Vail Valley’s SteamMaster celebrating 45 years |

Vail Valley’s SteamMaster celebrating 45 years

A crew from SteamMaster Cleaning and Restoration works to install a vapor barrier and do mold remediation in a local home. SteamMaster this year is celebrating its 45th anniversary.
Raj Manickam/courtesy photo

Forty-five years ago, Gary Gilman was looking for a way to support his ski habit. He found it, and more, by creating SteamMaster Cleaning and Restoration.

Gilman after all these years is easing his way out of the company, now owned by CEO Raj Manickam and President Matt Monica. Julie Gilman is still running the office.

Gilman was a student at the University of Colorado Boulder in the late 1970s. He came to Vail “for a year.” That year, the 1977-1978 season, Vail got about 500 inches of total snowfall, and Gilman decided to stick around.

After a winter of working in Vail Village, Gilman and a friend decided to rent a carpet cleaning machine when they learned the only company in town was booked out for the next three months.

The partnership didn’t last, but Gilman decided he’d stay in Vail. A loan from his parents helped him buy a van and a truck-mounted cleaning machine. It was the first such machine in the valley.

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As SteamMaster became more known in the still-small town, Gilman got a call one Sunday afternoon from a client who had a burst pipe and a lot of spilled water. The cleaner tank would hold 100 gallons and was pressed into service as a flood restoration machine.

Gilman over the years took plenty of deliberate steps, joining an industry association to keep current with techniques and equipment, including stone cleaning and crawl space lining. But there were some seat-of-the-pants moments.

Raj Manickam left, and SteamMaster founder Gary Gilman.
Daily archive photo

The Gilmans’ East Vail home in 1985 suffered a serious fire. Gilman had been out kayaking for a couple of days and returned to find yellow warning tape around the townhome.

“I thought it was for landscaping, then went around back and saw the roof gone,” Gilman recalled.

Pulling a smoke- and water-damaged sofa from a Dumpster, Gilman got to work trying to save it. The effort sort of worked, and SteamMaster got into the fire restoration business.

Seeking dirty hands

Matt Monica in the 1980s had been working in customer service for a Fortune 500 firm in New York. Like so many others, he fell in love with Vail on a couple of vacations. He moved, and in looking for work, Monica was interested in making a change to a job that gave him a chance to get his hands dirty.

He found it at SteamMaster. He’ll celebrate his 36th anniversary with the firm on Feb. 12.

Monica started as a technician and worked his way up to company president over the years.

Monica noted that many SteamMaster employees have moved up in the company, or used their experience to move up to other jobs.

SteamMaster CEO Raj Manickam, left, and company president Matt Monica.
Courtesy photo

One employee, now 72, has been with the company for 25 years. Another started straight out of Battle Mountain High School.

“When we get the right people (we keep them),” Monica said.

Most of the time, people join SteamMaster the old-fashioned way. That’s not the case with the company’s CEO.

Manickam and Gilman met during a leadership seminar nearly 20 years ago. During the seminar, participants were asked to write a letter to a participant they’d like to keep in touch with in the coming years. Gilman and Manickam wrote to each other, the only participants who did so.

Manickam had recently been demoted at his bank job, but Gilman said he recognized talent in his writing partner.

“I thought, ‘I don’t know what (the bank) is paying this teller, but we can bring him on,” Gilman recalled.

Manickam was soon appointed the company’s CEO — probably before he was ready, Gilman acknowledged — and he and the company founder quickly found productive chemistry.

‘Come fix it’

Before joining the company, Manickam and Gilman kept in touch, with Manickam often offering advice on how to better run the company.

Manickam recalled Gilman once telling him, “You’re always telling me what to do; you come fix it.”

The company has had to evolve over the years, particularly during economic downturns. The company had 49 employees before the national economic slump that began in 2008. The staff is up to 28 or so now.

Parts of the business continued — frozen pipes pay no attention to the stock market —but Gilman had to “right-size” the company.

Manickam recalled there were no across-the-board pay cuts, with pay adjusting according to employees’ needs.

The slower times also put SteamMaster people farther afield than they’d been. From a crawl space liner in Steamboat Springs to a ranch in Wyoming, people went where the work took them. One job took SteamMaster to Texas to clean money soaked in a flood.

“We were laundering money — literally,” Manickam said.

As the business grew and evolved, Gilman offered shares of the company to Monica and Manickam. They eventually bought out their boss after Gilman received an offer to buy the company.

“I told Gary, ‘I’ll pay you that,’” Manickam said. A deal was done shortly after.

These days, Gilman is either marketing SteamMaster on chairlifts or working on a home he owns in Aruba.

Julie is still working in the office, handling dispatch and other jobs.

Manickam said going forward, the company will continue to focus on what’s been handed down from the founders: “trust, truth and integrity.”

There’s also a dedication to continuing the company’s community contributions.

“It’s really rewarding for Julie and I to transition to (these) guys,” Gilman said.

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