Stanley Steemer educates its customers about its deep cleaning technology
while continuing to add services and grow organically.
By Janice Hoppe-Spiers
Stanley Steemer has become synonymous with everything clean for homes and businesses. Thanks to its advertisements, we can’t help but think “gets your home cleaner” after hearing the Dublin, Ohio-based company’s name and jingle “Call 1-800-Steemer.”
With seven decades of cleaning experience this year, Stanley Steemer celebrates the past while focusing on the future.
“One of the focal points during our national franchise convention in February was celebrating our 70th anniversary,” Executive Vice President Phil Ryser says. “We had about 550 people here at the Ohio facility and celebrated the past and talked about what we will do moving forward.”
Ryser told the attending franchisees that the past doesn’t dictate what the company will do moving forward, but does give guidance as far as what it does best: deep cleaning. In 1947, Jack A. Bates founded Stanley Steemer when he invested $2,300 into a home-based carpet-cleaning company.
Stanley Steemer began by specializing in residential carpeting and upholstery. But given its demographics, the company had to be able to clean any type of flooring, including hardwood, as well as tile and grout, marble and any other hard surface. “People have a combination of different flooring in their homes today,” Ryser explains. “It used to be everyone had wall-to-wall carpet. In 1947, the company started because of carpeting versus rugs. Now, we are expanding our area rug-cleaning business.”
The company is still family owned and led by the third generation. It offers deep cleaning services that extend beyond the carpet and into air ducts and 24-hour emergency water damage restoration. Stanley Steemer’s network of more than 280 independently owned and operated franchise and company owned locations are in 49 states.
Sixty-five locations are corporate owned with a fleet of 1,000 trucks and about 2,500 employees. “Our iconic yellow vans deliver state-of-the-art cleaning equipment, highly-trained technicians and 24/7 response time to your doorstep,” the company says. “We manufacture the equipment. We train the people. And we deliver exceptional service – guaranteed.”
As members of the largest cleaning company in the world, Stanley Steemer franchise owners benefit from instant name recognition, its reputation and history. “We are a cleaning business rather than in the franchise business,” Ryser notes. “We want them to buy in based on the success of our methodology and understand they are buying a business, rather than a job.”
Stanley Steemer approaches its business differently from many of its franchisor competitors. Instead of having 20 franchisees in one city operating under the brand, for example, it has one franchisee operating in a particular area. “We long ago developed the philosophy of [granting] exclusive territories to people because we want them to build a viable business that generates a good income and enables them to build equity and good will,” Ryser says, “so they have something of value when and if they adopt a succession plan or exit.”
The company’s business model results in fewer turnovers in the system, which has allowed it to build infrastructure and technology and expand its services. Stanley Steemer operates a central manufacturing and distribution facility with several locations throughout the United States to support the company and franchise organization.
By continuing to expand its cleaning services, the company discovered a need to develop and build plants to clean high-end area rugs. It now has eight plants strategically located throughout the country and plans to open four more in the next 12 to 18 months.
Meeting the Need
As trends in home design change or vary by location, Stanley Steemer is there to address all of its customers’ needs. For example, tile flooring is popular in Florida and Arizona while major metropolitan areas with higher disposable incomes have mostly hardwood floors, Ryser explains.
Stanley Steemer is also the first service business to earn the asthma & allergy friendly™ Certification by the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America in three categories: carpet cleaning, tile and grout cleaning and hardwood cleaning. The company received its first certification in 2013 as indoor air quality started to become and continues to be a concern among homeowners. “The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America endorses our service and it’s a feather in our cap,” Ryser says.
Water restoration has always been a service offered by Stanley Steemer, but the company made it a focal point two years ago after being approached by a significant homeowners insurance company to be a preferred provider. “We have an exclusive three-year period arrangement that will end at the end of next year,” Ryser adds. “At that time, we will continue to offer our services on a programmatic basis to other carriers, as well.”
Built to Succeed
Stanley Steemer draws franchise territories based on county lines and the Nielsen Designated Market Area map to determine what locations will work and how each city is divided up. “For example, we have a franchisee that owns all of Atlanta, one that owns all of Houston and another that owns all of San Diego,” Ryser says.
In certain areas, such as Chicago, Stanley Steemer has four company-owned locations serving the metro area and expects to open another in the next year or two. “That is because of the rising labor costs, customer accessibility, reduction of drive time, same-day service and the ability to have on-time scheduled appointments,” Ryser explains. “In Los Angeles, for example, you have to time your entire day around traffic so we have to take into account site locations and how we operate in these areas.”
Stanley Steemer will implement route optimization software in its trucks to ensure they are productive and optimize capability. The new software will complement its current dispatch software.
Once a franchise location is established, Stanley Steemer corporate ensures every center is built to succeed. A two-week training program at its headquarters is required for franchisees followed by on-site training for a week or two for support staff.
Stanley Steemer’s training is designed to accommodate the owner and management staff who will then train technicians and support staff. “New hires come in as entry level floor and cleaning technicians and go through a week to two weeks of training in the shop and on the truck,” Ryser adds. “Conversely, if someone is hired into the office setting, they will receive training on customer service, phones and computers. We do have less and less of that today.”
Less office staff is required in franchise locations today because the company offers national contact centers in Tampa, Fla., Phoenix and Columbus, Ohio, to all its franchisees. Calls are answered 24/7/365.
Corporate also provides ongoing marketing and pays for everything creative, including digital and direct mail advertising as well as television and radio spots. “We pay the cost of production and supply it to our franchise system and they pay for local placement,” Ryser explains. “We have a two percent national advertising fee, but we provide them what they need.”
One of the biggest challenges Stanley Steemer and other franchisors face today is the pace of change when it comes to marketing. “Things are dramatically changing much more quickly today than 20 years ago, especially in our business marketing,” Ryser says. “The advent of digital advertising and what we see in terms of online versus what we book through incoming phone calls is staggering to see how much it’s increased. Also the use of mobile devices to use our services and buy our products has increased.”
Stanley Steemer partners closely with Google and Mindstream Interactive in Columbus, Ohio, as its digital media buyer and advertiser, as well as Horizon Media in New York to handle its television and national advertising.
International expansion is on Stanley Steemer’s radar to pursue down the road. The company says that when the time comes, it would first look at Canada because of proximity and commonality of the language. Its second pursuit would be into the UK. “We are still a privately held entrepreneurial company and our culture is such that we have performed really well in the United States,” Ryser says. “We still view the U.S. as where we will get our biggest return on investment dollars.”
Moving forward, Stanley Steemer plans to continue maximizing the development of its current operations. “It’s ironic because of all the advertising that we do, but we still get people who tell us they didn’t know we did this or that,” Ryser says. “We will continue to educate our customers that we do these different things and I think there is a huge opportunity there.”
The company is also exploring options to retail its products directly or through licensing arrangements. “We have a number of cleaning products that we sell in our service business,” Ryser notes. “We have been approached by companies over the years who think it would be great if we branded a vacuum cleaner and home carpet cleaning device people can use between carpet cleanings. We are thinking about those issues, international business and licensing, which are all possibilities.”