By some, I’m considered an expert in rust stain removal. What did it take for me to become such?
It started in August 2000. When I was trying to get rust stains off canvas awnings in Omaha, Nebraska. My awning cleaner didn’t touch those ugly rust stains.
What to do? I knew I could be a hero if only I could clean those off.
I started asking questions of other contract cleaners. Finally, a carpet cleaner told me how he removed rust stains from carpets. I immediately went to a carpet cleaner supplier and bought 16 oz of their rust stain remover. They charged me $20 for those 16 oz.
I went to those rust stained awnings and applied a few drops of this precious fluid. I followed the instructions on the bottle and within 10 minutes I knew I could fix rust stained awnings!
By some, I’m considered an expert in rust stain removal. What did it take for me to become such?
John Suggs of Clean Stripe in Howe, Texas, holds many titles, but one he never expected to have is that of disabled veteran. However, sometimes life takes unplanned twists and turns. John’s happened to lead him to pressure washing and a dream of eventually helping other veterans get back on their feet. And PowerWashU’s Kitchen Exhaust Cleaning Boot Camp is playing an important role in John’s journey.
How did you get involved with the project?
I do quite a bit of marketing through the internet and postcards, but this job came from a company that makes and repairs awnings. They do everything but clean and protect the awning, because they don’t have the equipment and knowledge. Sometimes when they are doing a repair they need it cleaned beforehand, because the workers can leave finger prints and smudges all over the surface of the awning. If they don’t have it cleaned beforehand, they often have it cleaned after.
I build relationships with people who can get me into places I can’t get into by myself. In this case, they had worked on this awning before, and they knew that it would be a mess unless I cleaned it first. So we met ahead of time and walked around, took some measurements and photos.
What made this job unique?
The toughest part of this awning was that it was on a hill. So there are only two sides you can work from. The awning was high enough off the ground that my 12 foot ladder would just barely reach it, and it measured about 50 ft by 30 ft. I started cleaning from a window above the awning, but I could only reach about 2/3 of the awning from that angle. I did the rest from the 12 foot ladder. At times I was reaching out as much as 22 feet with my extension poles to get it clean.
How did you determine what equipment and chemicals to bring?
We knew we wanted to clean it. This was a vinyl material built in two sections. One was older than the other. The dirt was pretty heavy. The material was not an expensive material, so it doesn’t hold up well. We decided to use AC-22, because we knew that we needed a chemical that could be mixed extra strong. We also knew that we would need AC-42 Vinyl Awning Restorer. The surface was so dirty that when we removed the dirt, the awning would be faded and the vinyl would be dried out. It doesn’t really look good unless you add the protectant.
I measured the awning and it ended up being 1500 square feet. I knew how much product I would need to get it clean, but I doubled that amount just in case. I located the faucets, and made sure they worked, so that I could determine how much hose I would need. Then I doubled that amount. I even brought an extra ladder. I have a checklist of everything that I need for a job, and I review it before I leave for every job. That way I can be sure I don’t leave anything.
Please describe the process that you used to complete the job.
I arrived on site and set up cones and set my equipment up. The building managers worked with me to prepare for the job. We planned the cleaning for the least busy day of the week. The patio beneath the awning was closed off and the room that I worked out of was empty.
When cleaning an awning, you work a small section at a time. In this case I had to double clean everything, because it didn’t get completely clean the first time. Then I had to rinse really well. The rinse water ran off into some plants that were below the awning, so we didn’t have to worry about runoff.
What strategies do you use to manage client expectations?
I usually tell them that I can get about 80-90% off. Once I was asked why I couldn’t get it all clean. I have to explain that in order to get it all clean, I would need to clean it three or four times, and the extra cost to get that last 10% just isn’t worth it to most people. It’s like doing laundry. Some stains aren’t going to come out. If you clean it too hard, it will just fall apart. What we try to do is give them the best looking awning, that will last the longest, without doing any damage. Rarely have I ever had anyone come back and say that it wasn’t clean. I always remind myself to make sure all areas are covered.
Wayne Shockey teaches our Awning Cleaning Class at Power Wash University.
Find the products mentioned in this article in the Awning Cleaning Chemicals section at PowerWash.com
Shockey's experience with cleaning began in the mid 1960s by helping his dad with his cleaning business. At night and on weekends they serviced a bathing suit factory and, even at 12 years old, Shockey took notice. "I was always amazed by how messy it looked when we started and how wonderful it looked when we were done." Later, he worked his way through college as a custodian for a motel in Southern California cleaning parking lots and sidewalks. His business degree from Cypress Community College directed him to marketing and he became a consultant.
Around 1989, Shockey met Scott Luttrell, a professional cleaner with a power wash unit, who hired him to market the company. Shockey went with Luttrell on a couple of jobs to better understand the work and, after a while, Luttrell asked Shockey to work for him part time. At first, the two friends would go out on jobs together, working and talking - it was fun. Then Luttrell got busy and Shockey went out on jobs by himself.
This small change led Shockey to leaving his marketing consulting business behind.
First, Shockey realized how much money he could make: "One day I made $850 in 6 hours of cleaning and I realized that I made more money in that period of time (than in marketing)...and I thought 'Wow! If could just market this more, it would be so much simpler.'"
Second, Shockey fixed his first awning. On a solo job, he didn't inspect the awning properly and as he began cleaning it, the seam opened up. He didn't actually tear it (the seam had rotted) but he thought he had.
Shockey recalls, "Awnings are not cheap. This awning probably would have cost $500 to replace. That really freaked me out."
He had to figure out how to fix it without taking the awning down. He went to the local Wal-Mart and found glue that would hold canvass together, stirring sticks and map pins. After three hours, the awning was fixed and it held together for a long time. "They replaced all of the awnings two years later but it held for those two years," Shockey says.
He realized that "I developed something no one else knows how to do. I repair awnings without taking them down."
Lastly, cleaning awnings was simply a lot more enjoyable than consulting. "I could just see it was much more fun...In the consulting business, if you made mistakes or you didn't actually help somebody succeed because they didn't actually follow your instructions, there was always hard feelings, and I just got tired of that."
Eventually, Luttrell got bought out with the awning manufacturing company and he was tapped to run the much bigger operation. He offered the awning cleaning business to Shockey. That was 20 years ago.
Since adding awning repair, he also added rust removal to his services and teaches an awning cleaning training course for Power Wash University instructing others. Offered 6-12 times a year, the class teaches students on how to clean and repair awnings, what equipment to buy, and how to talk to clients. Shockey enjoys giving students a new career possibility.
Though he left marketing consulting behind, Shockey is always using his marketing skills. One technique he's learned from his own experience is finding the right language to engage and keep clients.
"When I first started out, I would just say, 'Yeah, we can clean your awnings' and they expected the awnings to look brand new," even if the awnings were 10 years old. Now he tells clients he "can remove between 70-90% of the environmental dirt, bird droppings and mildew." He also hands out a list of what clients can expect, and he cleans a small portion of the awning as an example. This way, Shockey can manage client expectations.
He also uses the Internet to sell his services through SEO tools and publishing videos. He has 150 videos on Youtube.com with over 200,000 views showing how to clean awnings and remove rust from concrete, which help sell his services.
Shockey isn't looking to add employees. He is happy controlling the customer experience and the work that is done. If he needs extra help, he hires friends and family. "I don't want to fire anyone," he adds.
At 60 years old, he works only in the morning - "I physically couldn't clean awnings eight hours a day," Shockey admits - and the rest of the day he completes administrative tasks like writing invoices and answering the phone.
The job isn't easy, he admits. "It's 5 a.m., it could be 30 degrees outside, its really hard for me to get out of my nice warm bed and get into my pick up and drive an hour somewhere and set up my stuff to start cleaning...But it is kind of nice to...change the way a place looks."
Shockey continues, "What personally brings me joy is saving people money. Instead of buying a new awning, I am able to take what they have and clean them and repair them and give them more years of life."
What I love about this business? Awnings get dirty."