Chuck provided financial benchmarks for me to bring home and apply to my P&L. Greg Cole – Pro Carpet of Atlanta & Tampa
Steve Toburen spent over 20 years “down in the trenches” of the cleaning industry as the owner of different janitorial, carpet cleaning and restoration firms. His cleaning and restoration company grew into a nationally recognized operation based on its high per-capita profits in a very small market base. In 1991 at the age of 38 Steve sold his company and retired from full time business. He then spent 13 years in the Dominican Republic with his family working as full time, unpaid volunteers and continues in this volunteer work today.
Since 1996 Steve has served as the Director of Training for Jon-Don’s revolutionary Strategies for Success (SFS) program. (For more history on SFS click HERE.) Under Steve’s direction Strategies has transformed the lives of thousands of cleaning and restoration industry professionals. (Click HERE for our “What’s In It For ME” section on SFS.)
Steve has also owned a computer systems house, an auction service and has been a certified white-water raft guide. His wife, Sioux and he have two children, Matthew (who is the On-line Producer for this web-site) and Megan. They are STILL waiting for grand-children …
Everything in my official biography above is true. But let me “flesh out” the details a bit. Both Jon-Don and I are all about total honesty even when it can be a bit painful! They say “confession is good for the soul” so here goes …
I was raised in Kansas City, Mo in a lower middle-class, blue collar financial atmosphere. We always had enough food to eat and even though our parents tried to shield us as children we knew that money (or the lack of it) was a continual source of stress in our family.
During my school years I was at best a mediocre student. (What I really liked was reading novels in class all day.) But after graduating a problem reared its ugly head. I suddenly discovered I had to make a living!
So out of general inertia and motivated by financial desperation I drifted into a little janitorial service. I did all my own work (Unless I could convince my girlfriend, Sioux, to pitch in!) and life was OK. While definitely unexciting a janitorial business isn’t a bad way to go for a kid fresh out of school with no degree and no training. Low investment required, short but really late hours and pretty good money- especially when compared to the alternatives available. (Such as working as a restaurant bus boy!)
Then in 1975 (at the tender age of 22) I sort of “fell” into the carpet cleaning industry. I still remember the phone call. My old partner from a previous janitorial joint venture called me and gushed about the “easy money” found in a new thing called “steam cleaning.” He was right. Carpet cleaning was a lot more fun than cleaning toilets and I was hooked.
I’d like to tell you I was successful from the “git-go” but that would be a lie. I was like most other carpet cleaners. I started my business from a “technician mentality.” In other words, I viewed myself as a carpet cleaner instead of as a builder of a business that just happened to clean carpet!
Then my new wife, Sioux, and I compounded our problems by realizing our lifelong dream of moving to the Colorado mountains. We loved our new town of Durango, Colorado. It was beautiful, tranquil, provided a great quality of life BUT it was really small! The entire town only had 12,000 inhabitants and the population base of my entire market base was only 30,000 people. Some of my SFS members have neighborhoods larger than this! However, remember that Sioux and I still had no “grand vision” here. Basically we just wanted to work as little as possible and ski as much as possible! (Come to think of it that still sounds like a pretty good life!)
Even with all the problems, building my carpet cleaning business in a very small town was a lot of fun, but I wouldn’t want to do it again. You know the score … brutal hours, hard work, tough competition, unreliable employees. But the worst thing was I constantly operated in “crisis mode.” No money, no organization, no one I could count on … except myself. (And my poor, long-suffering wife!) So I lived, breathed, ate and slept carpet cleaning … and suffered accordingly. (I’ve personally cleaned over 10,000 carpets.) I was an idiot for far too many years!
But in 1985 I “saw the light.” (If I wanted to impress you I’d tell you I had a “paradigm shift.”) The truth of the matter is I just got mad as heck at my life. After ten long years of beating my head against the wall as a carpet cleaner I saw myself “growing old on the wand”. Cracked and bleeding hands, a sore and exhausted body, long hours, no family time, an endless parade of “revolving door” employees, problems, crises, you know the drill. And on top of all these problems money was always tight too! I just knew there had to be something better.
So I started to read about business … and life. I meditated. I analyzed. I interviewed successful entrepreneurs all over the country. Gradually, a vision emerged from my research. A concept of an organized company that “worked”. A group of dedicated people working toward a common goal. (A very different goal than just “cleaning carpets.”) These people would play a very serious but fun “game” with me, a game of building a better organization each day. This super organized company would function with me, or even better, without me!
Then I started to work, not just cleaning carpet, but instead I focused on building a “real company”. I found people that shared my vision … and were ready to work like dogs to achieve it. And that is exactly what we did. We worked, struggled, fought, suffered setbacks but we never gave up! We built our cleaning and restoration company into a hugely successful operation. How successful? My carpet cleaning and restoration services company grossed over 750,000.00 a year in a total market base of 30,000 people and was extremely profitable! (Remember, that’s 30,000 people, not homes. You may service neighborhoods larger than my entire market base AND that 700K yearly gross equals more than 1.3 million in today’s dollars! Not bad for a small town!)
Then, six years later, in 1991, I woke up one morning and realized I didn’t want to “do this” any more. Don’t get me wrong. I loved carpet cleaning. (I still do.) It is a great industry and I am so grateful for what I received as a carpet cleaner. But I realized it was time to do something else in my life. (My 13 year old daughter just said I was having an early onset mid-life crisis. She may have been right!)
So then, for whatever reason, at the age of 38 I “cashed out”. That’s right. Six months after my early morning epiphany I sold my company (for 97% cash up front) and retired from full time business. (And yes, the people that helped me build my operation received generous bonuses.) For the first time in my life I was free, free, free! It was a wonderful feeling! I was free financially and even better, I was free emotionally. No more late night emergency phone calls, no more crises, no more providing for the families of sixteen employees. (I loved my employees, but the responsibility could be crushing sometimes.)
After selling my business, I took a few years off, worked as a full time whitewater raft guide, (which didn’t even pay my phone bills) and puttered around the house. But I discovered I still needed a “mission”, a purpose in my life, which I met in two ways. First, my family and I moved to the Dominican Republic, where we still live and work as full time unpaid volunteers. We pay all our own expenses and while living and working in a Third World country isn’t easy, we love what we do. But I still needed my “business fix”, a second mission in life.
My early retirement not only gave me freedom to do what I wanted, it also gave me the precious gift of time. Getting off the daily treadmill of constant business problems and deadlines allowed me to reflect of why and how I was successful … and why other equally honest and hard working carpet cleaners who also do great work just barely scrape by and never achieve true financial freedom.
You see, no one can eat, sleep, live and breathe business for as many years as I did and quit “cold turkey.” I was hooked on the “grand game” of business. (I still am.) I got my “business fix” in several ways. I began writing for industry trade journals and have been a monthly contributor for ICS Cleaning Specialist magazine for many years. (Hopefully you’ve read and enjoyed my articles!) Not a subscriber? Just click HERE.
I then took my reflections on building a residential services business and scripted three audio training courses on providing great customer service in the residential environment. You can read about my “Home Front Service” training courses HERE. However, both Winning on the Home Front (which is designed for front-line technicians) and Service on the Home Front, which focuses on how you should implement SFS Value Added Service concepts, are inevitably generic in nature. In other words, I created these training courses for any industry that works in customer’s homes, not just cleaners. I loved developing these training courses. But I still hungered to get down in the trenches again and actually work side by side with carpet cleaners sooo …
NOTE: My third training course, Healing the Loss, on the other hand, is 100% focused on the very unique Emotional Dynamics of a smoke, fire or water damage loss. In my humble opinion, if you do restoration you need this training course!
After recording my three Home Front Success training courses I took my twenty years of sometimes agonizing experience and developed a two day seminar called “Big Business Success for the Small Carpet Cleaner.” This program contained all of the concepts of my training courses I mention above plus the actual nuts and bolts procedures and systems that we had developed over the years in my company.
I presented my “Big Business Success” seminar for various carpet cleaning suppliers around the country and both my sponsors and their customers loved it. But it was brutal working for so many different people while my main priority was my foreign volunteer work. I was doing it again! My fatal fascination with business was causing me to neglect both my family and my volunteer service. So by 1995 I was searching for just one company that shared my vision for the cleaning industry. And then, one hot day in the Dominican Republic, my phone rang with a call from Roselle, IL. To see how an industry has been changed (hopefully for the better) just by that one phone conversation click HERE …
Click HERE to see all Steve’s posts.