Sitdown with Success is a feature of the Huntsville Business Journal about entrepreneurs and their keys to success. This month’s topic is Tommy Dothard, owner of Dirtbusters Cleaning and Restoration.
You heard the chorus, “It’s a dirty job, but someone has to do it.”
Tommy Dothard, the owner of Huntsville’s Dirtbusters Cleaning and Restoration, is someone.
Dothard founded Dirtbusters in 1986 as a carpet cleaning company, just after graduating from high school. Today the company is known for seeing and cleaning everything – from hideous forensic scenes to raw sewage dumps, hurricane and water damage to mold remediation. In fact, Dirtbusters not only cleans up jobs that other companies can’t clean up, but also jobs that they don’t want to clean up.
How did you start your company at such a young age?
I worked for Coca Cola at night and on weekends throughout high school and full time during the summer. A friend of mine started cleaning carpets there. I helped him at night and learned the business from him until he got a firefighter job in Georgia.
I bought all of his equipment and started his carpet cleaning job. Then I started adding more services, and eventually I got so busy that I couldn’t do both jobs. I owned my own business until the summer of 1986 and now it’s mine.
How long did it take you to feel that you were meeting your own expectations as a successful company?
I was just out of high school so I was young, single, raced cars, owned my own house, and partied a lot. I think it took me 10 years to realize I was running a legitimate business and it was time to slow down my craziness and focus.
You started cleaning carpets, but how did you grow them and start adding services?
It was all accidental. I did a lot of carpet cleaning in apartment complexes and one of the managers asked if I could fix water damage.
I said yes because it’s basically the same as cleaning carpets. I started drying out structures and carpets, pulling out the pad and replacing it once the carpet was dry.
Over time, I took classes to further my education on how to do it better, what to look out for when you have water damage, and from there it snowed, it just took off.
Then we were educated about mold remediation and fire damage because that was what we saw insurance companies need. I thought I can do that. That’s why we’ve certified the IICRC (Institute of Inspection, Cleaning and Restoration Certification) for everything.
What would you say to someone looking to start a new business, business, or business in your industry?
Learn to do as much as you can in every business you do.
In my business, for example, a trace will not support you. You have to learn how to do all of this. That way, when business is slow in one area, you have other services to keep you afloat.
Were there any challenges along the way that you felt stuck or struggled with?
I really think the biggest problem I had was that I couldn’t qualify for a loan at the time because I didn’t have an established loan.
I didn’t have a lot of money to file when I bought a device, so I just had to work and save and buy and pay while I went. As a result, everything is paid for today. I have a mortgage on my building and my house, but everything else is paid off.
In terms of frustration, my trucks are highly specialized with truck mounted units and equipment, all of which are bespoke and expensive, and parts are difficult to get your hands on quickly. If one of them fails or needs parts, I can’t just walk into the AutoZone. I have to call the company and have the parts shipped – or sometimes they have to make the part and then ship it – and then it has to be installed.
Waiting for jobs that require the use of my truck brings me back and weighs me down.
What is your secret of success for you?
I’m just too stubborn to quit or too stupid to quit – however you want to categorize it! I look around and say what else should I do?
How did you deal with COVID in your business?
It never really slowed down. We build a lot of new things and work with many insurance companies. No matter what, they want us to get in there and get it done.
We have an application for spraying Microban (disinfectant) and MoldSTAT Plus so we were already set up for anyone who wanted us to treat their home or office. Wipe down surfaces that you touch every day, such as light switches, door handles, and phones.
We were concerned at first that the residential area of business was slowing down, and it did a little bit at first because people were afraid to let someone into their homes. Once they got over the fear factor, people would call us and say, “Hey. Just come over to my house and I’ll sit in the car or run errands and you’ll call me when you’re done. I’m tired of looking at that rug or I’m tired of those dirty hardwood floors. “
Do you serve all of Madison County?
Yes, but we will go everywhere. We work on hurricane jobs – if they call us, we leave. We know everything from Pensacola to the Alabama coast well.
What are some of the “nastier” jobs you’ve done?
We did a decay job six years ago cleaning up a decomposed body that had been there for three months and exploded. She was a hoarder too, so the house itself was nasty and full of insects. I had done some decay jobs but that was the worst I’ve ever seen.
But I also cleaned up after burst pipes, mold damage, and raw sewage that was blown over the ceilings and walls from every drain in the house. Sometimes it’s not comfortable.
What’s the future like?
I have twins and one of them will likely work for me which makes it a family business where he runs the show a little bit more. That is good for me