Amber Starling is a convert. She and two supervisors (crew bosses in her shop) earned their House Cleaning Technician certifications with the IICRC last November at the ARCSI/ISSA convention. And this year she is sending up to 6 employees plus her new partner for certification during the 2019 convention. We chased down Amber, founder of Good Witch Cleaning Services, LLC in Manhattan, Kansas to learn why she is such a fan of HCT certification and what it has done for her business. There’s an HCT class offered outside Atlanta, GA on April 5-6, so our interview is timely.

CBT: What impact has your House Cleaning Technician certification had on your service delivery?

AS: First and foremost, it gave us confidence. One day a customer asked one of our crew bosses to use her steam mop on a wood laminate floor. Before HCT, I hate to think what might have happened. But because this crew boss has her HCT certification she was able to explain confidently to the customer how that method would ruin the floor and she knowingly couldn’t cause that damage. The customer really appreciated her knowledge. And so did I!

As for me, it has de-mystified the cleaning solution aisle. I am no longer at the mercy of a manufacturer’s label on a bottle. Instead I am confident about what chemistry to use on different soils and different surfaces. I use what I’ve learned with HCT all the time.

CBT: Knowledge is power.

AS: And it’s a differentiator. My company is home to the only IICRC certified House Cleaning Technicians in the state of Kansas, and we are the only ARCSI members within 100 miles.

CBT: How does the HCT certification set you apart?

AS: Since there are few classes offered in the Midwest, it’s unlikely that any of my competitors will get certified before the next ARCSI/ISSA convention. So I won’t have any real competition for at least the rest of the year.

CBT: What about your market positioning?

AS: In the beginning, my business coach advised me to do a market analysis. I found four tiers of cleaning company in my market. There are the “part time house cleaners,” people with a cash-basis side hustle and a mop. Then there are the part-time legitimate companies who do a good job, have insurance, and are trustworthy but as a sole proprietorship, they can’t gain any scale. Then there’s the scaled companies that improperly use 1099 workers. Finally there’s the companies with insurance, bonding, true employees, consistent quality and consistent growth. I was one of a handful in my market. But with HCT, I just created a fifth tier, and I’m the only one in it.

HCT has boosted my competitive positioning. There’s real value in this upper tier professionalism.

CBT: Can you charge more for the distinction HCT gives Good Witch?

AS: Absolutely. We raised our prices after we got certified. Being an IICRC-certified cleaning company puts us on a different level than any other company in our market, and it comes at something of a premium. So, yes. We can charge a higher price. But there’s an intangible benefit as well. The level of client who wants only an IICRC-certified service in their home treats us with respect. They are unlikely to ask for discounts or get tempted by another company’s coupon. It’s a higher tier customer who wants this level of expertise.

CBT: Will you sponsor more employees for certification?

AS: Definitely. I plan to enroll six newer crew bosses in the class offered at convention 2019. I have a new co-owner now and he will be going as well.

What the class has done for my business is exceptional. Because of the knowledge and confidence we’ve gained, we can demonstrate our value during the walk-through. Whether it’s laminate wood floors, marble in a shower, or cut-pile carpet – if we can describe how we will clean these surfaces and the soils on them, we will close that sale.

CBT: What would you say to anyone that’s considering the HCT class and certification but hasn’t pulled the trigger yet?

AS: I would advise them to make the commitment and take it seriously. I was at a point in my business that, if it came down to it, I was willing to forego my own hotel room and sleep in my car in order to capture the differentiator. We worked hard, too. We ate, slept and breathed HCT for three days. We quizzed each other during breaks and set up a study session the night before the exam. The thing is, I used to wonder why this class was so expensive but now I know. HCT has more than paid for itself in my sales closing ratio, my productivity rate, fewer re-cleans, reduced damage claims, and employee satisfaction.

CBT: Right, nowadays cleaning companies have to compete for employees too.

AS: We have 1% unemployment rate here. Almost the only way I’m going to find good employees is by stealing them from a competitor. HCT gives me an advantage in recruiting – a path to advancement. I can bring great employees through Good Witch and increase their opportunity to break socioeconomic barriers. And in addition to providing real value for our service, creating jobs and a path upward is a goal my partner and I are firmly committed to achieve.

To register for the next HCT class, held in Kennesaw, GA on April 5 and 6, click here.