We’re continuing last month’s interview with Bob Deweese, Operations Manager for Rite Rug in Columbus, Ohio. If you don’t know Bob, he is known throughout the flooring maintenance industry as an innovator and master technician. He has trained hundreds of technicians in his 30 year career 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. We delve into the business side of flooring maintenance with Bob in this interview and in Part Two, we discuss training technicians, pricing jobs, purchasing chemistry, and asset allocation.
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.”
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.”
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.
On Chemical Cost:
“Price is what you pay for something, but value is what you receive from it.”
On Problems with a Job:
“Unless you can guarantee perfect working conditions with humidity, moisture levels, temperatures, and air movement, you’re going to have a portion of jobs, for whatever reason, that just go bad.”
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.
Your floors. They’re the foundation of your décor. And an important investment in the look, feel and comfort of your home. Which is why they should provide both lasting beauty and years of satisfaction. Get the most from your floors with Rite Rug quality, value and selection. Since 1934, they’ve featured the latest colors, styles and floor types in the looks you love, at the prices you can afford.
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