About Me

My photo
Las Vegas, Nevada, United States
"No, really!"

My Favorite Bit of Paper Cup Philosophy

The Way I See It #76

The irony of commitment is that it's deeply liberating - in work, in play, in love. The act frees you from the tyranny of your internal critic, from the fear that likes to dress itself up and parade around as rational hesitation. To commit is to remove your head as the barrier to your life.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Little Charmer ~ Not ME, the Rug!

In my last post, I told about the wool megalo-rug that nearly beat me in a dust-up. Rugs come in all shapes and sizes. Some are more charming than others.

In our small carpet cleaning business, we do things as simply and consistently as we can. It makes us efficient. It makes us credible to the customers when both the office and the technicians say the same thing about any situation. David and I are good communicators. Everyone knows everything he needs to know about any subject. Some of our touchstones include explaining pet urine damage the same way to every customer every time, quoting room prices the same to everyone who calls in, and explaining carpet repairs in precisely the same way every single time. But perhaps the most deeply ingrained piece of information we share is our minimum service charge. Each of us could tell that number in our sleep. It's a simple concept. We cannot roll a van with one or two technicians, all of the equipment, all of the cleaning solutions, the cost of the business license, liability insurance, advertising costs . . . for less than a particular dollar amount. In most cases, that minimum charge does not come into play. Most people have their entire homes cleaned at one time, and the cost exceeds the minimum service charge. I never even have to utter those words. But once in awhile, Mrs. Las Vegas only wants one room in her home cleaned and the minimum sounds a little pricey.

When the technicians arrive at a customer's house, their flexibility quotient rises dramatically. Now someone from our company can see the carpet. I've given the estimate over the phone based on the customer's own description of the carpet's condition. But one person's idea of "filthy" is another person's concept of "not too bad".The technicians might recommend a little preconditioning treatment or a rotary scrub, or pet damage restoration. They are free to price these services as they see fit (within a loose framework). David's philosophy is, "They're out there. We're not. They've assessed the carpet and the customer. We have not. Let them secure the job." Sometimes we have to work a little extra to hold the job. "Let me call the office and see if I can offer you a small discount. If the office OKs that, may I get started right away?" I sometimes ask the technician if it is even worth doing the work if the customer is asking to pay an extremely low amount. If the technician says, "No. It's not worth it. This will be trouble forever. They're cheap and demanding.", I tell him to roll up his hoses and roll on down the road.

The (wonderful) flip side of taking money away from a customer in exchange for services is that we also have the ability to give a good customer extra attention. My technicians see every kind of situation every day of life. Single parents struggling, elderly people just trying to get by, an obviously really fine individual who has been laid off three times in a year. The men are quiet when they tell me, "That poor woman, Les. She is living in hard times. I knocked out a couple of rooms of premium service and didn't say anything or ask for more money. She needs help." Or, "Les, that couple were in their 80s and have been in that house since 1965. The carpet was so clean, I don't know why they called us. Maybe they just had a reminder on the calendar they didn't question. I gave them a couple of rooms of Scotchguard for free." We've had days where a woman customer has asked a technician to walk her to her car because of a domestic dispute. Not comfortable for anyone. We help people up from the floor when they've failed to heed our warning, "Be careful stepping from the wet carpet onto the tiles." And one of the commonest "gimmes" is to clean a few small area rugs without charge. When one weighs a $500 cleaning job against 3 minutes of work on the rugs, it just makes good business sense. The kindness is remembered, and the customer will invite us to return in a year. There exists a friendly rivalry between the technicians. They watch each other closely. "How much did you sell today?" It should be no surprise that our best carpet cleaners are also our best salesmen.

A woman called to ask me about cleaning an area rug. She knew more than the average caller. She knew the dimensions of her rug and she knew it was 100% wool. I quickly calculated the square feet and applied our price per square foot. I held this up against our minimum service charge. Yikes! This was going to be an expensive rug cleaning. I started my usual presentation: "For our minimum service charge we could do another rug or perhaps a room of carpet . . . " She doesn't like people coming into her home. Um, OK, the rug could be brought to our office. She took our address and I forgot about her for a week.

Yesterday, I looked out on the deck. A small woman, probably very near my own age, struggled along the breezeway, a very appropriately named passageway here on the second floor. Windsock might also be properly descriptive. She turned the corner and aimed for my door. I greeted her and she commented that we were very hard to find. I don't agree, but then I've come here almost every day for nearly three years. "Well, yes, up on the second floor and on the back of the building," I allowed. She had something with her that she proceeded to unfold for me. It clicked immediately! This was the woman with the tiny wool rug. I inspected it and felt on solid ground, even though I don't clean carpets every day like the homes. It certainly was wool. My good eyes told me the dimenstions she had mentioned were about right. It had some pet hair on it and a few spots that gave me some concern. I quoted her our minimum service charge, knowing she'd already heard me say that dollar figure over the phone a week ago. This number so alarmed the woman she had to take a seat in my office. I let her sit. I let her ponder. "Gee, I was hoping you'd do it for about half that amount." I told her, not unpleasantly, all the reasons I had to charge her the minimum service charge. I reminded her we could come to her home and she'd get more value for her money, but that I could not charge less than the minimum. She left the rug and walked away looking pensive.

On Thursdays, David conducts staff meeting and I am second fiddle. On the other days of the week, I conduct "huddle". "Huddle" means, "at 7:00 sharp, gather in the office, have your work orders and your route sheet in your hand, have a pen, pay attention. She who must be obeyed is about to speak." In huddle, we go through the day's work, team by team, van by van. I tell the men everything I remember about each job or customer. I tell them if a job is simply unremarkable. The homes have come to appreciate huddle, because I possess an uncanny ability to call people for what they are, for reading a situation for what it is, even though I've only participated in one telephone conversation. It is a rare day that someone does not come in and say, "Les, you had that man dead-on. It made me able to work with him better, understanding what kind of person he is." In huddle, we also share our daily stories from our adventures in the big city. It's a safe place to talk, to tell, to ask, to share. Sometimes someone has a need to bite in huddle. That's OK, too. We leave huddle as friends. And better informed. Invariably, before and after huddle there is much good natured milling around, coffee being consumed, "good morning"s, bustle.

Huddle was almost over this morning when Matt noticed it. "What's that on the floor?" I'd nearly forgotten to mention the rug. I grinned. "Oh, it's a handkerchief I booked. The customer brought it in. I need it to be cleaned so she can pick it up." They all stared at it. I like to have fun, too, so I put on a little show. Got a little smarty assed. I picked the rug up and spun it on my hand like Luigi tossing pizza dough. They stared at me. "Is that all there is for this job?" "That's it homes. Just the one little hankie." It got really quiet. "Um, Les, how did you price that out?" I said I'd charged the minimum service charge. "And somebody went for that?" "Well, you're looking at the rug, homes." There was some shuffling of feet and gazing at the floor. "What? What's up?" To a man, they agreed that this rug was one of the size and type they'd clean for free on any job where the customer had been half-way pleasant. It was simply the right thing to do. "Well, let's talk about this, guys. How would it be if I let anyone walk in off the streets and give me things to clean and I gave it to them for free? I don't have the advantage you have. I'm not in their home doing lots of other work and just adding this as a little nicety. I have to insist on the minimum service charge." They averted their gaze and shuffled their feet again. I saw shoulders start to shake. I heard some snickers and someone said, "God damn. She's never cleaned a carpet in her life and she just got the highest paying job we've ever had for a rug if you consider its size." We all cackled. It was Matt who came up with the idea. "Let's put her in a war wagon, send her out ahead of us to knock on the doors of every job for the day. She can sell the jobs and we'll just follow her, cleaning carpet!" I just stuck to the script. We take minimum service charge very seriously here.

Joseph and Justin cleaned the hankie. It had issues. The spots that concerned me were curry, Joseph said. Curry doesn't come out. It's permanent. Joseph has 35 years experience at carpet cleaning. Joseph has celebrity clients in Hollywood. I don't doubt those spots are curry. I don't doubt curry is a permanent stain. How does the reader think I'll deal with the customer? The rug cleaned up beautifully except for the curry spots. What would you do? I already know what I'll do!

In my ears right now: Miss Fiona of Sunnybrook Farm. Yes, I like it!

Something that charmed me: We were driving west on a major boulevard through the city. We'd had a great afternoon together and were chatting, thinking about dinner. We stopped at a traffic light in an older section of the city. Here many small old houses have been turned into business offices - an insurance agency, a florist, etc. One of them, neutral in color (mainly) and otherwise unremarkable, caught my eye. For the upper 20% of the building was given over to a brightly colored, eye-catching promotion. Superimposed over stripes of the red, white and blue was a good likeness of the U.S. president. In large, tidy letters was proclaimed "Obama Pedicure ~ $9.99". What the heezy? I've scratched my head for days. What does the reader suppose might make that pedicure distinctly Obaman?


  1. My cousin has a set of tiny oriental rug coasters like that. Solution to curry problem: put curry in other areas symmetrically... or call my cousin and ask her where she got her set of coasters.

    Note to Fiona: whenever I've been a bad, bad girl, it felt so good good good.

    Obama pedicure: "For $9.99, we'll only clip half your toenails, but it includes a health care plan for the other half."...oops, I just googled it, click HERE for a picture and scroll down a bit.

  2. @ Kassie ~ You have made me laugh right out loud this morning and that has unsettled me because I was well on the way to becoming Little Miss Crabby Ass. I'm tired this week. Tired enough that it is concerning me. Besides having too little energy, my good curious mind is not sharp. Wah.

    OK, re: the rug, you are GOOD. The picture on the blog post IS my little Oriental rug coaster, used just for silly illustration. The actual rug is white which is the most difficult to clean, of course. But I like your idea. I'll just redecorate the rug, hope the woman likes it, and you can post about me on Redoing the Undone.

    You know what I wish I had that Fiona has? No, not youth! Limbs as long as hers. That is one stretched out chiquita. ALL of my limbs together aren't as long as her leg.

    Oh, Kass, the Obama pedicure is a let-down. I hoped for something very exotic. And your Googling it makes me feel unhappy with myself. I can't wrap my head around anything as concrete as Googling the answer to something this week. Truly a dullard. I'm going to go drink some iron.

  3. Be sure to use the travel kind. They're smaller and easier to swallow....and press all your clothes first...oh, and unplug it, unless you need a colonic.

    Truly, I'm sorry you're so tired. My friend hasn't picked me up yet. The weather here and in St. George is not going to be so good, so I'm not too excited to drive and drive just to stay inside. Plus the drive down will be windy and rainy. Why can't I just say to her, "This is not sounding too fun?"

  4. @ Kassie ~ STOP making me laugh. I'm trying to be crabby! You know, I hate it when I swallow those full sized irons. The appliance lands in my stomach while the cord and plug are still dangling out of my mouth. An idea. Maybe I wouldn't be so tired if I didn't swallow applicances.

    I think the wind is screaming throughout the southwest. It's a storm of a couple of days duration. We might even get a few drops of rain out of it. But it won't make travel pleasant for you.

    Ah, Kass, I hear some of myself in your comment. I'll commit to going somewhere and when the circumstances turn less than ideal I find it hard to say, "I don't want to do this." On the other hand, if it's a camping trip and the weather promises to be dreadful, I say, "Damn the torpedoes, let's go!" Some of my best camping stories are about trips when the weather was shocking. I think I derive pleasure from the retelling how we even survived it. But I agree that traveling a long way just to sit inside in shitty weather sounds like a terrible time.

  5. So, did the woman with the small rug "curry" favor with you?

  6. @ Kirk ~ Oh, very droll, Sir! Actually she was very pleased with her rug, despite the stains being permanent. She was excited that the white part was white again, all the pet hair had been removed and the rug smelled wonderful. Joseph was right! It was curry.