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Local man spends life savings on new carpet-cleaning business

Collin Smith

Debbie Montgomery had one thing to say when her husband, T.J., was laid off from his job in Wyoming’s oil fields.

“Hurry up and get another job,” T.J. laughed.

But, what?

In this economy?

Is anything out there?

T.J. said he struggled with all these questions.

When it came down to it, though, T.J., now the owner and founder of Yampa Valley Steam Way, discovered he didn’t need anything other than himself to get back to work.

Well, himself and his life savings.

“I plopped all my eggs in one basket and bought a carpet-cleaning business,” he said. “I threw everything into it.”

Yampa Valley Steam Way has its plusses. T.J. can work from home, his overhead isn’t that high and it’s in an industry that seems to be recession-proof.

“Carpet cleaning, everybody needs it done,” he said. “People are also turning to it more. I asked around before I bought the business, and carpet sales have been down lately about 40 percent. You know what that means? Cleaning is up.”

As much as research played into his decision, it was his friends who really pushed his hand.

“They were all excited I was looking to get into this and started talking to people,” T.J. said. “They drummed up enough business to begin with, just from that I decided to go forward with it.”

Before T.J. even bought a vacuum, he had about 20 jobs lined up.

Oil companies may pay well, but their business “went in the toilet,” T.J. said.

Despite that, spending his entire savings on a new business venture in the midst of what has been dubbed America’s Great Recession isn’t entirely comforting.

He’s more or less playing the odds. It took just about everything he had to spare to get the business going, but if 90 percent of the homes and businesses in the area have carpet, he thinks he stands a good chance of getting a sustained return.

Besides, T.J. thinks he has the tools necessary to thrive.

“Absolutely I’m worried,” he said. “But what’s the alternative? There are some people who can be self-employed and be successful with it, if you’re self-motivated, which I think I am. I will do a good job regardless of what it takes.”

Recently, he’s taken to honing his craft.

T.J. has been to two Institute of Inspection Cleaning and Restoration certification classes to train himself on the ins and outs of his new trade.

“I wanted the classes, just for my own knowledge,” T.J. said. “I thought I needed to understand things a little more before I really get started.”

So far, business has been good, he added. Busy on some days, slow on others.

However, perhaps as important as the business’ ability to make money, it allows T.J. to make a living in Craig, a community that not only rallied to find him work, but also is the place he wants his family – Debbie and their two sons – to stay.

“This is going to be weird to say, but if one of my kids came up missing, there are a lot of people I could call for help,” T.J. said.

He hopes to make Yampa Valley Steam Way a local brand, one that expands to meet the demands of its customers but one that concentrates on serving his neighbors: the communities of Craig, Hayden, Meeker and Baggs, Wyo.

“I consider myself part of this community,” T.J. said, “and I want my business to be the same thing.”


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