Why Most Carpet Cleaning Businesses Fail While Others Succeed?


Staff member
Sep 4, 2007
Real Name
Robert Allen III 'Tre'
Business Location
United States
Written by Fritz Thompson for the Clean Informer Magazine December Issue

Why Most Carpet Cleaning Businesses Fail While Others Succeed And the 7 secrets to insure that you are in the right group.

There is a horrendous 30% (plus) ANNUAL turnover in our industry. Why?
And why do so many carpet cleaners struggle to build a larger business but seem to be stuck in a one or two truck operation? What are the secrets of the large operators? What do they have that 95% of the others don’t have? What can I do to change the equation and break out of the rut that I am in? Even if I don’t want to build a huge company, how can I get to where I can at least take some time off without jeopardizing my livelihood? These and many more questions will be addresed by me, Fritz Thompson. To give you a little background so that you can see how and why I am qualified to answer these questions, let me give you a brief synopsis of my professional life in this industry. I started in the cleaning business with a janitorial business with a can of Comet, a can of Pledge, a Kirby Vacuum cleaner (that was older than I was) and a small stack of business cards. I then went into carpet cleaning and in short order purchased a Rug Doctor Rental business. Through a fluke, I was given the opportunity to move to California and start a carpet cleaning franchise for Rug Doctor called Rug Doctor Pro. Since then I have started 5 more national cleaning and restoration franchisees and rejuvenated a sixth for some of the largest players in our industry. Don’t worry; this will be no sales pitch to buy a franchise, just practical information from my years of observation. You see, I have been helping individuals learn the carpet cleaning and restoration business for over 36 years and after helping hundreds of people start in this industry, I have often asked myself, “Why do some of the persons that I help to get started make it big and other are still struggling, some still after many years?” Most had similar equipment, technical training, and excellent marketing material and assistance. Most had sufficient capital to start up. Even when all things were seeming equal there were sometimes, vastly different results. WHY? I decided to sit down and document what I had learned over the years. My intent is not to criticize or to offend but rather, ‘Tell it like it is’. I apologize in advance if I offend you by what I say, but don’t take it as a personal affront, but just as it is intended, brutally honest observations that may help you reach your personal and business goals. So...Here it is!!!

1. Successful cleaners Think Different!

They really are not carpet cleaners; they are business men who own a carpet cleaning business. This seems like just a small change in words, but it is very significant. You see, the carpet cleaner thinks like a carpet cleaner, always thinking about the technical side of the business, how he or she can do a better job, get cat pee out, and so forth. That’s not bad, but it is not the most important things for the highly successful cleaner to think about.

  1. They don’t work on a truck (at least as short of time as possible). If you ever expect to grow your business past one or two trucks, you will have to get off the truck and get into structuring your business for growth. The faster you can do this, the faster you will grow. More about this later.

  2. They have someone who is professional answering their phone. There is no one person more important in your business, beside yourself, than the person who is answering your phone. Many carpet cleaners try to answer the phone themselves or their wives may do it while balancing a youngster on their hip while trying to
cook, clean and keep the babies from crying while they try to book jobs. Not a good combination for converting prospects to clients. Sometimes the wife is the best person to answer the phone if the conditions are right, sometimes they are not. They may not have the desire or the phone skills to be effective. But having the wrong person in this capacity will stifle your growth and hurt you badly.

2. They Concentrate On Marketing Rather Than Technical Aspect of Their Business.

  1. The Best Carpet Cleaners Are Usually Not The Most Successful. Sounds almost crazy, but unfortunately it is almost always true. That’s not to say that you don’t

    need to deliver a good product (clean carpet in this case) but in and of itself delivering the cleanest carpet is not the most important ingredient for success. I have meet and trained hundreds of technicians, some who are almost fanatic about cleaning every square inch but they don’t usually make good businessmen who run highly successful carpet cleaning businesses because they are focused on the carpet rather than the customer. In fact these technical types usually struggle to stay in existence because sometimes they lack good people skills. People skills, by the way are the most important ingredient for success in any given trade.

  2. Cash Flow Is King. Understanding this, the successful carpet cleaner/ businessman, keeps a good reserve and watches cash reserves like a hawk. Run short of it or without a good credit line, and you are history, especially if you have a larger company. The larger you are, the harder (and quicker) you can fall!

  3. Professional Appearance. I have never seen a successful company that didn’t emphasize this aspect of the business. After all, we are in the cleaning business. Our vans, uniforms, equipment and bodies should reflect the business we are in. Neglect this and you will lose more business than you can possibly imagine. Remember, you are not the customer, women are (for the most part), and you should cater to your target audience.
i. Name and Logo. In this business where a person can start up with less than $2,000 worth of equipment and operate out of their car or pickup truck, it is not unusual to see some pretty silly names and downright ugly logos. If you are going to build a successful business, shouldn’t your name and logo reflect that? Unfortunately, most carpet cleaners think that they are marketing geniuses and can come up with a name and logo on the back of a napkin that can cause the most reticent woman to collapse in weakness and call to have their carpets cleaned. NOT! If you are a businessman who wants to build a long lasting, and successful carpet cleaning company, then you will work with professionals who can steer you in the right direction and with truly professional graphic designers who can take that well-crafted name and make it into a memorable design that will work to pull in the right kind of targeted clients. It doesn’t cost that much with today’s technology and can be accomplished for as little as 4 or 5 hundred dollars. You just have to go to the internet and look! So don’t be chained to your bad name and poor logo, make the switch, the sooner you do it, the better off you will be both now and in the future.


ii. Van Graphics. Don’t be stingy on this one. If you spend 2 to 3 thousand on good quality, eye stopping graphics, it won’t be wasted. Van Graphics typically have the highest return on investment than any other form of advertising.

iii.Uniforms. No, a uniform is NOT a pair of jeans and a T-Shirt with your company name and logo on it! A uniform is just that, something that is uniform. So everyone in the company serving as a technician should dress identical (Uniformly). The uniform should be a quality pull over or even button down shirt with logo embroidered on it (no patches) and name embroidered too. Along with the nice shirt, nice dark work pants and dark socks with black (yes, I said black) shoes. Even tennis shoes can be black with no other colors on them and look good. And No clod hoppers or white tennis shoes! If I have to tell you why, you’re not going to get the sense of this article anyway. And, no shorts! Yes, no shorts! Your customer does not want to see your hairy legs, no matter how pretty you think they are.

iv. Cleanliness. Come in your clients home smelling like a local hobo will not help your business, neither smelling like a gigolo over saturated with cologne. If you smoke, you may have a problem. Minimize the smell by never smoking in your van but always outdoors. Your vans should be well organized with a place for everything. This will save you money because not only will your van will project your cleaning skills to your customers but your technicians will be less likely to leave the shop without having the needed cleaning products on board because the empty

! properly labeled slots will be obvious.

3. They Have Good Management Skills. Management skills are so much more important than technical skills. If you are running a business with only yourself as the only technician, then people management skills aren’t as critical for survival, but general management skills are still needed to keep your sanity and reduce unnecessary tasks. Money management skills or number skills are still absolutely needed if you are going to maximize your profits.

a. They Know Their Numbers. What numbers? Critical numbers are different for all businesses. But some numbers are critical for all businesses. Failing to collect and distill the right numbers will lead to poor decisions and cost thousands, if not tens of thousands of wasted dollars.

  1. They Make Business Decisions Based On Logic And Numbers Rather Than Emotion. Should I purchase a new van? Should I invest in starting a new product or service? Should hire a technician now or later? Don’t guess when making these decisions or worse; don’t rely on a ‘gut feeling’. Do your due diligence and ‘run the numbers’ use worse case as well as best case scenarios before making an informed decision.

  2. They Watch Critical Numbers Like A Hawk. What is your average ticket? How much does it cost to make the phone ring with a new potential
customer? How much does each new acquired customer cost? What is the annual value of each new customer? What is the projected lifetime value of each new customer? What is the average time your technicians spend on a job? What is their average upsell? What is the average mileage between jobs and how long does it take to travel it? What does it cost you per square foot to provide your service? What is your monthly ‘nut’ or fixed costs that you have to make before you make any profit. These numbers are just some that must be tracked on a regular basis. The larger you get, the more important these numbers become. It takes a large ship a lot longer to turn around than a small one.

iii. They Track The Origin Of Every Job And Check R.O.I. On Every Dollar Spent On Advertising. If you are not doing this you are making one of the Prime Sins of business, not knowing exactly the effectiveness of your advertising dollars. Advertising can be the most beneficial way to invest your money or it can be the worst. It all depends on the Return On Investment or how much money do you get for every dollar spent in advertising and the only way you will ever know is to track the source of every sale against the cost to obtain it.

  1. They Have Written Goals. It has been proven over and over again; those who have specific written attainable goals are many times more likely to accomplish them than those who do not. The human mind is an incredible goal seeking machine. But only if it is properly directed. Written goals are the most effective way to give this direction.

  2. They Have a 1 Year and 5 Year Business Plan. They don’t have to be overly elaborate, however, they must be detailed enough to give sufficient structure to organize your growth and properly prepare for it. Failure to plan equates to planning for failure.

  3. They Document Their Business, S.O.P.’s What are S.O.P.’s? Most people that have been in the military know what they are. It stands for Standard Operating Procedures. Simply put, it means that you take a position (I recommend starting with technician) and document what that person does from the minute he or she get to your location until the time they leave. In great detail. To tell you all of the benefits of this activity and how to do it would take as much volume of words as I have already written. Perhaps that can be a future article. But this is what is needed if you want to grow your business and do it in a structured and organized way.

  4. They Look For Ways To Prevent Problems From Re-Occurring (Systematize). Systematizing your business is an absolute necessity unless you want to spend the majority of your time dealing with problems and the larger you get the more problems you will have and the bigger they will become. Find out why a negative event happened, and then determine how to prevent it in the future. Document it, then implement the plan or have it ready when the same problem arises.

  5. Not Afraid To Hire People Who Are Better Than Themselves. Big mistake for most growing entrepreneurs. Most businessmen that have reached a small level
of success have the tendency to be fearful of hiring someone who is obviously better that they are. Think about it, how are you going to go to the next level if everyone you hire is on the level below you? The other negative tendency for these businessmen who are not thinking straight is to hire someone like themselves. If they are good in sales, they want to hire someone who has the same skills, if they are good managers they look for someone who displays good management qualities. The old saying is true, ‘The man who is good with a hammer, thinks everything is a nail’. So the business suffers because the other skill sets that the company needs are neglected and the company starts listing like a boat where all the weight is on one side.

  1. They Have Good Leadership Skills. Any organization that has grown to multiple trucks has at the helm someone that has good leadership abilities. Not everyone is a natural leader, but if you are not one who is naturally blessed with this gift, you need to develop it or your company will drift. Good Leaders have or develop the following:
    1. They Have A Good Balance Between Fair And Firm. You can’t be mean and drive your employees away, nor can you be too soft and let your employees run rough shod over you. You must develop a balance between fair and firm and you must display this balance in every aspect of your business, including and especially in your compensation system. I have heard it said that your employees should feel like family but not like friends. Do you know the difference? Find out!

    2. They Care About People And Are Good Relationship Builders. People know when their employer really cares for them. I have often said that the way that employees treat their companies customers are the way that they are treated my management (or owners). I relate to this every time I fly US Airlines instead of South West Airlines.

    3. They Have A Vision And A Mission. People want a purpose or a reason greater than a paycheck to show up for work. The Mission to ‘Make More Money for the Boss’, doesn’t work. Does your company have a lofty reason for being in business? Tout this to your employees as well as your customers and you will earn more loyalty form both.

    4. They Inspire Others. You don’t have to be an evangelist but you need to have a ‘fire’ in your belly. Have deep convictions based on positive values and live them. People are desperate for a true leader.
  2. They Live For The Future. Living for today will get you the rewards of today, living for the future will get you rewards now and for years to come.
    1. They Live Under Their Means. Big mistake to spend profits as you make them. Much better to save so that you can endure hard times while your competitor crumbles because the owner has a big new house, new fancy car and is living on the edge of their financial means and just fell over the edge. You know what I mean.

    2. They Save In Their Company And Personally. They wisely invest in their future by saving for equipment replacement, growth, and opportunities to solidify their companies. Always save at least 10% of your salary personally as well.
c. They Are Willing To Invest In Growth. Growth costs. It is not free. You must buy equipment before you can get 100% utilization out of it, you need to hire in advance and not under duress in order to have fully qualified and trained employees before you have enough work to keep them 100% utilized.

d. They Are Willing To Deprive Themselves. Successful businessmen can live without that Harley or Lexus until they can truly afford it, perhaps without payments. They look to the future and do not waste money by giving it to the bankers in the form of high interest.

6. They Are Not Afraid Of Hard Work. They are an example to their employees by working hard.

  1. They Normally Only Work A Half Day (First 12 Hours). Sometimes you just have to work longer hours if you are going to get it done.

  2. They Are Disciplined. Tough on themselves, they don’t make excuses but produce results.

  3. They Get Up Early. It is not without truth that the ole saying goes, “Early to bed, and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.”
7. They Take Care of Themselves and Others. Successful people know that the only instrument that they have to fulfill their goals and desires is their own body.

  1. They Balance Work With Other Priorities. Balance is the operative word here.
    1. They Have A Good Family Life. Not just quality time but also quantity


    2. They Take Reasonable Time Off. What kind of a life do you have if you

      haven’t taken a vacation in 5 years? If you don’t take regular and consistent time off to ‘recharge’ your batteries, you will eventually need ‘new batteries’ or your ‘batteries’ will corrode.
  2. They Are Interested In Their Community
i. Support Local Economy & Businesses

  1. Members of Better Business Bureau. This infuses confidence in potential customers of your business and demonstrates that you are committed to satisfy your customers and uphold good business practices.

  2. Chamber of Commerce. This shows that you are interested in the growth of all businesses in your community and will bring you increased contacts that will lead to growth.

  3. Business Networks. These can bring opportunities if you get into the right one. Remember when you join one of these groups that the one who recommends others the most is the one that is most recommended.
ii. Contribute Time & Money to Charities. Practice giving and others will ‘give’ to you. Show your community that your company really does care about others who are not as fortunate as you.

c. They Are Constantly Improving Themselves i. Physically

1. They Eat Right. The right stuff and the right amounts.


  1. Exercise. Pushing a wand is ok exercise but you may need some different kinds of exercise to keep at your peak and especially when you get off the truck.

  2. Get Sufficient Sleep. A sleepy mind is a weak mind. You will make many more mistakes if you don’t get sufficient sleep.
ii. Mentally

  1. Going To Conventions. You will always learn something of

    greater value than the costs of going if you pay attention and

    mingle with the attendees.

  2. Taking Courses. Challenge your mind. If you are weak in an area,

    like reading financials, take a short course. Expand your abilities.

  3. Reading. There is no difference between an illiterate person and a

    person who can read but refuses to do so. The result is the same.
iii. Spiritually

  1. They Have a Purpose. Making money is good but is there something more meaningful? The answer is...Yes! Find it.

  2. Thinking & Meditating. This improves thinking ability and helps us to avoid making foolish mistakes.
iv. Emotionally

  1. Take Time With Wife & Children (Grandchildren). No one on

    their death bed wished they spent more time at the office.

  2. Develop Meaningful & Lasting Friendships. What good is it to

    have things but have no one to share them with?

  3. Maintain Relationships. Make a call to an old friend. Go visit

    someone you haven’t seen in years.
Prioritize & Focus. Lots of things to implement and do? How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time!

Figure Out What Is The Most Important Thing(s) For Me To Do NOW! Put Blinders On, Don’t Get Distracted. Don’t try to do everything at once

Capacity. One thing we need to recognize. Although everyone has some skill or ability that makes them unique and special, none of us have a high level of skill or ability in every area.

You Might Not Have It. You might not be blessed with that particular ability that you are lacking but need desperately in your business.You Might Be Able To Get It. You might be able to read a book, take a course, or learn from someone who excels in that particular skill or ability.

You Might Not Be Able To Get It. It may be that in your particular case, that you cannot learn that skill to a degree that it will meet your needs. In that case you may need to hire someone who has the capacity or ability, or just do the best job that you can until you can. But That Does Not Mean That You Can’t Improve. You might not excel in all areas of a particular skill, but you can improve and do better.


I hope that these suggestions and observations have benefited you and your organization. There are many more details that can be added and I look forward to contributing in the future.!All the best,

Fritz Thompson


Make List Of What You Can Do To Improve
Prioritize List
Work On Items Which You Can Most Easily & Inexpensively Do That Will Bring The Largest Return
Write Them Down
Check Them Off One by One

Steve Toburen

Strategies for Success
Jul 15, 2008
Santiago, Dominican Republic
Real Name
Steve Toburen
Business Location
Dominican Republic
Fritz Thompson is one of the smartest people in our industry! Thanks, Tre, for giving Fritz a platform.


PS I can't ever hope to achieve Fritz's brilliance. But a while back I set down some thoughts I titled "12 Secrets to Success in the Carpet Cleaning Business". (If you don't want to do the download just write me at [email protected]://shop.truckmountforums.com.com and I'll email the Report to you.) I think these points might just complement Fritz's sage advice.

Ryan Jolley

New Member
Oct 25, 2013
Real Name
Ryan Jolley
Thanks! Awesome article. One thing I find interesting is that you have a franchise background. I think those of us who started our own businesses have such an aversion and snobbiness, if you will, regarding franchises that we fail to realize some of the invaluable benefits they provide: structure, systems, procedures, etc. We would all do well to build our own businesses like we were developing our own franchise business. I think it would change the way we view how/what/why we are doing what we are doing day in and day out.
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Well-Known Member
Feb 9, 2012
Real Name
Shawn McCaulley
Business Location
United States
Great article. I disagree with the high dollar investment on lettering your van. I spent just over $1,700.00 on mine and in 6 years got 1 call that said "I saw your van". I think it should look clean and professional but I think that can be done for under $1,000.00. The rest of the info is great advice and if applied would definitely produce great results!