As you get ready for the busy season, are you going to purchase equipment? If so, choose your distributor wisely.
In interviewing a handful of reputable pressure washing and window cleaning equipment distributors – and please note that this is only a sampling of those who are out there – a common thread quickly became apparent. A reputable distributor does much, much more than simply sell whatever equipment is going to make them the most profit. They help contractors become successful.
In fact, distributors spend hours upon hours educating customers, and they ask questions – LOTS of questions.
Question 1: What Do You Plan to Clean?
When someone calls looking to get into the pressure washing or window cleaning industry, the first thing each of these distributors ask is what the contractor plans to clean. Very often, the potential contractor has no idea. That’s one of the reasons many distributors have developed educational resources – online bulletin boards, article libraries, Facebook groups, and even print magazines. All of these are designed to help the veterans and newcomers alike get their questions answered so that they can be more successful.
“If someone calls us up and has no idea what they want to do, the first thing I say is check out our forum,” explained Alex Lambrinides of Window Cleaning Resource (WCR). “I try to direct them there because a lot of their questions are basic industry knowledge that they can easily find answers to on the forum.”
“The first thing I ask is ‘what’s your business model? Are you doing commercial work? Are you doing residential?’ And the list goes on and on,” added Paul Kassander of PowerWashStore. com. “I don’t want to sell someone a $6000 hot water skid when he can get by with a $1400 cold water unit.”
That seemed to be a common theme among reputable distributors. They weren’t out to just make a quick buck. They wanted to make long-term customers who will be successful and hopefully provide repeat business.
“Contractors overkill everything when it comes to buying the equipment they need,” said John Allison of Envirospec. “Just because manufacturers produce an eight gpm, 4500 psi hot water machine doesn’t mean that’s what you should buy. In many cases, hot water is only needed if you aren’t using the right chemicals.” Allison added that with the right chemicals, “you can get into a high-quality entry-level machine for less than $1500 and be right there with the big boys.”
PowerWash.com’s Michael Hinderliter mentioned another important consideration is where you live. “If you’re in a big city, you can choose to specialize in a certain type of cleaning. That’s why living in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area, I’ve been able to focus on fleet washing and kitchen exhaust cleaning,” he explained. “If you’re in a more rural area, you really need to have holding tank, hot water, high-volume, and good pressure because you’re having to cover a broad spectrum of cleaning in order to stay in business.”
A good option for new window cleaners, on the other hand, are the starter kits for both residential and commercial cleaning, such as the ones that WCR sells. Some of these kits are put together by manufacturers, while WCR puts others together themselves. “We put a lot of thought into these kits to really give new window cleaners what we feel will best benefit them,” Lambrinides said. “However, we can customize one for you as well if, after your research, there something you feel is missing.”
Question 2: What Is Your Budget?
For reputable distributors, this question is not asked so they can get you for every penny you’ve got. It’s to help them prioritize where you should spend your money to get the most from your budget.
“Otherwise, I just spent all your money on equipment and three months later it’s on Craigslist,” Kassander explained. “I like to leave people with as much money in their pocket as I can so they can operate the business. I think a lot of people don’t understand that even if you’re doing well, it’s probably a six-month process before you start bringing in enough revenue in to start paying yourself anything above covering your expenses.”
Also, Kassander points out, some contractors have different priorities when it comes to getting their equipment set up. Some have larger monetary budgets but little time, so they want a turnkey system. Others may have more time than money. “That helps us determine where they can save money, such as having them pick up a water tank at their local farm supply place rather than through us,” he added.
Another consideration is that a contractor doesn’t have the budget for a hot water machine now, but hopes to get one in the nottoo-distant future. “Then we know we have to get them a certain type of equipment so they can add hot water heater later without having to add a generator,” Kassander said. “If we know the direction of where they want to go with their long-range planning, we can put something together that helps them achieve that goal.”
The same premise holds true for window cleaners as well. “For instance, if an upstart individual does not have much cash to get started, we will provide him with a proposal for equipment that will get the job done but not exhaust his funds all at once,” explained Dwight Rowe of J.Racenstein, a window cleaning supply house that has provided equipment to contractors for over 100 years.
“On the other hand, sometimes businesses look to add window cleaning to their existing services. In that scenario, perhaps a more elaborate offering could be proposed including water fed poles and a reverse osmosis/deionization processing unit.”
Finally, the same general principles hold true for buying chemicals as well. “We definitely encourage the contractor who wants to get his pricing (on chemicals) down to buy higher quantity if he can afford it and has the storage space. There’s less shipping and handling involved so you save money,” said Hinderliter. “If you can get away from having to ship UPS and use a large quantity shipping company, you can save quite a bit.”
Question 3: Are You Ready to Upgrade?
Contractors who have been in the business for awhile and are ready to upgrade typically have a general idea of what they are needing.
“Contractors looking to upgrade usually want more reliability and durability,” said Hinderliter. “We encourage them to buy better quality equipment that’s going last. If you buy this cheap, it’s going to break down and you’re going to lose time and money.”
“The most expensive way to go into the mobile wash business is cheap,” stressed Allison. “Talk with others about which parts they like. Don’t necessarily talk just to your local distributor because they’re may just try to sell you whatever the special the week is. Talk to other contractors and talk to people like us. I’ll tell you what works and what doesn’t; if anyone knows, we know.”
That said, even if you think you know what you want, a quality distributor may have other ideas worth considering. “You may have a certain type of equipment in mind, but we may know of something else that we believe will work better in your situation,” said Kassander. “And because I’ve been a contractor for 20 years and have done a lot of different types of cleaning, I try to offer suggestions on how to achieve the results you want in a way you may not have yet considered.”
A Final Note
As mentioned, distributors spend many hours on the phone talking with contractors, trying to help them make smart equipment choices. Look for a distributor who is willing to listen and help.
“This time of year we get lots of calls from guys researching the industry. It’s not unusual for them to call us from five to 15 times,” said Lambrinides. “They’re trying to figure out what they need to get started. These are the guys we can sell the right equipment to because we know that they’re doing their research.”
On that same line, however, respect these distributors’ time. Sadly, it’s not uncommon for contractors to spend hours getting help from a distributor, only to then go and buy from someone else who had the same product for a few dollars less.
“We always encourage contractors to buy from whoever has helped them get the answers they needed, whether it’s us or someone else,” said Hinderliter.
Remember, as Kassander concluded, you’re not just buying equipment from these distributors. “Because prices really are not that much different, when it comes down to it, the only thing a distributor has to offer over another distributor is their experience and their service.”
From the February 2013 issue of eClean Magazine.