By Terri Perrin / Published December 2014
Editor’s Note: This is the 10th in an 11-part series that traces the history of the pressure washing industry from the mid-1970s to present day. Those interested in reading the early industry history, or who may have missed the first installments of this new series, may view them online at: http://cleanertimes.com/artgrp.cfm?fpid=82.
In 1926, when Frank W. Ofeldt II accidentally discovered that hot water under pressure effectively cleaned grease off a concrete floor, I am sure that he could never have imaged how the pressure washing industry would evolve over the next 85-plus years. Today, we would be more politically correct to label ourselves as the pressure ‘cleaning’ industry as we have now gone well beyond standard flat surface power washing. New mediums—like sand, soda, and dry ice blasting—have also proven to perform brilliantly under pressure and have enabled pressure ‘cleaners’ to work in a variety of industries that were unfathomable even 20 years ago.
The ongoing research and development of new cleaning methods and equipment have resulted in new market opportunities for industry manufacturers, distributors, and contractors alike. Ever-increasing environmental awareness and the resulting legislative controls have also guided (or forced) us to strive for continual improvement and efficiency.
It is important to acknowledge, however, that it was not just advances in chemicals, equipment, cleaning mediums, and wastewater management that have shaped and driven our industry. The introduction of various technologies, that started with the computer and expanded to include cell phones, digital photography, global positioning systems (GPS), and the Internet, have also dramatically changed the way we do business. While it would seem like a non-issue to anyone under the age of 30, the introduction of computers, combined with the Internet, significantly impacted our industry.
Looking back on a lifetime of experience in the pressure washing industry, Paul Horsley, Scotts Pressure Wash, Calgary, AB, Canada, credits the computer for being the biggest catalyst for change. “My father, Scottie Horsley, started Scott’s Pressure Wash in 1964,” recalls Paul Horsley. “For decades, we ran as a small mom-and-pop operation, doing all of the invoicing and bookkeeping manually. When we finally convinced my parents to get a computer and an accounting package in the early 1990s, the business transformed almost overnight. What once was a cumbersome—and not always accurate—40-hours a week job, dropped to just a few hours a week. At the same time, collections increased dramatically and accounting errors and disputes were almost eliminated. This was a huge step for us, and we’ve never looked back!
“Not only did computer technology help us run our business more efficiently and profitably, from a bookkeeping perspective, it gave us another tool to communicate with customers,” adds Horsley. “Today, our website facilitates lead generation and online job quotes, which improves our customer service. We now have nine support staff in our head office, all of whom work on computers to manage accounting and operations. With the click of a mouse, we can generate service spreadsheets for our customers. This is especially helpful for our fleet washing customers, as they can easily determine the exact cost-per-truck and know how many times each rig was cleaned.
“We also use our computer systems and GPS to track our vehicles, giving concrete proof of performance,” concludes Horsley. “We know exactly how long the pressure washer was operating at every location, so it settles any potential customer/technician disputes about time spent on the job. We combine this with cell phone technology to text instructions to employees and for them to take photos at the job site. All of this is especially important to Scotts Pressure Wash because we have operations in five different cities across Canada. It enables me to remotely manage workers and verify their jobs from my office chair in Calgary.”
Gary Scott, CFO, Alkota Cleaning Systems, Alcester, SD, agrees that the Internet has made a considerable difference as to how we do business, but warns that it is important we don’t lose the human touch.
“Having a website is a significant investment for all companies, but a necessary one,” remarks Scott. “That said, at Alkota we still think that the best thing we do is put trained salespeople in the field, backed with creative marketing campaigns. We still like to send people to the distributor, rather than expect them to come to us. Despite advanced telecommunications, the human touch is still important in this industry. People still like to buy from people. Web purchasing may be more efficient, but we still think people matter.”
While computers and the Internet may have allowed some companies to expand into various new industry sectors and geographic regions, Jim Gamble, Crystal Cleaning Company, Antioch, CA, says that he has used them to become a specialist in a specific field. He has zeroed in on commercial parking garage cleaning and has used YouTube to demonstrate how and why his cleaning methods are superior.
“If a picture says a thousand words, then how many words does a video say?” asks Gamble. “For us, taking the time to make a series of one-minute videos speaks volumes. We realize that the clients only have a short amount of time. When we visit with customers face-to-face, we direct them to the website to view the videos. It has turned out to be a tremendous tool for us. When you move from residential services to more industrial and commercial—like we have—then a Web page must be informational, rather than advertorial.”
The system seems to be working for Gamble, because he now only works about 80 days a year. (Traditionally, commercial garage cleaning is only carried out on weekends.) In his free time during the week, he gives back to the industry by serving as the Power Washers of North America’s Environmental Chair and also sits on their benefit and website committees.
“Back in the day, I remember when fax machines first came out,” concludes Gamble with a smile. “We started to send invoices via fax rather than mail them, but not all businesses had fax machines. Then, everyone gets fax machines, and e-mails become the next big thing! E-mailing has proven to be great for accounting purposes. It is more traceable, and we are getting paid faster.”
Tim and Karen Layden, owners of High PSI in the Chicagoland area, have been in the pressure washing business for about 40 years. Serving as president of the American Pressure Washers Distributors Association and one of the ‘founding fathers’ of CETA, Tim has also lived through the evolution of our industry. Daughter Kim Micha is following in her father’s footsteps and was recently elected to CETA’s Board of Directors.
“What appealed to me when I first got into this business was that everybody and anyone needed a pressure washer,” recalls Layden. “Decades later, I feel that we haven’t even scratched the surface in the various markets that are available for us to explore. Part of the process of opening these new doors of opportunity is to do a better job in getting legislation passed about cleanliness in a variety of business sectors.”
Layden recalls that, in the 1980s, the agriculture, construction, and trucking sectors were the three biggest industries for pressure washing. “They were the easiest to call on, and their back doors, and their barns, were always open,” says Layden. “Although one might think that advances in telecommunications would have made our lives easier, the sales aspect of the business is actually more difficult now because people are in communications overload.
“Telecommunications aside, a big part of the sales process has always been educating potential customers as to when and where pressure cleaning can be used,” continues Layden. “By being able to offer alternatives to water, every year new industry sectors open up. In the next few years, I believe that the biggest opportunities will be found in the food industry and with phosphatizing acid, to allow paint to adhere to metal. I am looking forward to what will transpire in the next 10 or 20 years and beyond.”