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Published: 1/4/2010

United States' largest carpet cleaner got its start in Ohio

BY TIM FERAN
COLUMBUS DISPATCH

COLUMBUS - In many ways, Stanley Steemer's growth has been a magic carpet ride.

The carpet-cleaning company based in Dublin, Ohio, a Columbus suburb, has more than 300 franchises in 48 states - and it all started with a one-person cleaning service in 1947.

When Jack Bates started out, wall-to-wall carpeting was becoming popular because a new process had cut the cost of manufacturing in half.

Thanks to the growing use of carpeting over the next several decades and to Stanley Steemer's building its own cleaning machines, the company is the nation's biggest carpet-cleaning firm, challenged only by Sears and a handful of others in a business that consists mainly of smaller players.

"My grandfather was the great entrepreneur," said Justin Bates, president and the third generation to lead the company. "You know: 'Let's create something and see if it works. Then, let's make something else.'•"

Jack and Wesley Bates' determination to make the company successful was part of Stanley Steemer's secret, said Mary McCarthy, chapter chairman of SCORE Columbus, a nonprofit organization that helps entrepreneurs.

"It takes a lot of determination and perseverance to make a business work," she said. "Every enterprise has gone through patches of struggles and issues, but they have to keep plugging along. They have to be willing to rethink direction and be creative. Sometimes, you have to be willing to try new things." In addition, Stanley Steemer "has great customer service," she said. "You can't knock that, especially today."

The first carpet-cleaning machine the company developed was "way overengineered," said Wesley Bates, the founder's son said, adding, "To this day, everything we build is overengineered. We're using the stuff and want it to last."

For the first machine, father and son coined what became the company name.

Two years after the "steemer" was developed, the company sold its first franchise. One of the early franchisees came up with the color scheme for the company vans, safety yellow with black lettering.

Today, the company's 72 corporate and 230 individual franchises cover "about 97 percent of the population in 48 states," Justin Bates said. "We're not in North Dakota and Vermont," he said, because those states lack the population density that franchisees need to be successful.

Services have expanded as well, into cleaning tile and grout, air ducts, and cars, boats and recreational vehicles, as well as restoring water-damaged homes.



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