ICS 50th: Bob Bonwell
Bob Bonwell is a 28-year veteran of the industry and the president/owner of Advantage Marketing, Inc.
How you sum up the last 50 years of the carpet cleaning/restoration industry?
My perspective comes from owning a cleaning business for 16 years and a distributorship for 28 years. The cleaning and restoration industry has almost come full circle over the last 50 years. Education and experience drove rapid growth in the industry. When I first came into the industry, the manufacturers were mostly owned by the inventors/entrepreneurs of the product being manufactured. The industry grew out of family-owned mom and pop type companies to today now being owned by some of the largest cleaning equipment manufacturers in the world. Truckmount manufacturing processes were streamlined and quality improved, science and the laws of physics and nature now define how we treat water losses and environmental laws affect what products we can use to clean. Natural disasters highlighted the need for professional restoration services and gave national - even worldwide - recognition to our industry. The advent of the digital age puts information at anyone’s hands in a matter of seconds. Cleaners and restorers, and our customers, are much more educated than they were 10 or 15 years ago. As a distributor, we find restorers and cleaners conduct most of their research before ever calling us or visiting our stores. From our cleaners, we hear that their customers are much more educated on cleaning processes and techniques. The availability of knowledge to the public helped drive the manufacturers to make higher quality, more efficient equipment. This knowledge holds both the manufacturers and the cleaners/restorers more accountable to their customers.
In my opinion, what have been some of the most significant events and milestones to impact the industry over the past 50 years? Significant people?
I think the water restoration segment of our industry really began to grow in the late 80’s with mass production of air movers and dehumidifiers. At that point, all we really knew about water damage restoration was dry the carpet, pull the pad, and be done. In 1991, I began designing box trucks for restoration… today the majority of professional restorers own box trucks and their design has improved to be more specialized to accommodate the needs of our industry.
In 1998, I worked with a customer of ours named Chuck Dewald. He started asking questions about how water affected the structure of the building and how dehumidifiers performed in various environments. I knew he was on to something and said we need to let other people in the industry know about this and then the idea of a training facility took hold. In December 1998, the first class graduated from the Emergency Vortex Drying School, as it was first known. This school revolutionized our industry. New terms, measurements and drying theories and procedures evolved. No one to my knowledge up to that point ever challenged how or at what direction to place an airmover. No one knew what Low Grain Refrigerant (LGR) Grain Depression meant. Had anyone ever created a drying chamber before then? Had anyone ever developed a formula for knowing how much equipment to place in an affected area? One thing I know for sure, as demand for classes grew and the word spread, we learned even more than the students did. We weren’t as smart as we thought we were - this school proved there was so much out there we didn’t know and we needed to gain that knowledge quickly!
Other people such as Claude Blackburn (aka the father of drying) created the foundation for the water restoration industry to evolve and experience rapid growth.
In the cleaning/truckmount segment of the industry, the introduction of heat exchangers and the development/addition of using blower exhaust to add 30-40 degrees of heat to direct drive/pto units put these units on a comparable level with the slide-in units. In contrast, many truckmount manufactures began installing industrial water-cooled engines on some of their models. This improved longevity and reliability of these units, which put them up against direct drive units. I remember seeing a Cimex machine back in the mid 80’s and thinking to myself – “Who would use that?” Was I ever wrong! In today’s marketplace, encapsulation dominates the commercial cleaning market. Many cleaners cannot compete for contracts without incorporating this method into their service offering. This technology continues to emerge and impact the way carpet is cleaned.
I think the advent of using ultrasonic equipment to clean smoke-damaged contents provided a significant impact on what can be cleaned and cleaned effectively and efficiently. This saves the insurance companies and property owners thousands of dollars every year in replacement costs.
What are some of you fondest memories of being involved in the industry?
Working with Purdue University to develop the first university degree program in restoration science tops my list of fondest memories. During discussions with one of my customer focus groups, I learned how difficult it was for restoration business owners to find trained managers. I met with professors from Purdue’s Building Construction Management program and embarked on a 10-year journey to fund the program. In 2008, the funding goal was met with contributions from leading companies and individuals in our industry. Dr. Randy Rapp joined the Purdue faculty and was given the task of developing and building the program. The program enrolled fourteen students and recently graduated its first students.
One of my proudest moments includes being honored with the Ralph Bloss Humanitarian award in 2010. I am humbled to be with such a select group of people in our industry. Ralph was an industry leader, innovator and champion of people. His vision helped grow and professionalize our industry.
I remember the first time I took a box truck to a tradeshow – ASCR in Tampa, FL. The truckmount manufacturers set up under a tent in a parking lot outside the convention hall. We were on the low end of the parking lot. Of course it rained and the parking lot flooded. Wouldn’t you know, my truck was the only one functioning! I spent four hours extracting the parking lot so attendees could get in to see the display!