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In the Training Manual part of my business start-up Package, I advise people NOT to try and compete on price with the carpet cleaning industry as a whole, but instead to focus your message on "green" and make green-motivated people your customer niche. This has never come through to me as clearly as in a little promotion I undertook recently.
Despite last year's depressing overall national economy, I still grossed about 12 percent ahead of the previous year, with no additional expenditures for marketing. However, this past January was particularly slow. To perk things up a bit I decided to run my first discount sale ever (in 20 years in business!). I composed a simple flier on my letterhead, had it run off in "electric lime green, and had it inserted in my hometown weekly newspaper in Peabody, as well as in neighboring Lynnfield, a pretty affluent town.
That started the calls coming in, as it was a time-sensitive offer (ends April 15) and offers carpet cleaning at half price, and wood floor recoating at one-third off. Despite the dramatic price cut, the people calling STILL wanted to know the exact price that my work would cost them. They wouldn't agree to having work done unless I first went to their home, saw the job in detail, and gave them an exact price. Some still turned it down, asking me to give them "my best price". I said I already had. Now, with a wood floor job, I always want to visit the house, so I can determine whether recoating will be the best choice for them, or if their floors' finish is so worn out that it really requires full sanding. But when I get calls normally, from people who are searching for natural carpet cleaning, I hardly ever am asked to come to their home first. They are satisfied that the testimonials on my website sound good, and that I won't be using traditional cleaning chemicals in their home. They call; we set a date & time; and they get an invoice when the job is complete. But the people who read my flier with great interest were all Price Shoppers. "Green" didn't interest them much at all; they wanted CHEAP!. It was all in all an interesting experience, but I'll be happy going back to my green customer base when time has expired for all my new Price Shopper customers.
I felt your pain as well this winter ...
To your point and having sold for a bunch of years I decided I'll never lead with discounting. What I've done is to let my customers be my sales force. For every referral they make I discount 10% toward their next service visit. The value of a 100% discount is limited to $300.
Also, from a market standpoint I've refocused in hi rises, condos, and apartments (for apt I work directly with the client not the apt mgr to get paid immediately). These are places TM/HWE guys can't service (easily). Also, I've networked with real estate heavy hitters and moving companies to help with "make readies" and "move outs".
This redirection/increased focus has help me win new business that I'm certain will sustain me for years to come. And just like you I get calls from young families with babies who want an organically cleaned carpet. They find me on the web/twitter/facebook and I believe over time will be the rule and not the exception.
Best of Luck My Friend,
PS - Doctors' offices have also been a good target