Mark Dullea and I connected through the Small Business and Self-employed Group on LinkedIn. We had to overcome the fact that he’s a Boston College grad while I’m a Boston University alum. But we decided to set aside that rivalry, which now mainly plays out in the annual Bean Pot Hockey tournament, and see how we could support each other’s businesses. Here’s Mark’s business success story:
Company: Two companies, Drysdale’s Carpet & Floor Care and Nature’s Quick Dry
Location: Peabody MA
Year founded: Drysdale’s: 1990; Nature’s Quick-Dry: 2004
Number of Employees: I have two part-time employees that I use on a per-job basis, on large commercial carpet cleaning jobs. They are not employees in the formal sense, but are more like subcontractors. They sometimes work together with me, and sometimes without me, depending upon the needs and size of the job. This arrangement gives me the flexibility to be small and large at the same time.
Business Description: Drysdale’s: Carpet cleaning and related services which use “green,” plant-based cleaning products, and a low-moisture, rapid-dry cleaning process. In addition to the cleaning of carpeting and rugs, Drysdale’s also cleans upholstery and ceramic and other tile floors. With the aid of two subcontractors, I also offer my customers services in the refinishing of hardwood and such natural stone floors as marble, limestone, and terrazzo.
Nature’s Quick Dry: NQD sells five different packages of equipment, supplies, and training materials to individuals desiring to set up a business similar to mine. All are priced under $3,000.
Started company because: Through 1990 I had worked for 22 years in the urban planning field. I was ready for a change from the public sector: too many hours spent in meetings, and often too many competing agendas working at cross-purposes to thoughtful city planning. I looked at a variety of fields in the private sector where the cost of entry would not be prohibitive and surprised myself by selecting carpet cleaning. I felt that the industry had something of a shoddy image from all of the bait and switch activity that traditional carpet cleaners get caught up in. I wanted to offer a service that would be honest, that would have the policy “empower the customer,” and that customers would appreciate the difference between my business and the typical ones out there. I also had learned through research that many customers became upset at all of the wet carpeting they were left with when the cleaner finished. I felt I could leave them with almost fully dry carpets.
I realized early on in this new business that I wasn’t sure I wanted to set up and be responsible for a multi-truck operation. I wasn’t sure I had the financial resources or the management skills to make this kind of expansion work. In time I came to think that there might be others out there who might have interest in a low-entry-cost route to entering this business, but without the substantial up-front costs of purchasing a franchise, such as from Chem-Dry or Stanley Steemer. That’s when I decided to set up the online business to sell carpet cleaning business start-up packages.
Keys to your business success/best business advice you’ve ever been given: A course I took at BC, which partly dealt with issues of entrepreneurship included the instructor offering this advice: If you ever get involved with a start-up in an already established industry, try to approach it as a niche player. Don’t go into it trying to just copy what the established players are already doing. Try to see what’s not being done, or not being done well, and work in that area.
With that in mind, I chose to go into the carpet cleaning business using low-moisture cleaning methods (about 95% of the industry at that time was doing what I call wet cleaning — known as HWE: hot water extraction). Also, as something of an environmental advocate, I decided shortly after getting underway that the use of so-called “green” cleaning products was going to be the wave of the future. At that time (1990) no one was marketing the idea of carpet cleaning as a green business. There are now more low-moisture cleaners than before, and a growing number have responded to increasing interest in keeping un-needed chemicals out of the home and workplace. But the combination of green and low-moisture, which is what I offer, is still pretty hard to find.
Toughest thing you have had to do as a business owner: Not a whole lot, really. I’ve had to let go a few helpers, who, after working on several jobs, just couldn’t seem to get it right. They mostly thought working faster is better, whereas in some heavy soil situations, going slow, and making multiple passes, gets much better results.
Have you adopted any new technology recently: In the early years of my business I think I tried every type of low-moisture carpet cleaning that existed. I somehow learned of a brand new type of floor machine that had what is called oscillating, or orbital movement. The standard floor machine goes round and round at the relatively slow speed of 175 RPM. Oscillating (OP) machines have ten times that level of agitation, in tiny (half inch) little scrubbing orbits. I found that they handled much better than standard rotary floor machines, known as buffers, and they seemed to clean carpets better as well. OP machines became my go-to piece of equipment, and they still are. They are what I sell in my Nature’s Quick-Dry Packages.
Much more recently, I experimented with, and have now (in 2016) adopted what are generally called water ionizers. A water ionizer, starting with basic tap water, and running a jolt of electricity thru it from a specially designed electrode (platinum-coated with titanium) creates a high alkaline (pH) water, which is what standard or plant-based cleaning concentrates do to water. The electricity further scrambles the water’s molecules so as to replicate what a water softening chemical does – which is to make water “slipprier,” and therefore better able to penetrate into pockets of soil. I have now become a distributor of this device – called the Immerse-a-Clean – and am working toward bringing it to the attention of my carpet-cleaning colleagues. Hopefully this will add an additional income stream to my equipment business. It is a money-saver as well as an advancement in green cleaning. I now no longer have to buy all those $40 per gallon plastic containers of cleaning concentrate. And since there is no manufacturing and shipping involved, this carbon trail is eliminated.
What advice would I give to other small business owners: Don’t just go with the flow. Try to be innovative. You have to attract the eye and the attention of your customer. Avoid being a me-too-er. Work the niches, unless you have something totally new and different to offer. Then you become The Industry, rather then just someone trying to join an existing industry. I am trying to take this approach with the Immerse-a-Clean device that I mentioned earlier. Virtually no one in my industry, or in many other industries in which cleaning and sanitizing are a component part, is even familiar with the technical concept, let alone with this specific piece of equipment itself.
Favorite all-time business book: I have learned a lot from the Guerilla Marketing books by Jay Conrad Levinson. They are especially helpful in marketing a small local service business. Also, anything by Malcolm Gladwell.