Franchise allows former accountant to vent

While dryer vent cleaning may not be top of mind, Dean Culver, who recently expanded his Dryer Vent Wizard franchise to the Madison area, says regular maintenance is critical to reducing utility costs and preventing devastating fires.

If you wanted to rank to the most powerful fictional wizards, you’d probably have Merlin, Gandalf, Dumbledore, and Glinda the Good Witch at the top of your list in some order.

But for a different kind of magic — and one rooted fully in reality — look no further than Dean Culver, the Dryer Vent Wizard.

Culver’s sorcery is so good, in fact, he takes care of a problem many home and business owners don’t even know they have — clogged dryer vents that can increase utility bills, decrease the lifespan of a dryer, and even result in devastating fires.

Culver started the business five years ago in Waukesha when he purchased a Dryer Vent Wizard franchise and set up shop as Dryer Vent Wizard of SE Wisconsin. Now he’s entering the Madison market after purchasing the Madison territory and installing his son, Dayton, 24, as the area technician.

Dryer vent cleaning wasn’t a lifelong pursuit for Culver prior to July 2013, however. With an associate degree in accounting, and a Bachelor of Arts in management and communication, Culver was a restaurant manager for Red Lobster, the founder and director of a nonprofit organization that helped teenagers, and worked in the accounting industry for nearly 20 years.

“After losing my last job, I started looking for a new position in accounting, doing the same thing I had been doing for 20 years,” Culver explains. “As I was searching, I realized I wanted to do something different that I could make my own. I connected with a franchise consultant and we began to figure out what business would be a good fit for me. I wanted to work out of my home, I wanted to have interaction with customers, and I wanted something that could grow.”

After narrowing it down to three businesses, Culver sat down with his wife. Without hesitation, she said, “Dryer Vent Wizard, for sure.” After being married for more than 20 years, he admittedly knew better that to second guess her, so Dryer Vent Wizard was the choice.

Since then all four of Culver’s sons — ages 20, 22, 24, and 27 years old — have played a role in the growth of the business. During the summer, his two younger sons might do some work for him cleaning multifamily units. His oldest son has since moved to Colorado to work for a tech company.

It’s son Dayton who has a real future with the company, however. Planning to retire within the next 10 years, it’s Dayton who will take over ownership of the franchise from Culver. He’ll have some big shoes to fill.

“I work as the accountant, the marketing director, public relations, lead technician, human resources, and an all-around gopher,” notes Culver of his role with the business. “I work in both the field and the office, but my goal is to be more in the office, driving business.”

And business is good. Culver employs two full-time employees and one part-time worker. During the summer, he hires between four and six part-time employees. Last year, Culver’s gross income was $236,000. This year, he expects that number to grow by at least 25% as he and Dayton develop the newly acquired Madison territory.

“When I bought my first territory near Milwaukee, my goal was to purchase a second territory by year five,” says Culver. “Now, I am going into my fifth year as a Dryer Vent Wizard owner, and my son Dayton moved to Madison from Colorado last year. It just seemed like this was the right time. I chose Madison because it is a thriving area and is underserved when it comes to dryer vent services.”

The hottest growth industry is … lint?

If you rarely clean the lint out of your pockets, just think about how much lint accumulates in uncleaned dryer vents. It adds up to a surprisingly booming industry.

Nationally, Dryer Vent Wizard was the first company to exclusively focus on cleaning and maintaining dryer vents, notes Culver. It has become a $20 billion industry.

“Based on what I am seeing, I believe this industry will continue to grow, especially as people become more educated about the dangers of dryer fires and the importance of having regular dryer vent maintenance,” Culver explains.

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This year, Culver is seeing multifamily apartment units calling him for projects that he submitted proposals for two years ago, finally saying they want to move forward. “I think tax relief from the tax overhaul on the federal level and here in Wisconsin is a big contributor. Insurance companies are also inspecting some of these properties and requiring them to bring the dryer vents up to code.”

Culver says Dryer Vent Wizard of SE Wisconsin sees a fairly even split between commercial and residential customers, and he puts a lot of effort into getting commercial units, meaning multiunit apartments and condos.

“We [also] service many businesses, including hair salons, doggy day cares, pet stores, spas, and doctors’ offices,” Culver notes.

Unless you’re an appliance aficionado, you might not realize dryer manufacturers recommend having dryer vents cleaned at least once per year. Cleaner dryer vents certainly don’t help the manufacturers’ business, since well-maintained vents prolong the life of a dryer. Rather, it’s a significant safety concern, albeit one that’s not often top of mind, that drives the push for regular maintenance.

“The most important reason to clean dryer vents is fire prevention,” says Culver. “Lint buildup can catch fire and spread to your house. If your dryer vents are not cleaned regularly, the dryer will have to work twice as hard to dry the clothes. This adds utility costs, as well as premature wear and tear on your dryer.”

Typically, customers can't even remember the last time they had their dryer vents cleaned, notes Culver. For those that do, it’s usually been five or 10 years since the last cleaning.

“The first question I ask them is, ‘What issues are you having with your dryer?’” says Culver. “I want to know the issues that are frustrating them, so that I can make sure those get corrected.”

Dryer Vent Wizard uses a 10-point checklist to help determine what work needs to be done. Culver says technicians check to see if the vent system is code compliant and if it is set up correctly. “If necessary, we might recommend an alternative route for the vent. We present the homeowner with a proposal and, once it’s approved, we do the work the same visit, so there is no need to schedule another appointment.”

Visits typically take between 1.5 and 2.5 hours to complete. More often than not, Culver explains, the vent system needs more than just a cleaning, and although all service calls start at $39, the cost of a visit can vary based on the location of the vent and where it terminates out to, meaning the roof, side of house, or ground level.

As for what Culver and his technicians pull out of vents when they’re being cleaned? “We see jewelry, money, those little plastic things that go in a man’s dress shirt collar, and sometimes even rodents and birds — both dead and alive.”

The sheer amount of accumulated lint and other debris pulled out of dryer vents can really vary depending on the number of laundry loads a person does in an average week. However, Culver says it is not uncommon to fill a plastic grocery bag with lint. “On more than one occasion the homeowner has actually taken a picture of all of the lint we removed so they could show their spouse.”

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