If it hasn’t been made evident by now, we love people here at AAT! We love hearing about their stories and passions for our community, but we also love hearing about what our fellow locals do and why they do it! For example, we have some wonderful neighbors who own/manager some fantastic local businesses and serve our town tremendously by doing so! This fact is why AAT has partnered up with our good friends at B3 Glass, to bring you all “Small Business Fridays!” Each week, we’ll feature a different, local small business and talk with its owner and hear about their journey, their business in general, as well as their heart for their customers and our city!
One of my (Anthony Crosby) favorite parts of doing these “Small Business Friday” articles is getting to learn things about local businesses. It’s easy to pass a local establishment in my car on the way home, read their storefront sign, and make assumptions about that business’s operations. However, sometimes there’s more to a service than what can be displayed on a four by four building display.
This was one of the lessons I walked away with after having breakfast, and a good conversation, with Lonnie Cunningham of Cunningham Carpet Cleaning. By only reading the name of the business, it would be easy to assume everything someone needs to know about what Lonnie and his staff do. They show up, clean a person’s carpets, and then go home, correct? Well, there’s a little more to it than that!
Lonnie, before we learn more about your business, can you tell us the story of how it came to be? How long have you lived in the Elko area?
“This is home; I’m old Elko. I was born and raised here. My dad was a barber, and my mom had a couple of different businesses around town. I left here once when I was seventeen years old, thinking I was never coming back. I moved to Reno, and I went to school for electrical engineering. In the summer, I would do some work as an electrician. I didn’t quite complete my electrical engineering degree, so I ended up going up to Seattle to work for Boeing Aircraft. I worked in manufacturing, making parts for flight tests for all kinds of aircraft. Once I completed school and got my electrical engineering degree, I became one of seven thousand engineers who worked on the Boeing 777 aircraft. After that, I got into facility automation and did that for a while before Elko started calling my name again. It had been for a while at this point.
“I met my wife while still living in Seattle and told her that if she was going to marry me, Elko was probably where we were going to end up. So, we came down here so she could check it out, and she fell in love with it. So, in 1995, we moved down and have been here ever since. I didn’t have a job when I moved back, but a friend helped me get a job as an electrician out at Cortez [Gold Mine]. After a while, I started working as an engineer for their pipeline project before finally going to work for Newmont [Gold Mine].
“While I was at Newmont, my uncle up in Idaho tried to get me to start a carpet cleaning business here in Elko, but I had no desire to because I knew it was a lot of work. However, he already lined up a van for me in Portland, so we talked about it, decided to do it, and we opened Cunningham Carpet Cleaning in January of 2000 and have been in business ever since!
“I was still working at Newmont when we started, so I would do the carpet cleaning in the evenings and on weekends. After almost three years of doing that, it just started getting too much for me. We had to make a choice. Should we quit? Should we sell it? Should we hire somebody to run it, or should we quit the mine and run it all ourselves? My wife’s words where to jump in and enjoy the journey! So, we’ve jumped, and it’s recently been a journey!”
Are there any other services Cunningham offers the community besides carpet cleaning?
“The easiest thing we do is carpet cleaning. Since we first opened, we’ve expanded into also working with houses that have seen water damage, fire damage, smoke damage, sewage backups, and mold clean up and remediation. Sometimes, we’ll go in and basically deconstruct a house.”
Lonnie, your business will be turning twenty years old next year, and you, yourself, have lived in the Elko Area for most of your life. How do you stay engaged in the lives of the people in the community and your customers? I would imagine, after all this time, it could be tempting for apathy to set in.
“The town has changed a lot over the years, so some people may not know me from Adam. So, I have to establish myself. I go out, meet with our customers, and explain the entire process and the fact that they’re going to have people in their homes. I encourage my team to talk to the people we’re working with; I want them to get to know our customers.”
Finally, Lonnie, can you let the AAT readers know something about your business that they wouldn’t be able to appreciate by merely reading a sign?
“If someone hires us, I have the incentive to do the job well. It’s an incentive that comes from the connections we’ve made over the years here in Elko, which is a gift the town gives. The positive reputation I’ve built over the years, from growing up here with family, working at the mines, and running the business can give customers some peace of mind when I have to come in and tear their house apart. As I continue to be known here in Elko, I hope my reputation stays good because of my morals and for that peace of mind of those letting me into their homes.”
You can stay caught up on everything going on around here at AAT by checking out our “Stay Connected” page! Make sure you never miss a feature!
See you around, Elko!
Written by: Anthony Crosby
Edited by: Nadara Merrill