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When Benjamin Surdi decided, at the age of 18, to work in the home mortgage industry, he figured he had it made.
He spent four years dedicated to that industry and never thought he would leave… and then the mortgage market came crashing down. It hit hard. His family suffered, couldn''t afford to pay their bills and was eventually "asked to leave" their two-bedroom apartment.
He knew he had to do something to change the direction of his life.
The birth of Pure Clean
Surdi remembers at the age of 22 sitting in his living room with his wife, deciding to leave the mortgage industry, but unsure where to go.
They both decided that the best way to use his sales and marketing experience would be to start his own company and enter the world of self-employment.
Surdi''s father, a retired carpet cleaner, still owned an 18-year-old truckmount in an older van, that he fondly calls a "rust bucket that leaked water everywhere." So that night, Surdi and his wife wrote a basic business plan and made a decision that would change their lives.
Surdi is now the president of Pure Clean Carpet Cleaning of Snohomish, WA, and serves a large swath of countryside from Seattle up to Marysville. His company currently runs three trucks, employs two technicians and an office manager and is experiencing solid growth in the Pacific Northwest.
In the early days, Surdi recalls that his van and machine did not demonstrate the "polished" look that he was going for, but after a few months of working with that van and machine, he was able to save enough to purchase a new van and fix up the older truckmount.
Now he enjoys new equipment and tools, and a website that would make many carpet cleaning companies jealous. His marketing plan is impressive and indicates a younger-generation entrepreneur attitude.
Pure Clean now offers Oriental rug cleaning, odor removal, hard surface cleaning/sealing and upholstery cleaning.
Moving on up
Surdi did what many young, start-up entrepreneurs do when they need work: He hit the streets. He went door-to-door, trying to drum up business. He focused on building a decent website to help drive business and, sure enough, his telephone started ringing more and more each month.
He made more that year in carpet cleaning than he ever did in the mortgage industry, and Surdi knew he had found a permanent home.
In the second year, he doubled his income and kept enjoying rapid increase in profitability. 2011 saw a new, larger truck and equipment and more customers in the database.
The look of success
Surdi understood how consumers react to the service industry, and from the beginning he focused on having a professional appearance.
From sharp uniforms and hats, to nice business cards, attractive brochures and a van wrap to brag about, he utilized the "If you build it, they will come" concept.
His belief was that if he made himself look like he ran a big company, that it would eventually come true. After a lot of work, it did.
Pricing was part of the factor. Surdi believes that you must charge what you are worth, and after analyzing his local market, decided that his level of service, expertise and personality was worth more than what was advertised by the competition.
When talking to clients, he doesn''t hide that fact. And they must agree, since he earns top dollar.
Like most in the industry, Surdi wants to grow his business, and he plans to utilize "mass marketing" in several forms.
He plans to roll out more direct campaign projects for both the residential and commercial markets. In addition, he''s looking at increasing brand awareness with radio and television advertising, and implementing a referral rewards problem.
Whatever it takes to continue to grow Pure Clean, Surdi plans to do it.
The name "Zerorez" for a carpet cleaning company can lend some mystery to the cleaning process. But it''s no mystery how one franchise became a success story.
Jim Hoag was in the real estate business, including investment, development and sales. Michael Kaplan was in law school. Both saw opportunity for the Twin City area and purchased the Zerorez franchise in 2006 and never looked back.
Sharing the title as managing partners, Hoag and Kaplan are proud of their more than 100 employees and nearly 30 cleaning trucks.
Filling a need
Hoag and Kaplan say they saw their market as underserviced by the cleaning industry, and that the proprietary green chemistry technology touted by Zerorez fits well with the "vibe" of the Minneapolis and St. Paul areas.
What''s the vibe? A customer base that is educated, affluent and "green." The green part is called "Empowered Water™," softened and electrolyzed — zapped with an electrical current — to produce an effective alkaline cleaner.
Opportunity knocked, Hoag and Kaplan answered, and they began a service that hit the ground running.
Zerorez cleans carpet, tile, upholstery, leather, air ducts, area rugs, commercial carpet and is now beginning to offer restoration services. The core business remains carpet cleaning.
From $320,000 in 2006 with three employees to more than $8 million in 2011 with more than 100 employees, the company is doing something right.
Zerorez has focused its efforts on radio, television and the Internet.
Its growth has been a result of positively relating to the consumer about his or her needs, and being able to follow through on what the company promises in its advertisements.
As both Hoag and Kaplan said, people are very conscious about what is brought into their homes, and Zerorez offers a low-environmental impact cleaning that people feel good about.
Above all else, they are in the service industry and quickly let people know that they are a local company that understands what people want from their service provider.
Zerorez took proactive steps to hire the right people and to keep them happy. Happy employees make happy clients. Hoag and Kaplan went so far as to adopt a mantra that they would only hire people that they would invite into the homes of their own parents.
All of these business practices have quickly given them traction in their marketplace, building momentum and bringing in healthy profits.
Zerorez plans to focus on ancillary services growth in 2012. At this time, the company is working out the final details in its rug cleaning operation. The cleaning process is amazing, Hoag and Kaplan believe, but the plant administrative process is being tweaked.
With a high-volume, high quality rug plant in place, Zerorez is now partnering with local carpet cleaners. Zerorez cleans other carpet cleaners'' rugs at wholesale prices, allowing local cleaners to make high margins off rug cleaning without the liability and expense of setting up a cleaning plant themselves.
Increasing profits from other services are also in their sights. Air duct cleaning and commercial carpet cleaning are both on the radar as ancillary services they plan to concentrate on.
Is there room for growth?
There must be. The local market proves it, as Zerorez grew from cleaning 70 homes a month to cleaning more than 100 homes a day, seven days a week, and it''s not slowing down.
Without a doubt, this is a modern-day success story worth watching.
When you ask the principals at Woodard Cleaning & Restoration Services of St. Louis how the company got its start, they just smile and say there is a great story to be told.
After World War II ended, Earl and Nancy Woodard put a hitch on the family station wagon and towed a trailer of carpet cleaning equipment to the homes of their customers, starting this 65-year-old family business.
Along came their son Charlie, and he grew up in the business, working with his parents all through high school, during summer vacations and while in college. He joined the company full time in 1977, and became the CEO in 1982, a position he currently holds.
Charlie''s son, Justin, also grew up in the family business, but he left town for six years, gaining valuable business management experience with a consulting firm in Chicago. Justin and his wife moved back to St. Louis in 2007, and he is now the vice president of business operations at the family business.
This third-generation company has worked hard and as a result, owns a hefty market share of the cleaning industry in the greater St. Louis area, and a growing share of the large loss industry on a regional basis.
Woodard was established in 1946, and has grown in size and scope over the years.
Like many carpet cleaners, the Woodard family grew the business on the cleaning side before breaking into the restoration field. They are now the largest independently owned cleaning and restoration company in the Midwest.
Between the cleaning and restoration service lines, Woodard employs close to 175 employees, with 100 vehicles serving their cleaning and restoration customers.
Within the equipment and vehicle count, are three 48'' over-the-road trailers, and thousands of pieces of restoration equipment that they take, on a moment''s notice, to the site of large losses across the country.
Business building principles
Woodard Cleaning & Restoration Services formalized its "core values" years ago.
Among those values is "do what''s right," providing honest service, strong integrity, building trust, showing respect, being dedicated to serving others and constantly looking for ways to improve.
Company employees know and live these values, and they play a key role in hiring strategies.
Woodard has had strong revenue growth over the past several years, with 2011 ending with more than $20 million in revenue — a company record. This has been from a strong cleaning and restoration mix.
All service lines contribute strongly. For example, the company cleans more than 15,000 area rugs each year. They have a dedicated rug cleaning plant where they clean, dry and repair area rugs.
During their 65-year history, management and employees have always focused on being the best in the industry, and generating customer compliments and referrals. This focus continues today, with repeat and referral business playing an important role in their growth. Additionally, they utilize direct marketing, social media, radio, television, and collateral materials to market their services.
Woodard has developed a clear picture of their target audience over the years, which allows them to narrowly target the right prospects for their service offerings.
Business planning has been important as well. The company conducts quarterly business reviews and candidly discusses business goals, successes, and failures — all with the intent of learning and growing to be better, and to implement positive change.
The size of the company allows for many advantages, including the ability to apply resources to implement improvements, all with the goal of "being the best" and generating customer compliments and referrals.
The company learns from itself, as well. Working with the leaders from each of its service lines, management has found many opportunities to glean best practices from one service line and adapt or apply them to others.
Woodard Cleaning & Restoration Services of St. Louis is a strong, profitable company, one worth imitating.