By Rob Hove, CECS, CESI
1. How and where did your company start?
Vent Tec started life in 1983 as the hood cleaning division of a Seattle fire services company. We purchased the business in 2004 and changed the name to Vent Tec.
2. What area does your company service?
The Puget Sound area of Western Washington, including Olympia, Tacoma, Seattle, Bellevue, Everett, Bellingham, and surrounding areas.
3. What does your company stand for?
Our motto is “we clean what you can’t see” and we mean that literally. We encourage (beg) our customers to inspect our work, and we provide a written guarantee that they will never find anything that was not cleaned, and cleaned well. Of course we know that few customers will do a real inspection, so we insist they at least look at our slide show of the first cleaning.
4. How did you get started in the KEC industry?
I owned a business brokerage for almost 20 years, and this company was the one I could never sell. It had no profit to speak of, but I was convinced that with proper pricing and cost controls, it could do very well. We bought it, got rid of unprofitable customers, improved management, and it turned around in about six months. Of course, that’s not the whole story.…(see question 7).
5. What did you do in your prior life before KEC?
Prior to starting my brokerage, I worked in finance and foreign start-ups for a major oil company. At one point I worked in a large refinery and discovered to my horror that I was surrounded by the explosive power of a small nuclear bomb. I learned that “OK”, or “good”, was not good enough. The goal had to be perfection, and then maybe we wouldn’t blow up.
6. What surprised you most when you started in the KEC industry?
The lack of urgency and importance about fire safety on the part of too many restaurants, some exhaust cleaning companies, and even some AHJs.
7. How did you get your passion for KEC and describe your passion for the industry in words?
My passion came from a 3 am phone call from Seattle Fire Department during the first month I owned the business. We had two duct fires that month, and I vowed we would never have another. Lots of hard work and fingers crossed, so far so good. Our company had a good reputation and our employees thought they were doing good work. Unfortunately, the standard of quality in our community was very low, so we had a lot of work to do to improve work quality. Since then, our goal has been to set the highest bar for exhaust cleaning quality in every community we serve.
8. How did you go about making the quality control changes that brought your company to where it is today?
One of the first things was to join IKECA so I could learn how to do things the right way. We got rid of the customers that would not pay a price that allowed us to invest the time necessary to do fire safe work. We implemented a rigorous picture program, and made our employees accountable for their results. The toughest part was convincing employees that we were serious about quality, and that when we said “do whatever it takes to get it completely clean,” we actually meant it. Some refused to believe it, and they were replaced. No one in our company has ever been criticized for spending too much time on a job (although some people have gotten coaching on how to be more productive—there’s a big difference between the two).
9. What were some of your goals that IKECA helped you to achieve and how did IKECA help you achieve them?
Other than saving our company, not much. Seriously, every exhaust cleaning company that cares about providing a quality service should be in IKECA.
10. What do you think is the greatest value of being an IKECA member?
Networking with successful people who have valuable things to say. IKECA also provides an avenue for industry leaders to give back to the community. It amazes me how many important fire safety advances have come from the hard work of the IKECA founders and many others since. All of the work is volunteer and uncompensated. IKECA members should be proud of their organization.
11. What would you most want to say to the AHJs about our industry?
- Your community probably has far more kitchen exhaust fire hazards than the AHJ expects.
- Many IKECA members are experts in exhaust system fire safety, and are a valuable resource for AHJs.
- High quality exhaust cleaning companies need the support of AHJs to address known fire hazard locations.
12. What would you most want to say to the restaurants about our industry?
- Management in each restaurant makes a decision about whether fire safety is important to them – please make the responsible decision!
- Inspect your exhaust cleaning vendor’s work. Good companies like to show off their work. Bad companies provide excuses and fuzzy pictures.
13. What is your favorite hobby?
Land yachting, hiking, and reading history.