The car companies are among the smartest retailers because they provide extensive maintenance services for what they sell, which keeps customers coming back. As a retailer I stole good ideas, and later as a consultant, I advocated flooring retailers to do the same.

I admit it, I was always a carpet guy. There is nothing consumers can do to beautify their homes for less money and less time than installing wall-to-wall carpeting. Ease of maintenance, acoustical properties as well as added insulation are among the many benefits of carpeting, which is still 48% of our mix. Even in the face of the many new and innovative hard surfaces, consumers need area rugs to keep their home from sounding like an empty meeting hall.

Our best method for keeping customers coming back was to become a HOST dealer in order to rent dry cleaning machines. Why HOST dry cleaning? Point of disclosure: my wonderful late wife was a vice president in charge of retail for the company. However, I discovered HOST long before I knew Shannon. One of the most common complaints I and other flooring retailers field from customers is this: “I just had my carpet professionally cleaned and two weeks later my floor was dirtier than ever.” If they rented a wet cleaning machine from the local supermarket, the problems were worse.

I found out the reason early on in my career. RBI Institute was and probably still is the most prestigious consulting group to manufacturers in the industry. They state unequivocally that the stain-resist chemical commonly used on carpets has an incredible affinity for sticky shampoo residue. It traps dirt from shoes and feet coming from the outside so that a wet cleaned carpet soils three to five times faster.

What about the fact that wet cleaners maintain they can recover over 90% of the water they use? Professionals who are trained can most likely do this, but they can’t reclaim 90% of the shampoo residue. The rentals are worse because the untrained homeowner finds the more water and shampoo they use the better the initial result. Untrained and uncaring cleaning people find using more water and shampoo gives the same initial results, making their job faster and initially pleasing the customer more. We retailers get the complaints later and some even blame the carpet.

Trained wet cleaners take their time, using less water and chemical, producing a much better job, but obviously they have to charge more, making them less competitive. In comparison, the HOST dry cleaning product is benign—almost safe to eat. Even if some of the dry cleaner is not vacuumed up, it just continues to absorb dirt and stains. We left it on the carpets in new homes to make it easier to clean after the other subs left.

Another problem with wet cleaning, which was originally called steam cleaning and is now called hot water extraction, is that steam will affect the heat setting of carpet fiber leading to premature degradation of appearance retention. RBI agreed to this. The mills and the fiber manufacturers still recommend wet cleaning. In fact, maintaining some industry warrantees depend upon consumers doing this.

When Stainmaster was owned by DuPont, Shannon was hired to give a maintenance seminar for their 42 call center operators who recommended professional cleaning to consumers calling in. “How many of you have had your carpets professionally cleaned?” Shannon asked. Not one operator had. Why do you think this is? The “wet” guys spend continuous time lobbying and will viciously dispute what I am writing because of the tremendous investment they have in manufacturing, vehicles, marketing, equipment, lobbying, product and training. Their last-ditch argument is that only wet cleaning can clean a really dirty carpet.

A school district invited carpet cleaners to participate in a cleaning demonstration. Eight “wet” guys and a HOST commercial cleaner showed up. According to the people who oversaw the demonstration, the HOST cleaned carpet was markedly cleaner than the rest. I witnessed a carpet that had been installed 30 years ago in one of the schools that looked almost new.

We always kept several HOST machines on the floor. Every salesperson was encouraged to equip customers with simple instructions to keep carpeting looking new: 1) Use of walk-off mats at every entrance. 2) Spot clean whenever you see a spot and vacuum as often as possible. Moreover, a HOST cleaned carpet is always dry. When the carpet needs a good overall cleaning, call a HOST professional cleaner or rent a HOST machine.

If your store can handle it, having a trained HOST cleaner on staff will not only make you enough money to justify the investment, but keep your customers happy and coming back. Our cleaning actually paid the overhead at most stores. One of my friends, Stan Lipp, kept 19 machines on his showroom floor and even then found he was running out of rentals far too frequently.

Furthermore, the HOST machine is actually fun to use. Women use it 95% of the time, and once rented they come back. Unlike the wet rentals where repeated use will eventually destroy the appearance of the carpet, repeated use of the dry cleaning machine with its soft brushes will keep the carpet fresh.

A funny story about this concerning the color of the HOST machines: they were brown. My wife said that brown is the color of dirt. The machines should be white. The company agreed to make a few white machines and sent them to Stan, where he kept the white machines in back of the brown ones. Women climbed over the brown machines to select a white one. They are all white today. Personally, I have even used the rental and the HOST dry product on hard surfaces and it works. One customer even used HOST on his garage floor and was surprised at the results. We were not overly thrilled to rent our HOST machines to clean garages.