Early Air Mover Wars - Claude Blackburn's Dri Eaz vs. Lloyd Weaver's Porta Dryer
As a carpet cleaner in the 1970’s, Claude Blackburn noticed a negative trend with his fellow professionals, “Twenty percent of our industry is going out of business every year.” He wanted to find a way to help entrepreneurs like himself to keep themselves working in the slow season. Claude’s first invention was the foam EZ Block which he mailed from his operations center (his garage) for $27 a sheet to cleaners replacing the wood blocks that were common in the industry.
Claude Blackburn attended a water damage seminar taught by the second face on “Mount Restoration”, Lloyd Weaver. The “Industry Watchdog” Pete Consigli writing for C&R Magazine in 2007 noted, “Lloyd introduced the first specialty designed Porta Dryer for on-location wet carpet drying. While that might not seem like much in today’s sophisticated world, 35 years ago Lloyd’s methodology challenged the rug cleaning establishment and its in-plant wet carpet service.” Shortly afterwards Claude experimented with his own metal carpet dryer and eventually produced ten units, sent out 24,000 expensive mailers to advertise the product, and only sold four. He was contemplating abandoning the idea.
Claude shares an interesting story about the device that would become the flagship of his company and an interaction with Mr. Weaver. At an industry trade show in Vancouver, Washington, Lloyd didn’t take kindly to Claude’s creations and publicly challenged him. While he physically shook the meek mannered innovator from Mt. Vernon, he also rattled his entrepreneurial spirit and only deepened Claude’s commitment to making his then fledgling invention work. With the arrival of an unlikely partner, Harlan Wright, Mr. Blackburn developed the first fiberglass molded air mover for the carpet cleaning and water damage restoration industry in the early 1980’s.
As Claude innovated products, he also developed methods for training contractors to utilize these evolving water damage tools in a manner that could be repeated across the country. Consigli recounts, “Claude was sometimes mocked for pricing his seminars under $100. But he knew exactly what he was doing; he consistently played to packed rooms, while the attendance of others’ seminars dropped off.” Claude wanted to help his fellow professionals to shorten their DANG learning curve and offered water damage training courses at pricing significantly lower than his competitors.
Mr. Blackburn also wrote the Carpet Cleaner’s Guide to Water Damage Restoration which he marketed via a dual sided mailer which promoted the popular EZ Blocks on the other side. Both sold really well, enabling Claude to further invest in innovation. Our industry is full of stories of trial and error and Claude was no stranger to this process. He shared on IAQ Radio Episode 473 that he ran his company by the 51% rule, “As long as I was right 51% of the time, we had a shot at staying in business.”
When Claude sold Dri-Eaz in 2006 it had:
Hear the rest of Claude Blackburn on The DYOJO Podcast Episode 47 “The Found of Dri Eaz Life Before, During, and After Property Restoration.”
The term “Founding Father” comes from the March 2007 cover of Cleaning & Restoration Magazine. Pete Consigli wrote an article titled The Four Faces on Mount Restoration wherein he said this about Claude’s entrance into the carpet cleaning profession,
“In the mid to late 1970s, Claude was a struggling young father and carpet cleaner with two little mouths to feed. With only $35 dollars in the bank, he moved his family to Skagit County, Wash., about 60 miles north of Seattle. After paying $27 (of the $35) for a partial rent payment on his apartment, he had $8 to fill the refrigerator. He had no choice but to get out and knock on some doors; he needed money and he got it by cleaning carpets.”
His story reinforces the truth that there are no substitutes for hard work in this industry which has been built up by people both willing to try something new and willing to share what they have learned by trial and error. Mr. Blackburn’s first invention, a high density foam block that he would mail to cleaners nationwide and thereby founding Dri Eaz from his basement. Out of fear of being copied by others he set out to create his first air mover.
Claude shares an interesting story about the device that would become the flagship of his company that would grow into the industry leader for water damage restoration equipment. The man credited with creating the first air mover, Lloyd Weaver, publicly challenged Mr. Blackburn which only deepened his commitment to making his then fledgling invention work.
Pete writes of Lloyd, the second face on Mount Restoration, “Lloyd introduced the first specialty designed Porta Dryer for on-location wet carpet drying. While that might not seem like much in today’s sophisticated world, 35 years ago Lloyd’s methodology challenged the rug cleaning establishment and its in-plant wet carpet service.” With the help of Harlan Wright their plastic mold prototype was developed in the early 80’s.
Claude noticed a negative trend with carpet cleaners, “Twenty percent of our industry is going out of business every year,” and wanted to find a way to keep entrepreneurs like himself working in the slow season. As he innovated products, he also developed methods for training contractors to utilize the tools in a manner that could be repeated. Consigli notes, “Claude was sometimes mocked for pricing his seminars under $100. But he knew exactly what he was doing; he consistently played to packed rooms, while the attendance of others’ seminars dropped off.” Claude wanted to help his fellow professionals to shorten their DANG learning curve.
In addition to providing greater details about his journey in water damage restoration, Claude shared some interesting principles that transformed his business while a guest on IAQ Radio (Episode 473). Mr. Blackburn and a third member of the Founding Fathers Quartet, Cliff “The Z Man” Zlotnik discuss the evolution of the industry. Claude discussed the benefits of profit sharing, “That decision made me the most money of anything I ever did. Most other business owners are afraid to share the financials, I made more money in the five years after implementation than in all the years before.”
When Claude sold Dri-Eaz in 2006 it had:
The opening segment of The DYOJO Podcast goes into some depth regarding Claude’s post retirement activities which include efforts to elevate pickleball to an Olympic sport. A local paper dubbed him The Pickleball Philanthropist.
The video below captures a brief discussion of the mindset and process that Kevin Hussey went through as he was deciding whether to join the DKI network. He shares some great insights for property restoration contractors considering partnering with a larger organization to help them grow their water and fire damage repair company.
In the introduction, I also briefly discuss industry innovator and DKI founder, Ed York. Anyone in the property restoration industry owes it to themselves to learn about this industry legend.
Writing for Cleanfax, John Downey shared some of the history of Ed York and the formation of DKI, "In 1975, he started a pilot program involving 10 firms that would later become Disaster Kleenup International (DKI). The goal was to build a national network of independent restorers that would benefit from shared resources and a common identity. Today, DKI is a successful national disaster restoration franchise company.
At the 1995 DKI annual meeting, Denny Jensen, owner of one of the 10 firms involved in the original pilot program, paid tribute to York: 'If it wasn’t for Ed’s visionary talent, none of us would be here today. He is truly a pioneer, a soothsayer of sorts, for our entire industry.'"
Dale Sailer, CEO of DKI from 2001-2012, was quoted in Canadian Underwriter on the importance of Ed York, “To say that without Ed there would be no DKI is too simplistic a statement. He was a mentor to so many contractors who for so many years struggled to become better businesspeople. The enthusiasm with which Ed tackled every challenge, turning each into a limitless opportunity, instilled the confidence necessary for his business disciples to grow and prosper. Indeed, Ed’s spirit infuses many of the things we at DKI still do today.”
Ed also formed the IICUC which was later rebranded as the IICRC. Another lasting contribution to the carpet cleaning and property restoration industry. Speaking to his broader impact, Lee Pemberton, one of the industry’s most respected trainers and distributors, commented, “The carpet cleaning product distribution industry started with Steam Services and Ed York. Before Ed, it just didn’t exist.”
This is a clip from The DYOJO Podcast Episode 44
Kevin Hussey has tried it all when it comes to working with plumbers to acquire more water damage mitigation work. He runs a successful property restoration company out of Baton Rouge, which is currently a part of the DKI Network. Mr. Hussey joined The DYOJO Podcast for a candid conversation regarding the ups and downs of his journey building an organization that provides restoration services for property insurance claims.
He was brought to the capital of Louisiana from the slopes of Colorado when Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005. In the aftermath of was, at that time, the costliest tropical cyclone on record, he was flooded (bad pun) with work but as things returned to “normal” he has since had to learn to build an independent thriving local business. By this we mean that his company has opted not to pursue or perform preferred vendor (aka program) work which is common within the industry.
Program work is a system where contractors sign up to be on various vendor lists with third party administrators (TPAs) who represent various insurance carriers. As we discuss in Be Intentional: Estimating, many contractors utilize program work as a means to acquire leads “through the system”; as opposed to being independent (of the system). “If your company does “program” work, this means that there will be additional layers of review that you will be subject to as an estimator. It also means that your organization has made certain concessions that you will not be able to battle against.” Preferred vendor work is typically higher quantity of projects, potentially leading to higher revenue volume, but may be more challenging to produce the profit margins that many seek.
One key to his current, and future, growth has been using trial and error to crack the code of working with local plumbers. Plumbers are on the front lines of responding to a variety of water based home and business damages and therefore can be a great source of leads for companies looking to provide services for extraction or structural drying. Kevin shares many of his lessons learned, some the hard way, of building relationships with local plumbing companies.
These lessons for developing relationships with plumber to increase water damage leads include:
Kevin started his own plumbing company, which seemed like a great idea at the time in the pursuit of generating their own leads. Executing this plan soon revealed many holes. Kevin found that running a plumbing company split his focus and his resources, leading to operating both revenue streams at less than optimum capacity. He also alienated many of the plumbers that he had worked so hard to build relationships with. After two years, they decided to sell off the plumbing effort and focus more effectively on their sweet spot in property restoration.
While they worked to rebuild trust and relationships, Kevin uncovered some great ideas for engagement with local plumbers. He has gone through the process of trying a bit of everything, hoping something would stick, to now being more targeted and throwing darts at their goals. Kevin warns against paying too much for leads, the cost has to make sense in the overall revenue and profitability of the work being generated. Business owners and managers need to work to identify your ideal partners, as Kevin says, "The ones only doing new construction likely aren't the best fit."
His team has identified plumber referrals as a key to doubling their revenue and so they are working to double their lead volume from last year. Adding value to your client is always a good source of enriching existing relationships, so Kevin's team is looking into being able to offer continuing education (CE) courses for plumbers through their existing water damage training facility. By using an existing resource and adapting it to align with their goals, they can optimize their efforts and target their expenditures.
The United Fire and Water team assembles baggies with inexpensive moisture meters, a drying log, and basic instructions, all branded with their company logo and information. By doing so, their plumbing partners have a better means of serving their client as well as an understanding of when to refer a project to their mitigation company for additional drying. Kevin's team hosts a weekly Free Lunch Friday, where they feed their partners and hand out lead fees. They are also doing quarterly drawings for big ticket items such as a four wheeler to encourage engagement.
Modern restorers have to be creative and always adapting to the market, especially if the majority of your work comes through independent sources. As Kevin says, "You're always paying for something," but like Mr. Hussey, you want to understand your numbers and spend your money where it counts. Intentional restoration professionals are always asking whether their efforts are producing the outcomes that they are seeking. Developing your name as an organization who partners with local professionals will pay long term dividends and help you distinguish yourself from others who may try to make a move and buy you out of your relationships.
Connecting with fellow restoration owners, managers, and professionals to learn from their mistakes will help you shorten your DANG learning curve. You can listen to the full conversation with Kevin Hussey, which includes a discussion about pairing an innovator with an integrator, via The DYOJO Podcast Episode 44.
The DYOJO Podcast LIVE w/ Ken Larsen CR WLS FLS CLS CMP CSDS (Episode 46)
This was recorded LIVE on Thursday, January 21, 2021 at 830am PST.
The DYOJO Podcast will be switching to a LIVE format, with episodes releasing Thursdays at 9am PST - www.youtube.com/thedyojo - also broadcast to Jon's LinkedIn and Facebook.
This show is sponsored by the NEW BOOK from Jon Isaacson and a collaboration of talented authors - Be Intentional: Culture - AVAILABLE NOW in Kindle and paperback through Amazon.
Ken states his mission, and career trajectory, is dedicated, "To improve the credibility of the restoration industry with trustworthy technical information and encouraging others to embrace it."
He is the author of the leading industry reference guide on "state of the art" structural restorative drying practices, Leadership in Restorative Drying. If you contact The DYOJO and reference this podcast episode, you can received 40% OFF.
Ken shared a few key principles for growth minded professionals in restoration:
He shares his experiences with restoration industry groups and why Ken believes it's important for modern restorers to rally together. Mr. Larsen is actively involved in the Restoration Industry Association (RIA), which he believes is the premier gathering for industry professionals. He is proud of the momentum the RIA has built with Ed Cross "The Restoration Lawyer" and the Advocacy and Government Affairs (AGA) Committee. He looks forward to meeting with restorers in June at the RIA Annual Convention.
I made a conscious effort to not spend too much time on topics that Ken has already addressed. Do yourself a favor and listen to Ken's appearances on IAQ Radio
We took a "commercial break" for Born to Repair's Tip of the Week 004 and a Christmas message from GMS Distribution.
Michelle Blevins from Restoration and Remediation Magazine also joined us to discuss the Top 10 articles, authors, and videos from 2020.
South Sound Connection (SSC) LIVE - Episode 009
SC LIVE is brought to you by The DYOJO Podcast and All American Restoration Services (Tacoma, WA - allamericanres.com).
Tuesday, January 19, 2021 9am PST - LIVE www.youtube.com/thedyojo
Sierra Hartman - Grit City Magazine (Tacoma, WA)
Grit City Magazine was founded on the notion that Tacoma has good stories to tell. We explore the places that define it, pay homage to the history that built it, and celebrate the people who make it what it is today. This is a city of makers and craftsmen, artists and philosophers, natives and newcomers, dreamers and doers, and above all, grit.
Sierra wrote a great piece on the short and long story of the nickname "Grit City". What some meant as a derogatory term, the city embraced and has made something positive. We also discuss the grit of the magazine, which has fully embraced print in the age when most media outlets are reducing their products to online only.
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Jon Isaacson, The Intentional Restorer, is a 19 year veteran of the property restoration industry and a business coach through his organization The DYOJO.