Carpet/Rug/Upholstery Cleaning / Restoration

Women in Cleaning and Restoration

This feature will highlight several of these women who are – and are continuing – to shape the industry as we know it.

August 6, 2013
Trans

Traditionally in the carpet cleaning industry, it’s the women who are the target customers, not the owners, cleaners and educators. But women are playing a more prominent role today than ever before in the cleaning and restoration sectors. This feature will highlight several of these women who are – and are continuing – to shape the industry as we know it.

PATTI BISHOP SAVELLE: 

Former owner and current director of human resources, Bishop Clean Care

Patti Bishop Savelle has been in the cleaning industry since 1978 and was the very first woman ever certified as a Master Cleaning Technician (now Master Textile Cleaner). Among her numerous certifications and accomplishments include serving on the SCRT Board of Directors and as its Treasurer for the past 12 years.

On how she got involved in the industry: In 1978 my father, Lanier J. Bishop, retired and sold his business, Bishop Carpet and Rug Cleaners, in Albany, GA to myself and Jud Savelle, Sr. In 1979, it incorporated as Bishop Clean Care, Inc. and in 1985 I became the sole owner, president and general manager of the company. In 2010, I semi-retired and sold the business to my son and his wife, Jud and Jenny Savelle, both of whom hold advanced educational degrees. At present, I still work part-time in the business. My brother, Jeff Bishop, was already active in the cleaning industry and provided a tremendous resource to me throughout the early years.

On the challenges of making it in a once male-dominated industry: When I took over the company in 1985, it had almost no assets. But with the help of my brother, Jeff, I had no doubt that we could turn the company around. The struggle was difficult, however, partly because of (an) almost total lack of acceptance by industry peers and insurance representatives in a male-dominated industry. Looking back, I can understand that – as there were few women who had proven themselves to be a valued part of the industry during those early years. I credit the SCRT conventions for providing encouragement for me to persevere while eventually growing my company into a multi-divisional organization with 90-plus employees at the time it was sold. I would like to recognize and applaud all women who have had similar struggles in the cleaning and restoration industry, and I am glad times have changed for all of us.

JENNIFER DONLEY: 

Co-owner, Claria Clean

Unlike many of the women that are featured in this piece, Jennifer Donley is fairly new to the cleaning industry. While she and her husband, Joe, opened Claria Clean (Wentzville, MO) in 2006, she didn’t join the business full-time until 2011. Up until then, she worked as a district manager for an insurance company.

“What I find interesting about this business is that if you do it well, you can’t help but become closely intertwined with your customers, and I take great pride in the relationships that we form in the community,” she says. “It seems silly that cleaning could have that level of impact on customers’ businesses and lives, but it does and it’s something I find very interesting and fulfilling.”

Claria Clean currently has 24 employees and recently launched a water damage restoration division to compliment its cleaning services. While Donley has experience in this area from her work in insurance, she says launching the division was one on of the most challenging things she’s ever done. In fact, it took about six months to launch the division from when it was originally decided to move forward with water damage work.

“With most things in life, the harder you work, the more rewarding the payoff, so when our first call for water damage came in, I couldn’t have been prouder,” she says. “It meant so much to be able to see the fruits of our plan and execution finally working and finally working well.”

EVE BAIRD: 

President, AnythingOUT Stain Removal

Eve Baird entered the cleaning industry when she was just 15 years old, working as a telemarketer and selling carpet for a small company in Kent, OH. Four years later, after borrowing some money, she bought that company, got training and certification in just about every area of the business and soon discovered that her true passion was being out there on jobs. 

“When the business came up for sale, it just seemed like a natural progression,” she says. “Hell, I was 19 – I didn’t think much about it. It just seemed like the thing to do. And what a great journey it has been.”

The journey with that business ended in 2000 when she sold it to become a stain removal specialist, or as she puts it, someone who is able to remove impossible stains while doing color and carpet repair. Today, she’s affectionately known as “the carpet lady” and is the president of AnythingOUT Stain Removal in Mogadore, OH.

“I am called in to work on the most disastrous circumstances, so most every job is truly amazing and rewarding,” she says.

She recalls one particular job where a dog chewed up a black printer ink cartridge, getting the ink all over a brand new white shag carpet that its owner had just installed. Baird got it all out.

“I succeeded in this industry because I was committed to integrity and excellence and thinking outside the box,” Baird says. “I got the training, learned the basics and took what I had learned and made it work – in my own way – out in the field. In my mind, textbook learning and real life experience are not the same thing. You’ve got to get your hands in there, see things for yourself, be intuitive… you cannot learn that from a book.”

KELLI SMITH: 

Owner/President, PuroClean (Nashville, TN)

Kelli Smith is fairly new to the cleaning and restoration industry, having become the owner/president of PuroClean’s Nashville location about four years ago. Here’s a look at what she had to say about her involvement in the industry:

ICS: How did you get involved in the industry?

Kelli Smith: I began looking for a new career in 2008, when the real estate market was declining. I looked at many franchise organizations from daycare centers, insurance companies, income tax return companies, in-home health care companies to the restoration industry. After settling on this industry, I researched and interviewed many of them and found that PuroClean was the perfect fit for me. In the beginning I was a one-woman and a truck operation. I would market, estimate, work the job, do office duties, collections, AR’s and AP’s, along with setting up my company for growth. I wore multiple hats. I am and have been since day one owner/president. Today, I manage my mangers and departments. Most of my time is spent on expansion and budgeting for future growth. 

ICS: What interested you in this industry?

KS: What attracted me the most about the restoration industry was the ability to continue working with properties. I love the fact that I was able to build something from the ground up - from marketing and sales to physically performing the work, onto creating and building the perfect team. I love challenges and I am very competitive. I love also that I am a woman in a field that is mostly dominated by men. It is very satisfying to have an edge on my competitors by giving it a woman’s touch.

ICS: Is there a particular memory you’d care to share?

KS: One of my top and proudest moments was to push myself and my team physically and mentally through our toughest challenges with the 2010 Nashville floods. Being only in business one year, the 2010 floods of Nashville definitely brought along its own obstacles and challenges.   How we handled every situation and learned from them is one of my rewarding moments.

ELLEN AMIRKHAN: 

President, Oriental Rug Cleaning Co.

“I have never aspired to retire or move to the beach. Contrary to best practices, I love to work ‘in’ the business, not ‘on’ the business. When I die, hose me down, send me through the wringer and hang me in the dry room” – Ellen Amirkhan

Ellen Amirkhan has been in the cleaning industry for 33 years. In addition to her role as president of Oriental Rug Cleaning Co., she also teaches a rug cleaning course – Master Rug Cleaner – along with Aaron Groseclose, which she also enjoys. And to think that she entered the industry over three decades ago due to a bit of misfortune. 

Here’s Ellen’s story, told in her words: 

“I received my degree in education and worked one year after college. In May of 1980, my father had a heart attack on a Friday. I took a leave of absence from my job and went to work on the following Monday (at Oriental Rug Cleaning Co.). As they say, the rest is history! Behind every dark cloud is a silver lining.

My parents loved and supported me in everything I did and when my dad got sick, it was my chance to give back to them. My mother was managing the office at the time and with my dad in the hospital for several weeks, she could not keep the ball rolling without help. I knew next to nothing, so we were flying by the seat of our pants.

Though I walked into a management role by virtue of my DNA, working with family, growing the business and continuing 102 years of success is not a given. One only has to look at the number of family businesses that fail due to poor management, complacency, a lazy work ethic, a sense of entitlement and ‘living the high life’ to know that each generation has to step up to the plate and swing for the fence every day to maintain or exceed the standard of excellence set by the preceding generations. 

What I enjoy most about my job is that there is a combination of both physical and mental work. Cleaning rugs helps us stay in shape, the challenge of running a business keeps us mentally engaged and, of course, the ever-changing types of rugs to clean helps our rug identification skills stay current.”

CINDY SHANK-FUQUA: 

Owner, All Corners Carpet Cleaning

All Corners Carpet Cleaning (Denver, CO) is the only woman-owned carpet and upholstery cleaning company in the state of Colorado. Cindy Shank-Fuqua, the owner, originally founded the business in 1986 and grew it into a much bigger business over time. In fact, Shank-Fuqua says she’s currently considering expanding All Corners Carpet Cleaning west to the Oregon and Washington markets.

ICS: How did you get involved in this industry?

Shank-Fuqua: I actually started out cleaning houses and my brother worked for a company cleaning carpets. My brother mentioned a machine for sale and I jumped at the opportunity to start in this business.

ICS: What’s your proudest or most rewarding moment?

S-F: The great customers we meet every day. I am a people person and every person I meet makes me proud to be in this business.

CARA DRISCOLL: 

National Sales & Marketing Manager, Abatement Technologies

“I represent a vanguard of a younger generation of female cleaners and restorers. We will change how our industry does business. It is said once you stop learning, you stop growing. I have much more to learn and I look forward with anticipation to the road ahead.” – Cara Driscoll

Cara Discoll has been a part of the cleaning and restoration industry for almost 20 years, starting way back in 1994 when her parents bought 10 Chem-Dry franchises in Columbia, S.C. At 19 and while in college, she worked as a carpet and upholstery cleaning technician. Her parents then started a restoration company, Mayhem & Mishaps, where she worked also. In 2001, she began managing the business.

“I actually liked cleaning dirty carpet – I took great pride in my work,” Driscoll says. “I loved seeing my customers’ faces after bringing something hopeless back to life! Restoration initially interested me because of the customers. People calling distressed and confused, having never experienced damage and sometimes devastation to their company. I learned quickly that I could help them!”

In 2004, Driscoll began working as a contract instructor for Dri-Eaz teaching WRT. Years later, she also worked as a Regional Sales Manager in Jon-Don’s Atlanta store. She’s been with Abatement Technologies since 2010 when she was brought in to start a restoration sales division and she currently oversees all five of the company’s sales divisions.

“Some days I wonder ‘how did I get here?’” she says. “Was I supposed to be a lawyer or a vet or doing something different? Many days, I joke that once you get into this industry, it’s nearly impossible to get out. I have thought about leaving, spreading my wings, exploring something different. But then I pause and think, ‘We should master something in our lifetime, shouldn’t we?’ Become an expert in some area of our lives and share that with others. Then, the recognition comes that I have done just that.”

RUTH TRAVIS: 

Director, WoolSafe North America; President/Owner, Rug Lady Seminars and Services

Ruth Travis has a laundry list of certifications and accolades throughout her 25 years in the industry, including holding the position of past president of the SCRT and IICRC, the latter of which she’s the only woman to hold the position thus far. Also known as “the rug lady,” Travis, who holds a degree from the University of Tennessee in textiles, has served on IICRC committees, has helped develop industry standards and is still going strong today.

On how she got involved in the industry: My interest in textiles began when I was 10 years old and my great aunt taught me how to sew. My career in the fiber care industry began in 1985 working as Manager of a FiberSeal office in Chattanooga, TN. Three years later, in 1988, my partner Ginger Kachline and I founded a diversified carpet and fabric cleaning business – Interior Care. We performed carpet and rug cleaning, upholstery cleaning, fiber and fabric protection and color correction services for interior designers, carpet mills and a variety of other clients. I began selling rugs in 1995 with the founding of my rug sales outlet, the Rug Exchange. About the same time, I became a carpet inspector. After selling my share of the cleaning business to Ginger in 2001, I shifted my focus to training and instructing others in the fiber care industry.

On her proudest moment: I have so many proud moments, it’s hard to choose just one.  Obviously I’m proud of my leadership roles in SCRT, IICRC and now WoolSafe. But I think the most rewarding part of my career in the cleaning industry is related to the wonderful people I’ve met, worked with or taught over the years. I certainly couldn’t have achieved the successes I have without the support of good friends, family and colleagues.

On her career in the industry: My career in the fabric care and cleaning industry has been very rewarding and quite interesting. I’ve had some unique experiences, including the opportunity to clean and restore a moldy giraffe skin, clip sprouted silk tufts from the carpet of a $50 million private jet hangered in Montreal, Canada, go cormorant fishing on the Gifu River in Japan after teaching a color repair class to 17 non-English speaking students, view the restoration of a rug dating back to 1452 in a repair shop in Turkey and watch sheep shearing in New Zealand.  Being a textile nut, I’ve purchased rugs, wall hangings and other textiles in almost every country I’ve visited. I call them my “precious rugs” and when I share them with others in classes and seminars, these beautiful textiles remind me of all the wonderful experiences I’ve had over the years.

LISA WAGNER:

Owner, Blatchford’s Oriental Rug Cleaning Company

Lisa Wagner, aka “rug chick,” grew up in the rug retail business and founded Blatchford’s Oriental Rug Cleaning Company (San Diego, CA) with her mother, Kate Blatchford, in 1990. In addition to helping run the rug cleaning and repair facility, Wagner also operates a rug care educational blog, www.rugchick.com, and is an accomplished trainer and instructor. Here’s what she had to say about her career:

On becoming an educator: My role as a rug trainer came about initially to help train local carpet cleaners to help prevent them from ruining oriental rugs. I began to train nationally as a response to the fact that most education on rugs in the carpet cleaning industry was being taught by those who had never run a rug washing facility and were teaching from a truckmount cleaning standpoint.

On her most rewarding moment: This (past) April, The New York Times ran an interview with me in national publication on rug care that resulted in a 1,000% increase in my Rug Chick blog visitors and resulted in hundreds of job referrals to rug cleaners listed at www.rugcleanerinfo.com. It was the most expansive educational experience I have had to date, and it felt fantastic to be able to generate that much trackable business for rug cleaners across the U.S.

On women in the industry: What I appreciate about ICS placing some focus on the women in this industry is that many women in this industry are the unseen forces behind many successful companies. Some are front stage as technicians and owners, but most are quiet in the background helping to organize, keep progress moving and connecting with the clients to create the best service experience possible. Many of the best who do this are not necessarily on the payroll, but they are quietly - and forcefully - playing an incredibly important role in our industry.

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Martha Blak
April 1, 2014
I think your image is just as important no matter where you work, that's why wearing a uniform while performing your job is also a good way to gain your customers trust. I've got mine on http://www.uniformstoyou.com/healthcare.aspx and you won't believe how my clients attitude changed afterwards.

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