ICS Magazine

Letter to the Editor

May 18, 2006

On March 13, surrounded by loved ones, Edgar P. "Ed" York's big ol' heart finally gave out at a hospice facility near his home in Vancouver, Wash. He was 79. He is survived by Wanda, his wife of 36 years; six children; 10 grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren.

Such were his contributions that Ed York truly had no peers in the carpet cleaning industry. From the time he entered the industry in 1969, he defined the cutting edge. A comprehensive recounting of his contributions would entail the writing of a book. We haven't the luxury here. So following, greatly condensed, are the highlights:

Cleaning methods: Steam cleaning (a.k.a. hot water extraction), while not invented by York, he forced the industry to take notice of this new and, at the time (late 1960s), controversial cleaning method. In recent years, York was again out front of the pack, this time championing low-moisture cleaning. A few years later low-moisture cleaning (a.k.a. encapsulation) has become the talk of the industry.

Product distribution: York's first company, Steam Services, was the original carpet cleaning industry-specific distributor and mail-order merchandiser. "The carpet cleaning product distribution industry started with Steam Services and Ed York," Lee Pemberton, one of the industry's most respected distributors, has observed.

Technical training: York recognized that training was sorely needed, and he insisted that all new purchasers of his equipment undergo training. From this grew Fiber Cleaning Schools of America (FCSA), the industry's first independent technical training school.

Certification: Arguably the most important development in the cleaning and restoration industry over the past 30-plus years was Ed York's establishment of the International Institute of Carpet and Upholstery Certification (IICUC) now the Institute of Inspection, Cleaning and Restoration Certification (IICRC).

Trade associations: York recognized that membership in organizations that bring cleaners together to share ideas, problems and concerns would be beneficial to his customers. In 1973 he formed the Society of Cleaning Technicians (SCT). It continues today as the Society of Cleaning and Restoration Technicians (SCRT).

Diversification: York was the first to champion carpet cleaners as carpet inspectors and disaster restoration contractors. In 1975, he started a pilot program that would later become Disaster Kleenup International (DKI). Today, DKI is a leading national disaster restoration franchise company. At the 1995 DKI annual meeting, Denny Jensen, owner of one of the 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."

Marketing: York recognized that the lack of marketing and sales skills were the Achilles heel of most mom and pop companies. He taught innovative, low-cost marketing concepts designed to separate them from "the crowd."

Impressive as these accomplishments are, they don't do justice to the impact of Ed York. His passion was for the little guys: the independent cleaners running small mom and pop businesses, struggling to support their families. They energized York, and he energized them. He didn't just sell them equipment or education or certification or association membership, he sold them self-respect, professionalism, success. York's populist crusades are legendary: leading a group of cleaners picketing the Better Business Bureau when it threatened to ban the use of "steam" to describe hot-water extraction cleaning, skewering DuPont for "anointing" Stanley Steemer as the "approved" cleaner of Stainmaster carpet. He chided "the elites" (including yours truly) whenever he thought they failed to serve the interests of the little guy.

The costs of York's populist crusades were great. His keen insights into complex issues often were undermined by antagonism and an uncompromising style that left him with more than his share of enemies. As a result, in his final years he was largely an outcast in the industry he played the pivotal role in molding.

It would have been understandable had York turned bitter and sour on the carpet cleaning industry. But that is not what happened. Instead, York's final years were marked by an ever-greater reconnection with those who mattered most to him: the little guys. Even after declining health kept him mostly homebound, he counseled cleaners all over the country over the Internet and the telephone. After his death was reported, message boards were filled with testimonials from cleaners that had never met him but whom he had helped in his final years.

So we are left with this: While many of the institutions he created have disassociated themselves from him, Ed York's legacy lives on. It lives on in all the people he helped and the hearts he touched. Ed York knew what was important; and he left his mark there, where it can never be erased.

On behalf of the industry bearing your mark, thank you, Ed. May God bless and keep you in His everlasting presence.