Executive Perspective: The Bloss Family, Steam Way International
Education has always been at the forefront of the Bloss family’s background, both in personal and business life. Since the early 70s, this Denver, Colo.-based company has played an integral role in shaping the professional lives of the thousands of students and instructors who have walked through its threshold. Steam Way International Chairman of the Board Ralph Bloss has seen, and in some cases molded, a virtual reference book of the cleaning industry’s cream of the crop—Jeff Bishop, Ron Toney, Lee Pemberton, among many others.
As we pulled up to Steam Way’s subdued and low profile building, one could only imagine what secrets were kept behind the entrance doors. Eventually, it was revealed: There was no secret to good business sense and family values.
Greeting me for the interview was Doyle Bloss, Steam Way CEO. As we made our way to his office, I noticed a patch on the carpeted hallway just outside his door with a sign warning not to clean the area and to please walk on it for testing purposes. “People keep stepping around or over this it. I keep telling them to get it dirty,” he says.
A huge fan of the University of Colorado Buffalos fan, Doyle’s office is covered with Buffalo pennants, signs and various other momentos that carry a deep or personal meaning, especially a photograph of his family. He and wife Tammy have been married eight years and have three children; Tiffany, 13, followed by five-year-old John, and two-year-old Joshua.
From the many awards and honors hanging on Doyle’s wall, one can conclude that this family has carved out a place for itself in the cleaning and restoration industry. “From a family business standpoint, you need to separate talents and figure out who does what best. Greg is very mechanical, where as I’m not. Luckily in our company, everybody has a field of expertise.”
The Bloss boys began their life-long stint at the company at a young age. Greg, who was in South America at the time of this interview, started working with the company at 16. Doyle followed and started working with Ralph in 1983. Prior to joining Steam Way, Doyle was studying for his master’s degree but says, “Dad talked me into working for him.”
The “Dad” Ralph definitely
One thing that really steeped itself into my memory was how anyone who walked through Steam Way’s doors, from the receptionist to the mechanics in the manufacturing area to Doyle, were made to feel at ease. Ralph even popped his head in a few times to make sure we were comfortable and had everything we needed.
The CompanySteam Way currently has 54 employees, and an extensive distributor network: 35 in the U.S.; 4 in Canada; with additional networks in Australia, New Zealand, United Kingdom, Japan, Saudi Arabia, Argentina, Korea, The Netherlands and Greece. Doyle admits the Canadian and U.K. markets “have been tougher to penetrate because of a lack of awareness and acceptance of truckmounts over portables.” But still, “international sales currently account for 10% of all sales.”
“We’re on the same boat, in terms of the mills working with the cleaning industry,” says Doyle. “We’re booming in Australia. We try and find people in our marketplace in the countries we serve and let the distributor run Steam Way in their countries.” Steam Way was the first to offer IICRC classes in Australia. Keep an eye on Australia because “changes there will parallel the last years in the United States in increased growth.”
Meeting Challenges“If somebody were to invent a better way to clean carpet than with detergent and water, then the laundry industry would have picked up on it, says Doyle. “I think 10 years from now, a truckmount will do the same thing, but we’re forced to change with California emission standards.” He adds that nothing will become obsolete. “In the future, we’ll see more computers and electronics used and more plastic used. But, we’ll still need an operator for the unit.”
Further, he believes that indoor truckmounts with propane engines may hit it big, and that truckmounts will become more adaptable to the environment, such as with truckmounts that can reach the 33rd floor, increased development of central vac systems, and truckmounts working together. “This is a growth experience, he says.”
When asked what issues currently affect the industry, Doyle thinks for a moment, takes a deep breath and replies, “The biggest challenge is technician turnover,” says Doyle. “If I had a 1,000 qualified technicians, I could sell a 1,000 truckmounts. Part of the challenge is to keep people and to help our customers by becoming managers.”
Another thought-provoking industry topic is ergonomics and how to train technicians to utilize wands and tools correctly. “Will there be a better way to move up and down the hallway? I can’t answer that. But there are companies that will try to do things more efficiently. You have to get people to make the machine work and let the technician manage the process,” he says.
Personal Philosophy“Every relationship has to be win-win.” Doyle feels that both sides have to receive equal value—trade off, give-and-take and follow the Golden Rule. He adds, “Strategic partnerships are the key to this industry. There will be a day when we’re all working on things together. Competition drives us and the marketplace keeps us honest.”
Playing devil’s advocate, I ask what would happen if the industry consolidates. With a smile, he says, “The key would be to recognize the value of the people. Mom-and-pop cleaners are more comfortable with knowing who they’re dealing with. Conglomerations and mergers will occur more at the distributor level and not so much the manufacturer level.”
His motto: “Life is far too short to take it seriously. We need to celebrate what’s right. Humor is always something that ends up as a positive.” And he should know, he had me laughing throughout this interviews duration.
Steam Way: Then and Now1966: Manufactured hot water extraction (HWE) units for carpet cleaning.
1968: Steam Way Equipment was created
1971: Ralph Bloss begins working for the company
1975: Steam Way introduces its first truck mount.
Late 1970s: Steam Way loses its lead in the industry.
1982: Ralph Bloss purchases Steam Way from owner Clark Broom; immediately launches distribution network.