According to recent Sanitary Maintenance magazine survey figures, about 40 percent of jan/san distributors’ power equipment sales comes from carpet-care equipment, including vacuums and extractors. Why that impressive amount? Facilities with carpet require high-quality equipment to maintain it — it’s no surprise that they want to protect their often sizeable investment.

Some facts that support carpet care’s mission:

  • A quality carpet-care program can double the life of a carpet. Prolonging the carpet’s lifespan will maximize the time between carpet replacements and reduce a facility’s total operating cost per year.

  • A maintenance plan that includes the use of proper equipment can eliminate approximately 95 percent of contaminants hidden in a carpet. Those contaminants can cause damage, deterioration, poor appearance and bad odors.

  • A consistent maintenance program will keep carpets looking their best, improving not only their appearance but also the perceived image of the overall facility.

These are compelling reasons to pay close attention to carpet care, says Paul Niffenegger, sales manager for Service Paper Co., in the Seattle suburb of Renton. “Almost everyone needs to be educated about properly caring for carpets; they need to have at least the basic equipment and products necessary to adequately clean their carpeting,” he adds.

Check The Supply Closet
“If they have standard floor machines and bonnet pads, they have the capability of cleaning carpets,” Niffenegger says. “They can get by with as little as an extractor, or they can enhance that with a pre-spray followed by an extraction — that’s the most commonly used procedure.”

Paul Bertenthal, president of D.H. Bertenthal & Sons, Pittsburgh, believes facility managers should invest in upright vacuums and/or a good quality backpack vacuum. “If it’s a large facility, a pile lifter is also necessary — with a heavy brush that will raise the nap and pull out the dirt that’s gotten below the top surface. And some form of wet and dry extractors for deep cleaning.”

Appropriate chemicals are necessary, too. “These include a spotting kit with specialty spotting chemicals and a routine general-purpose spotter. And chemicals for wet and dry chemical cleaning, such as shampoos for the extraction cleaner, de-foamers, pre-spray or pre-treat chemicals,” Bertenthal adds.

“Properly maintaining carpeting takes more effort than simply running a vacuum over it once in a while,” Niffenegger says. “How often you should do it depends on many factors, such as traffic level and how much dirt is being tracked in from the outside.”

Each facility is different, and therefore traffic levels in various areas of a facility are different, explains Jim Shivers, president of North East Texas Distributors, located in the Dallas suburb of Trenton. “A 10-story office building’s entry mat, for example, probably needs to be vacuumed several times a day and light extraction done weekly. First-floor elevator lobbies should be done at least weekly, compared to a tenth-floor elevator lobby, which may only need to be extracted every 90 days.

“And there are areas such as cafeterias, rest rooms, and loading-dock floors that tend to spread soil onto a nearby carpet. So a good carpet-care program will involve much more intensive care in those adjacent areas,” Shivers says.

“The biggest problem in our industry,” adds Bertenthal, “is that customers aren’t cleaning their carpets often enough. In some cases, they’re over-cleaning areas that don’t need to be cleaned and under-cleaning areas that should be cleaned more frequently.”

Too Little, Too Late?
The components of a carpet maintenance program include three aspects: preventive, interim and restorative maintenance.

“Preventive maintenance means daily spot removal, daily vacuuming, especially in heavy traffic areas, and planned wet maintenance,” Bertenthal explains. “You need to know where your traffic lanes are, where the heaviest traffic and spot-prone areas are, and you need to have an actual plan to address this — a commitment that you’re going to clean certain areas of a facility on a routine basis, not just when you see dirt.”

According to the International Sanitary Supply Association (ISSA), about 70 percent of carpet soil is tracked in by foot traffic. If soil is trapped at the door and prevented from reaching the carpet, it stands to reason that interim and restorative cleaning can be reduced. Thorough vacuuming of carpets and entrance mats can remove up to 80 percent of all dry soil.

Industry experts believe spot removal is important in preventive maintenance. Properly and promptly cleaning anything spilled on a carpet prevents deep penetration and absorption.

Even with proper preventive measures, soil will begin to accumulate, so interim carpet maintenance is important, says Rod Dummer, vice president of sales for Dalco, St. Paul, Minn. Often, this soil can’t be removed by dry methods. Interim methods include bonnet cleaning to reduce the frequency of deep cleaning, and light or surface extraction using either a self-contained or an automatic extractor.

Even when preventive and interim maintenance are performed properly, embedded soil can still invade the base of the carpet fibers. At this point, the only effective method to remove soil from the base and restore a carpet’s appearance, according to knowledgeable distributors, is deep, hot-water extraction. “Hot-water extraction is the most common way to clean carpets today,” says Niffenegger.

“Widespread interim cleaning is also done with machines that allow you to generate a foam over a manifold and scrub dry-cleaning granules into a carpet,” he says.

According to Dummer and Shivers, technology has recently been introduced to the market that is dramatically changing the way people clean their carpets.

“In the past, people extracted, then put up with a long drying time, so they didn’t do it very frequently,” says Dummer. “It’s very labor-intensive to extract. But a new machine has come out that minimizes the wetting process and provides a 30-minute dry time and very thorough cleaning.”

“An end user can now turn a cleaned carpet around and put it back in traffic inside of one hour.” The new technology gives cleaners the ability to clean a carpet as frequently as necessary, Shivers adds.

Carpet was originally designed to camouflage the soil, Shivers says, and it does that well. But when it has too much dirt in it, even heavy-duty cleaning can’t reach deeply embedded dirt and soil. “Now this new technology allows you to clean the carpet on almost a daily basis — so it never gets severely impacted with dirt,” Shivers notes.

A Deeper Understanding
How can you increase your carpet equipment sales and profitability?

“First, understand your customers’ needs,” advises Niffenegger. “Whether their facility is an office building, a school or a health-care environment, find out what equipment they currently use to get the job done. Learn if their custodial force is understaffed and what time commitment they have to get the job done. Then put a program together based on what they have and what they need. You may need to upgrade them to a more productive or larger piece of equipment — perhaps a walk-behind extractor or a riding scrubber. And you can enhance their program with spotters, pre-sprays and carpet-protection products.”

Poorly Prepared
Bertenthal says customers have little foresight when it comes to carpet maintenance. Many spend more time thinking about the desired color of their carpet than how they’re going to maintain it once it’s in place. “We try to make them realize that if they don’t start to maintain it from day one, their investment is ultimately going to go down the tubes.”

Bertenthal believes that sales success comes from promoting complete systems while helping customers plan cleaning routines.

“Consult with them and learn their needs,” Bertenthal suggests. “Add-on sales will result. Make sure they know what accessories they’ll need. If they buy an extraction machine, they probably use it on upholstery as well, so sell them an upholstery cleaning tool. If they don’t buy the accessories up front, at least they’ll be able to budget for them and purchase them at a later date.”

For Dummer’s company, “show and tell” is an effective sales technique. “We have two people on staff who devote a great deal of personal attention to our prospects. They take the equipment out to the prospect’s location and demonstrate how it works. We’re happy with how that works for us,” he says.

“Equipment upsell or bundling is a challenge for us because sometimes equipment is bid out. The relationships we build with our customers and the solutions to problems that we provide them are keys to our success.”

Shivers’ first tip to distributors is to sell only equipment that they have “extreme confidence” in. “You’ve got to sell the highest quality product and be proud to represent that equipment. It’s imperative to know the equipment well enough to answer everyone’s questions.”

He informs his customers and prospects that he has the nationally branded equipment they will need. Like Dummer, Shivers believes sales are enhanced when they take the equipment to their customers and demonstrate them. “National brands are important because it means the manufacturer will stand behind the equipment. That puts the customer at ease,” he says.

Shivers agrees with Bertenthal’s thoughts about bundling. “We want to survey our customers’ equipment and products. If there are gaps, we advise them on how to fill those gaps. It isn’t necessary for them to throw away the spotter they already have and buy ours. But if they don’t have a good array of vacuums, or they don’t have good small or large extractors, then I want to fill those gaps for them. I want them to see how I can tie a large package together that fills all of their needs.”

Jordan Fox is a Milwaukee-based freelance writer.