How Independent Cleaning Businesses Should Have Responded To Price-Cutting Competitors

If you’re an independent janitorial cleaning business, you may have been asking yourself lately, “What’s happened to the cleaning business?”

And you’d be right to wonder. You see the world of janitorial work, or if you prefer, commercial cleaning, doesn’t look the same anymore.

Independent cleaning businesses – the ones that decide to own and operate their own cleaning business without financially ‘handcuffing’ themselves to a franchise, used to ‘reign supreme’.

That’s right; independent cleaning businesses used to be the ‘backbone’ of this important industry. Building owners and property managers alike turned regularly to their local, trusted, independent cleaning companies when it came time to arrange for someone to maintain their building’s appearance.


Well, customers were happy because they could count on getting quality cleaning and reliable service from cleaning people they knew, liked and trusted.

Employees were happy because they were given enough time to deliver quality cleaning; the kind they could be proud of, not embarrassed of.

And, you guessed it, the independent cleaning owner was happy too, because he could steadily grow his business, and at prices that gave him a healthy profit.

That””s right; he could make a good living.

Well, not anymore, at least not for many cleaning businesses. That’s right; slowly, but all too surely, everything changed.

Independent cleaning businesses ‘lost their way’. And here’s part of the reason why:

They faced a ‘perfect storm’ of challenges. The struggling economy combined with the widespread use of illegal workers by unscrupulous contractors, put many independent cleaning businesses into a tail spin. But, unfortunately, there was even more trouble on the horizon.

Already off-balance, many would soon find empty-promising cleaning franchises and national cleaning management companies taking some, or all, of their best, oldest and what for a time were, their most loyal customers.

And, the reason?

Well, to be fair, some independent cleaning contractors were caught flat footed, not prepared to adjust their own cleaning businesses to the changing demands of business customers scrambling frantically to save money by cutting costs.

Being ready to respond to a changing economy is something all businesses have to be prepared to do – and cleaning companies are no exception.

In addition, many independent cleaning businesses were simply unable to come up with a good answer to this question thrust at them by building owners and managers, namely, “Why should I keep buying from you when this competitor is saying they can do the same job, but for a lot less than I’m paying now?”

If nothing else comes out this crisis in the cleaning business, one thing is certain – it points to the importance of pricing routine, regularly scheduled janitorial cleaning projects (i.e. 3 days per week) starting from the point of determining cleaning time required, rather than simply using an oversimplified price per square foot approach.

So, how should these independent cleaning business owners have responded?

First, they should have pressed hard on an important point – the direct connection between the time (hours) spent cleaning a building and the quality of cleaning in that building.

There’s no question that time alone isn’t a guarantee of high quality cleaning. The amount of training and level of supervision provided, makes a difference in both the appearance of a building, as well as, how efficiently that cleaning was delivered.

But that said; there is still a strong, direct connection between time and quality. Put differently; when it comes to reducing time, the ‘cleaning business’ is simply not the ‘mass producing widgets business’.

All things being equal – the amount of time (hours) spent cleaning still, to a great degree, determines the resulting quality of the cleaning (building appearance).

So, the independent cleaning contractors should have strongly encouraged building owners and managers to ask the following three questions when those ‘big guys’ that low-ball prices arrived to deliver their slick-looking proposals:

1. What budged hours is the price based on?

2. How exactly was the time determined?

3. How can you assure me I will consistently receive this important budgeted time?

We suggest that would have gotten their attention! Why?

It is our strongly-held belief that many of these low-balling characters give little or no consideration to the time required to deliver quality cleaning.

We believe it is, in fact, their hidden weakness or ‘Achilles heel’.

Instead, we suggest their pricing strategy often seems no more complicated than this: Low ball the price to get the job, and then later on figure out how much cleaning time they can afford, or are willing, to give to it.

Well, that’s a problem. And Independent cleaning businesses should have pointed it out then. They should point it out now.


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