In 1990 when Mike Johnson started his yacht care business, Lake Shore, Inc., he envisioned working outside in the sunshine and getting a great tan. Carpet cleaning was the farthest thing from his mind. Today, more than 25 years later, his company grew to encompass a variety of service offerings in the cleaning and restoration industry, called The Dry Guys, a Division of Lake Shore Inc. Lake Shore’s entry into the carpet cleaning business presented itself as an opportunity for Johnson to diversify his business. His clients would often ask him to clean the carpets on their boats. The solution seemed simple: rent a steam cleaner. Although he was never really happy with the quality it provided, it seemed to be good enough. It wasn’t until one of his clients planned a boat party when the problems with the steam cleaner became apparent. “We had a job to clean a client’s carpet because he had some guests coming for a boat party,” said Johnson. He cleaned the boat’s carpets with a steam cleaner and used three fans for two days to dry the carpet. “It wasn’t enough. His guests took off their shoes and got soaking wet socks.” Johnson recalled the client calling him very angry, refusing to pay for the carpet cleaning.

Boat Business is Seasonal

Just as Johnson was going to give up on the carpet cleaning business, he was introduced to the HOST Dry Extraction Cleaning System. “We tried out a machine on a boat and the minute we tried it, we knew it was better than steam cleaning,” he said. “We have been using it to clean carpets on boats ever since.” Boat business is seasonal in Wisconsin, and it is short. The carpet cleaning business is all year, and HOST is a crucial part of it. Their carpet business is about 65 percent residential, 25 percent commercial and 10 percent boats.

Most of the boats are 40 to 45 feet, but the larger boats have as many as four bedrooms and three bathrooms. Johnson says the trick with boat carpet cleaning is to charge by the hour, not the square foot. “There’s not a lot of carpet in there, but it is time consuming,” he said. “You are working around nooks and crannies and doing areas by hand with a spotZAPPER brush. The main rooms can be cleaned with the machine, but boats have more detail work than houses.”

To market his business, Johnson employs two main tactics: advertising and referrals. Johnson said, adding that they also run a monthly column written by his wife, Jamie. “People say they have seen us on the cover and in the magazine, so they know where to find us. It has helped to build recognition for The Dry Guys.” They have tried cable TV and radio advertising with some success. They also exhibit at the Kenosha Expo, which is a local home show exhibition. “We draw a lot of attention to our booth and we normally get from 50 to 60 potential customers. From that we land a lot of jobs. We also have a raffle for $100 worth of carpet cleaning,” Johnson said. Ask Mike about building his carpet business and he will tell you that it is all relationships and referrals. “Our best salesman is a clean carpet,” he said. “After the job is done is the best time to ask for a referral.”

Hiring is about Presentation and Communication

Mike’s advice for hiring employees is that it’s easier to train someone than to untrain. “We found we are better off hiring people who have not had carpet cleaning experience than those who have,” he said. “Then we are training them right from the start.” Here’s what The Dry Guys looks for in a new employee: A positive first impression, good communication skills, friendly attitude and personality, good selling skills, and willingness to work. “They should demonstrate the skills they will need when they are in front of the customer,” according to Johnson. “I also value ethics and I give them a test on simple math skills so they can be counted on to give the customer a quote on additional work.” At The Dry Guys, a newly hired carpet cleaning technician must complete their specially designed training program. The first step includes several hours of in-house training. Then a new hire is paired up with an existing cleaning technician for 2 weeks of hands-on training in the field. As a bonus during this period, The Dry Guys offers the technician doing the training a higher pay rate. Training also includes all carpet cleaning technicians to go through the HOST School training and certification program. The HOST School, offered by Racine International, is one of the leading courses on carpet care in the industry and has had over 22,500 industry professionals from all over the world attend.

Profitability Comes With Tracking

In order to be profitable, Mike found that it was very important to understand how much HOST and other cleaning products were being used on each job. They developed a tracking system that is updated each day. “We’re tracking exactly what the material cost is and we’re able to clearly show our employees how well they are performing,” he explained. “This has helped in the training and efficiency of our technicians. They can see how efficient they are in the use of their time and materials.” On average The Dry Guys has been able to keep their material cost at about 10 percent of the job. Stick To It “I believe wholeheartedly that HOST is the best carpet cleaning system out there,” Mike said. “To be successful you have to stick to it. I’ve been in this business for 25 years. It takes time to grow and develop a reputation. Overall, I am very happy with the HOST System.”