When Jeff mentioned he’s like publish a regular column on the subject of hard floor care I was eager to be involved. To keep things interesting, from time to time I may use a guest columnists and I may occasionally interview other experts who can shed light on the art and science of hard floor care in homes and commercial properties.
To lay the ground work for future columns, in this article I will deal with industry trends and income opportunities that relate to hard floor care. I’d like to think of this as your column, it would be helpful if you communicate with me so I know what information would be most useful to you. Feel free to get in touch via my cell phone or email. My contact info will appear at the end of each column.
The Money’s On the Floor
Are you leaving money on the floor with every carpet job you do? Unless you are offering cleaning services related to hard floor care, the answer is yes and you probably left more behind than you walked out the door with. Hard to believe, but true. Hard Floor care in most areas starts at 45 cents a square foot and can go as high as $25.00 a square foot if you are restoring granite. When it comes to hard floor care, most carpet cleaners and janitorial services start by expanding into ceramic/clay tile and grout cleaning/sealing. The average price in most areas for this type of work is around $1.00 to 1.50 per square foot.
I’m not suggesting you trade in your truck mount for a floor machine just yet, my point is that you are leaving money and opportunity behind on most every job, unless you are offering to clean and maintain the hard floors, showers and countertops that are found in every home and building that you enter.
Over the years I’ve watched carpet cleaners try different ways to get customers to use their services more often and write a bigger check and some have done so with great success. Examples include add on services such as cleaning upholstery, draperies, blinds, ceiling tile, plus carpet repair and dyeing, as well as fire and water damage restoration services. Hard floor care fits right in with these services and is a great way to generate additional income and repeat business, not to mention that the billing rate and profit potential of hard floor care is much better than carpet cleaning.
The Market – Facts and Figures
Hard floor care is a big and growing market. Carpet sales over the last ten years are down 20% or more, depending on whose numbers you believe. In 1992 carpet accounted for roughly 70% of all floor-covering sales, in 2010, that number is 37% and still falling. Meanwhile, wood, stone, ceramic and laminates are growing or least holding their own. The only bright spot in the carpet market is area and woven rugs, which are still growing. The commercial market for carpeting remains strong, with the greatest loses being in the residential side of the market, although the use of hard surface flooring is continuing to make inroads in the commercial market. What’s the cause of the downturn in the use of carpeting? Most experts agree that it’s a combination of factors that include: out of control oil prices, a slowing economy, unstable interest rates, a decline in consumer confidence, indoor air, product and installation quality concerns as well as changing consumer tastes related to interior design. Some carpet industry optimists expect the trend to reverse itself over time, but are not saying when. Personally, I don’t see this happening any time in the next 20 or 30 years without a major change in technology, such as self-cleaning carpeting, and that wouldn’t be good for carpet cleaners.
In an effort to make up for the loss in business and profits, carpet manufacturers are diversifying and expanding their offerings to produce, import and sell hard floor coverings such as wood, stone, ceramic and laminates. This is a market shift that cleaners need to be aware of and follow with service offerings to existing and potential customers.
A Look at the Numbers
As for market share of installed products, here are 2010 numbers from Floor Covering Weekly which publishes a statistical report in their July issue each year.
– Carpeting and Rugs 37%
– Ceramic Tile 24%
– Resilient (tile and sheet goods) 15%
– Wood 12%
– Laminates 6%
– Stone and Marble 6%
Link to the entire FCW Statistics article: http://digital.turn-page.com/issue/37195
Potential size of the market for floor care in the U.S.
4.7 million Commercial buildings in the USA with 67.3 billion square feet of space*
7.9 million Businesses*
115 million housing units, 68% of which are owner occupied*
* Based on U.S. census figures
Major changes are taking place in the floor covering industry, and the pace is quickening. In the past when it came to hard floors we had two or three choices, with VCT, VAT and concrete being the most common. Then we started to see resurgence in the installation of solid and laminated vinyl, rubber, linoleum, and sheet goods. Now we have laminates, porcelain, ceramic, and concrete of all types, along with a growing selection of stone and wood.
Exciting things are being done with floors, some are good, and others are not good for those who maintain these surfaces. One trend is to combine different types of materials in the same floor. Imagine having to clean, maintain or restore an irregular shaped ceramic tile or stone floor with brass inlays, with the entire floor surrounded by wood and or carpeting. No easy task, considering that one surface is impervious to water while the others are extremely sensitive to moisture and harsh chemicals, not to mention metal that may need polishing.
Let’s take a quick look at some of the more innovative changes we are seeing in floor covering surfaces today:
Porcelain and Ceramic tile:
These surfaces are often made to look like stone or other materials and are being imported from around the world. Their use is growing each year in both homes and businesses. There is going to be a lot more grout to clean in the future.
This is one of newer categories, although common in Europe for over 20 years. These surfaces tend to sensitive to moisture which causes swelling along gaps between the planks. Manufacturers consider them to be maintenance free; however topical coatings and repairs are being made with secondary sourced products.
Wood, Bamboo and Cork:
Wood (hard, soft and exotics) and wood like products (cork, bamboo, and palm) are extremely popular in middle to high end homes and some offices. Factory pre-finished goods are overtaking the finished on site products.
Granite, marble, and slate along with many other common and precious stones are now being installed as floor covering materials in high-end homes and commercial buildings.
Concrete and Terrazzo:
The most widely used floor covering in the world is being transformed from a gray slab into a modern up beat floor covering through the use of hardeners, diamond polishing, dyes, etches, stamping, coatings and other innovative decorative concrete techniques. Terrazzo, both epoxy and cement based products are seeing growing use in commercial buildings due to low maintenance costs.
An old style floor covering repackaged with environmental appeal. Modern day linoleum is considered a green and sustainable floor covering and is seeing renewed use in schools, public buildings, offices and homes.
Rubber and Vinyl:
We are seeing an increase in the use of both materials due to low maintenance costs, environmental preference, comfort under foot and a variety in design options that include standard and oversize tiles as well as sheet goods and planks.
You name it and you’ll find in on the floor today. Exotics include such things a leather, hand cut mosaics of stone or wood, precious gem stones and wood planks made from logs that were pulled from the Amazon River, recycled materials or reclaimed from barns or old buildings.
New surfaces, chemicals, equipment and processes are showing up each day and more are on the horizon. Some we can see, others we can’t yet imagine. One thing is for sure, change will take place and it will happen faster than anyone anticipates. Keeping up to date with the changes that are impacting our lives, jobs and businesses is a part of every cleaning professional’s responsibility. If you don’t stay in touch with what’s going on in your industry and that of your customers, pretty soon you will find yourself out of touch and no longer competitive in the market place. Education is your only defense.
As for new processes, we will see new coatings and equipment that reduces the amount of work we have to do. Self-cleaning surfaces already exist and will be incorporated in floor coverings in the future. Where possible and economically feasible, cleaning will be engineered or built into surfaces and buildings, in some areas robotic cleaning equipment will handle the dirtiest jobs. Nano-technology and bio-engineering will have a major impact on the future of cleaning. Not to worry, your job and future are secure for today as long as you stay current with changing trends, technology and customer expectations. Nothing happens all at once, so you won’t become obsolete overnight, but five or ten year down the road is another story.
Good Times and Challenges
This is an exciting and good time for floor care professionals. The processes, products and surfaces we clean, maintain and restore are evolving rapidly right under our feet. More importantly the value of proper cleaning and maintenance of today’s floor coverings is being recognized as a necessary component of a safe, healthy and well-run indoor environment, which creates opportunities for trained professionals and business owners. Although the days of the dirty mop and pail are not yet gone, the streaks on the floor tell us that its days are numbered.