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Tripping Up on Square Foot Pricing


Like most smaller carpet cleaning businesses, I feel that pricing by the square foot is the most logical thing to do. All customers end up paying the same rate regardless of room size, and the carpet cleaner is fairly paid.

I have been tripping up on delivering this kind of pricing to the customer, however. When asked for prices over the phone, I explain that its by exact square footage cleaned times my rate.

I gave two customers quotes over the phone based on descriptions of their homes, and then quailified that I would have to measure the rooms to be sure. I also told them they could pace the rooms. They took me up on my offer to go and measure the rooms. My rates didn't change, but after measuring, I found that my guess for room areas was significantly too small. The measured priced was about 1.5 times guessed price. I then gave discounts to try to appease the customers for my mistakes in guessing, but I lost both customers.

What is the recommendation here? Never give guesses without measuring? What if the customer is only less than luke warm and its a long drive to measure for the estimate?


Re: Tripping Up on Square Foot Pricing

If the customer wants a price in advance, I try to get approximate dimensions during our time on the phone. If they are still hesitant to set an appointment, I tell them something like this: "Why don't we set the appointment, subject to my measuring out the job IN ADVANCE of doing any work? Then, when I do have a dollar figure, and you find it to be higher than you like, you are under no obligation to proceed with the job." Nearly everyone is fine with this approach. When I do get there and do an exact invoice in advance, nearly every time this is acceptable to the customer. In the few instances where it has not, I can then decide how much, if any, I am willing to discount the job in order to keep it. Some customers just want to feel that they've struck a little bargain, and to see you come down just a bit from the original figure. A variation on this approach might be to say to the customer: "Why don't I do the stairs for you for free, as well as the 5 x 8 area rug in the den?"

Re: Tripping Up on Square Foot Pricing

Hi Jon,

I too am a small carpet cleaning business. I have found that SF pricing ONLY causes a LOT of problems in the residential arena.

When people call I give them a price range, and that is it. If they are price shopping, you probably don't want them anyway, but I have convinced several folks to understand what I offer and what I am worth.

Issues with SF pricing for people's rooms is furniture. "So if you charge for the whole rooms SF, you must be moving ALL the furniture right?" or "If you are only cleaning the traffic lanes, why measure the whole room?"

If you only charge for traffic lane SF you will be SCREWED! It is the dirtiest part, and takes up the least space. This is why big companies like SS charge $99 for three rooms. Believe it or not, you can do three rooms for that price most of the time and still make out.

Also, promising a price on the phone almost always ends in disaster. The customer will always underestimate the size or soiling of their rugs. Price shoppers are the types that think that carpet cleaning is just sprayin some shampoo and sucking it up with some water. Anyone can do it in their mind, so why pay you top dollar?

What Mark said works a lot for me as well. I tell them I will schedule the job show up and give them a final price before any work is done. If the price is agreeable (and with in their budget) we will proceed.

That is my rant for today!

Re: Tripping Up on Square Foot Pricing


I did try to get approximate dimensions on the phone. I guessed at a price "around $200", and then I qualified, "I have to measure to be sure".

The measured price was $295. I lost the customer. I then offered my $25.00 coupon, minus another $20 for there being no furniture in the house, and minus another $25 if the referral to her mother (I had measured her mother's house the same day on her referral) closed (I have an ongoing referral bonus). The customer didn't say the deal was off, but she didn't reserve a date, and she had been ready to do so.

Maybe this customer was just absolutely price bound and there was nothing I could have done? If I do give prices again without anybody having measured, I will have to stress very hard that its just a guess and a ballpark figure until somebody gets a good figure for the square footage by one method or another.

I have found that I do pretty well by not charging for areas underneath furniture that I don't move. It ends up being a small fraction of the whole job.


Re: Tripping Up on Square Foot Pricing

In all questions which come up on this Forum, I basically try to explain what has worked for me in this business, and how it might differ from the industry's "norm". Is this what is called "thinking outside the box"? I don't know, but if it has worked for me, I like to let people know. I do know that for someone starting out as a small, and possibly undercapitalized business in an established industry, having a business strategy to be "just like everyone else" is doomed to fail. I've used sq. ft. pricing right from the start, and only very rarely have I had a customer who refused to do business with me because of it. I always have a number in the back of my mind guiding me as to what I will agree to do a job for dollar-wise, so I am willing to deal with a difficult customer up to a certain point before finally deciding to pull the plug. Part of success in any venture is creativity. Don't want to do room pricing like everyone else, yet find that sq. ft. pricing just won't work for you? Get creative, and come up with a new formula!

Re: Tripping Up on Square Foot Pricing

Continuing on the pricing question:
Maybe you could offer two tiers of service.
The lower tier (less thorough & less expensive) could be based on straight encap cleaning - using just non-absorbent pads such as the FiberPlus pads, or the pads sold for encapping with the HOS Orbot. This could be done with per-room pricing, or a package of several rooms & areas for a fixed price. With this option you could market, and respond to price questions over the phone, with a specific price.
Your higher-priced option ("Our Premium Service") would involved pad-cleaning or pad-capping; full vacuuming; serious attention to stains; moving of moveable furniture; etc., and would be based on a per-sq. ft. actually cleaned basis. You give the customer the choice. The customer with the Ford Focus or Walmart mentality would likely choose the lower price option, and the Mercedes or Lexus driver, who shops at Nordstrom's ("I'm worth it!") would probably go for the more intensive, and higher-priced service.

Re: Tripping Up on Square Foot Pricing

Two tiers of service. I might try it! In this supposed rush of carpet cleaning before the holidays, I am not getting much business. I think my price is driving people away. This is definitely worth consideration!

Re: Tripping Up on Square Foot Pricing

I am trying an experiment, at least until mid January. I'll let you know how it works.

I am finding that price is the only factor for cleaning these days. Non-toxic, high quality, low moisture, green... only one customer in 100 has any interest in this. I am getting ONLY that one customer in 100 or 1000. Most inquirers want me to have prices as low as Sears and Chem-dry, and they think all carpet cleaners and methods are the same. If I am able to educate them otherwise in the short time I have on the phone with them.

I get a lot of inquiries that I cannot convert because of my price. That leaves me with about only two $90 jobs per week executed when I am all done.

I went into a a multi-million dollar home in a mulit-million dollar neighborhood in Hopkinton the other day and owner told me that price was her only consideration. I believe that she did not hire me because I was a bit higher than Stanely Steamer. I told her about low moisture, encapsulation, etc.

My only job for next week called and cancelled because she found a better price.

My customer this week loved the job and the non-toxic aspect, but she only had one hallway and one staircase done, even though her house was loaded with filthy wall-to-wall carpet. She only could afford the hall and stairs.

My customer last week told me not to move any furniture because she couldn't affort the extra square footage.

I am slashing my prices to 28 cents per square foot, and offering across the board discounts. I will let you know if it has an effect.