Jimy White added power washing as a service his landscape company provides 11 years ago. White, who owns Outdoor Oasis in Knoxville, Tennessee, recalls that initially, at least, it didn’t work out so well. After providing power washing for several months he recognized that the service wasn’t making the margins he had expected to make after factoring in labor and other expenses. It finally dawned on him that he didn’t have a good enough handle on his numbers when it came to the service.
For landscape contractors to be successful in adding power washing services, White says they must know and track their numbers. “A company might tell you they’ll pay you $10,000 to pressure wash their building, and that sounds great at first,” White says. “But once you get into the job, and realize it takes a full month and expensive equipment, it’s really not very good money. It could cost $3,000 to use a lift, and it could eat up way too many man-hours. These are the things you need to consider upfront.”
Power washing is a service that many landscape company owners can easily meld into their businesses, especially if they follow White’s example. He offers power washing as a cleanup service when he’s already on a job site, as opposed to a stand-alone service. Instead of just blowing off walkways, his company goes the extra mile with cleanup – but they charge for it. As a result, it’s been a nice tidy add-on service that brings in about 5 to 7 percent of the company’s revenue.
“Adding pressure washing and doing a full cleanup of the property has given us a complete model,” White says. “It makes us more of a full-service provider, and clients are impressed because their sites looks so much better.”
Todd Riley is vice president of PACE, an outdoor power equipment distributor. He’s also president of Vortexx Pressure Washers. “This is an upsell to the landscape maintenance services you’re already offering,” says Riley. “To build it into your existing business, train someone who is already cutting grass to also do the pressure washing. You may have three crewmembers on a big lot for a half-hour. While the crewmember doing the pressure washing is going to take a little longer, if you’re smart about building it into your route it’s going to be profitable.”
Riley says in most cases an owner can charge more for power washing than for other maintenance services. It is not as price sensitive as lawn maintenance because everyone knows the “going rate” for mowing and related services. This is not the case for power washing, which probably won’t have an established rate. Also, it’s unlikely that many landscape companies are offering the service so competition is not as keen as in mowing.
“Say you charge $50 to do a pressure washing cleanup and you have to pay $15 to your crewmember for their hour or so of time,” continues Riley. “You made a little extra money on that jobsite, but you also built a better rapport with the client. Most clients are impressed by the results of power washing so you’ve made the customer happy and opened the door to possible future services.
“Crews should always start with power washing as more of a cleanup service,” he adds. “As they get more comfortable with it and advance their skills, they could consider moving on to other areas that could be power washed.”
Why training matters
While power washing looks simple to do, training is essential. Scott Inman, owner of Scott’s Services & Co. in Napa, California, believes in hands-on training. “I’ll take employees out and give them the wand and watch how they do it,” says Inman. “You are supposed to go left, right, left, right, and then diagonal to keep from creating stripes.”
He says inexperienced workers often leave stripes. Power washing a client’s property isn’t the same as using a wand at a car wash. For owners just getting into the service, Inman suggests they troll the Internet and check out the several excellent YouTube videos that demonstrate how to use a power washer.
Also, he warns that power washing offers its own unique liability risks. If crews aren’t trained properly they can damage clients’ properties, things such as decks and siding. They also risk injuring themselves. “Crews need to be educated on the fact that they cannot wear flip-flops or tennis shoes to pressure wash, or they’ll risk losing a toe,” says White.
“In the same way that you’d try a small spot first when painting, you want to test it out a bit before going straight into power washing the surface,” White adds. “If you’re blasting the stucco off of a home, you need to change the tip. Or if the stucco is incredibly delicate, maybe you need to change your application and use some mild detergent and spray water that isn’t pressurized. You do have to be able to adapt in the field as needed.”
Small and large jobs
Power washing, whether you do it for small or large jobs, requires the same attention to revenue versus costs as any other service. White tracks his numbers carefully. “I’m not going to pull my machine out for a small job,” he says. “If I’m not already on site, it has to be worth my while. I start out at $85 an hour with a minimum of two hours because there’s a lot involved in set-up and travel.”
Inman says he has worked hard to move past the image of pressure washing just being “a guy blowing off some dirt.”
“This is high-tech work,” he says. “We work with wineries in Napa Valley and clean the wineries’ outside patios which are often stained with wine or food. We also clean out olive drums, which need to be spotless and oil-free when we’re done. And I’ve done high-end decks with exotic woods that require extra care.”
Inman has even done work that required him to wear a hazardous materials (hazmat) suit and a filtered face mask. One of these jobs involved power washing an old barn filled with bats. After the bats were chased out and the holes were screened up, Inman came in, donned in a hazmat suit and face mask, and power washed the barn. He cleaned the barn of not only dust and debris, but the bat droppings and other waste.
Larger jobs sometimes require two people, Inman says. Operating a power washer can be tough on an employee’s back, legs and arms. For this reason, the employees take turns working the equipment. “When you’re on your feet for an entire day holding that wand, it can get tiring,” Inman says. Sometimes the job is so large, for the sake of efficiency, Inman will rent a second power washer.
“Having two crewmembers pressure wash simultaneously keeps the job going efficiently and helps them wrap up faster,” he says. “Of course, it goes back to making sure you’re bringing in enough profit to make that rental worth it.”
Making the sale
Whether it’s a small add-on service or a larger job, one of the best ways to market pressure washing is to show the client the results, emphasizes Riley. “I always recommend power washing a small patch of a walkway or a driveway and showing the customer,” he says. “They see that little square and how different it looks and it’s almost always a sale. They don’t realize it’s a service they need until that point.”
Inman says his power washing business grew from doing such a good cleanup job during his landscape work. “Once they saw that it looked brand new, they were so impressed that they’d recommend me to other people looking for cleanup services,” says Inman, who started his business 27 years ago. “If you do a good job with power washing, it will spread by word-of-mouth.” Pressure washing now brings in about 30 percent of his firm’s revenue.
If you are considering this service, White suggests that you begin by educating your customers. “Do your research. Even do a little market test of your own,” he says. “Tell your clients you’re looking into adding pressure washing as a new service and ask if they’re interested. That can help you gauge whether you want to invest in the equipment. This can be a really nice service that helps make a company the full package.”