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Carpet Cleaner

Imagine an early January morning. You're safely snuggled under your blankets, hiding from the frigid weather. It's cold out there -- and you don't want your tepid tootsies to land on the cold, cruel hardwood floor. But wait -- you have carpeting. Mornings seem less cruel when you can burrow your toes in avocado green shag.

Whether it's patterned, industrial or shag carpeting, North Americans love their floor coverings.

People with carpets need to protect their investments. Carpeting may not be gold, jewels or stocks, but it is expensive. All it takes is a few well-placed stains before a beautiful carpet looks like a disaster area. Business owners need sparkling-clean carpet to protect their image -- so a dirty carpet represents lost cash. Who are the white knights that fight stubborn stains? Enter the humble carpet cleaner.

"Carpet cleaning is definitely a growth industry," reports John Downey, editor of CleanFax magazine. People may have a whole lot of carpet, but they don't have a whole lot of time. That fact is good news for carpet cleaners. "Baby boomers are getting older and more affluent. They'd rather turn to professionals than do it themselves."

Charles Barfoot, owner of California-based carpet cleaning service, has tracked carpeting trends for over three decades. Semi-retired but still cleaning carpets, Barfoot worked with woolly floor coverings for 35 years.

"I've been in carpet for the last 35 years in installation, selling and cleaning," Barfoot says. He serves both residential and commercial clients and sets his own schedule. "It would be possible to see four to six clients in a day and still do a very thorough cleaning job for each one."

An industry veteran, Barfoot has had his share of memorable jobs. One day, a small lump netted him a generous tip. "My customer said the carpet needed to be re-stretched as well as cleaned -- they had bought the house from an estate sale about six months prior."

A strange shape in the carpeting caught Barfoot's eye. "[I noticed] there was a small lump along the wall. Upon pulling this part of the carpet up, I found an envelope containing $500." Although Barfoot returned the cash, his good deed did not go unrewarded. "She did give me a tip of $100."

Barfoot has always been his own boss. "I have always been self-employed. I guess the main incentive is that I am very independent and enjoy the freedom of choosing my hours, more or less, and being my own boss."

Barfoot warns that choosing your own hours doesn't mean only working between commercials. "Being your own boss often means longer hours than a 9 to 5 job. You have to wear many different hats, especially in a small business."

Wearing many different hats means you do everything -- cleaning, marketing, and sales. "There are a lot of other carpet cleaners. You have to offer not only good cleaning, but also be able to present yourself in a way that will make them feel comfortable with having you in their home or business," warns Barfoot. "You sell yourself as well as your service."

Once you've made your sale, you're the professional and the expert. "You are a business person -- you have to act like one. Don't overcharge and don't put too small of a value on your time."

Keep start-up costs in mind. Although Downey believes it's an easy business to get into, he also warns initial investment is the key. "You'd need a truck-mounted cleaning system and a $30,000 to $50,000 investment if you wanted to turn it into a real business."

However, a base model portable extraction machine will only set you back around $2,000 -- and you can start part time. "If I was starting right now I think I would go with the portable and work my way up to the truck mount," explains Barfoot.

Despite the cash, there are some disadvantages. Carpet cleaning is hard work -- and grueling on your back. "You will be on your feel a lot, so if you have back problems, this is not the job for you," advises Barfoot.

Carpet cleaners also work closely with chemicals, which may cause problems for some folks. "It is very rare that the cleaning solution will bother the customer, however, you do this over and over, so you have to be careful to not breathe the fumes when mixing."

But don't feel like only Superman can do this job. Marilyn Guille used to own a janitorial service.

"Being female was a bit of a roadblock. There was often an assumption that I wasn't strong enough to load and unload the van, move heavy furniture out the way, etc. I overcame that simply by becoming more and more confident and competent," she says. "You have to have brain and brawn."

Ready to go? Barfoot advises a little self-exploration before opening up shop. "Think it over very carefully. You will be dealing with all kinds of people. Some are nice, some are pains in the neck. You have to be nice to all of them."

It's also a good idea to decide how, where and when you'll work. "You need to make a basic decision first: if you concentrate on residential carpet cleaning, then Monday to Friday, 9 to 5, is pretty typical. If you want corporate or commercial contracts -- which are much more lucrative -- then it's the opposite, because you can only work when the workers have gone home -- evenings and weekends," says Guille.

The wrong combination can lead to burnout -- fast. "I did both, which meant I had to be available seven days a week. No wonder I only lasted three years!"

Despite the demanding hours, there is one benefit both Barfoot and Guille enjoy -- the freedom and flexibility of self-employment. "There's no feeling that can compare to being responsible for yourself and your work, taking pride in a job well-done, and knowing that you're the boss," remarks Guille.

For self-employed carpet cleaners, that freedom equals a lucrative career option. "As long as there are floors and people, carpets will need to be cleaned. I think the future looks very good," says Barfoot.


CleanFax Online
It has all sorts of news of interest to carpet cleaners

The Carpet and FabriCare Institute
Consumer and professional cleaning tips and information

The Carpet and Rug Institute
Trade information and carpet tips

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OCAP believes that financial literacy and understanding the financial aid process are critical aspects of college planning and student success. OCAP staff who work with students, parents, educators and community partners in the areas of personal finance education, state and federal financial aid, and student loan management do not provide financial, investment, legal, and/or tax advice. This website and all information provided is for general educational purposes only, and is not intended to be construed as financial, investment, legal, and/or tax advice.