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Michael01

Lots of Questions.... Need Help From You Business Owners In The Industry

Question

I have lots of questions and dearly need help and opinions from several of you guys in the industry, who might have a little time to spare and help someone out. I'll start by introducing myself and move on to some questions for you guys. Again, if your willing to help, your time is greatly and dearly appreciated! With that said, I'm not looking for negative feedback, but will accept honest criticism. I'm a long-time landscaper, a member of large commercial mowing forums, and I hear guys tell new guys on there, how hard it is to get started, and many criticize them rather than helping answer their questions. So I'm looking for honest help of answering my questions so I can gain some insight on the industry.

 

A little about me: 

As mentioned above, I'm a long-time landscaper. I started mowing and doing residential and commercial lawn care many years back. I developed a passion for it, grew a good size business, and really enjoyed it over the years. I started off from the bottom, with a push-mower and a truck, working 7-day weeks, from dusk to dark. A few years later, I was maintaining 15+ apartment complexes and commercial contracts, and over 40 residentials. I have a good amount of knowledge in business and come from a business family. However, like any other service industry, landscaping has its set-backs.  Mostly high over-head, high operation expenses, and a lot of hassles when it comes to equipment maintenance. When I got into commercial landscaping, it almost seems as if things are constantly breaking, this year we're replacing several engines on mowers, at several thousand dollars each. The lawn and landscaping industry has really payed me well, but I'm not sure it's worth all the hassle to keep running. My days are often long, then I come home, and often find myself spending hours and hours at night working on things, then paper work until Midnight, and back up to mowing the next morning.

Now that you know a little about me, I've been looking into the Pressure Washing Industry. I've been running some numbers, the numbers don't look far off or bad in comparison to what I currently do. The expenses look a lot less on the Power Washing side. And not to say this industry doesn't have its down-falls, because every industry has those. But it honestly looks like a lot less stress and hassles. So that brings me to this forum to pick all of you seasoned guys knowledge, for those whom are willing to share their knowledge and experience, I'd appreciate your time.  

 

Power Washing Business and Questions: 

I know this will be a major transition and take many leg hours of research, reading, and learning to understand things better. Please ignore my basic newbie questions, but I'm starting from ground zero and honestly, some of my questions may sound really newbie or annoying, but like I said I'm starting with the basics, so here we go.

 

1.  One problem I'm having is understanding operations and income. One thing I loved about landscaping was my money was consistent each month. I always knew I had x amount of money coming every month and who it was coming from. The only way I can see that happening in the "Pressure Washing Industry" is by targeting a large number of commercial contracts, whom are willing to pay for Pressure Washing several times a year. Possibly places that need a "Neat and Clean" appearance to attract customers. I'm thinking Hotels (Structure and Parking Lot), Gas Stations (Parking Lot and Structures), commercial office and buildings, and etc. So my question is, when finding commercial contracts, how are you guys coming across consistent income? Are you guys selling them x amount of washings per year? I could see offering service visits at intervals for example, every 30-days, 90-days, and 120-days on commercial places and offering a discount per sq. foot the more cleanings they agree to per year? Does this sound right, or am I way off?

 

2. Question two involves generating residential Income. With my old business, I frequently used EDDM or Every Door Direct Mail marketing to reach and gain residential clients. I would use an awesome flyer, with professional copywriting to gain the attention of prospects. I've been running some numbers, starting out solo, I would need to average 1-2 houses per day, or a minimum of 5 driveways a day, to make a living that would equal up to my previous pay. I have money in the bank to start-up and was considering sending out 2,500 Flyers Per Week through EDDM. I've always averaged a 1 to 3% response rate. But worse case scenario, sending out 2,500 a week, at only a 1% response rate, that should be enough to pull in 20-25 jobs per week.  Does this sound like it would be a reasonable way to gain residential clients? Also, are residential clients usually willing to sign up for a cleaning say example (every 180 days) or (Twice a Year) or are they usually a one time job?

 

3. The next question involves equipment and set-up. What would you say the basic equipment that is needed to get started or at least test the waters? I live in a huge city (Houston) and everyday I dread pulling a large landscape trailer full of equipment in traffic. My idea on it is an efficient set-up, not having to pull a trailer. I do have a HD truck, and my idea was a flatbed, large tank, commercial cold washer (4,000 psi / 4 gpm) to start, possibly a hot washer, a telescoping wand, ball valve, hoses, a good commercial surface cleaner, chemicals, and ladders. Am I missing anything that would be a basic necessity? 

 

4. My last question involves pricing. I've did a little bit of research on numbers. I know the average price per square foot in my area. My question is what are you guys striving for per hour on Residential and Commercial? My minimum has always been $50.00 an hour, however I often shoot for $75.00 an hour when I bid. I was thinking on the Pressure Washing side around $75.00 an hour? Does this sound reasonable?

 

5. Next, my last questions involve efficiency. I do have pressure washing experience, however in a different environment. I used to do pressure washing on military equipment. Cleaning the tents, equipment, and machinery. However, I've never got into residential and commercial. This question is pretty broad and basic, but I'd just like a reasonable guestimate as I know there are a lot of factors that can play in here.  How many driveways per day (Using a 24" Surface Cleaner) could one person expect to do in a day after they are seasoned and experienced? Also, how many houses could a solo person expect to do in a day, using a (1-story - 2,000 square foot surface area) as an example. I was thinking (5-6 driveways) per person, or (2) Houses per day. 

 

6. My last question involves selling and up-selling on (RESIDENTIAL). When you guys market, what is your bread and butter on calls that you receive? Do you sell mostly "House or Structure" Cleaning, and then up-sell driveways, windows, patios, fences, and so on? What would you say you get the most calls for (Houses and Structure, Driveways, or something else? 

 

Again, I'm sorry for all the basic questions, but this is a short list of the things that are confusing me, that I desperately need answers for, and insight on, to at least get me started drawing up a business plan. I really and truly appreciate any help and answers from anyone who is willing to help me get started! 

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Hello and welcome to The Grime Scene.

#1 is a matter of demographics and preference.
I will answer for the residential aspect as we found more problems in securing reliable cash flow from commercial due to
many non-compliant companies always giving us 'their' schedule of when they cut checks etc.
Got fed up with the hassle and concentrated specifically on residential. The only part the comes close to commercial is our
relations with property managers which has been very successful and reliable.
The details on how to charge vary on what you are washing and if you are going to offer any followup services for wood
cleaning/restoration which involves some carpentry and sealant/stain applications. This part is highly weather dependent
and I would not dive in until you have taken a certification course to help gain a basis of knowledge. I suggest PWNA for a start.

The pricing has to do with YOUR business model and your pay structure. How long does it take you to wash 'X' and what does it
cost you to wash: wages, insurance, fuel(s) including travel time and ass time for your crew, chemicals, payments for equipment
and any rentals you may have to hire etc.

You can price by sqft but you have some math to do. Figuring out what you need to stay afloat is a start combined with the previous
paragraph will help guide you on your pricing. Rule of thumb: Raise your prices as the market will bear and only in relation to cost
increases you have to pass on to your customers.

Depending upon the job size we charge the customer a 1/3 to get started (upon booking) and balance upon completion. In cases where
the job is very large and requires more than on trip, 2/3 upon completion of (specified phase of work completed ei; wash/stripping a deck)
on the first trip. Balance upon completion of the rest.

Some companies offer financing to those customers whose jobs exceed a certain dollar amount and allow payments over a period of time.
That can work both ways positively and negatively on cash flow and making payroll if a number of customers are late on payments.


#2. You already have a client base to start from and if you have some decent references from them the advantages save you the advertising.
I would start by examining each customer you have and coming up with a sheet detailing the optional items you could wash: Patio, walkway,
Siding, gutters, pool apron, wall(s), deck(s), fence etc. and how much sqft of each. Offer them the additional services at introductory rates
while you are ramping up. At each customers location, pass out a flyer to each house next door and to all houses across the street as a rule.
As you know, people talk to their neighbors and ask for feedback on the contractors they use. Great word of mouth. You just have to generate
their attention. Landscapers/lawnmowers don't often get much attention but when a crew starts up a pressure washer, people become intrigued.
Use that to draw attention to your services.

#3. Consider a Sprinter van. They have up to 2 tons cargo  capacity. I have a dual gun pressure washer installed at the back, a 200gal square
supply tank just forward of it with a tool box on top (plywood table of sorts and a drawer/shelf system along side) and a 3 stack hose reel towards
the front just behind the driver seat. Of course you will want a partition wall to protect the occupants in the event of an accident but the main point is
all of what you need is on-board and enclosed from the weather and theft.

#4. You will find many pressure washers and wood restoration companies won't get out of bed for less than $75.00/hr. Others are around 100-125.
Depends on what your market will bear. Once you have done some research on other more established companies, you will find out what is competitive
and what you can be profitable on. After 18 years in business, we are of the top highest priced contractors and with a good reputation and service can
basically command your price.

#5. Sounds reasonable to start if that is what you always book. In our experience, travel also plays a factor in how much you can get done. The jobs get more
sporadic in locations as you may have guessed and this will factor into it. The size of the house(s), the type of surface you are washing, the landscape
difficulties (plantings and such that get in the way, make access difficult to not possible), rinsing and diverting water to ground (gotta watch out for the water cops)
[Clean water act] Plus you will have to check into local laws AHJ's (authorities having jurisdiction) as well.
Another issue is water access and flow. Many homes don't always have water flow that can keep up with a pressure washer so that is another factor you will
Have to consider in not only the equipment you purchase but if you may require a hydrant meter for tapping a water hydrant if the site doesn't have enough flow
AND how to charge for that option as well. The size of the tank can be an issue if you have too many residents with low flow (<4gpm-Gal/per/minute).

#6. Many of us 'Specialize' in a specific aspect and up-sell to other items as a rule. ie; we specialize in wood restoration and up-sell house washing and pressure
washing services (detailed items according to what is present). We are aware of a number of people in your area that target specifically house washing, fence washing
(species of wood specific too) etc. The rest are add-on services and it makes it easier for your crew to be able to sell them on the spot if you come up with a
structured price list they can follow.

I hope this helps provide some modicum of direction and sense of probability.

Rod

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Rod, you definitely gave me some guidance and insight that I needed. I decided to go ahead and go through for it, so I'm going to give it a round. Having been in the service industry for nearly a decade, I really don't see it as being difficult to get up and running. I like your idea of a sprinter van, I will defiantly be changing vehicles now that my towing truck better known as gas guzzler won't be needed to tow around 3 or 4 zero turns at a time. I'll probably go for something economical. My main and only concern I would appreciate you touching on a little more is marketing and getting constant cash flow coming in. 

I'm really worried about constant cash flow, as in landscaping, I've had year around customers, on a weekly schedule, and that money was guaranteed every month. With power-washing I worry the week work schedule and work load could simply depend on luck in marketing. What do you do to guarantee cash flow? The first year, I plan to start solo, but can easily hire someone if it takes off. Just to make a living, according to my math, I'll need at bare minimum of 15 to 25 customers a week, depending on how much they spend on up-sells. If I can up-sell a lot through the week, I could make it work with 15 customers or jobs per week. 

Here's what I have planned for marketing, let me know what you think and if you think it will be enough to book between 15 and 25 jobs a week. 

Step 1:  Tomorrow I will start on building a website and a business Facebook account. I already have a business name in mind that I'll need to file a DBA for that is not in use around here. I'll use the social media for creating a portfolio and building a name, and also have the website ranked near the top on Google.

Step 2: I have a local printer that prints me (10,000 Full Page 8.5 x 11) Flyers at a time for $250.00. (I use full page, because I noticed an increased response rate in previous years over business cards and small postcards.)  I plan to have 2,500 of these go out every single week. I plan for this to be my primary mode of marketing. I will either pay someone to distribute 2,500 each week or use EDDM through the postal office. I expect a 1% response rate at minimum off of them each week. In turn, this should provide me with 25 calls at minimum. I prefer this method because I can control my work area and have a tight route each week, and practically be in the same zip code all week rather than having too much windshield time between each stop. 

Step 3:  Every job I complete, I intend to drop a 2nd flyer off by hand to the closest (5) neighbors, letting them know we had just did their neighbors, which I'm sure they will take notice of. I will also use coupons on the flyer to reel them in. 

 

With that said, I'm hoping these (3) small steps will be enough to at least get my feet wet and reel in the amount of work or 15-25 jobs a week that I need to keep a float until I build a reputation. 

 

Ram, please let me know what you think about the above and you think it will AT LEAST real in enough work to keep a solo guy busy his first year? Also, my ears are open to any other tricks or methods you might have to reeling in or securing steady cash flow. 

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Concerning cash flow. We have built our customer base from word of mouth and reputation and as such have ourselves
booked out months in advance with 1/3's either being held or deposited as the job gets closer in the que.
We have jobs that pay the full amount upon completion ('One stop shops' we call them). And others that require
2 trips are on a 1/3 down plus balance upon completion if smaller in size. Others which may take even longer or require a
full day on each phase of the 2 day process require a 2/3 payment upon completion of the first phase and balance upon
the completion of the rest.

You have an advantage where you already have a business in progress. I would use that to expand your customers' services
while getting ready for the full time transition next year. Why not get that part going asap? You know your schedule and capabilities
best and could use that to set up for future business with you current customers and not skip a beat really.

If I was in your position, I would hire someone to continue the business you already have in place while you devote time to building
the other. You keep the cash flow going and don't have to worry so much about dropping the net so to speak. You are fortunate in
your position. Having two businesses is a great advantage plus it gives you the ability to utilize workers from both in the case you
become shorthanded either way. As an employee, many enjoy the diversity. (breaks up the monotony). Plus, it allows you to be able
to cross train people for both and cover in the event of shortages in help. Great opportunity I would say.

As far as building up a customer base, go with what you know. That is the best place to start. If it worked before, apply it again.
Web site is a great way to attract people to your business and since you are already established in one area, you gain some consumer
confidence in that as well. Not a jack-of-all-trades mind you but enterprising is a better way to put it.

Starting from scratch will take time and you may not be able to command what you want as a new entity. As a division of another, you
will have better luck and results. Use it to your advantage.

The rest is as I mentioned before. Anywhere you operate whether it be as a lawn mowing company or as a pressure washing company,
use your presence in a neighborhood to put out flyers or door knob hangers letting others know what you offer. For each house you serve
post a flyer/hanger on each side of that house and the 3 across the street. It takes 7-10 minutes to walk it or have someone do it while the
final phase of your current job is happening to keep them busy.

Also, target areas that are affluent and have the money more than those run down. You can get a better price and references from them than
the alternatives plus less hassle for those wanting the champagne service on a beer budget!

Rod

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Rod and Beth, I want to truly thank you. Your post have been long, but filled with all the encouragement and motivation I needed to chase after this. You offered some great advice and heads of advice that I will take you up on. I'm still in the process of the drawing board, I have about a month to get this part of the business up and running, as I'd like to see some action by the first of March. I'm planning to keep the lawn business going this year as of right now, I have two guys that can handle the good majority of the properties. Also, I'll keep you posted with any other questions that pop in my mind, but I think you covered the majority of everything I needed to know. 

 

With that said, there are two things I need to touch up on if you don't mind  then I think we'll be good to go!

1. I did have one question I wanted to touch on. When you mention marketing to the "fluent" crowd. This has been my strategy for years. Kind of goes along with the line, do you want to work for the Jones, or the Jones neighbor. Obviously, in any service business there are a 'lot' of new guys that start up every year. They build a business solely on the "cheapest" price. I've been in a few states, and this has been the case in most, not just where I'm currently at. Most people fail to realize there is a whole separate group of customers who don't even care about the price tag, as long as they aren't being ripped off. With that said, do you see any problem in starting off with a high price from the get go? Or is this industry tapped by low rates? Reason I ask, is I myself, sound similar to you. I don't believe in 'half' doing any job. In fact, just using the lawn business as an example, if one of my customers neighbor uses a lawn service, we go out of our way to make sure our customers property looks better than theirs. That's just the type of person I am, I don't believe in half doing anything, and truly do put my heart into every job. Just using this as an example, there's a guy around my area, offering driveway cleanings for $79.00. Do you see me being able to command higher, such as $119. to $129. for these same exact driveways, by just changing my marketing strategy or is it so competitive that this will hurt me? 

 

2. A last an important question, being that I'm new to this, I know productivity will increase in time and experience. Can you elaborate on what kind of productivity one should expect with time and experience. Honestly, I'm lost on this completely. I know exactly how many properties a 1 man, 2 man, and 3 man crew can hit on my lawn properties, but have no clue on average productivity in this business. Just using these as an example, but a small (1,000 sq foot driveway) how many, with your experience could you do in a day while doing a quality job using a surface cleaner?  Also, if you were washing small 1-story houses as an example (2,000 sq foot) of surface area, how many houses could you do in a day, while doing a quality job? 1, 2, maybe 3? If you can elaborate on this it would be a great help and we'll just stick to my small number examples, just to give me an idea range! 

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Keep in mind that in just 'pressure washing', companies offering this definition of service are a dime a dozen and competition will be high.
You might have to investigate just how good a service these companies offer for that price and what the reputation is. BBB and other ratings
are a start.
We find out what the customer wants, what problems they had in the past and let them pour out their pain and in the process they literally
give you the means for which to position yourself to provide what they want and in that way you can command a higher price. We call this
'Consultative' Selling and it works like a charm because there is no pressure and the customer feels like they are in control of the process.
It's a dance where we are leading with our questions but the answers they provoke give the customer the impression they are leading.

A simple way to get them in your corner is to ask: Have you had this service done before? Any reason why you didn't want to keep using the
other company?
They will spill it out because if there is any 'Pain' associated with their prior experience, it becomes the fodder for which you can then take all
that and position yourself to be the one to not only provide the service but avoid the pitfalls that the last company failed this customer on.

Raising your prices above the competition is always a risky thing but I have a feeling you have some sales experience that will lend to your
success. The techniques I mentioned are a great way to get a better price and once you have fulfilled your part and the customer is happy
the word of mouth spreads and you start getting repeat business.

Regarding pressure washing, you will also need to set the expectations with your clientele on the frequency pressure washing will be required.
This takes a bit of research into things and in our class for PWNA, we cover in more detail these conditions in wood restoration. In pressure washing, your
surfaces will be dictated by the environment, landscape, runoff, shade/trees, cardinal orientation (North, south, east, west...yes. it does play a
factor in mold and mildew growth). Learning about the surfaces you will be washing will help you a great deal and avoid a great number of mistakes
or setbacks.
If you are going to be doing house washing...you need to understand the structure of what you are going to be washing....especially vinyl and aluminum
siding. High pressure and these installations do not fare well and you can cause a great deal of damage. (speaking of which, make sure your insurance
covers what you are going to be doing...check with Joseph D. Walters Insurance. Insurance can require specificity in definition of coverage for what you
are washing to be insured properly)
We highly suggest soft washing. Injection soap application, brush and rinse. There is much to learn including what is to be included and not in the scope
of your wash regimen. Some people think a porch should be included in a house wash because if you didn't define it as "Siding" washing and which type, you
set yourself up for a pissed off customer.

On productivity...this is why I suggested you have someone run the lawn mowing part while you ramp up. There is a great deal you need to do yourself and
actually time yourself from set up to performing the service to tear down. Most have a flat rate per sqft which covers up to 'X' sqft then the cost goes up. by
another measure, you can develop a sliding scale which the price starts out higher and comes down incrementally as the sqft goes up. (the longer you are on the job,
the less time setting up and tearing down to be factored)
House washing pricing varies and the time to complete depends on the service you are offering. Some just apply bleach and rinse. Others apply a soap and bleach
mix and brush the siding and rinse. Some charge extra for exterior gutter cleaning. Windows become a potential upsell but dealing with screens is a hassle
because they almost always need to be removed from the inside. We have our customers remove them ahead of time if possible in order to offer window services.

See the complexity developing?

Research is key.

Rod
 

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btw, when you time yourself and plan on having employees doing the work, add a factor of time because they are not invested in the success
of your company as you are and will take longer as they are thinking more about the hours they get and don't want to bust their ass for only
'XX' dollars per hour.
Pressure washing can be exhausting depending on the facet you ultimately focus on. But it can be quite profitable.

Rod

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Tyrone,
In case you didn't, please read this entire thread. There is quite a lot of information about your questions contained within.
Once you have read this thread and still have questions more specific in nature, then I can help.

The questions you asked pertain to this thread and are not very easily answered in a blanket question without going into a long
list of responses very much like what has been posted above.

Happy reading.

Rod

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