Nearly every home has carpet, upholstery, tile or area rugs that will need cleaning. So why is it so hard to get customers?

This question has troubled many cleaning company owners struggling to get enough jobs. The root of the problem usually comes down to a lack of understanding of the consumer market for cleaning.

Just the other day, I asked a new owner facing this challenge to describe what type of customers he wanted. His response was quite typical; he replied, “Anyone with dirty carpet in my area.” This answer indicates he thinks all consumers are basically the same.

The reality is just the opposite. Consumers are far from being the same. With no understanding of the significant differences in consumer thinking, marketing and advertising will prove to be difficult and frustrating. When you are able to identify the different groups and target the most profitable one, marketing will become easier and more rewarding.

Specific consumer groups

Marketing makes a lot more sense when you understand the different types of consumers you may encounter. From 25 years’ worth of observations of industry surveys and studying the marketing results of hundreds of cleaning companies, I have consistently found that consumers fall into three groups: Those who never hire a professional, those who occasionally hire one and those who use professional services regularly. Each of these groups has a different view of hiring professionals along with a completely different set of needs and wants for solving their problems.

Never hire

Approximately 60 percent of consumers will never hire a professional carpet cleaner in their lives. The size of this percentage surprised me when I first heard the survey result. It certainly went a long way toward explaining why finding customers was more difficult than expected. Removing this large portion of people from the pool of potential customers casts the challenge of finding jobs in a whole new light.

This group of people will do the cleaning themselves, cannot afford the expense of hiring a professional or just never realize the need of getting the work done. Low family income plays a major role in shaping this group. I have, though, spoken to retired people who had never hired a professional cleaner even though money was abundantly available. They simply had never considered it a need.

Renters also make up a large part of this group. They often defer the cleaning responsibility to the manager of the property when they move out.

When you realize 60 percent of consumers will never be interested in your services, you can save money by intentionally avoiding advertising to this group. Better results are available when you focus your marketing efforts and money on the other two consumer groups.

Occasional users

The occasional user group makes up about 30 percent of the market and generates approximately 25 percent of the residential revenue for the industry. This group is defined as consumers who hire a cleaner fewer than 10 times during their lifetimes.

Because of their infrequent use, they often go for many years between cleanings and have little loyalty to any companies they may have used in the past. Advertising is the primary means for finding a company to take care of their cleaning needs. Events, such as a special guest arriving or moving to a new home, are generally the spark which motivates their need for cleaning.

This group is critically important to growing companies. These are the potential customers who can most readily be acquired through advertising. Startups usually do not have a customer base from which to draw repeats and referrals, so they must depend on advertising to build their base of customers. Even if they use your services only once, these consumers have the potential to refer more customers, both occasional and regular. Due to the needs and characteristics of this group, there is a prominent set of advertising themes that have worked well to attract these consumers.

  • Low prices and discounts: With a low priority for carpet cleaning and limited budget, low prices become powerful motivators for choosing a company.
  • Big/powerful equipment: The carpet has often gone well beyond the time of maintenance cleaning. These consumers are aware that major restoration will be required, so they hope “big” equipment might save the day.
  • Speedy service: Since a particular event is often the trigger for the cleaning, it creates a deadline that is often a cause for urgency in getting the work completed.
  • Big guarantees: This market is often looking for miracles to save their carpet, so bold guarantees provide hope for favorable results.
  • Dramatic before and after pictures: Seeing photos of totally trashed carpets being restored to like-new condition is compelling evidence for this group.

Regular users

Only a small portion of the consumer market, about 10 percent, falls into the regular user category, but this group represents 75 percent of the annual residential revenue generated in the industry. This category consists of the people who will hire a cleaner 10 or more times in their lifetimes. They will use a professional a minimum of every three years, and some could call as frequently as every three months.

This group will rarely turn to advertising to find service providers. Instead they repeat their use of a past company or seek out a good referral from a friend or a professional such as a designer or contractor. Consumer review sites such as Angie’s List and Yelp are also growing in popularity with these consumers.

These people have made the maintenance of their carpet a priority. They tend to clean on a scheduled basis instead of waiting until the carpets look abused. Because of their frequency of cleanings, they generally become loyal to their cleaner. It would be inconvenient to have to search for a new company each time they had a need.

Commonly, this group has an above-average family income, which makes frequent hiring of professionals possible. They often have busy schedules and value hiring companies that can make the process go smoothly and with minimal inconvenience. Carpet cleaning is often only one of many professional services they use. Experience has taught them low-price companies are generally not a good value and are willing to pay more for services.

These consumers have different needs from the previous group, so they respond to a completely different set of marketing themes. They often judge a company as “budget” if they see the themes used for the occasional user group. Instead, they are attracted to the following themes:

  • Professional service: These customers are willing to pay more in exchange for confidence that the job will be done correctly the first time and that their entire experience will be a good one.
  • Knowledge/credentials: Evidence of certification, relevant education, industry involvement and external business validation (i.e., BBB and social review sites) provides the customer confidence that a company knows how to do the job.
  • Expertise: They don’t want someone learning on their job. They want to know that the company has been around and is sufficiently experienced.
  • Confidence: They want to sense the company is confident in what they do and able to give quality advice and solve problems.
  • Photos of nice homes: These consumers have nice homes and would like to see photos of the company working in equally nice (and better) homes.

This consumer group should be the goal market for most companies. The profitability is far greater since no advertising expense or discounts are generally required. These customers are willing to pay higher prices, and their homes are significantly cleaner than the previous group, making the jobs quicker.

The challenge in obtaining these clients is that you cannot win them directly. These customers are generally acquired via referrals. Occasional users rarely convert to regular users. Still, do not neglect to advertise to them, since referrals from occasional users can lead to more desirable customers.

Just because regular users will likely call the same company again next time does not mean they would not change companies if they found a better option. Quality service is rare, and many of these customers will gladly switch to a company providing more of the traits just listed.

If startup companies want to grow beyond their dependence on occasional users, they will need to implement a good follow-up system. It is the process of staying in touch with customers that leads to developing and holding onto repeat and referral customers.

A good clientele doesn’t just happen

All customers are not the same. Make a conscious decision and apply your focused attention in order to build a clientele that is both profitable and enjoyable to work for.

Evaluate what marketing themes you are using for your company. If the first question callers ask is “How much do you charge?” you are probably using the themes that occasional users are looking for. This can be helpful in the start-up stage. Make the most of your occasional users by encouraging them to write Yelp reviews or refer you to their friends and family.

When you are ready to attract a more regular clientele, make the adjustments needed to reach those customers. Implement a follow-up system to keep them coming back and remind them to refer their friends.

Knowing and understanding the differences between the three consumer groups can inform your marketing and advertising strategy for maximum success throughout your career.

The time has come to take control. The clientele you want is within your reach.

Steve Marsh is a 40-year veteran of the carpet cleaning industry, an instructor and a Senior Carpet Inspector. He helps home-service companies quickly establish profitable clienteles and then progress on to serve higher quality customers. To help companies achieve these goals he created the step-by-step programs Single Truck Success and Be Competition Free. For more information, visit www.professional-carpet-cleaning-service.com.