Clean and Care
By Mark Brock
PhotoS: ©2018 Getty images. www.gettyimages.com.
Specialty retailers who are interested in creating a new source of revenue while also building relationships with some of their largest and best customers may want to borrow a page from Doug Sanicola’s playbook. His outdoor living company in southern California, Outdoor Elegance, not only sells high-end casual furnishings, but it also helps its customers keep those furnishings looking like new through a program called “Clean and Care.”
Sanicola was inspired to create the program after recognizing that many of his customers lacked the knowledge and the expertise to properly clean and care for their casual chairs, tables, and cushions. After a season or two, even the best-of-the-best in casual furnishings needs a bit of tender loving care to extend their useful lives and keep them looking beautiful.
“In our business we educate, we preach actually, about the longevity of the furnishings we sell,” Sanicola said. “When people come into the store and ask about the difference between what we sell and what you’ll find at a mass merchant, we emphasize value. Our Clean and Care program is an investment in backing up that message of quality and longevity through proper cleaning and care.”
Outdoor Elegance, which is based in La Verne, California, launched the Clean and Care program about 15 years ago. The program is offered to both residential and contract customers; hotels, resorts, and tourist attractions form the lion’s share of customers. Two specially-trained technicians deliver the service operating from a van filled with cleaning and retreatment supplies and equipment.
“For our hospitality customers, we typically service their poolside casual furniture twice each year – in early October when the pools close for the season, and in early May when the pools open up again; we also have customers call us whenever their outdoor furniture requires special attention,” Sanicola said. “While all hotels have maintenance people on their staffs, we found that many of them are not familiar with the care and cleaning of outdoor furniture.”
The Outdoor Elegance team arrives onsite and gives casual furniture a thorough cleaning and retreatment for UV protection by following manufacturers’ recommendations. They touch up any dings or scratches, and also work with hotel and hospitality staff members so they better understand how to keep upscale outdoor furniture looking like new.
Clean and Care is also available to residential customers, including some of southern California’s wealthiest residents.
“One of our residential customers has an estate and gardens so extensive that they employ a full-time gardener,” Sanicola said. “Our team helped teach him about casual furnishings so he can do most of the work himself.”
Outdoor Elegance has approximately 60 customers in its Clean and Care program, representing hundreds of casual furniture pieces. Sanicola says his company regularly receives referrals to new customers from his existing client base that includes Disney, Ritz-Carlton, Marriott, Sheraton, McDonald’s, ESPN Zone, and Best Western. Southern California is a mecca for tourism, and Outdoor Elegance has positioned itself to capitalize on the need for beautifully maintained pool and other outdoor settings.
According to Sanicola, the Clean and Care program appeals to both high-end and more moderately priced hotels.
“Five-star properties hire us for Clean and Care because they must offer their guests the ultimate experience, including the condition of poolside furniture,” he said. “Three-star properties attract more families with kids, which can be especially abusive to outdoor furniture. They call on us because their casual furniture really takes a beating and needs attention every season.”
Top-of-the-line outdoor furnishings and fabrics are manufactured for durability with high levels of UV resistance that’s designed to last the life of the product. But even these pieces need cleaning and a refresh of UV resistant qualities when in contract settings such as hotels and tourist attractions.
“Suntan lotion reduces the UV resistance of frames and fabrics, which is why Clean and Care is so important,” he said. “We clean off the debris and then we refresh the UV resistance as recommended by the manufacturer. The result is fresh cushions and straps and shiny frames.” Not only is Outdoor Elegance benefitting from the program, so are its many hotel and resort customers.
“One of the hotels we work with said that before signing up for Clean and Care they were replacing poolside furniture every three or four years because of wear and tear,” he said. “They now have furniture that’s been is use for 12 years because of our Clean and Care program. It soon will be time for that furniture to be replaced, but our customer is extremely happy to have extended the life of their furniture; when they buy new furniture we can be confident they’ll buy from us.”
Sanicola concedes that some may think he’s doing himself a disservice by helping his clients extend the life of their furniture rather than buying new pieces. He disagrees.
“With Clean and Care we build strong relationships with our contract customers, and that translates into additional sales and all-important referrals,” he said. “We include Clean and Care in our new business program for contract customers, offering one year of free service with new sales. After a hotel or resort sees how good their furnishings look after the first cleaning, they’re hooked and will keep us onboard every season.”
Under the management of hospitality specialist Jodi Brown, Outdoor Elegance has built a substantial contract portfolio in southern California over a period of many years.
“The contract market is challenging, and it took a real commitment on our part to grow this business,” Sanicola said. “The Clean and Care program also took a real commitment, and we invested in this business for a couple of years before we started to see a return.”
The important thing, says Sanicola, is a long-term view of the business.
“We made a commitment to the contract market many years ago, and we’re also committed to the long-term growth and health of our business overall,” he said. “When I retire, my son, Joseph, will be taking over, so we see a long-term future ahead. Clean and Care is one of the ways we’re helping assure that our business is continuing to grow and prosper over the years.”
Specialty retailers interested in the contract market and in offering a program such as Clean and Care should realize that it will be an investment that won’t pay for itself in the first year, maybe not even in the second year. But with a commitment to invest, the long-term prospects are good.
“It did take a substantial investment for us to carve out the contract niche and get Clean and Care up and running, but both of these aspects of our business differentiate us from the competition,” he said. “We are offering a level of service and expertise that no one else can.”