. It starts with education-- make sure that you get the education. That can be a two-day class, a mini-workshop, asking your local distributor who you buy your products through what they recommend, and start small.

Start with your friends, family, neighbors, and relatives, and build your confidence.

Any other recommendations for practice with cleaning upholstery?

SJ: What I encourage a lot of people to do is to go down to the thrift store and buy a lot of the junk. Clean the arms, clean the backs, clean the cushions. Learn how to avoid rust spots, color migration, browning, etc. or any other issues you may encounter.

The best correction for any problem is prevention. If you don’t let it happen, you won’t have to correct it. Learn how to clean it without having an issue. Practice on those arms, practice on those cushions, practice on those skirts, and develop your craft to build your confidence.

How should somebody price a new service that they offer?

There are people in this industry that charge less than 20 cents a square foot and have no work. Right beside them are people who charge over 60 cents a square foot and are booked up weeks in advance. There are also people that charge less than 20 cents a square foot but are still very profitable. Maybe it’s not about the price!

In my opinion, pricing is irrelevant; what matters is that you’re profitable.

People purchase for three reasons: quality, service, and price—pick any two. Nobody has the best quality and the best service at the lowest price. It doesn’t exist. You can have quality and service. You can have quality and price. Or you can have service and price. . The good news is that it doesn’t matter which two.

You have to be able to identify where you want to be on that scale and who your target market is.

You need to set up a pricing structure that fits your market. You want to make sure that your pricing matches the market that you’re working in as well as the service you are providing. Simply stated, your service has to match your price and your price has to match your service.

There are a lot of really good cleaners that don’t charge enough for their service. There are way more cleaners that undercharge for their service than overcharge.  NEVER undervalue your service. If you choose to target a lower price point, that is PERFECTLY acceptable. Just adjust your service to match that price.

Don’t do a 17 step process and only charge for a five-step process. There is a market for that and you can be profitable if you adjust accordingly.


Businessmans hand in suit takes out dollar money from a wallet

There’s a lot to chew on in this interview with Steve. The reason that we’re posting this is that we’re serious about contractors growing their business and it’s one of the main goals of our blog. We want you to be profitable, and there’s truthfully so much potential to do that by following the principles above.

Start following Steve’s advice. Save this interview and reread it. When you get stuck, reread it and keep implementing his guidance.

The upside for growth is unlimited as long as you’re willing to put in the hard work and improve your skillset. Steve Johnson has spent decades doing this, and if you’re committed to growing, your business can be just as successful as he was.

Review: To get Started Offering an Additional Service Today, These are the Steps You Should Take:

  1. Identify what you like to do, and what you would like to do
  2. Identify what you are good at
  3. identify what you are NOT good at, and find out why
  4. Start practicing cleaning these types of surfaces
  5. Invest in the right equipment.
  6. Enroll in an IICRC class. There are dozens of classes that provide relevant, practical training for the skillset that you want to develop.
  7. Keep practicing. Be your customer’s friendly guide. Charge an appropriate price and build your confidence.
  8. Reevaluate and repeat.

We hope that you like this interview. Watch for additional blogs where we drill down into more detail on these and other topics.

Grow your business


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