A real estate investor found a new opportunity underfoot: a carpet-cleaning technology that doesn't use soap.
St. Paul Realtor Jim Hoag became an enlistee in the Green Revolution by chance, the result of a conversation he had in 2006 with a former client who was complaining about the condition of the carpets in his home.
"He has four children, two pets and a large house that he thought was badly in need of carpet replacement," Hoag said. But before spending a bundle on new carpets, Hoag suggested the homeowner try an innovative carpet-cleaning technology he'd heard about.
The service, offered by a Twin Cities franchisee of Utah-based Zerorez Franchising Systems, used something called "Empowered Water" to provide what is advertised as effective and long-lasting cleaning and sanitizing without the use of soaps and chemicals.
The results "blew my client off his chair," Hoag said. "The carpeting looked like new," eliminating any concern about having to replace it.
Whereupon Hoag, a serial investor who has focused until now on realty, mortgage and other real estate-related businesses, bought the local Zerorez franchise from the out-of-state owner and started business in September 2006 with a mouthful of a corporate name: Zerorez Carpet & Living Surfaces Care.
In the process, he recruited three young partners to run the Roseville-based company: Michael Kaplan, 28, who manages the Zerorez business, Ryan Stevens, 31, sales manager, and Ryan's brother, Sean, 34, who runs a new floor-refinishing business the partners launched in July.
Thanks to their work, the Zerorez business has been brisk from the beginning: Revenue, which totaled just $310,000 in 2006, more than doubled last year to $710,000. And in the first eight months of 2008, the gross topped $610,000 on the way to a projected $1 million-plus this year.
The Zerorez technology defies the notion that "greener means weaker, or not as effective," Hoag said. That's why, in promoting the business, the emphasis has been on results first, with the green aspect as a second selling point.
The so-called "empowered water" is just that, tap water that has been treated with salt and an electrical charge to produce a high volume of electrolyzed fluid capable of cleaning and sanitizing a carpet without leaving any chemical residue behind.
The technology, developed by the University of Georgia and licensed by Atlanta-based EAU Technologies, is offered as an alternative to conventional cleaning methods that can leave soap and detergent residue behind.
Kaplan, who manages the local franchise, said the residue is a concern not only because of potential problems for people sensitive to the chemicals, but also because the soap left behind attracts more dirt. In short, the absence of that residue means a carpet stays cleaner longer, Hoag said.
You don't have to take their word for it. Bruce Gentry, a representative in the field office of Georgia-based Mohawk Industries, a large manufacturer of carpets and rugs, said he often recommends the Zerorez process as one that "has cleaned, restored and revitalized carpets that competitive cleaners could not.
"They have done tremendous work for us," he said. "They've gone in and saved the day when we thought a carpet would have to be replaced." He called Zerorez "an effective system for maintaining, restoring and revitalizing our commercial carpets."
Other uses found
While Zerorez has exclusive rights to the EAU technology for carpet-cleaning, the product is used in other industries. Some Whole Foods stores, for example, are using it to wash produce. And Murray's Chicken, a New York state poultry processor, is using it as part of its sanitation process.
Zerorez is not Hoag's sole entrepreneurial interest, but rather what he calls "the flagship for future business opportunities." Translated, that means he already has identified a related business.
Dubbed Hardwood Hero, the separate company offers a low-cost, dust-free floor-refinishing service that uses a process developed by Basic Coatings Inc. in Toledo, Ohio.
The Ohio company manufactures a cleaner that removes contaminants, a chemical abrasion formula that eliminates the need to sand a floor and a water-based sealer to protect the wood. The process is faster than conventional systems, Kaplan said, offering minimal interruptions for homeowners.
Dick Youngblood 612-673-4439