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Franchise or Independent?

By Michael Hilton

Should I hire a Franchise or Independent Carpet Cleaner?

The question should not be whether to hire a franchise or independent carpet cleaner. The question should be why aren't you cleaning your carpet more often? Both independent and carpet cleaning franchises provide quality results. Each have positive and negative attributes.

It is the Carpet Buyers Handbook's philosophy to remain neutral in regard to this question, but if we overlook any attribute or appear biased, I am sure each of these carpet cleaning segments will help us balance the equation by sending us emails as to items we have overlooked. If The Carpet Buyers Handbook were to suggest that we favor "Mom and Pop" carpet cleaning companies, the Franchisee would quick to point out that just because they are a franchisee does not mean they are not a "Mom and Pop".

In our opinion, there is no difference between the two as to the quality of results. The biggest difference is the franchisee must forward 10% (more or less) of their earnings the franchise. S/he is well-compensated for this franchisee fee and most franchisees will admit that the fee enables them to be more profitable.

In days gone by the franchisee was better prepared to operate a business, because the franchise provided courses on bookkeeping, marketing, carpet cleaning technical aspects, equipment selection, carpet cleaning chemical selection, and all the other things you would expect a franchise to provide. This is no longer an advantage (sorry Stanley Steemer), because smart equipment suppliers have initiated these same principals.

While it may be true that the franchisee is better prepared, the first day on the job than the independent, the knowledge gap diminishes over time. Every independent carpet cleaner has access to the same training and expertise over time that a franchisee is entitled.

International Institute for Cleaning and Restoration Certification

Our friends at the IICRC (International Institute for Cleaning and Restoration Certification) and our equipment suppliers have assured us of this. In looking at these two segments, we should point out that it is not necessary that a carpet cleaner be "certified" because this term has become synonymous with IICRC training. Companies like Bane Clene, SteamWay International, and Pro Chem each make quality equipment and provide downstream training a significant part of their service.

If there is one difference between an independent and a franchise, the difference may be in the carpet cleaning price charged for their service (emphasis on IF). Franchisees are contractually obligated to provide a portion of their earnings to the franchise to pay for ongoing training and support. However, any GOOD independent carpet cleaner should continue his/her training and there is an added cost of doing business for this training as well.

I learned more about carpet cleaning by attending these gatherings and talking to other carpet cleaners than I learned from the courses provided. I enjoyed sitting down with carpet cleaners and asking "What do you do when this happens?" or "How do you prevent this from Happening?" Esprit de corps among carpet cleaners is like no other industry, I have ever been involved. These gatherings allow carpet cleaners to informally discuss cleaning chemicals, carpet cleaning equipment, how to generate customer leads, and other "need to know" business inquiries.

The following are some points I have collected in comparing carpet cleaning franchises vs. independent carpet cleaners.

Item Franchisees Independents
Training Franchises offer courses on various topics to enable their franchisees to be profitable. (i.e. marketing, accounting, technical topics, customer support Equipment suppliers and certification services provide, over time and throughout the country, training on every topic offered by a franchise. The difference between the two is a franchisee must attend these courses whereas an independent do so on a voluntary basis
Business Management Franchises teach franchisees how to remain profitable and manage their business. This includes everything from bookkeeping to taxes to systems for customer solicitation. Franchises also may assist by providing customer leads to the franchisee Independents have access to this training on a voluntary basis through independent sources. Business management, more than any other variable is the primary reason why carpet cleaning businesses fail. Equipment suppliers have recently come to realize that helping keep their customers solvent is necessary for their continued solvency, so independents are allowed access to the courses.
Equipment Selection Franchise owners select the equipment that they feel is the best for their cleaning system. Equipment selection could be an additional profit center for franchises. Cleaning efficacy may not always be the primary purchase factor. A marginally effective piece of cleaning equipment may offer long motor life, easy repair, or selection could be based on partnerships with cleaning equipment manufacturers such as rebates, royalties, or maintenance agreements Not all carpet cleaners possess the capital to purchase the best equipment. Also, they are the mercy of marketing claims by cleaning equipment makers. Some of the best cleaning equipment may require mechanical ability to keep the equipment running. The range of equipment (cleaning results) performance characteristics is widely variable.
Cleaning Very similar to equipment selection above. Some of the best cleaning Independents are free to select any carpet cleaning solution they choose
Chemicals chemicals may resoil quickly. Most cleaning chemicals have not been independently evaluated for efficacy, resoil potential, or chemical emissions. Cleaning chemical use specified by the franchise are often required and an additional profit center for the franchise. Most carpet cleaning chemicals have not been evaluated for efficacy, resoil, and chemical emissions. Some carpet cleaners make the mistake of selecting inexpensive chemicals in order to cut corners. They do not realize that better quality, higher cost chemicals may actually lower their labor costs and increase profits.
Transportation Most franchises have standard vehicles built-in as part of their franchise agreement. Another profit center. Trucks or vans are usually sold fully equipped. Many carpet cleaners take better care of their truck mount than their truck. If prestige is an item for your neighborhood, an oil-leaking camouflage van may discourage the selection of some carpet cleaners. Their are many carpet cleaning professionals that perform quality work with a 1967 Econoline Van. Don't judge a book by its cover.
Uniforms Many carpet cleaning franchises require a professional appearance. They require uniforms with name tags. A uniform does not a cleaner make, but some independents routinely utilize uniform services.
Employee/Owner Often franchisees utilize hire employees. Each carpet cleaning technician should be properly trained, but since the technician is an employee vs. an owner, they may not as diligent as the owner might be. Small franchises may utilize the owner and the owners family to perform the work. In many cases the carpet cleaning technician is the owner, accountant, advertising executive, salesperson, secretary, and mechanic. He is personally involved in the success of failure of the business. In some instances, where a number of trucks are operated, an employee or subcontractor may be used. The latter usually splits the cost of the job with the owner. For example, the owner pays for equipment and all supplies and takes half of the proceeds. The sub may provide labor only and get half the pay for his efforts. An employee is usually an hourly-paid employee.
Price The franchise understands that a percentage of his proceeds are returned to big brother. Carpet cleaning price may be higher. The owner has full control over his pricing. This does not always assure the consumer of a cheap price. Some carpet cleaners charge too little and their business lasts only as long as their equipment. They are very busy though. A carpet cleaner that charges a fair price does not get every bid estimate, but provides a fair job for a fair price.
Warranty Franchises take pride in customer satisfaction. Should the consumer have a carpet cleaning challenge they have a higher authority to pursue. Franchises don't always take the side of the consumer though. Remember the franchisee is their customer not the consumer Highly variable. Most independents place customer satisfaction as priority one. Since they don't have a lead generating machine behind them, they rely on referrals from customers to friends.
Insurance Most franchises carry liability insurance as part of their franchise agreement. Highly variable. If liability insurance is important to the consumer, they should include this as part of the interview process.

I'm sure I will receive emails from independents and franchises alike with other differences and I welcome these suggestions. I will add suggestions as long as I can continue to be unbiased, while providing accurate information. I have always liked the idea of doing business with a mom and pop, versus a Sears Carpet Cleaning service that may use sub contractors or non employees. The fact that the mom and pop may be a franchise has no relevance.

About the Author
Michael Hilton was the original creator of Carpet Buyers Handbook. Having owned and operated a carpet wholesale company, Hilton has a vast knowledge about all-things carpet related as well as other types of flooring.

Other Helpful Links
Carpet Cleaners
Do's and Don't's
Selecting a Cleaning Method
Carpet Cleaning Prices
Franchise or Independent?
Areas of Responsibility
Now is the Time for Professional Carpet Cleaning
Hiring A Pro
Hiring a Pro for Carpet Cleaning
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