Pressure washing and cleaning business owners are often asked, “Do you perform residential or commercial services?” Some companies start out in commercial services from the beginning, but most begin by performing residential work and then transition to commercial work.
Starting out in commercial work usually requires a larger financial commitment and investment. Serving commercial customers requires investing substantial dollars in start-up equipment and spending a large amount in labor and inventory dollars until a solid, predictable cash flow becomes reality. It is common when performing commercial services, for example, to be paid 30 to 90 days after services have been completed. The benefits of offering commercial services are steady work, predictable cash flow, and security. The percentage of profit may be lower than residential work but there is comfort in knowing you have steady income scheduled on the books. Landing commercial customers requires a large emphasis on cold call sales and face-to-face meetings rather than marketing campaigns (such as costly direct marketing and mailing programs).
So how does a small company make the transition to offering commercial services?
The first question a small company should ask itself is what percentage of their business should be commercial? For example, a company may want to target 25% of their business as commercial to carry it through the slower winter months. Targeting a small percentage like this should give the owner the sense of security he or she needs to know that work will be there to cover expenses through the slow times. At the same time, no single commercial contract will control their business. Even start-up and small growing companies who are aiming for the residential market may find this mix of commercial business a good formula for success.
The next question is how can my company compete with large companies that have more resources and money? The clear answer is to target a specific market that takes advantage of your company’s strengths.
In targeting any specific market, start out small. It is okay to turn down jobs that are larger than your company can currently service. If you are targeting commercial building cleaning services you might consider targeting buildings that are six stories or less. If you are providing commercial fleet cleaning services you may target companies with fewer than 50 units. There is an army of companies that have truck and vehicle fleets that number between 10 and 50 units. By targeting these companies you may be able to provide a better, friendlier service than the larger companies. If you are providing flatwork cleaning services, look for the smaller strip malls and shopping centers. You do not need to start out looking for parking garages and malls that have hundreds of thousands of square feet to clean. There are many contractors that aim for smaller restaurants, hospitals, and movie theaters that have a lot of foot traffic and need professional cleaning on a regular basis.
An additional benefit of targeting these jobs is the potential for added income by providing ‘up-sell’ services (such as shopping carts, building exteriors, concrete, stairways, etc.) or add-on services like window cleaning and snow removal. If this is a direction you would like to take your company, you should create a business plan that will serve as your road map to growth and success.
To continue to answer the question of “How can I compete with the larger companies?” you may want to answer the question with a question, such as “How can a large company compete with me?” A company that targets these smaller commercial customers can provide a more personal service than the larger companies can. It is easier to get to know the people you are working for, and to change your services as their needs change. These more intimate and personal relationships tend to build exceptional customer loyalty that larger companies just can’t compete with. A salesperson or supervisor who handles these accounts often adds touches rarely seen by larger companies such as personally delivering Christmas cookies, cards, or small gifts at holiday season. These are the advantages that your company has as you grow the commercial side of your business. Setting your company apart from the larger companies has advantages that will appeal to many of the decision makers who might consider doing business with your company.
So for those considering growing their pressure cleaning business, make a plan with specific goals and work that plan. Post your business plan or goals in a visible area so that they are not forgotten. Let all of your employees see and buy into your company plan. Communication at all levels will keep everyone working toward the same goal. When employees see the opportunity for steadier work and advancement they too will get excited. When morale and excitement are running high, this translates into increased productivity and stronger customer service. Before long, instead of asking how to grow your business into commercial services you may be asking yourself if you still want to provide residential services!