Bob Deweese is known throughout the flooring maintenance industry as an innovator and master technician. Currently employed by Rite Rug in Columbus, Ohio as Operations Manager, he has also worked with Dupont, Millicare and Starnet and he’s seen issues sweeping the full spectrum of floor care in his nearly 30 year career. Bob has trained hundreds of technicians over that time and his unique abilities to demonstrate proper procedures and explain the science behind them leave many in the industry insisting that if you learned from Bob, you’ve simply learned from the best. His knowledge, however, goes beyond chemistry and process. His matter of fact approach to the operations side of the flooring business is an invaluable resource and he offers sage advice to anyone looking to expand into the arena of flooring maintenance.
Productivity is key to getting the most bang for your buck.
Bob notes, “No matter how big your company is, every company has limited resources. Whether it’s cash, whether it’s people, equipment or space, everything has limits.” Labor, he points out, definitely has a limit and while many business owners choose to wear different hats and take on multiple positions within the company, being a jack-of-all-trades may not be the most productive use of your time and ability.
You can be the best person in every function, but you’re doing the business a disservice if you’re not spending your time in the most productive way for the organization.
Bob explains finding the most profitable and constructive use of your time is where you get the most bang for your buck.
As for the other business roles that you dabble in, Bob says to fill those positions with the right people. Identify where your employees make the most positive impact on the organization. Bob believes that assembling the right team – and working as a team – is a solid business practice.
And while he’s not a sports fan per se, Bob does study sports and uses a football analogy to further explain the importance of teamwork. “Everyone would agree that the quarterback is probably the most important position on the team, but that doesn’t mean that the linemen, receivers and running backs don’t have a critical role to play. The quarterback might also be a good receiver – he might be the best receiver – but he’s more important in the role of quarterback. Others are found to fill those crucial roles.”
Attract the best labor by making positions attractive.
At his previous position with Dupont, Bob was fortunate enough to travel across much of the U.S. and Canada. He’s seen flooring markets in metropolises, suburbs and small towns and he’ll tell you that the challenges, despite the population, climate or economy, are the same. “Everybody thinks that their city is unique in the problems that it has, and I’m here to tell you that it’s not true,” Bob notes. Your problem may be on a different level than someone in another city, but Bob believes we’re all tackling the same challenge – labor.
Bob openly admits that flooring is a demanding industry in which hiring qualified, competent, long-term employees can be a challenge. Most companies require a background check, a clean driving record, drug testing for insurance discounts and professional appearance. In especially competitive marketplaces, like Columbus, where unemployment is below 5%, Bob acknowledges that making the position extremely attractive is crucial. “What can you offer to that potential employee that these other companies around town can’t?” His first suggestion is to consider a change in the workweek.
Bob notes, “Most people look forward to holidays because they have that extra day off.” He implements a 4-day workweek with 10-hour shifts. His techs work 40 hours each week, but with three days off. Not only does it improve employee morale and retention, but also it helps with asset costs and allocation. “That frees up 20% of my assets. I don’t have to go out and buy more equipment for another guy to use on what would have been the first tech’s fifth day. That asset is freed up for somebody else to use.” Because Bob’s business is 7 days a week, and shifts are staggered, he gets more hours out of his equipment. He frequently sees asset use of 16-20 hours a day.
He also suggests utilizing bonuses for employee encouragement and motivation. “It’s an incentive for everyone to be pulling the boat in the same direction,” he explains.
Trust, but verify.
Often Bob finds himself post-walking jobs in the early morning hours. This is a conscious choice.
He notes, “If you expect out of people what you’re going to get, you’re going to be disappointed. But, if you inspect, you’ll never be disappointed.”
In other words, trust but verify.
Bob points out that everyone can make a mistake, leave something behind or forget a task. Walking the jobs after his techs have done the work and before the client returns, Bob believes, is an added incentive for his technicians to work harder and smarter. “It gives them more keen awareness, knowing that someone else will be walking through to make sure the job has been done properly,” he notes. It also puts Bob in a position to confidently communicate with the customer about any issues.
He states, “If you tell the customer in advance about the problem, it’s an education. If you’re called out to come look at it, it’s an excuse.”
While Bob doesn’t check on every Rite Rug maintenance job, one of his supervisors does. It’s his way of insuring that he doesn’t jeopardize his customer accounts. “I don’t want any customer to feel like they are being taken for granted,” he says. In his opinion, communication with customers is crucial. Document everything – floor plans, blueprints, before and after photos – and pass it on to the customer. Over communicate, if needed. “If they don’t want to look at it, that’s fine. They can hit the delete button,” Bob explains, “but at least they have some type of documentation and trail that they can go back to.”
Training and continuing ed are crucial in commercial floor care.
Staying on top of education and training is key in an industry where technology, chemistry, and procedures are ever-changing. When it comes to the education of his techs, Bob starts at the top. “I work with supervisors on new techniques, new chemistry or new things that I want them to try,” he notes, “and they’re responsible for getting with the lead technicians and getting them up to speed. The leads then train the guys they’re working with on the proper procedure.” And for Bob, education goes beyond hands-on training. Every three to four years he has all of his team take written and verbal tests, as well as having them walk him through even the most basic procedures. Bob emphasizes, “Audit your techs in the field.”
Bob also has a procedures sheet that breaks down 21 different flooring maintenance procedures. He uses this to monitor his techs’s level of ability and confidence. If they’ve never had experience with a certain process, then they don’t go to a job alone where that procedure needs to be performed. Bob notes that each tech has a unique skill set. Those with more experience on one procedure will train others to get them up to speed. “There is no seniority here,” he points out, “your skill level is what you bring to the table.” Bob believes that an emphasis on an employee’s skill and ability rather than their number of years employed promotes a team player mentality throughout his business.
When it comes down to technical training, Bob chooses to hold off on educating new hires only in the classroom. “The first two months for a new hire is always spent directly with a lead tech in the field,” Bob points out. He admits that for a new tech, the terminology and training that happen in a classroom often don’t mean much. Bob has discovered that a few months of field experience, and then technical training in the classroom, is most beneficial for his newly hired technicians.
There is no seniority here. Your skill level is what you bring to the table.
When it comes to pricing jobs, Bob points out that he knows where he should be in terms of profit and company-wide expectations. He works the problem backwards. “I basically find out how much I need at each level of the financial statement,” he states. Breaking out fixed costs from variable costs is key in his analysis.
Bob also believes that demoing any sizeable job is mandatory to discover all the unknowns before the cleaning begins. Those unknowns can turn into big losses of profit if they occur during the project. “When you demo an area, it’s going to tell you what chemical to use and how much it will take to get the job right,” Bob states. He believes that demos not only help to set expectations with customers but they also provide techs with the necessary knowledge of the logistics of the job. Bob notes, “You’ve already figured out what will and won’t work on the job, so you’re not meet with those difficulties on the day of cleaning.”
Maintenance is a relationship business.
In Bob’s eyes, the maintenance business is a relationship business. It’s not driven by bids and it’s not always the company with the lowest price. Bob believes that customers are looking for value. “Be the guy your customer never has to worry about,” he states. By staying on top of a job and attacking challenges before they become problems is imperative. Bob mentions, “Take the burden off of your customer’s desk. Don’t contribute to it.”
Being in the field and on jobs more often, Bob explains, provides more opportunity to earn business. “Often you see something that the end user was unaware of. They didn’t even know that they had an issue.”
Keep your eye on the bottom line, but don’t dwell on it.
When you look at chemistry in terms of lowest price, Bob thinks that you’ll, more often than not, be disappointed. “The performance of the chemistry is most important,” he notes. “Take a look at dwell time, dry time, hardness and number of coats. Look at the whole system including labor and longevity of the finished product.” For Bob, maintenance is about keeping a floor looking good through restorative cleaning. The chemistry should promote that goal, not bury it. Bob says to seek out chemistry that improves appearance, adds value to the process, prolongs the cleaning cycle and makes the product perform better.
Bob notes that a lot of contractors work with “just in time inventory”, meaning they have enough on hand to get through the next few jobs. How does Bob purchase chemistry? Simple – by the pallet. He notes, “If the marketplace throws me a curveball, I’ve always got a 30-45 day supply on hand with a back order waiting to be processed.” For Bob, it’s a no brainer … don’t take the risk when it comes to your chemistry.
Price is what you pay for something, but value is what you receive from it.
In terms of purchasing business assets, along with every other aspect of the floor maintenance business, Bob uses a different approach. “Most contractors are willing to spend $65,000 on a truck mount that is ran by two techs,” he notes, but he looks at it a bit differently. He suggests taking stock of your jobs and service offering and build your assets from there. “Your best value is purchasing the most beneficial assets based on the type of work you’re frequently doing,” Bob explains. “Truck mounts definitely serve a valuable purpose, but they are not an absolute must. If the majority of your jobs don’t necessitate a truck mount, then take that $65,000 and purchase twelve sets of portable equipment,” he recommends. He points out, “Now you can bill for twelve techs versus two. The billing rate is the same but the cost is considerably lower.”
Bob also notes that it’s more cost effective to take on maintenance projects that are simple and more repetitive. These jobs typically provide more profit over a lifetime and not a huge initial upfront investment. As an example, Bob contrasts using urethane finish versus acrylic. “Urethane jobs are once and done. Every couple of years, you’re needed for a recoat. That leaves a big gap in time in your service visits. Acrylic finishes are more repairable and require more maintenance over time. It gives you more opportunity to maintain the floor and the risk versus the return is minimized. If acrylic messes up, you can strip and recoat it. With urethane, you have to use advanced chemicals that can shut down a space for a couple of days.”
He notes that there are environments where a urethane finish makes sense and is necessary. However, he points out the vast majority of environments are acrylic and that acrylics are dominating the industry.
About Rite Rug
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