Here’s a clip from our recent podcast with Larry Cooper (The Experience Convention & Trade Show) where he talks about how he got his start in the restoration industry, IICRC, The Experience and much more.
Ben: And I’m smiling a little bit today because I’m very excited about our episode. We are going to be joined by an industry legend, a man with over 50 years of experience in the restoration and cleaning industry, former president of the IICRC ever heard of it and the founder of the experience convention in trade shows, Mr. Larry Cooper.
Now, if that name doesn’t ring a bell, then perhaps, maybe some of his other work, might jog your memory a little bit. Have you ever heard of something called the S 500, the S 520, the S 100, the S 300? I sure hope so, if you are in the restoration and cleaning industry, you should have heard of those things, and he’s had a hand in all of them.
So today I want you to help me welcome, Mr. Larry Cooper to the Restoration Rundown Podcast. Mr. Cooper, how you doing? Thanks for joining us today.
Larry: I am fantastic, Ben. Great to be with you and your audience.
Ben: All right. All right. You hear that everybody, he’s really excited to be here too.
Larry: What the h**k? Huh?
Ben: So I gave you, like the old, a pretty good introduction, I think, but I don’t think it really scratched the surface of, your contributions to the industry and what you’ve done in your experience. And one of the big things that everybody that listens to this gets outta the podcast is I’m really big on providing value which it seems like in your 50 years that’s really been at the forefront of your journey.
So I wanted to see if you’d minded walking us through a little bit of your background in case anybody’s been living in a cave for the last 50 years in this industry and they don’t know who you are. Give us a little background how you got started in the industry, and that led you up to today.
Larry: Hey, thank you for this opportunity. I started carpet cleaning when I was in high school. I didn’t even have a driver’s license yet, and it’s an interesting business to say the least. But back then we used some tactics that were pretty interesting. The owner of this company used to clean college apartments, if you can imagine .
And we used to clean up by the University of Colorado. Well, he used to use these shampoo machines, with hot water extraction, but in the brush of the shampoo machine, he would cut out the brushes and slide in these plastic bristles. And of course it was pretty rough on the carpet, but they needed to have some roughness cuz they were in terrible condition as you can.
So my first day on the job, there were three guys there and myself, and for some reason they were all gathered in one room and the owner said, okay, it’s time for you to learn how to use this machine. So I grabbed the handle of the machine and he said, “Yep. Just remember, go left. You go one way and go right. You go the other way.”
And I’m like, “All right. Looks pretty easy.” I was watching everybody else do it, like he turned on the machine and it started bouncing. He had just put new bristles on and I could not control it, and I was too dumb to not turn it off.
So it’s bouncing and it’s bouncing across the room, and I went right through a wall, so they were all hilariously laughing, thinking it was the funniest thing on earth, and I was like, totally petrified. But you know, the industry has changed so much. I started my business when I was 18 years old. When I was 16 and a half I was running his company.
But I, you know, you gotta get a little tough at times and get a little aggressive and get out there and do it. Nonetheless, I started my business and I remember, I got married to my high school sweetheart that year also, and my first month I did four jobs and she’s like, yeah, this is a great business you started.
I was gonna college. She was going to college. We were trying to pay our tuitions. It was pretty slow nonetheless. But I had to learn how to go knock on doors and that is something that’s really difficult for most people to do. kind of gut wrenching, knock on a door and say, “Hey, will you gimme some business?” And introduce yourself.
And, you know, no means no for that day. It doesn’t mean forever. It means just that minute. So nonetheless, I grew that business. It was called Professional Cleaning Network. We had three offices. Denver, Boulder and Colorado Springs. We had 84 employees when I sold the business, 30 some odd years later.
And we specialized in, commercial high rise buildings, just for the textile cleaning. And so I had a crew that would go out every night and every weekend. We had about 20 guys that would go out about 15 trucks and in a solid business. We also did high end residential and that was awesome. And then we also had a rug cleaning plant, full mo set up in Denver.
And, we did restoration by accident. So I remember I was on a job cleaning and the manager of this big condo complex came in, said, “Hey, do you know how to do water damage restoration?” Sure, “No problem.” You know, never done a job in my life. Never even heard of one before. So I go down and we’re standing in water about two inches deep, and this is back in the mid seventies.
And so I extract the water and I’m looking at it going, what the h**k do you do now? Well, we’re looking at the carpet. It is a nylon carpet, but it’s on jute primary, juts secondary with jut pad, hair jut pad. The smell is overwhelming, you know? And we’re like, we’d better look at what’s under here. And we pull it up and there’s this pad under there that is, oh my god, stinking terribly.
So we pull up carpet and we, pull the pad out and try to lay the carpet back down. Well, in that short period of time, it shrank about an inch all the way around . It was just like, it was really amazing. So, nonetheless, that was my first water damage job. And the second one we figured out, you know what, maybe we need to get air under there.
So we bought some box fans and then we’re like, well, this isn’t gonna work being on top, we gotta go underneath. So we were shoving chairs and chemical bottles and anything you could imagine under there. And a lot of people have heard me tell this story. We used to use a deodorizer that was amazing. It’s called cherry deodorizer.
Well, cherry deodorizer would mask everything, including you, man, you walked around like you smelled like a cherry all day long, you know. It was just incredible. But it was probably the safest product I ever used because then we got into antimicrobials and biocides and various things, and that kind of changed the nature of the game, to say the least.
But, I, good fortune of being interested in education. And, I got very involved in my local association, the PCUCA, and I also, my wife became president of PCUCA and IICUC back in those days, invited 4 associations to come to a meeting in O’Cconell Walk, Wisconsin. And they were doing their convention there.
So, I followed along with her and I sat in the meeting and listened and it was very interesting and good ideas. And the people that were there from CCI and W, and CFI, and PCRA, great people and they’re all gonna join the board along with my wife. And my wife became the secretary, of IICSC for about 10 years.
Well, at the very end of the meeting, there was a gentleman that was running the meeting, who started the organization. His name was Ed York. Well, Ed looked at me and he said, “you’re kind of a useless son of a gun! What are you gonna do?” And I’m like, “I just came along to, watch the action, man.” He said, “Well, I’m gonna make you vice president.”
I’m like, “Why?” He said, “We need somebody to fill that slot.” I’m like, “Great. Be happy to do it.” Well then what happened was about seven months later, he fired the president. He got mad at him cuz he charged beer on his credit card. Well guess who’s vice president? I became president of IICRC. I was 27 years old.
Larry: Yeah, it was like shock. Well, there was an interesting time to say the least. There were 400 certified technicians in IICRC at the time. And they had one certification. And so, this team of Eric Roister and Michael West and Trina Cooper, and I can go on and on with the names, but we started dreaming a little bit about what the industry could look like.
Eric Rossmeister came up with this umbrella idea of all these certification categories and levels that exist today. And that was his brainchild. And then Michael West came up with this idea of Certification Council, where we bring all the instructors and schools together and really share information and start standardizing things.
And, I was president for four years. We went from 400 to 4,000 certified people, but more importantly, we went from having five associations involved to 14. And so we brought the country together, which was a big task. And then I stepped down and I started, the standards committee for IICRC. And that was quite a fun opportunity to meet so many people.
We also were able to take the standards committee and, move it to become an ANSI accredited organization. And so I was really involved in the S 500, 520, 100 and 300, and we started the 600. But you know, it was amazing when I think I did that for 19 years and when I stepped down I was managing about 187 people that were volunteering.
It was phenomenal. Talk about great friendships and Sure, you know, great meetings. It was also challenging as well because when we started getting the scientific community involved in 520, there are a lot of difference of opinions.
Larry: And so that was fascinating. But, the organization, has grown, obviously. It’s done really well. And in 1999, four associations came together and decided to hold a convention jointly instead of everybody doing their own. And we did that in Vegas and it went very well. It was called connections and it took us a year after that to figure out that we ought to keep going.
So the next show was in 2001. And my wife and I, became the management company for the, show. And it was, quite an opportunity. And again, we brought in 14 trade associations. And the show really grew. It was fascinating to have that opportunity to watch the industry grow, but the key thing was we were offering an outstanding education program.
And our goal was always to raise the bar in the industry and bring in the science. Create the science. You know, we made up stuff all the time in standard writing. There’s no question. You gotta put something in writing. So you can challenge it, right? And so we challenged it continuously and it was absolutely fascinating and really enjoyed that opportunity.
And, so for 10 years, we ran the, connections, conferences and conventions. And then in 2011, we actually started The Experience. And so, my whole family’s been involved in, producing The Experience. And, it has grown, tremendously and we’re really known for that word experience, which has to do with hands-on learning.
It’s so critical, obviously. And that’s how I learned. So I assumed everybody else did too. But nonetheless, it’s been a great journey. And you may or may not know, last October, we actually, sold our company to B and P Media, R and R Magazine, and myself and Jennifer, and Jillian have stayed on to help, run the organization with them, teach them as much as we know, and you know, I looked at it after the sale and I was like, I’ve been doing this for 50 years, man. That’s a long time. I’m gonna go find some nice beaches. So I’ve been doing that too.
Also, if you are thinking about attending The Experience Conference & Exhibition, May 8-10 at the Broward Convention Center in Ft. Lauderdale use code “IRONDC” to get $30 off your full registration.
By the way, Ironclad’s very own Benjamin Ricciardi will be doing a presentation at the conference, details coming soon.
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Benjamin Ricciardi is the founder of Ironclad Restoration Marketing, A digital marketing agency that specializes in the Restoration and Cleaning industry based in South Florida. Benjamin is the author of The No Bulls**t Guide to Internet Marketing for Restoration Contractors and hosts The Restoration Rundown Podcast, a podcast that is focused on everything related to marketing and owning a Restoration and Cleaning Business. Connect with Benjamin and Ironclad Restoration Marketing on social media for the latest tips and tricks on how to grow your Restoration Business.