Claude Blackburn spent over 30 years in the industry. He’s best known for being the founder of Dri-Eaz products.
How would you best sum up the last 50 years (or the time that you’ve been a part) of the carpet cleaning/restoration industry?
There was a massive amount change in the time that I was in the industry, 1971-2002. I started in ’71 as a carpet cleaner with a dry foam machine and an Advance vacuum cleaner. Within a year, I got my first portable extractor. Most started out at that time with a “janitor mentality” and found out that they could make much better money as a carpet cleaner.
Claude’s Carpet Care started manufacturing foam blocks in 1978 and I was still running Claude’s out of my home. Everyone was using wood blocks at that time - they were pretty expensive and heavy. I had an idea of using polystyrene foam and bought the highest density foam possible and had large blocks shipped to me, which were then cut into small squares. I literally had created a new product category. Easy Blocks was a precursor to what would become Dri-Eaz.
I mailed a free sample of blocks to the entire membership (about 700) of AIDS International (now RIA). We got about 150 orders, which made me feel “rich,” and they took off from there.
We couldn’t make it on just blocks - and 50% of Claude’s Carpet Care was water damage restoration in 1980 - so we started building the building the Hydra Dryer out of a metal housing and parts we got from Grainger. It wasn’t sophisticated and actually primitive by today’s standards. Dri-Eaz was born.
After a few months, I was approached by someone who told me he could make the blower housing out of fiberglass. These were all hand-made from the best resin available that was used for aircraft. These were the first Turbo Dryer 1,600’s (1600 CFM). We began innovating and creating many new products for restoration. In 1984 our world changed when the U-Haul company ordered 1,600 1600’s for their national chain of rental outlets. This spring-boarded us. We began roto molding about a year later in 1985, and Dri-Eaz grew and grew from there. We had no idea we could sell that many blowers. Even when we thought we’d saturated the market, we sold thousands more.
In your opinion, what have been some of the most significant events and milestones to impact the industry over the past 50 years? What about some of the most significant people?
The most influential person would have to be Ed York. I borrowed $200 at 18% interest to fly down to Fresno for my first IICUC course taught by Ed York. Previously, he had phoned me and I told him I couldn’t afford to come and he told me if I came to his class, I’d double my sales. The next year I went from $9,000 to $18,000. Virtually everyone was influenced by Ed York
However, Ralph Bloss was the most influential to me personally and I credit him with spreading education throughout the industry through Steam Way distributors.
What are some of your fondest memories of being involved in the industry in years past?
One of my fondest memories is when Arlen Knight, who owned Kleen-Rite, called me in 1984 and asked me to become a member of a group of non-competing suppliers called “The Motivators.” This was an esteemed group that included Murray Kremer, Mike Palmer, Bill Hachtman, Steve Greenberg and Lee Pemberton.
Moving forward, what do you see in store for the cleaning/restoration industry’s future?
Looking back, I recall my first WDR job was an apartment building. We cut open all the carpet seams, removed the sopping wet carpet and hauled it to the “plant.” We dried the structure by turning up the heat, cracking the windows open and “hoped for the best.” The whole process was kind of a joke compared to where we are today.