When James Smith says his carpet cleaning business started from humble beginnings, it’s an understatement.
“My first office was little more than a broom closet in a commercial building at the intersection of Carl Road and 183 [Airport Freeway] in Irving. But it was only $25 a month,” Smith said. “It wasn’t literally a broom closet but it was very small, no windows, no air conditioning, no carpet, unfinished walls. Despite our really humble beginnings, we’ve had a lot of good growth.”
That “good growth” part is also an understatement.
Smith began Dalworth Clean in October 1976 with a used van he bought for $1,800 with a bank loan and a 1970 Oldsmobile Cutlass inherited from his late father. He was the sole employee.
The company has evolved into four enterprises, all located in Euless, which together form the Dalworth Group: Dalworth Clean, the largest carpet cleaning company in the Dallas-Fort Worth area; Dalworth Restoration, the largest and fastest-growing segment of the business; Professional Carpet Cleaners Supply; and Central Station Marketing, an internet marketing agency for home improvement contractors. Dalworth Group specializes in residential and commercial cleaning and restoration services, and now has eight divisions, including two added just in the last three years.
Dalworth has grown from a one-room office to 50,000 square feet of office and warehouse space in four buildings on a five-acre campus. Another expansion is underway with the recent purchase of a 10,000-square-foot building and one more acre.
Overall, the company now has 141 employees – including nine members of Smith’s family – 40 work crew members, and 106 vehicles (box and cargo trucks, vans and trailers). Sales increases have averaged more than 4 percent in the past three years; sales this year are expected to surpass $21 million.
“Through the years, we’ve been inside over 1 million homes and businesses in the Metroplex. All in all we’ve had a pretty good ride. Things have worked out good for us these past 40 years,” Smith, 64, said. “The family is really what gave us stability in those early days and it’s the family that helps the company to continue to grow.”
The next best thing to new
Smith had planned to become a lawyer but after graduating from the University of Texas Arlington he decided to pursue a trade craft. He answered a newspaper ad for a carpet layer’s helper paying $600 a month, but was rejected for his lack of experience by Sani-Steam Carpet Cleaning in Fort Worth. Confident that he could learn the trade, Smith told Sani-Steam’s owner, Paul Franklin, that he’d work for free. Franklin hired him, provided that Smith had a van. Smith quickly progressed with the carpet cleaning side of the business.
Within a couple of years, the two men became equal partners in Dalworth Carpet Cleaning (Smith suggested the name) to ward off a competitor named Dalco Carpet Cleaning. In 1977, Smith recruited his brother, Rob Smith; brother-in-law, Shane Hobbs; and mother, Beverly Smith. After working full-time for almost 40 years while being the official mother of all the Dalworth companies and employees, Beverly retired last year at age 87.
“My mother was the first employee. She managed the office and did the payroll. Mother was never very enthusiastic about the carpet-cleaning business,” Smith said. “She wanted me to go into the insurance business.”
By 1981, Dalco had gone out of business. Smith bought out Franklin’s interest in Dalworth and the company became a family-owned business.
One of the challenges in the early stages of being a family-owned enterprise, Smith said, was that family members shared the same values “but no one had the same ideas on what should be done.” His mother kept the peace.
“Really, she was the big reason we were able to stay together,” Hobbs said. “A lot of times there would be disagreements between us and we’d all go to Beverly to share our thoughts and opinions. She was a real good listener.”
“She had a supreme sense of fairness,” her son added.
Dalworth grew briskly throughout the 1980s. In 1985, Smith opened a wholesale supply company that would sell carpet cleaning chemicals to the industry and placed Rob in charge as CEO. In 1989, Dalworth Restoration was developed to offer smoke, fire and water damage restoration/construction services. Hobbs, who was running the rug-cleaning business at the time, took over as Restoration’s CEO. He is also CEO of Central Station Marketing.
In addition to water, fire and smoke damage restoration, Dalworth Restoration offers crawl space encapsulation systems, air duct cleaning, mold and asbestos remediation, and contents restoration. Dalworth participates in Disaster Kleenup International, a company that unites restoration companies around the United States to work together in response to disasters. Dalworth sends crews to respond to hurricanes, floods, fires and tornadoes across the country.
Dalworth Restoration recently became certified by the Texas Department of Insurance to provide Continuing Education Unit training courses to insurance adjusters to increase their knowledge with the industry’s best practices. Housed on the Dalworth campus are a large classroom and mock houses that are flooded and used for training.
“The restoration side has had a lot of growth,” Hobbs said. “We travel across the country where needed but also have large clients locally, including a lot of hospitals and the United Methodist Conference. What’s cool is we’ve got multiple businesses and they’re all growing. That’s exciting.”
From the start, the goal at Dalworth has been to provide needed services and quality workmanship, and to treat customers fairly and leave them satisfied, Smith says.
That business philosophy, combined with aggressive advertising, has kept Dalworth growing. In 1988, Smith bought a jingle for $3,500 – the framed score hangs above his desk – that has become legendary in North Texas thanks to frequent radio and TV airings. Smith says the jingle put Dalworth on the map.
The lyrics are simple and unforgettable to area residents: “Call 267-8433 because the next best thing to new is Dalworth Clean.”
The tune became more iconic a few years ago after TV talk show host Ellen DeGeneres visited Dallas and heard the ad playing on local radio and TV stations. She couldn’t get the song out of her head. To prove it, she sang the Dalworth jingle on her TV show.
“We’ve had lots and lots of luck and that jingle was luck. That ended up being one of the main things that helps us stand out,” Smith said. “What really makes us stand out is we take care of our customers. We’ll bend over backward to make a customer happy.”
Family is the future
The Dalworth Group continues to operate with a three-man leadership team of James and Rob Smith and Shane Hobbs. The company has implemented a long-term succession plan to operate as a multi-generational family business. There are seven children among the trio; six of them work for the company. Each third-generation family member who joins the business learns it from the ground up.
“All the kids have leadership roles and are as excited as we were and still are,” James Smith said. “They have the same passion and that really keeps us motivated.”
“We’re in a position to really grow with all our kids,” Hobbs said. “It does put pressure on you, though. You have to make sure everyone knows what they’re doing.”
Smith attributes Dalworth’s growth and success to family ownership and leadership. Creating a family atmosphere, he says, has helped the company retain many long-time employees, some of whom have worked there 15, 20, 30 years and more.
“We have lots of great people who’ve been with us for decades,” Smith said. “Sometimes going to work feels more like a family reunion.”
Over the years, Dalworth Group has garnered numerous industry accolades, including the Consumers Choice Award, Angie’s List Super Service Award and Readers’ Choice Awards from various local publications.
In October, Dalworth was selected by the Baylor University Institute for Family Business as its 2016 Texas Family Business of the Year. Judges honored Dalworth based on the depth of family participation, the high marks customers give the business and the company’s commitment to community service.
“We were thoroughly impressed at the vision that the three generations of the family have had and how they have grown during up and down cycles within their industries,” said program director Linda Ramirez.
The Smith brothers and Hobbs have 12 grandchildren among them, opening the door for the fourth generation into the family business.
“Looking back over these past 40 years, it’s really been a blessing to have so much of our family involved in the business, especially our mother. Starting Dalworth and ending up as a family business has meant so much to our entire family,” James Smith said.