If you have only been in business for 6 months, and only have one IICRC Certification under your belt, don’t expect flooring retailers to be beating your door down with referrals. Make it your goal to become the best educated cleaning firm in your area. Learn repair and re-installation. Learn color repair. When you have those Master Textile Cleaner credentials, retailers are far more likely to refer you. If you really want to get their attention, go for becoming an IICRC Senior Carpet Inspector. I promise you that Mr. Carpet Retailer knows what inspectors do, and how they help resolve problems.
As a business owner you are likely familiar with all the little brush fires that you have to put out every day. If it were not for the numerous small-crisis things that come up, you might actually be able to get some work done! Retail storeowners deal with the same thing. When I first began approaching retailers, I offered to take on some of their little crisis stuff. I’ve cleaned up spots accidentally tracked onto brand new carpet by the installers. This was hardly worth my time from the standpoint of making money, but priceless in terms of building a good relationship with the retailer.
On one occasion, the installation crew caused a water mishap at a customer’s home, simply by flushing the toilet. It seems that the homeowner had failed to tell them that the toilet in that particular bathroom was “broken”. The carpet was not down yet, and only a small amount of pad got wet. We were able to correct the problem quickly, and the retailer was extremely grateful.
Whenever you take care of one of these, pain-in-the-neck jobs, your goal is to help the retailer look like a hero. Take care of them and their customers as if they were your own customers, and you will soon see a steady stream of profitable business flowing your way.
Referrals should be a two-way street
If a certain flooring retailer has recommended you, then you need to be recommending them. As a carpet care professional, you are one of the first people to know when your customer is considering buying a new carpet. If your business is like mine, you are undoubtedly being asked by customers, “Do you think cleaning will do that much good, or should I just forget it and get new carpet?” This is a golden opportunity to pay back the retailers that have been recommending you. Sure, you “lose” a cleaning job- but only once. Because you are working in concert with a local store, and because your customer wants her carpet to stay looking new, you will gain in the long run.
If you do carpet repairs or stretching, purchase your supplies from the retailers that recommend you. Sure you might save a buck or two at the big orange box place, but then you miss the chance to interact with the local retailer and her staff. It’s one thing to stop by and make a “sales call”, but you can make a more effective sales call by spending a little dough out of your own pocket when you need supplies. Trust me, this works, and retailers take notice.
Your retailer may not open his doors until 9:00 or 10:00 AM, but the workday for his installers begins at 7:30 or 8:00. Get up early, hit the local donut shop and bring these guys hot coffee and donuts now and then, along with your business cards or refrigerator magnets of course. You will create a positive impression, and it will stick. Remember to go around back, or wherever you see those extended vans backed up to the building, because the front doors will be locked.
A couple of years ago, I hit on this crazy idea. It was fall and the weather was only going to get colder. I thought, “What if I bought some nice looking jackets for the installers to wear?” I have three main retailers that refer business to me. I stopped around at their stores and asked, “How many installers do you have, and what size jacket do they wear?” I bought 24 really nice micro-suede jackets. I even had the retailers logos embroidered on the fronts. Across the back, I also had something embroidered - my website address. The crews loved the jackets and most are still wearing them today.
Should you offer a commission?
What about greasing the wheels a bit by offering Mr. Retailer a percentage of any jobs that he sends your way? I have a little bit of a different perspective on this than many marketing advisors in our industry. My opinion is that it tends to compromise the integrity of the referral. Personally, I want people to refer me that sincerely feel that they are rendering their customers a great service by doing so. Remember, your goal is to make that retailer look like a hero, and you should really bust your hump to do so. When you work hard, give it everything you’ve got and stand behind your work, this is a far better deal for you, the customer and the retailer.
I will admit that early on, I tried this for a while. One day I mentioned something to one of my storeowners about being a little late getting her commission paid. She said, “Mike, you guys do great work. You don’t have to pay us. We would recommend you if we never got a penny!” I took her advice, and haven’t paid a commission for a referral for a long time.
The other issue to consider if you are paying for referrals is this: Let’s say you are paying 10%. What happens when your competition offers 15%? By never offering a commission, and continually making your retailer look good, you remove all of this from the equation. You also greatly reduce the likelihood of questions regarding ethics and integrity for both yourself and the retailer. All in all, it is simply a more professional way to conduct your business.
The strategies that I have outlined here are not going to make you rich overnight. Very little that is truly worthwhile ever takes place quickly. Give it time. Stay in touch, stay visible, but don’t be so aggressive that the owner gets tired of seeing you.
Then, be ready. Because if you do the things outlined here and you do them consistently, one day your phone is going to ring, and it will be that Flooring Retailer with a problem that she needs fixed, and quickly. Once you have earned her trust, by giving her customers your absolute best, you will have a great source of steady business for many years to come.
Mike Brummett is the owner of BASIC Carpet Care in Lawrence, KS. He has been in business for 30 years and is an IICRC Certified Master Textile Cleaner and Senior Carpet Inspector. Mike currently serves on the SCRT Board of Directors and as President of the Mo-Kan SCRT Chapter