A Partner in Grime

If it covers a floor, West will clean it

by Anne Averyt

maple0613In 2000, Clint West left his day job and took his sideline business, Maple Leaf Carpet & Tile Cleaning, full time. His company now has three state-of-the-art truck-mounted vans and five employees.

When it comes to carpets and tile, Clint West is Mr. Clean. West, the owner of Maple Leaf Carpet and Tile Cleaning in Shelburne, can transform a pet-stained Oriental rug back to its original beauty or clean away years of grit build-up on a tile floor. It’s a challenge he enjoys and a talent his customers appreciate.

Maple Leaf can clean almost any surface covering, although hardwood floors are “a whole other ball of wax,” says West, explaining why he doesn’t include them in his services. “You refinish wood floors, which requires sanding with special equipment and polyurethaning them.”

Other floor finishes are fair game, though, from wall-to-wall carpeting to area rugs, natural and manmade tile, and Marmoleum, which is natural, bio-based linoleum. He also cleans granite countertops, upholstery, and Oriental carpets, does fabric and fiber protection, and handles urine damage.

West’s business is evenly divided between residential and commercial customers. Maple Leaf services a wide range of local businesses, large and small. Most, he says, usually need carpet cleaning, while residential clients “tend to have a little bit of everything they want done.”

The company started out cleaning only carpets, he says, but expanded into other areas as he realized there was a need.

West’s clients appreciate his attention to detail and his commitment to service — his understanding of his market and his willingness to undertake challenges. One such client is David Kelly, head of maintenance at Shelburne Community School, who says West’s technicians arrive at a job “in state-of-the-art trucks that are very clean and organized. It shows you that he takes a lot of pride in his work. You know they’re here to do a good job, that they’re going to do what they say they’re going to do.

“They’re good honest people,” Kelly adds, “and they go the extra mile, making sure you’re happy. I would recommend them.” Repeat customers and recommendations like Kelly’s generate much of Maple Leaf’s work.

“We started in the phone book, then on the Web,” says West, “but I think word-of-mouth is the most important. You start with one customer, then you get two, get three, and before you know it you’re kind of a household name.”

West began his foray into floor cleaning to supplement his income while he was working construction. Just out of high school, he worked for a contractor that installed pools and built houses, then for a company that installed hardwood flooring and did janitorial work and carpet cleaning. It was this job that exposed him to the rug cleaning sideline.

When he started out, he had just one truck-mounted van, but within a year the business grew into full-time status and, in 2000, he left his day job and opened his own company. “I originally bought my first truck-mounted van just to clean carpets on the side,” he jokes. “The rest is history.” Now, Maple Leaf has three truck-mounted vans plus three full-time employees and two part-timers.

The company, West estimates, did 800 jobs last year — “give or take” — and continues to grow every year. “We started out of a two-car garage,” he says. “Now we have a 2,400-square-foot facility.” That facility, next door to his Shelburne house, is currently a work-in–progress. The garage has been expanded into a workshop and an office extension is under way. The whole renovation, he estimates, will be completed by the end of the year.

“I started out doing everything myself, from cleaning to marketing,” he says. “Now I’d be shocked if any company out there cleans more carpets than we do in the state. There’s a fair amount of competition, but people who appreciate quality, and want what’s being done to their furniture or carpets to be done right, generally find us. Other companies like ServPro and Service Master may have more vans and equipment, but they are into fire and water and flood clean-up. We made a choice to stay out of that; we focus just on cleaning.”

“I’ve watched Clint grow in the area of business,” say Mike Kriesel, West’s father-in-law and also his minister. “He’s not afraid to take a risk and if he makes mistakes, he grows from them. Clint is great at growing a business. He’s willing to step out, to take a risk, and be innovative, and he’s a learner. He digs into stuff and he becomes an expert.”

That “digging” — seeing an opportunity and becoming educated to do it — is what West believes gives him his competitive edge. “When I was approached with needs I knew I wasn’t qualified to meet, I went out and learned about it,” he says. There’s a huge learning curve in his business, he adds. “With carpets you need to know all about fibers; stone and tile are all different kinds. If you understand what you are cleaning — whether an Oriental rug is wool or cotton or if wall-to-wall carpeting is synthetic or whether you’re dealing with natural stone versus man-made stone — then you’re 90 percent there to doing the job properly.”

Education, West says, has put Maple Leaf on top of the local industry. Over the years, he has built the company through continued training and education. The company is certified by the Institute of Inspection, Restoration and Cleaning and West regularly networks with industry professionals across the country. He has gone to training workshops throughout New England and recently completed a week of training in which Maple Leaf was one of just 20 companies nationwide invited to attend.

West says that being the best at what he does is important to him, but so is quality of service. Maple Leaf’s manifesto is not only to clean and restore flooring but also to provide customers with “the most outstanding service experience ever.”

“Our mission is actually right on the wall and on our trucks,” he says proudly. “We want to provide you with the most outstanding service experience ever, and that’s what we try to do from the moment we get a phone call and a technician goes out to estimate the job.”

West moved from his native city of St. Louis, Mo., to South Burlington in 1993 when he was 16, the year he met his high school sweetheart, Kim Kriesel. In 1997 they were married. They have three children: Aaron, 14; Jason, 12; and Lauren, 10. Karen works full time in the office at Maple Leaf, handling the books, scheduling, and doing “whatever else comes along.”

With a demanding business, West admits free time is at a premium, but he enjoys “hanging out with my kids. Their sporting events sort of take over life.” Both his sons play basketball, baseball, and football, and his daughter plays basketball and softball. “We also love to go camping,” West says. The family enjoys vacations together, such as a recent trip to Puerto Rico and a winter cruise to the Cayman Islands.

“On my own,” he says, “I’m a bow hunter. I go hunting in the Midwest every year with a couple of buddies. It’s as much about getting away from the grind of the business as it is about bow hunting.”

He wants to expand the business into new areas and continue to grow. It doesn’t take him long to reflect on what he likes best about the business. “I like to have the freedom of working at different places on a daily basis and not be tied down to an office. I also like interacting with the customers and the fact that the sky’s the limit.

“I’m very much a visionary” he says. “I have an incredible drive to be the best at what I do — it’s a drive you have to have to stay in business. I have a vision for my shop, for my business. I look to the future; I don’t let present circumstances affect me much. I have watched this company grow from where it was 13 years ago to where it is now and I see it continuing to grow.”

“We want to be known as the best,” says Adam Marchessault, Maple Leaf’s lead technician and West’s friend since high school. “Clint provides great education and has state-of-the-art equipment and a good facility, which allows us to do more and to do it better. We’re not a huge business but we’re known as being the best at what we do and it’s something we take a lot of pride in. I get a lot of satisfaction working here.” •