As a carpet cleaner in the 1970’s, Claude Blackburn noticed a negative trend with his fellow professionals, “Twenty percent of our industry is going out of business every year.” He wanted to find a way to help entrepreneurs like himself to keep themselves working in the slow season. Claude’s first invention was the foam EZ Block which he mailed from his operations center (his garage) for $27 a sheet to cleaners replacing the wood blocks that were common in the industry.
Claude Blackburn attended a water damage seminar taught by the second face on “Mount Restoration”, Lloyd Weaver. The “Industry Watchdog” Pete Consigli writing for C&R Magazine in 2007 noted, “Lloyd introduced the first specialty designed Porta Dryer for on-location wet carpet drying. While that might not seem like much in today’s sophisticated world, 35 years ago Lloyd’s methodology challenged the rug cleaning establishment and its in-plant wet carpet service.” Shortly afterwards Claude experimented with his own metal carpet dryer and eventually produced ten units, sent out 24,000 expensive mailers to advertise the product, and only sold four. He was contemplating abandoning the idea.
Claude shares an interesting story about the device that would become the flagship of his company and an interaction with Mr. Weaver. At an industry trade show in Vancouver, Washington, Lloyd didn’t take kindly to Claude’s creations and publicly challenged him. While he physically shook the meek mannered innovator from Mt. Vernon, he also rattled his entrepreneurial spirit and only deepened Claude’s commitment to making his then fledgling invention work. With the arrival of an unlikely partner, Harlan Wright, Mr. Blackburn developed the first fiberglass molded air mover for the carpet cleaning and water damage restoration industry in the early 1980’s.
As Claude innovated products, he also developed methods for training contractors to utilize these evolving water damage tools in a manner that could be repeated across the country. Consigli recounts, “Claude was sometimes mocked for pricing his seminars under $100. But he knew exactly what he was doing; he consistently played to packed rooms, while the attendance of others’ seminars dropped off.” Claude wanted to help his fellow professionals to shorten their DANG learning curve and offered water damage training courses at pricing significantly lower than his competitors.
Mr. Blackburn also wrote the Carpet Cleaner’s Guide to Water Damage Restoration which he marketed via a dual sided mailer which promoted the popular EZ Blocks on the other side. Both sold really well, enabling Claude to further invest in innovation. Our industry is full of stories of trial and error and Claude was no stranger to this process. He shared on IAQ Radio Episode 473 that he ran his company by the 51% rule, “As long as I was right 51% of the time, we had a shot at staying in business.”
When Claude sold Dri-Eaz in 2006 it had:
- 200 employees
- 150 distributors
- Sales of 50 million
Hear the rest of Claude Blackburn on The DYOJO Podcast Episode 47 “The Found of Dri Eaz Life Before, During, and After Property Restoration.”