NADCA members learn how to grow their business and compete in a changing market.

LAS VEGAS - Members of the National Air Duct Cleaners Association are involved in a lot more than just clearing out ductwork.

Take Midwest Environmental Solutions Inc., for example. The St. Peters, Mo.-based company removes everything from lint in home dryer vents to mold in large industrial plants.

Midwest's Richard Johns considers the 10-employee company "small," although he doesn't always market it that way. Perhaps that's why the company's client list includes both homeowners and aircraft maker Boeing Co.

Diverse operations such as Midwest Environmental were common among companies participating in NADCA's March 7-11 annual meeting at the Sands Expo and Convention Center, the association's 16th such gathering. NADCA's membership includes small, residential duct-cleaning firms and multimillion-dollar contamination-cleanup companies.

The duct-cleaning industry today is about a lot more than simply sucking up dust. NADCA members now routinely work alongside industrial hygienists and hazardous-materials crews, cleaning up chemical spills from factories and jobsites.

Despite only having 10 employees, Richard Johns of Midwest Environmental Solutions says the company routinely handles “big” environmental cleanup projects, since he keeps the numbers of other Missouri contractors nearby. He told NADCA attendees how they could make their small companies “big” in a March 9 seminar.

Getting bigger

Tips on how to handle such complex jobs were offered in many of the convention's seminars. During March 9's "How to Make a Small Company ‘Big'," Richard Johns of Midwest Environmental explained how he was able to tackle an emergency call when workers at a nearby textile mill spilled chlorine gas, despite only having a 10-person work force.

Within minutes of receiving word of the disaster, Johns made 18 phone calls to get 12 other contracting companies involved in the project.

"When you get that (emergency) phone call, you have to have guys you can trust that you can call," he said. "There's no job that you can't handle, as long as you're willing to give up some of that (profit) pie."

The textile mill cleanup kept Johns and his employees working 14 hours a day for a week.

Johns has used the same technique to gain work from casinos and other large companies that otherwise would not consider an operation of his size.

"Get out and beat the street in your area" looking for other companies you can work with, he said. "Our company travels nationwide and so can you."

David W. Gordon of the IAQ Resource Center spoke about “Differentiating Yourself With More Comprehensive IAQ Services” March 9. He recommends NADCA member companies market themselves as “more than just duct cleaners.”

Standing apart

Ways to stand apart from competitors was also the message of David W. Gordon's March 9 seminar, "Differentiating Yourself With More Comprehensive IAQ Services."

Gordon, who runs the Buffalo, N.Y.-based IAQ Resource Center, performs commercial monitoring of indoor air quality. He said the company has been successful because it competes "on best value," not price, adding that making your company seem unique will result in more work at a higher price.

The duct-cleaning market is converging, Gordon said, with many contractors branching out into mold remediation and IAQ testing.

"We are more than just duct cleaners," he said. And since an HVAC system is "the heart and lungs of a building," the work opportunities are huge, he added.

If you talk about the energy - and money - savings that a clean, well-maintained HVAC system can provide, you'll connect with more building owners and managers.

"Savings are tangible and it's something that senior management can sink its teeth into," Gordon said.

One way that Gordon's company stands out and promotes savings to clients is by offering IAQ monitoring services. For an extra $600 or so, IAQ Resource workers will regularly check the HVAC system and building's air quality, ensuring the system runs at top efficiency, and building occupants are comfortable.

The option is an easy sell, Gordon said.

"It tells the client that we're there to provide enhanced level of service beyond just system cleaning," he said.

(For reprints of this article, contact Jill DeVries at (248) 244-1726 or e-mail