Business opportunities can appear anywhere, even on the discolored roof of your home, as this McHenry County-based team discovered.
Chris P. of Woodstock lives in a white house. At least, it’s supposed to be white.
As time progresses, spider webs gather at the peaks. On the north side of the roof, algae growth creates ugly black streaks.
“On a white house, it just makes it look dirty and dingy,” Chris says.
Chris used to climb up an extension ladder to clean the exterior of his home. Three years ago, he finally decided the safety risk wasn’t worth it.
That’s when he found House Shampoo Inc., a roof and exterior cleaning contractor based in McHenry County. After a successful first encounter with the company, he has hired General Manager Gary Rogers every year to clean his roof and siding; to level, clean and seal his patio pavers; and fix his gutters.
“The house looks brand new after it’s done,” Chris says. “He even went back and did our shed. It’s bright white now.”
Great customer service isn’t just happenstance for Rogers and House Shampoo owner Monica Zylinski; it’s the underlying foundation of a unique business.
“We do a little more than is expected on every job and try to exceed our customers’ expectations,” says 59-year-old Rogers. “That, and the extraordinary results we achieve, makes for thrilled customers and has helped us to consistently grow the business.
“That’s not just my word – we have a lot of backup from testimonials and Angie’s List that are from unbiased customers,” he continues. “When they go to the effort to call to praise our work and spend their free time making nice comments about us without being prompted, that says something. That’s powerful, because people today are very busy.”
Creating a Solution
House Shampoo began when Zylinski bought a 9-year-old house whose roof was inundated with black algae stains. She teamed up with Rogers, who was then a colleague at another business.
“We started doing some research and experimenting using the house as our petri dish, in order to come up with solutions that were effective, safe and gentle, and serve as an alternative to power washing,” Zylinski says. “Through the process of cleaning that house, we developed House Shampoo proprietary solutions and a process to clean and restore other property features, like siding, fencing, decks, driveways, etc., without voiding warranties.”
With Rogers’ 40 years of experience in roofing and exterior trades and Zylinski’s background in construction and business development, the pair worked in concert.
That was nearly four years ago. Today, House Shampoo is busy filling a void in the exterior cleaning industry.
“I’ve had clients who said, ‘We’ve had this problem for years, but we couldn’t find anyone to deal with it,” Rogers says.
House Shampoo has the flexibility to go beyond roof cleaning to clean and restore gutters, siding, decks, brick and stone, fences, outdoor furniture and even statuary. The company’s solutions are applied topically with no more pressure than a garden hose. The application saturates creases and crevices to remove and kill algae and lichen.
The company also provides pressure washing combined with solutions to clean concrete, brick and stone, which Rogers says are chronically covered with mildew and algae.
“Every time you walk into the house, you’re tracking that pollution into the house,” Rogers says.
Educating The Customer
Black streaks on roofing can be seen just about everywhere, and it’s a growing problem, says Rogers. A common perception is that tree sap, air pollution and jet fuel waste are the cause.
Strangely enough, changes in the manufacturing process for asphalt shingles are partially to blame, Rogers says. The addition of limestone as a filler created a food source for algae – an unintended consequence. In addition, changes in the weather, the use of fertilizers and sprinkler systems, and properties located in shady, wooded areas with water nearby make ideal growing conditions for these spores.
Algae attracts lichens, which have root systems that embed themselves into shingle material.
Eventually, they loosen the protective shingle granules and expose the underlying mat. The resulting damage can decrease the roof’s lifespan by as much as 50 percent, Rogers says.
“This is a fairly new problem,” Rogers adds. “Twenty years ago, you wouldn’t have seen it. You can look on Google Earth and you can clearly see which houses have it, and which houses don’t, and you can look back historically on Google Earth and see when it started. Six or seven years ago is when we first started seeing it.”
Shingles also attract moss colonies that need a moist habitat to grow. The thick masses don’t allow roofing materials to fully dry, thus creating rot – a real problem for cedar roofs.
Unfortunately, many homeowners aren’t aware that black streaks and moss growth are more than simply cosmetic.
“I think the average homeowner doesn’t realize they need us,” Zylinski says. “That’s why we use our website as a resource to educate our customers. They need to know more than that they simply need to clean their property – they need to know why.”
One of the easiest ways to educate a potential client is to show them exactly what is happening to their roof.
“We supply photo evidence of what’s going on up there so there’s no doubt about what we’re saying,” Rogers says. “We also provide ‘after’ photos so there’s no doubt about the results. Many times our customers forget how terrible their property used to look, and the photos are a valuable leave-behind to remind them.”
Customers like Chris P. appreciate the straightforward manner of House Shampoo employees.
“I’m able to have somebody look at my roof – without trying to sell me a roof – and let me know if there are issues or concerns,” Chris says. “This year, Gary was able to let me know that, after we had a really bad wind, I had lost a couple of tabs up there. As we look to sell the house, that’s nice to know.”
Forging Fundamentals and Faith
Rogers and Zylinski have a simple business blueprint: satisfy your customers not only because you want their business, but because it’s the right thing to do.
Rogers believes business fundamental No. 1 – great customer service – isn’t possible if you cut corners.
“You should treat every customer as your only customer, because to them, they are your only customer,” he says. “They don’t care what you did yesterday; they only care about what you’re doing today. They’re the ones giving you your daily bread. It couldn’t be any more simple than that.”
That belief not only stems from his business acumen, but from his deep faith.
“We’re believers,” he says. “We know, ultimately, who’s watching what we do. It has to be pleasing to God first.”
Rogers’ virtuosity trickles down to the crews that he hires, so that the entire company reflects the same values.
“We’re equal opportunity, but whatever your faith or lack of faith is, you have to have integrity,” Rogers says. “Your moral compass has to be straight as far as how you deal with our customers and how you do the job.”
Zylinski believes in innovative solutions, like those that made House Shampoo profitable in its first year of business. But she also knows that it takes more.
“Business is the same, regardless of the type or scale,” Zylinski says. “It’s really about bringing a service to meet a need in a market, and then executing with the goal of generating excellent outcomes.”
But over the years, she’s learned that great communication and passion are key to sustainable success.
“Relationships that are truly great are great for one reason – you communicate well,” Zylinski says. “You’d be surprised how understanding people are if you respond promptly and address problems with the same energy used to attract their business in the first place.”
Similarly, if you don’t put your heart and soul into your business, you may find others won’t, either.
“If you don’t love what you do, it’s impossible to share that passion with the people you work for, and with,” Zylinski says. “As a consumer, you get to pick who you spend your money with. I think it’s smarter to spend it with somebody who’s passionate about their business.”