Very few business models are evergreen enough to stand the test of time…or the test of innovation and convenience. And the traditional “locally-owned and operated” cleaning company is facing that threat, but only if they fail to adapt and evolve.
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The last Blockbuster Video store has closed in my neighborhood, and it hit me hard. In my lifetime, I have watched the movie rental industry be invented, launched, consolidated, streamlined, falter and finally die. I am not even 40 yet, but I can remember going to the local independent video store back when you had to pay for membership. Then the mega stores like Blockbuster and Hollywood video consolidated the industry. In my college business courses, we studied the CEO of Blockbuster as a great leader.
Then streaming video appeared. At first it was slow and could only handle short videos, but it rapidly evolved. The big chains knew the technology was coming, but they found many reasons to convince themselves not to worry. They said consumers would never watch movies on their PCs. They were right, but they never imagined devices like Roku to stream to televisions, tablets and smart phones. They also made bad assumptions on how rapidly compression and transmission technology would progress. They were blinded by their own self-interest. It was good for the chains for you to come in person where they could sell you a second video, candy and popcorn.
I feel like our industry may be facing a similar challenge. Nimble internet companies like Homejoy and Handybook have appeared. Instead of expensive quality control and management staff, they use real-time customer feedback to ensure quality. Instead of making the technicians come to an office each day, they use GPS embedded in smart phones to ensure the technicians are on time. Instead of expensive office staff that only works part of the day, they allow the consumer to book anytime from computer, tablet or smart phone.
Much like the early video streaming services, these services are still imperfect and clunky. However, with over $40 million in funding for just these two companies, they have the ability to survive their early mistakes and learn. When you look at these companies, avoid focusing on what they get wrong and letting yourself feel safe in your traditional cleaning business model. Instead, pay attention to what they get right and imagine what will happen if they overcome their challenges.
Anticipating the Revolution
We have been discussing these companies in our LinkedIn group, and the general consensus is that referral-like services like Homejoy and Handybook are not a threat because they will never be able to control quality. I will go on the record saying I think they can, they will find a way, and if we do not adapt, most of us will be out of business a lot faster than most people think.
Much like Roku and tablets enabled video streaming in a way Blockbuster never saw coming, a new, successful and profitable business model could be the revolution around corner for our industry. Is it really so hard to imagine a future with powerful cameras in every smart phone that will enable someone half a world away to inspect a cleaning like they are there in person? Imagine a quality control person making $20 a day telling the cleaner, “Now show me behind the toilet,” and seeing a picture so sharp they can see a single hair. In the medical field, doctors are already using this technology for remote diagnosis. What about an app on the smart phone that lets the home office randomly listen in to see if you are on your cell phone and how you address the client? Maybe that app uses voice recognition software that is always on and it alerts the office if you curse or mention the phrase “on the side.” Are you really confident that with tools like this, a referral service still cannot provide quality service?
Leadership has many aspects, but part of it is trying to predict the future and see what is around the corner. How will you prepare? What can you learn from what these new kinds of service businesses get right and apply to your own business? If you do not think this way, you could be the next Blockbuster Video.
Derek Christian is founder and owner of My Maid Service, Cincinnati’s largest, independent professional cleaning company. Prior to that, he spent twelve years at P&G working on household cleaning products.