The Carpet Chemist, a Louisville-based floor-cleaning service, experienced its third straight record sales year in 2020 thanks to people spending more time at home, looking at their dirty floors. There’s a lot of money to be made in cleaning floors. In fact, residential cleaning service franchises account for $1.2 billion, according to market research firm IBSWorld.
Founder and CEO Brandon Cerrito decided it is time to franchise.
Cerrito has been in the flooring services industry since 2000. He struck out on his own in 2010, and eight years later, he launched The Carpet Chemist. His first succcess came through carpet cleaning services and expanded to include hardwood cleaning, upholstery cleaning, air duct and dryer vent cleaning, and tile and grout cleaning. The company, which has two locations, now also offers carpet stretching, carpet dyeing and carpet repair.
Floor Trends sat down with Brandon Cerrito, founder, The Carpet Chemist, who runs the Louisville, Kentucky, location, and Eric Anderson, president, The Carpet Chemist, based out of Chicago, Illinois. Anderson has been in service-based businesses for about 20 years. He joined The Carpet Chemist in 2021, working alongside Dave Hettiger who is the franchisee for the Chicago location.
The following are excerpts of our conversation, which you can listen to in its entirety below.
Floor Trends: Brandon, how did you get this business off the ground?
Brandon Cerrito: I dropped out of college, and my very first job was at [one of the biggest] carpet cleaning franchises in the country. All we did was clean carpet and upholstery. I did that for about 10 years. Then I thought, “You know, I'm really good at this, but can I do management level stuff for the rest of my life, or should I try to do my own thing?” That’s where I got started. I really didn't know how to do anything else.
FT: Of all the services that you offer, what are your biggest sellers?
Cerrito: Definitely carpet cleaning, both residential and commercial. This year we're doing more commercial carpet cleaning than ever before. Besides that, there's a really big need for carpet repair, and I guess kind of alongside that goes carpet stretching.
What's the statistic? About 80 percent of homes have pets? You've got to think they're digging up the carpet, trying to get out of the door if they got locked in the bedroom. Carpet installers want to install large amounts of carpet. They don't have time to do a little repair in a doorway, And carpet cleaner, that's not in their wheelhouse. So, that's where we thought this is an untapped thing.
FT: How did you get into carpet stretching?
Cerrito: When I first went out to start cleaning carpet on my own and didn't have a clue what I was doing, I would listen to my customers. They would say, “Can you fix these ripples in the carpet? I can't get a hold of the carpet installation company.” Or, “They're not around anymore; or it's been over a year and there's nothing they can do.” I kept hearing this over and over, and I thought, “Well, I can stretch carpet—knee kicker or power stretcher. I'm already really good at repairing. Why not?” So, I started saying, yes, and the more I did, the more it spread. It's hard to find people to do it.
FT: Are you currently working with any flooring retailers in either of those locations?
Cerrito: Yes. We pair up. We don't receive money, and we don't pay people to advertise us, but we do have several relationships with flooring installation and sales companies in the community. Several times a week we will receive calls, and we always ask, “How did you hear about us?” They’ll say, “You know XYZ Flooring recommended you guys. I just had this brand new carpet installed, and the maid came in and spilled some bleach, and you guys are the ones that can die the bleach spot to a perfect color match.”
We hear this time and time again. It's really important to us to have these relationships with those kinds of companies. And Dave in Chicago—part of his training is to introduce yourself to these flooring installation and sales companies because they want to know who you are.
FT: Have you considered partnering with flooring retailers to offer your services through their stores?
Eric Anderson: Not anything quite national yet, but we do have some contracts with some commercial service places that do use our services that don't necessarily do the carpet cleaning themselves.
FT: Who is skilled enough to do carpet dyeing?
Cerrito: That'd be me. I actually have an art background. When I was in college—I was in college for animation, you know old school animation with a pencil. At that time, they were switching over to graphic design. It was the new thing back in 1999, 2000. I said, “Well, I don't want to sit here and learn computer stuff. I'm going to go get a job.”
In certain cases where people were asking if we could repair a bleach stain or something [along those lines], [I said], “Yeah, sure. Let me just cut that out. I'll do a beautiful, bonded insert.” And they say, “No, no, no, this is a rental. We can't cut anything out of any closets, or we can't do anything.” After hearing that so many times, I think, “If they can die carpet at the mills, why can't I die carpet?” You do your research, and you find out who your connections are. You try out their products and just play around, experimenting.
You’ve got to educate the marketplace once you have it, because people don't know it's a thing.
Not long after we got started into it. We were advertising in Nashville and Ohio and everywhere. We got a call from a janitorial company that was in charge of cleaning Starstruck Entertainment, which is Reba McEntire’s recording studio. The Reba rug is what we call it. They've got this giant rug in their lobby, and the janitorial company spilled a bucket of bleach water on a section of that rug. They found us on the Internet. We told them, “Yeah, ship it to our facility here in Kentucky.” They said, “No, this thing is massive. You have to come down.” So, we gave them a quote. We drove down to Nashville. It was probably 23-/24-feet long by 17-feet wide. It was a custom rug, so it wasn't something that they just whipped off the rollers at the mill. It was really fun. We restored the rug. They were happy. We were happy.
FT: What other services are selling?
Cerrito: In our area, air duct cleaning has really been picking up for us, we did three last week. You start offering these services, and it's one of those things that are kind of out of sight, out of mind, because they're behind your wall. So, people don't really pay attention to them until it's really bad, like they're either suffering from allergies, or they're dusting every other day.
Then, of course, hardwood floors. I think within the next year we're going to see half of our revenue will probably be hardwood floor cleaning and finishing. The polyurethane finish only lasts so long.
Anderson: The only thing we won't be doing is sanding it down, or anything like that. We won’t actually be refinishing. Just cleaning it and then, putting the finish on top of the clean floor.
Cerrito: We don't just do hardwood and carpet. You know a lot of people are getting that luxury vinyl, and it does need something other than just a good mopping every now and then. We categorize that in there with the hard surface cleaning.
We're seeing that more in daycare centers. We're even seeing a ton of it in nursing homes.
FT: Looking toward the future, what can folks expect from The Carpet Chemist?
Anderson: Right now, our main focus is around the Kentucky area—Louisville, Lexington. Focus around the Chicago land area because we have a lot more room for additional franchisees there. We already have quite a bit of brand awareness in both of those areas.
Cerrito: If somebody's wanting to specifically look at us as a franchise possibility. There is a 10-day training which, in the franchise world, is not a lot of time, but with their classroom training and their hands-on training, they should be able to pick it up very quickly. They don't have to be a rocket scientist. They don't even have to love carpet, but they do have to love dealing with people, and I think if they've got that, we can teach them all the nerdy stuff that will take them hopefully to where they want to be in life with this business.
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