Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Katrina Charities

Here are a list of charities that benefit Hurricane Katrina victims.

http://instapundit.com/archives/025235.php

About Hurricanes.....

The gulf coast has experienced its fair share of hurricanes during the past twelve months. Three major storms have plowed through the area during that timeframe. Obviously, none have been more deadly or devastating as Katrina.

Luckily, Pensacola and Fort Walton Beach only suffered minor damage when compared to our neighbors to the west. Hurricane Ivan taught our area that you can't take life for granted. We all get caught up in our daily routines. Reflection occurs once a natural disaster occurs.

Money is lost, property is destroyed, and families are torn apart as a result of these disasters. The only good thing about a hurricane is what happens after the storm. Communities grow stronger because the rebuilding requires days and days of sweat and tears.

Today is a bad day for New Orleans and the Mississippi coastline. Tomorrow won't be much better. Things will get better. Day by day, hour by hour, things will get better.

Friday, August 26, 2005

The Problem With Domestic Services

We all need them. Plumbers, painters, carpenters, and of course, housecleaners. A home needs constant attention and most homeowners don't have the time or skills necessary to complete every project. So, we hire someone else to do it for us.

The biggest complaint that people have with these types of businesses concerns customer service. They don't return phone calls, they're late for their appointments, they don't correct mistakes, and some decide to just not show up. How can an industry that is entirely dependent on customer satisfaction be so bad at it?

Because there's a lot of great carpenters out there, but not a lot of great managers. A domestic service business is born everyday. John loves to fix things. He's so good at it that his neighbor hires him to do some side work. He repairs his dishwasher, unclogs his sink, and even paints his office. John's neighbor is thrilled with the work. He's so thrilled that he tells everyone at work. Of course, everyone at work has had terrible experiences with previous handymen, so they all call him for help. He agrees and the tree starts growing pretty quickly. This is where it happens.

John can't keep up with the work. But, the money's good and he doesn't want to turn it down. So, he hires a friend and starts delegating responsibilities. The friend does a decent job, but the work keeps pouring in. Finally, John has so much responsibility that he can no longer spend a day in the field working. Instead, he spends his day estimating jobs, purchasing supplies, coordinating work schedules, answering phone calls, paying bills, hiring employees, resolving problems, and supervising everything. He's now become a full-fledged manager.

Is John ready to become a manager? Does he have the skills necessary to create customer satisfaction? Maybe, but only time will tell.

This happens everyday across America. People are fed up with their current service provider and they want something better. It's a crazy cycle. These great tradesmen have to become great managers overnight. The vast majority can't handle the responsibilities and that's why most people complain about their domestic service provider.

I didn't know how to clean anything before I bought this business. Ok, the secret's out. But I learned pretty quickly. I did know how to please a customer. My number one goal from the first day was to create a great customer service experience. I think that we have a great model right now. We make mistakes. We know that. But nobody can claim that they work harder than we do to create 100% customer satisfaction. My roots are in customer service and that's why we excel in that area.

I wonder how different things might have been if I had great carpentry skills?

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

It's Easier Being Different

People work so hard to look like their neighbor. They eat the same foods, watch the same movies, wear the same clothes, and use the same words. Even different people aren't different. Everyone belongs to a clique.

Think about attorneys. They all have the same business cards, work in the same style office, wear the same clothes, and have the same law firm names. If I were an attorney, I'd be different. I would have business cards shaped like a star. I would work in a coffee house environment. I would never wear a tie in the office. And, my business name would describe my specialty. Being different is that easy. It doesn't take long to be different. Just look at what's normal and do the opposite.

The problem is that people get trapped into doing the same things. They're scared to try something new. They're scared of being different.

Of course, something else happens after you establish your own clique. People want to join you. They see your success and they want some of it. So, you're not different for long. Remember my airline discussion? Check out this article (http://www.usatoday.com/travel/flights/2005-08-18-airline-humor_x.htm).

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Creating Your Category

Let's think about air travel. There are 10-15 airline carriers that serve the continental United States. The majority of today's airline companies are on the brink of bankruptcy. They're losing money hand over fist. Two airline companies stand out from the rest and post profits year after year. Why is it that only two airlines make money?

The majority of airlines compete strictly on price. They don't offer the consumer anything other than a cheap fare. There are two sides to a business: employees and customers. An employee's job should be to satisfy the customer. With airlines, the employees hate their job and the customers have no loyalty.

The employees hate their job because management keeps cutting salaries and terminating senior employees. These cuts are necessary because the airline has to keep their fare prices in line with the competition. (Rising fuel costs are another major factor, but only recently has this been the driving issue when it comes to airline profitability.)

The customers have no loyalty because price is the sole decision maker. That same customer will pick another airline next time if the price is right. The customer has no reason to think differently because the airlines don't give him any reasons to think differently.

Except for two small companies called Southwest and Jet Blue. They make traveling fun. They create an experience around air travel. A customer walks out of the plane feeling different because the flight wasn't just another flight. They've created their own category and it's called Customer Service. Customer satisfaction can only occur if the employee buy into the customer service philosophy. Poor employee relations equals poor customer service.

Sometimes, these airlines offer the cheapest fares. Many times, they offer a higher fare. It doesn't matter. The consumer consistently selects these two companies because of their past travel experience.

Air travel is a commodity. There are several ways to separate yourself when you are competing in a commodity business. You can be the cheapest, you can be the biggest, or you can create your own category.

Two Maids & A Mop has created its own category. We're the most customer friendly housecleaning company in the world! We prove it time after time in each of our customer's home. Our employees buy into the philosophy and our customers consistently choose us because they know we want to make them happy.

In business, you're either going forwards or backwards. Create you own category or start walking backwards.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

The Mystery of Gasoline

I don't get it. We can send information from Florida to China by pressing a few buttons on a keyboard. We can fly from New York to Miami in about three hours. We can even predict the path of a hurricane when its deep in the Atlantic Ocean. But, we can't create a better means of powering our vehicles.

Gasoline is evil. It's evil because it determines the future success of our country. Global commerce stops when oil production stops. Our society has become too dependent on oil and it's time for us to do something about it.

Car manufacturers need to start mass producing hybrid vehicles. Several of the airline companies need to fold so that jet fuel consumption can decrease. And, our government needs to get serious about finding an alternative to oil.

A terrible cycle is created once oil prices begin to skyrocket. First, businesses are forced to raise prices. Second, employees search for work closer to home. Third, businesses are forced to raise their prices again because of rapid turnover. Fourth, the consumer gets jabbed in the stomach.

We can do it.

The Economics of Housecleaning

The housecleaning industry is crowded with hundreds of competitors within a given market. The competitors range from small, one person businesses to large, franchised businesses. Someone recently asked me why rates vary so much within the industry. The main reason: low barriers of entry.

Anyone can become a housecleaner tomorrow. There's no required licensing, no high amount of education, and you only need a small amount of capital. At the same time, anyone can quit being a housecleaner tomorrow because of the same reasons. For example, John Doe wouldn't start a construction business today and close tomorrow. Why? Because John has spent a large amount of money on equipment and land. A newly formed housecleaning company requires about $40-$50 towards basic cleaning supplies. Not exactly a large investment.

A larger housecleaning business requires a larger investment. The business owner must provide workers' compensation, general liability insurance, bonding protection, cleaning supplies, office equipment, advertising, office space, and; most importantly, employee compensation. Obviously, a larger business can't compete with a smaller business on price alone. So, we don't.

I compare most large cleaning businesses with Superman. Superman was invincible, unless kryptonite was in his presence. That's us. We are the most customer friendly cleaning service in the world, but far from the most perfect cleaning service in the world. I know plenty of people who have used the same cleaning person for years and years. Their cleaning person charges them about 25% less than we charge. I have never once tried to steal that person's business because I know they are better than us. They personally clean everything with their own two hands. They probably know the house better than the homeowner. We can't compete with a great individual housecleaner. If you find one, hold onto them.

The problem is that most individuals aren't very serious about their occupation. Since the barriers of entry are so low, there's little reason to care. Some of our clients have told us that their previous housecleaner just quit showing up or quit caring. That's sad because it makes the rest of the industry look bad.

I have a dream. My dream is for our services to be respected. I want our business to be held in the same regard as your accountant or financial advisor. In other words, I want our employees to be regarded as professionals. The only way to accomplish that dream is to consistently satisfy each of our clients. It's a long deliberate process, but we can do it because we're here for the long haul.

Monday, August 15, 2005

The End of the Evolution

We had corrected operational problems, improved our marketing practices, and motivated our employees. We had changed 100% from that fateful April Fool's day. But still, how was I going to tell everyone how great we were now? How was a potential customer going to understand our pay-for-performance plan? So, I tossed and turned every night for several weeks. Still, no solution.

Something weird started to happen. People were calling our office and they were already aware of our pay-for-performance plan. Word of mouth marketing was alive. Our current customers had noticed the improvement in our business and they were telling their friends and family. At last, it was happening. We weren't replacing one unhappy customer with a new customer. We were now adding a new customer to our schedule. The business was growing, and growing fast.

The outlook for the business' health was so strong that we decided to open a sister office in Fort Walton Beach. That's where you find us today. Today, we clean nearly 175 houses per week and staff more than 36 employees. Problems are still brewing and everything is not perfect.

The evolution of Two Maids & A Mop will never end. We change everyday. We change because our customers expect us to change. They know that we promise to satisfy them every time, so we work everyday to improve our quality control and customer service skills. Today's TwoMaids will not be tomorrow's TwoMaids.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

The Evolution Continued

At last count, there were 10 billion cleaning companies throughout the country. They all have one thing in common. They're paid to clean your home. A consumer obviously has many choices when it comes to housecleaning, so why choose us?

That's the question I asked myself not too long ago. We looked the same, we acted the same, and we cleaned the same. The million dollar question: How can something as simple as housecleaning be different?

My first reaction was to create services that no one else offered. Services like the TwoMaids Rewards Program and the TwoMaids Riddle Game. The Rewards Program was a big hit. You get a point for every dollar spent on our services. At different point levels, you receive all sorts of free gifts and services. We've had customers receive free rounds of golf, free meals at restaurants, and free gift certificates to department stores. Of course, the most popular reward is a free housecleaning. The Riddle Game is a little kooky. We leave a riddle in your home after every cleaning. Originally, the first three people that answered the riddle correctly received an additional 25 Rewards points. Today, each correct answer rewards the customer with 25 TwoMaids Charity points. We support a local charity by paying 10% of the total number of charity points. In other words, we pay $2,000 if 20,000 points are accumulated.

The different service offerings helped. However, they weren't enough. People were still calling other companies and we still had a lot of market share that needed to be stolen. How could our service provide something different?

It was a eureka moment. My idea was to align the interests of our employees with the interests of our customers. What mistakes were we consistently making? What upset our customers the most? What upset us the most? We addressed our top four problem areas using a pay-for-performance compensation plan. Absenteeism/tardiness, lost equipment/supplies, late arrival to customer homes, and poor quality/customer service were specifically addressed. Our employees were now being paid to produce. If they produced, they were paid well. If they didn't produce, they weren't paid very well at all.

Good things started to happen. Employees began arriving on time for work and their jobs, customer satisfaction skyrocketed, qualified applicants came pouring in, and the entire company morale changed almost overnight. I had found the magic formula.

We still had a lot of work to do. We were far from perfect. We had changed our business 100%, but no one really knew except our current customers. What could we do to inform everyone of our new dedication to customer service? As usual, check back later and find out....

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Starbucks Most Valuable Customer

Check out this guy (http://www.starbuckseverywhere.net/)

This is either one crazy man or a masterful public relations stunt from Starbucks. In any event, it has grabbed national headlines just like Jared Fogle did when he decided to create the Subway diet. Not all advertising is created equal.

Note to all TwoMaids customers: Feel free to visit each of our locations and chronicle your adventures. Of course, the credits may last longer than the movie.

Monday, August 08, 2005

The Evolution of a Cleaning Business-Part Two

It tooks us about six months to get rid of our old habits. Our employees were now only being paid for work conducted in a house or office. Many of our employees had been abusing the system by doing crazy things such as sleeping on the job, taking the long way home, and one person was even caught shopping at Wal-Mart. The ship was not tight, to say the least.

We also axed the night shift. The night shift was responsible for most commercial cleaning jobs. The problem was that it cost an arm and a leg to support. It required a full-time manager who didn't have that many responsibilities. It was costing us money every minute that we were open. So, we called each of our clients and asked them to move to the weekend or early morning. Some said sure, others said no. We helped some of our customers by providing them with other contractors that promised to charge the same rates.

The pricing problem was widespread. Nobody paid the same rate. Some customers paid way too much, but most paid way too little. The economics just didn't add up, so we were forced to raise our rates. We lost some clients, but then again we were losing money with most of them anyway.

My next goal was to increase the customer base. The business was in serious need of some marketing. It had never really received any real marketing. We had a tiny Yellow Page ad and that was it. Everything else was strictly word-of-mouth. My specialty wasn't advertising or marketing, so I decided to start educating myself. I read everything that I could find. I called other business owners in the area and I also called other cleaning service owners in nearby cities. Finally, I decided that we needed to design a marketing plan for the next twelve months. It was very simple.

#1 Purchase a newspaper ad three times per week
#2 Make our services different

The first goal was easy to execute, but difficult to finance. We were still losing money. How were we going to afford three newspaper ads? I looked at the expenses as investments. If you build it, they will come. And they did. The phones began to light up because we were the only cleaning company in the newspaper. Cleaning companies weren't supposed to advertise in the newspaper. It was like a light switch had been turned on.

The second goal wasn't quite as easy. How can we be different? We clean houses, plain and simple. Check in later this week and find out how we made ourselves different. (If you're a customer, you already know the ending)

Thursday, August 04, 2005

The Evolution of a Cleaning Business-Part One

I was a young whippersnapper ready to rule the world. I knew it all, especially anything related to business. I had already managed people. I already knew how to make a sale. And I had already made a lot of money running a business for someone else. No one could be better than me!

That is, until I actually owned a business. I thought that you hired someone, you trained someone, and they worked for you forever. I thought that if you said the right things and did the right things, then everything would work out. I was wrong, dead wrong.

Two Maids & A Mop started ominously on April Fools' Day. I had reviewed the business' income statement and I was ready to get rich. The problem is that we only had five employees and just over twenty clients. The phone lay silent day after day, and the losses came piling in. What had I done? Did I really pay money for this "business"?

The turning point came one lonely night when I least expected it. I had worked a long day, with it ending at about 10 PM. I sat on my back porch wondering what my next move was going to be. Do I quit, or do I buck up and fix the problems? I'm not sure what happened, but I decided today was the last day of my depression. Problems were about to be fixed and goals were about to be set.

My first order of business was to fix the immediate problems. I had a terrible compensation system. I ran a disorganized, hectic office. And, I priced the services as if we were in a bargain bin. The next 30 days were not fun. Employees cried because their free ride was over. Customers cried because their free ride was over. And, I cried because profitability was finally in sight.

The easy part was over. Now, my attention needed to be focused on growing our customer base to more than just twenty clients. Part Two will explain....stay tuned.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Everything Changes

Nothing stays the same. Nothing stays the same because we live in America. We're capitalists. We're the free enterprisers of the world.

Supply never meets demand for a very long time. Demand for a product or service eventually gets recognized. Our economic system requires change for a business to succeed. Disney is not your mother's Disney. Tomorrow's Microsoft will not be today's Microsoft. Companies can't dominate a category forever. Two things occur when a business dominates a category:

1. Competitors flock to the category
2. A new category is born

Blockbuster stores spread like wildfire during the early 1990's. If you rented a video, you got it from Blockbuster. Movie Gallery, Hollywood Video and others tried to ride the video rental wave. They didn't topple Blockbuster, but they cut into its dominance. Blockbuster put everything it had into stopping these competitors. Meanwhile, a tiny company called Netflix began operations in the late 1990's. It rented movies and DVD's, but with a twist. It created a subscription model that allowed its members to rent three DVD's per month for a flat rate. It didn't fight Blockbuster on its turf. It created its own turf.

Two Maids & A Mop is no different. Today, we're the only cat in town. Nobody else allows its customers to determine its employees compensation. It's unheard of in the cleaning industry. Things will change. Somebody will figure out how well we are doing and follow in our footsteps. Someone else will see our copycat succeed and there goes our secret.

Our emphasis will always be on customer service. Right now, it's easy to prove our commitment to customer service. We're not sleeping though. We know that we must change in order to continue our success.

Come and get us, we're ready.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Last-Minute Cancellations

A last-minute cancellation is defined as an appointment that has been canceled within the previous 24 hours. People do it all the time to dentists, doctors, hair stylists, and housecleaners. I've been guilty of it myself. The reasons range from understandable to just plain bad. The top five reasons include:

1. My daughter/son is too sick for you to come inside our house
2. Our plumber, handyman, or carpet guy is not finished with his work
3. I'm too busy, can you come back later this week?
4. Oops, I forgot
5. My husband forgot to unlock the door

I understand each of these reasons. Your schedule is busy and you lead a hectic life. Heck, that's the main reason that you hired us anyway. Your life can not revolve our schedule.
__________________________________________

Here's what happens inside our office after a last-minute cancellation.

1. We spend precious cash on wasted gas and labor
2. We upset our valuable employee because she lost her hours
3. We provide even more reasons for our employee to search for another job
3. We declined another prospective client because our schedule was full

Currently, our policy is to charge our clients a $35 "lock-out" fee if an appointment is not canceled within 24 hours. However, we rarely charge a client this fee because it does two things:

1. Upsets the client and they refuse to pay the fee
2. Upsets the client and they cancel our service

As you can see, we have a big problem on our hands. We receive at least two last-minute cancellations per day. There have been days when we have received as many as five last-minute cancellations. To be fair, there have also been days when we did not receive any last-minute cancellations.

I don't know what to do about our problem, so I'm asking you for help. We currently contact each client the day before their cleaning. In addition, we distribute a letter after a client's first cleaning that informs them of the "lock-out" fee. Most of our clients are still not aware of the fee.

What can we do to control, prevent, or eliminate this problem? You can reach us by email at two_maids@yahoo.com or you can call us at either office.

PLEASE HELP!