By Mike Dingler / Published January 2021
As any exterior cleaning owner knows, equipment can make or break your day, week, month, or year. As the old saying goes: “If you don’t schedule maintenance on your equipment, it will schedule it for you.” This is a rule to live by in the exterior cleaning world. Pumps need repacking, belts need replacing, hot water systems always need attention, chemicals need refilling, and the list goes on. So where do business owners go to find the supplies and equipment we need? The best answer is everywhere. In a pinch, we can visit a big-box store and find what we need, but it is usually subpar and overpriced and targeted more toward the residential homeowner, not the business owner who cleans properties professionally day in and day out. The internet is a great place to find equipment and tools, but not so much everyday chemicals, like sodium hypochlorite (SH), as shipping bulk liquids is not cost effective. Also, no website can speak with you about a problem, diagnose the problem, and repair it for you in a timely fashion. So, a specialized shop is what we need to find for all the cleaning solutions and tools of the trade, and we need to find one convenient to our business location and service area.
What a local supplier should look like is relatively simple. The local supplier should have what is needed when it is needed and should be competitively priced with what we could get it for from the internet sites we all know and love. However, most of these locations are run locally (i.e., not cleaning equipment and chemical franchises) by mom-and-pop outfits, and they have bills to pay just like us, so they can’t offer the same prices that we would find on the internet. What they can offer, however, that no website can offer are service and repair.
Service and repair are paramount, and without these two supports, we as business owners would fail. Contractors should know how to fix and maintain our own equipment, but some of us know more and are more technically inclined than others. Basic maintenance, such as oil changes, fitting replacements, surface cleaner maintenance, etc., should be no problem for us to do at our shops, but what happens if a governor goes out on a Honda GX690? Or a pump’s valve seal becomes damaged and our machine loses pressure? These challenging tasks are best left to the professionals, and we need to know exactly where to take our equipment should such problems arise.
The standard, in my opinion, of what a local supplier should look like is L&H Industrial Services out of Savannah, GA. I attended an industry event at L&H in 2019, and I was blown away by what I found. I am from Atlanta, GA, and I would never have known about L&H if not for the free event they held for exterior cleaners. As I attended two days of class and hands-on training, I got to observe first-hand what they do at L&H, and they do it all! They build and sell pressure washing rigs in house. They offer SH in bulk. They have a full showroom of parts and equipment that is clean and organized, and they have some of the most knowledgeable employees I have ever met.
I found the key ingredient to what makes L&H work, and it is sodium hypochlorite. Every morning at L&H, coffee is ready and so is the SH for all companies that arrive as early as 7:00 a.m. I observed rig after rig pull up, fill up on SH, and go about their day. They have a massive container of SH inside their warehouse (out of the sun), which adheres with all OSHA guidelines as far as spill protection, PPE, etc., and they would simply pull a hose to the rig they were servicing and fill up the contractor’s chemical tanks. They did this every day, all day long, for contractor after contractor. What did the contractors do while their rigs were being filled? Went inside the showroom to browse while drinking free coffee, of course. The contractor could then talk to a sales rep about anything else needed, and voilà, it was available for purchase right then and there.
L&H also offered equipment repair and had a few rigs located in the parking lot that were in queue to be serviced or repaired. What I did not notice in this parking lot is a rig that looked like it had been sitting for an extended period of time, which let me know L&H was on top of their game. A broken rig is a broken bank account, and it appeared that L&H had quite the system to expedite the repair and service process to minimize interruption in normal workflow for their clients. This is an example that should be followed by all local exterior cleaning suppliers. I would add that I have no ties to L&H, I just know a solid and efficient operation when I see one.
What not to do as a contractor when visiting your local supplier is take up their time, resources, and expertise and then go buy the equipment and supplies off the internet. These locations are in business just like us to make a profit, and exploitation of their knowledge without any form of transaction is just bad business on the contractor’s part. If they are courteous to you, help you diagnose a problem, and suggest a solution, do business with them and help support their efforts. These specialized shops only work if they turn a profit, just like us, and using them for knowledge and then buying everything on the internet is like a homeowner asking us to come out and meet with him, provide an estimate, and explain our process only to have him go out and rent a pressure washer and do it himself. It happens, sure, and it hurts us as exterior cleaning business owners.
Forming a relationship with your local provider is easy enough to do. Walk into their establishment, meet the staff, and make a purchase. It is keeping that relationship that can sometimes be a challenge, both on the contractor’s part and the provider’s part. Situations happen and machinery can fail unexpectedly, and if we as exterior cleaning companies have a professional and knowledgeable shop staff to help us, we can have a lot of problems remedied in a short time frame. However, if we are known as the information exploiters and internet attainers, no shop staff in their right mind would bend over backwards to help us if they have never made a sale from us in the past. Trust me, they know where you get your products from, so help them to help you in an emergency situation by regularly doing business with them. Yes, you may have saved money in the past by ordering off the internet, but all that money you saved will then be lost by having your equipment sitting broken in queue to be fixed by a shop that you have shown no loyalty to in the past.
In closing, find a shop that specializes in exterior cleaning equipment sales and repair, and stick with them, as the relationship can be quite symbiotic in nature. If you help support their family and business, they will most likely help support yours. Having good people in the industry in your corner is priceless when things go wrong, and a good shop location and staff can turn a 10 out of 10 emergency into a small speedbump if the relationship is solid, time tested, and trustworthy.
Mike Dingler is owner of Firehouse Pressure Washing, Soft Washing, and Roof Cleaning Inc. He has been in the exterior cleaning industry since 1996. In addition, his book Small Service Based Business Basics: How to Run Your Business and Not Let Your Business Run You is available on Amazon. For more information, call (770) 468-0014 or visit www.firehousepowerwash.com.