Hi Tech Duct Cleaning, Inc. is a business that has been on the cutting edge of duct cleaning for a very long time. We’ve consistently set the bar high in the industry, been featured on national news programs, held up as a standard by the National Duct Cleaners Association, and are referred by over 170 heating and air companies.
But how does a company get to that point?
What drives it?
We thought that the answers to these questions, and a look at both the past and future of Hi Tech, would be both interesting and helpful for homeowners, customers, and duct cleaning skeptics. So this is part 1 of a 2-part blog series called “Behind the Scenes, Then and Now” where we look at how Hi Tech got its start, why it was started in the first place, and examine the future of the company and the industry.
For this first blog in the series, we spoke with Steve Wladysh, the founder and original CEO of Hi Tech Duct Cleaning, Inc.
Question: When did you start Hi Tech Duct Cleaning, Inc.?
Steve’s Answer: I started the company in 1995.
Question: What gave you the idea for the business?
Steve’s Answer: I was working in the restoration industry in someone else’s company. That company offered duct cleaning, but it wasn’t their main service. They maybe did 5 duct cleaning jobs a year and they were always done as part of a restoration job, so we would be going in to clean the ductwork after a fire, or to remediate mold, or something like that. The heating and air companies we worked with on restoration jobs kept saying that they wanted to offer their customers a quality duct cleaning service, and not just after a fire or some other catastrophe. But they weren’t able to do that because at the time all the companies that did duct cleaning either only did it as part of restoration work and/or they weren’t doing a very good job.
I did some research on duct cleaning and found that no one in the region was really doing it correctly, including the company I worked for. No one had the necessary equipment or materials to do it right and the method was all wrong.
I continued researching it for 2 years to make sure I knew everything about it. Then I took all my research and notes and pitched a complete plan to my boss, outlining how we could create an actual residential duct cleaning program that did things the right way. He laughed and wouldn’t even consider the idea.
Question: What did you see happening in the industry that made you want to jump in with a company of your own?
Steve’s Answer: As mentioned, none of the other companies were doing it correctly and I had already offered up a plan to my boss, which he rejected. I knew there was a market for this because the heating and air companies kept asking for it. And again, at the time there were companies doing duct cleaning, but they were all companies whose primary service was something else.
I had already done the research and I knew what needed to be done inside and out. I was confident that I could do a better job for my customers than anyone else out there. I knew if I could create a company that specialized in duct cleaning and did it the right way, I could corner the market.
Question: How were Hi Tech Duct Cleaning’s services different than what other companies were offering?
Steve’s Answer: To answer that, I have to talk a little bit about what was wrong with the industry first. When I started looking at this, most companies used a vacuum that was basically a glorified shop vac to clean duct work. Now, if you’ve ever used a shop vac you know they’re great little machines, but they don’t have enough suction power to pull debris out of the ductwork of an entire house or building. And the companies using them knew this and knew that they would be leaving behind debris and dust in the ductwork.
To keep that from being an issue they used a “sealant” that was really just glue. They were literally gluing any remaining dirt to the sides of the ductwork so that it couldn’t come back out. And that glue sealant was toxic and had known cancer-causing agents in it. You were supposed to wear a respirator when you worked with it and homes were supposed to be evacuated when you sprayed it, but none of the companies were following any of those safety guidelines. Basically, between the shop vac and the glue, they were just doing a terrible, unsafe job.
When I started Hi Tech I bought the best equipment on the market. I got a HEPA vacuum with 2-3 times more vacuum power than the furnace had blowing power. I paired that up with a whip and brush system that could be sent through the ductwork to knock debris loose and push it to the vacuum. And I used a sanitizer that worked to kill mold and allergens but had been approved as safe for use in homes by the EPA. I also made sure that I had a standard process that was detailed and thorough enough to ensure that every single system was actually clean when we were finished.
No one else was approaching duct cleaning this way when I started. But we were specialists. We didn’t do anything BUT duct cleaning so it was really important to me to set the standard for duct cleaning in this region.
Question: What was the company like in the early days and what was your goal for the company?
In the beginning, I wanted to offer a quality duct cleaning service to homeowners and business owners and I would have been happy to just make enough money to support my family. I used to leave the house at 7am every morning and go around to every heating and air company in Southwestern Ohio, Eastern Indiana, and Northern Kentucky. I wanted them to know who I was, know what I did, and feel comfortable referring their customers to me. I would do that every day until 5 or 6pm.
I finally got a handful of companies to start using me so I would be working 2 or 3 days a week, doing all these duct cleaning jobs myself. I had bought all this equipment, which didn’t leave any money for a real work van, so I was just loading everything up into my personal truck. I would go do my scheduled jobs, and then afterwards, or on the days I didn’t have jobs, I would keep going around and talking to heating and air companies.
In the early days, there were still a lot of oil and coal furnaces in this area so when I was done with a job I would often be covered in black soot and dirt from head to toe. Even so, I would still stop in at my heating and air companies afterward to say hello or drop off paperwork and I got a reputation for hard work from it – they could see the evidence! Once, I was so covered in dirt that I had to strip down to my underwear before I could drive home. Thankfully, no one saw that.
After the first 8 months, the company was making enough money for me to hire a secretary (my wife, Sandy). After 2 years, I was able to hire employees to help me complete jobs and accept more work. From there, things really took off and the goal became to let the business and my customers dictate the growth of the company.
At one point, we were offered the opportunity to franchise the company, but we turned it down. If we had done that, we would have lost the ability to control the quality of the work, the quality of our employees, and the reputation of the company. We preferred to keep it a small, family-run business which put our customers’ needs and satisfaction front and center.
Question: If you could tell homeowners anything about ductwork, home health issues, or even hiring home service companies, what would you tell them?
Steve’s Answer: I would tell them to do their research before hiring a company and talk to professionals in the industry before they schedule anything. I would also tell them that if a price sounds really low or too good to be true, there’s probably a reason and they should be skeptical of that.
We started to see scam artists infiltrate the duct cleaning industry in this region around 2001. Many of them go out of business every year and many start up each year. Look for a company that has been around, doing quality work, for a while. Look for companies that the heating and air companies in the region recommend.
Over the years, Hi Tech Duct Cleaning has weathered recessions, the rise of duct cleaning scams, and more and we are still around because we do quality work. Lastly, support local, family-run businesses who are more likely to know and care about their customers and deliver quality services.
That wraps up part 1 of Behind the Scenes, Then and Now. Steve Wladysh retired as CEO of Hi Tech Duct Cleaning in 2015. The company is now run by his son-in-law, Aaron Cain. In next month’s blog, Behind the Scenes, Then and Now Part 2, we will talk to Aaron about his experience working in the company, becoming CEO, and where he sees the company and industry going in the future.