By Diane M. Calabrese / Published June 2019
Take the nearly 57 million single-family, detached homes in the United States. Divide this number by the 16,905 power washing contractors listed with the Better Business Bureau®. The result is 3,371.78 and signals opportunity for contractors who sell services to homeowners.
Make that plenty of opportunity because owners of attached dwellings, such as condominiums or townhomes, will have the same desire for clean decks and windows and more. Selling to homeowners is good business.
Selling to homeowners is also a complex enterprise in its own way. True, the compactness and timeline of each home-based project simplifies it. Yet there can be many complicating factors, ranging from neighbors and pets to restricted or unavailable parking.
Some contractors focus on selling to homeowners. Others serve a mix of residential and commercial clients. Geography is part of what determines the mix.
John Tornabene, owner of Clean County Powerwashing in Kings Park, NY, sells to both commercial and residential customers. Reflecting on the two endeavors, he asks himself the question of which he would say is more rewarding.
“My answer would be that even though we prefer commercial work because there is so much more money to be made in the commercial sector, the most rewarding work we do is residential because we are dealing with the owners; and when they’re happy, you tend to find out about it,” says Tornabene.
The immediacy of being able to hear from a satisfied homeowner is a plus that can extend well beyond the completion of a job. Neighbors observe contractors at work and see the results. If they like the results, they may become a customer.
Regional differences in construction materials, home design (decks or not), and climate are the primary factors in determining services homeowners want. “The most common project the homeowners near me want done by my company is for their house exterior to be washed,” says Tornabene.
And does a customer’s request for service match the service the customer most urgently needs? “Generally, yes, because where I live on Long Island, NY, green algae run rampant,” says Tornabene.
In some cases, customers will seek advice. “Sometimes they ask me to give them prices on not only a house wash but also whatever else I think can use a good cleaning on their property,” says Tornabene. “I love when this happens because I can price out multiple items to be cleaned, then I can offer them ‘package pricing’ where they can save money on having multiple items cleaned while we’re there, and my company can make more money from that job. This way my average ticket pricing per property goes up on one visit.”
Understanding the perspective of the buyer is a good approach to business irrespective of what’s being sold. Where do homeowners get their ideas about the sorts of cleaning they should have done? Is it mostly from their own observation, online videos, home-improvement shows, neighbors, or other?
“They generally get the ideas about cleaning from observing their own property,” says Tornabene. “On occasion they also get notified by their homeowners’ insurance that they must get their roof cleaned or their insurance will drop them because lichen that grows on roofs will eventually ruin the integrity of the shingles.”
Indeed, Tornabene adds that the intervention or suggestion from an insurer can be expected to become more common. “This is the wave of the future when it comes to roof washing.”
Tornabene’s reflections on selling to homeowners remind us that just about anything that looks like a challenge can be turned into a positive. Meet the challenge. That’s the positive outcome.
Thus, the ‘most difficult’ dimension of working with homeowners must be tempered with the opportunity it brings. Does one issue stand out in interactions with homeowners?
“There are high expectations because we are almost always dealing with the owners of these homes, and many of them demand perfection,” says Tornabene. “This is good for us because we can charge accordingly, and my guys are well trained to produce excellent results.”
Are promotions ever a good idea when working with homeowners? “Probably not a bad idea,” says Tornabene. “We tend to offer discounts to homeowners when they help get us more customers, or they book the job when we run specials.”
Tornabene emphasizes that selling to homeowners is rewarding. “The satisfaction they get when they see the end results after we are finished cleaning—that stands out the most,” he says. “And the money made makes it all worthwhile, of course.”
Selling power washing services to homeowners is more than an exchange between a contractor and a homeowner. It involves regulators.
Help is at hand, though. Professional organizations, such as PWNA and UAMCC, promote best practices not only in methods but also in meeting all requirements of the jurisdictions in which a contractor works.
Requirements vary by state and county (and sometimes incorporated town) in which a contractor is working. A good place to get an overview of the requirements is at the Power Wash & Window Wash Insurance Options page of the Joseph D. Walters agency. (See josephdwalters.com/licensing-the-power-wash-industry.)
An occupational license, environmental permits, and bonding may all be required of a contractor. Then, there’s insurance. General liability insurance may be required to become bonded.
A frustrating part of selling to homeowners in some areas is that there are individuals offering to wash houses with a pressure washer who are not professional contractors. More-over, the individuals simply ignore all licensing and permitting requirements.
The best remedy for reducing frustration caused by competitors working outside the system of regulation is to be part of the effort to educate the homeowner consumers about services. Belonging to a professional organization, highlighting professional membership on all outreach to customers (from websites to vehicles), and speaking to prospective customers about the best practices to which a company adheres are important.
It’s a truism that an entire industry sector thrives when everyone in the sector is committed to professionalism and best practices. So, let’s assume that’s the starting point—all engaged in the sector are on board with both.
Then, there is the central question for the contractor keen on selling to homeowners: how to connect with enough customers to have a viable business.
Know the potential customer base. Are there enough potential residential customers in an area to make serving their needs sufficient to keep a strong bottom line? If there’s a short exterior cleaning season (Upper Peninsula of Michigan) or a sparsely populated area (UP again) or both (and again), focusing on residential customers may not be the best money-making strategy.
If there are many detached homes in an area, that’s a good beginning. What about the demographics of the area? Do the homeowners have the discretionary income to pay for cleaning services?
Most communities now offer a demographic profile on their websites. They give a general outline of income levels. Sadly, if a community is in economic distress, there may be few potential customers.
If the density of residences and economic activity level make an area a good possibility for offering residential cleaning, move along to assessing the type of cleaning the customers will require. And that includes the wastes most likely to accumulate on surfaces—algae, dust, insect parts, bird droppings, salt, etc. Knowing the needs will allow for targeted marketing via internet search engine optimization or in print.
Also, evaluate the access to customers. Will it be possible to get to a sufficient number of customers in a timely manner to keep the cash flowing? Or, will team members be sitting in traffic for hours each day?
Study the promotional materials and websites of your competitors. Is there a service to residential customers they are not offering that it would be possible to add?
All the foregoing applies not only to contractors deciding whether to add selling to homeowners to their repertoire but also to contractors doing a vigorous business of selling to homeowners in one area who are considering expansion to another area.
In some parts of the country, it’s almost guaranteed that no house will be listed for sale without first having an exterior cleaning completed. Con-sequently, try boosting sales to residential customers by offering a package of cleaning tailored to customers planning to put their houses on market. Another good path to homes close to listing is through realtors, who often provide their clients with a list of possible contractors for various services so the busy seller doesn’t have to do searches.
Get on a realtor’s list by meeting agents through local business organizations. Or, advertise services directly to realtors.
Capturing the readying-for-sale market is a good way to add business. To keep the basic business of selling strong, though, think like a homeowner who wants a clean exterior.
Some homeowners are tempted to take a do-it-yourself (DIY) approach, which can be fraught with difficulties. Consider marketing to them via a clever website nugget about why-to-forget-the-DIY that highlights the value (time saved, excellent outcomes) in choosing a professional instead.