Niche Marketing by Ruth Travis / Rug Lady SeminarsO.K.!  You’ve got the biggest, most powerful, super suckin’, cleaning machine in town.  You use the best cleaning solutions known to mankind, or at least that’s what you’ve been told.  You’ve been to all the courses about carpet and upholstery cleaning.  You’ve read all the industry-related magazines front to back.  Your supplier has taught you all he knows about chemicals and procedures . . . so, you can handle anything procedurally that comes along.  BUT WAIT! . . . No one’s calling you.

I guess you’ll just have to wait until the next phone book comes out that features your two-page, four-color ad that costs you $2000 per month to run – right?

Wrong!  Absolutely wrong!  Sure, you’ll get a job or two from that ad, but how are you going to generate any sales in the meantime?

The biggest problem most of us have is not how to do the work, but how to get the work.  Now don’t get me wrong, using the proper equipment and chemicals, and having technical proficiency is very important.  You certainly don’t want to ruin a client’s brocade sofa or void the warranty on their stain-resistant carpet.  But, without sales you won’t even have the opportunity to demonstrate your skills.

I’d like to recommend some basics regarding a simple marketing strategy that I use in my business.  Target marketing, or as my friend Clint Townsend with Chemical Technologies, International (Red Reliefâ, Stain Magicâ) calls it, “niche marketing!”  Become a specialist in one or two services, such as spot and stain removal (including spot dyeing), and urine and odor control, and then market that service to anyone and everyone you can.  It’s a strategy that you can start right now and see results immediately!  Your regular cleaning service will grow, too. Remember, around every spot, stain or discoloration, is a roomful of carpet and upholstered furniture for you to clean.

I’d like for you to forget about the mass media, such as the yellow pages, as your primary source for advertising cleaning services.  I know this is hard!  You think just because your competitor does it, you have to also.  I’m not saying you shouldn’t place an ad in the phone book.  You have to be in there for name recognition.  I’m just saying your advertising money may be better spent elsewhere.

Remember, according to consumer surveys, most of your clients get your name through a referral, like a friend, neighbor or acquaintance – not the yellow pages.  Concentrate your marketing effort and dollars on making direct contacts with that relatively small group of people who can send you most of your work.

The first group to “target” is your existing customers.  They’re the easiest to contact because they’re already familiar with your service.  Ask them for referrals or create your own “word-of-mouth” advertising.  Following a cleaning job, my secretary sends out cards or brochures to my customer’s neighbors saying “We just finished cleaning your neighbors fine furnishings . . . we’d like to offer the same service to you.”  The city directory is the reference source used to locate their names and addresses.  In Chattanooga, it even lists the occupations of the residents.

Hmmm!  Good information to have, don’t you think?  If you clean their home, wouldn’t it make sense to clean their office as well?

Several other sources of referrals are interior designers, real estate agents, property managers, insurance agents (even if you don’t perform water or fire restoration services), and carpet and furniture stores.  Your own competition (chances are if you’re specializing in spot dyeing or even urine decontamination, he’s not a competitor) can be a great lead source, too.  Specialty services take a lot of patience and practice . . . more time and effort than the average cleaner is willing to devote.  Remember, that’s what makes you a specialist, right!?

Interior designers have already earned their clients trust, so when they recommend your company, you can be guaranteed a call from the customer.  The next step is up to you.

Once you receive that call, set up an appointment to give an estimate in person before actually scheduling the service call.  Most consumers who use interior designers expect a higher level of service from the companies they use.  Demonstrate this in your appearance and attitude. By making the effort to give a written estimate in clients’ homes or offices, you’ll have an opportunity to develop a rapport with them as well as to discuss the additional services your company offers.  These add-on sales of your specialties means more profit!

Real estate agents also can be a gold mine for you.  Think about it.  What do most people do before they move into or out of a house?  Clean the carpet, right?  Unfortunately, they tend to hire anyone who’s the cheapest to perform the service and they usually are very disappointed because, although they may remove or at least rearrange the soil, they usually make no effort to remove stains, recolor bleached areas or attempt urine decontamination.

Ah ha! And guess what your specialty just happen to be?!

What about property managers?  Condos, apartments, office buildings, hotels and motels have problems most homes don’t.  Normally, their occupants do not own them and therefore, they aren’t not as careful in their maintenance habits.  Make sure that building managers know about your specialty services.  Being able to spot dye bleach discolorations caused by the janitorial staff will save thousands of dollars in carpet replacement over time.  Decontamination and removal of pet related stains and odors could also postpone carpet replacement in apartment buildings.

Designers, real estate agents and property managers know a lot about their client’s everyday lives . . . marriages, births, anniversaries, family reunions, office openings, etc.  Many times these events create an opportunity for us to help someone “spruce up” before or after they occur.

“Niche marketing” can be very lucrative for you.  You never know, it could lead to a shift in the emphasis of your company from “pushing that wand” everyday to something less “backbreaking.”  One of my students from Hawaii has completely refocused his business after becoming a color repair expert.  He has established contracts with many of the hotels and condos in his area to perform all their color correction (both spot dyeing and stain removal).  Instead of hauling hoses and other heavy equipment, he walks in with three main items: a spotting kit, a dye kit and a small portable extraction machine.  He’s making as much, if not more money per hour with a lot less effort.

What about insurance agents or adjusters?  There are many reasons consumers have carpet replaced through their insurance coverage.  Some may be unnecessary.  Don’t you think an insurance agent or adjuster would call you if he or she knew you could save them money in carpet replacement?  And, there are also many times when a particular insured needs that “special touch” that only you can offer.

The carpet or furniture store is also a great source of referrals.  When I need carpet to practice my spot dyeing or fabric samples for my upholstery class, I visit local carpet and fabric stores and ask if I can purchase their discontinued samples.  Of course, I take some time to explain why I need the carpet or fabric, and immediately, I have a new lead source.  You’d be surprised how many retailers don’t know that we specialists can perform these services.  Both carpet and furniture retailers are always looking for someone to perform minor “touch-ups” after installation or delivery.  Again, a little time spent explaining your specialty services can go a long way.

Finally, civic club participation is a real sleeper in anyone’s marketing strategy.  Of course, marketing is not the prime reason to join a civic club.  But you should be aware that the community leaders – those actively supporting civic clubs – are interested in doing business with people they know and trust, due to their mutual involvement in a civic club.

Support of other civic organizations is also very important.  Many communities have “Designer Show Houses” as fund raising projects.  Rain or shine, hundreds of people (mostly women) trek through beautifully decorated rooms for several weeks.  Why not volunteer to “spot clean” the carpet every week in exchange for an ad in the Show House brochure?  It also will give you a perfect excuse and opportunity to meet all the decorators involved in the Show House.

Once you’ve identified what your “niche market” and referral network is, you’ll need to spend some time and money developing professional printed materials.  Business cards, brochures, flyers, and postcards explain who you are, what your service incorporates, and how people can get in touch with you.  Highlight your specialty services first, then your basic services.  Let’s face it, there are a lot of carpet cleaners, but very few “spotting experts” in our industry.  You want to stand out in the crowd!

Your printed materials should include an illustrated, bold, colorful, easy-to-read brochure and coordinating business card (preferably magnetic) explaining what your company and service is all about.  This is where the money you’ll save from those unpublished yellow page ads is better spent!

Place a stack of business cards and a few brochures everywhere you go.  You never know who might pick up one.  When you finish a job, be sure to leave your magnetic business card on a refrigerator or file cabinet.  You might also leave a few more with your client and ask that he or she give them to their friends or acquaintances.  If you don’t ask, it won’t happen!

Follow this simple “niche” marketing plan, and you’ll no longer have to worry about how to get the work.  You can spend your time worrying about where to get employees to perform all the work!  Be patient, it won’t happen overnight, but, if you’re consistent and persistent, it will happen.