Luv-a-Rug Services is a rug cleaning business in Greater Victoria that specializes in returning rugs to their original glory so that their owners can fall in love with them all over again. We sat down with Luv-a-Rug owner, Stephen “Dusty” Roberts to discuss how he began and what makes his business unique.
What is Luv-a-Rug and what is your mission?
“Well, Luv a Rug is about love–it’s about love for textiles. Our mission really is to reconnect people back to the original reason why you acquired the rug. You acquired it because you loved it. Now you may have in fact inherited, maybe from your grandma, great-grandmother, mother, another family member. Maybe you got it on your travels, it’s that special thing that you bought in Morocco. Or maybe heck, maybe it’s just that perfect rug that you found at Walmart. It just happens to fit your decor. The point is, when you acquired the rug, you absolutely loved it. It was going to be perfect for the setting in your home. The right size, the right texture, the right colour, the right pattern. I mean, you fell in love with it.
Well after a while, after it gets walked on, stomped on, spilled on–maybe Fido peed on it–it’s not quite as loveable. You kind of fall out of love. It’s really our mission to help you to fall in love with the rug all over again. As a matter of fact, we guarantee it.”
Can you tell me a little bit about the history of Luv-a-Rug and how you got started?
“I got started when I was really young, about ten years old, working with my daddy. My dad worked for the dockyard and he had more mouths to feed than money, so he was always trying out other jobs.”
One of these jobs Dusty’s dad did on the side was selling vacuum cleaners and shampooers. He would demonstrate to clients who had long, golden harvest shag carpets how the shampooer worked by cleaning ten square feet.
“The truth is, the way my dad was cleaning–and he was doing the best job he could–was quite frankly just smearing shampoo around. Shag carpet is very thick, so there’s a lot of space to rearrange dirt. So he was never really getting it clean, but that’s how we got started in cleaning carpets.”
Dusty still remembers him and his dad’s first paid cleaning job. His father told him that he’d pay Dusty a bit of money to help deliver flyers in mailboxes around Colwood.
“The first job we got was one where I had put the flyer in the mailbox. I was really proud. I still remember, it was Mrs. Day on Pickford in Colwood. She showed me all the rooms of her home, carpeted everywhere, except for the living room…wall to wall golden harvest shag. But in the living room, there was a thick, plush area rug on a hardwood floor. She purposely said to my dad,
‘I don’t want you to clean my Indian rug.’”
Dusty was confused about why they couldn’t clean the rug. His dad told him that only a specialist that understands expensive wool rugs should clean them. This is what sparked his interest in rug cleaning.
“Fast forward twenty years later, mid-80s, I was looking for something to do. I was in my mid-20s then and I was looking for something that I should do with my life. And my daddy, he offered me a carpet cleaning machine, because he had stopped cleaning carpets. There was a recession in the early 80s that absolutely decimated him and he went back to work for the dockyard. He had this whole carpet cleaning machine, and he said to me,
‘Somebody could make a really good business out of this.’
And that’s how I started, doing carpet cleaning. I did that for a good ten years and I built it up to actually be a really good company. We had quite a few people working for us and I actually brought in my dad as my business partner. But after ten years of that, I realized I had a passion for the Oriental rugs. That’s where I broke off and started a company called Lug–L U G–Lug a Rug services incorporated. And well, the rest is history.
Why did you end up changing the company name to the Luv-a-Rug we know today?
“Well we changed it from lug to luv because we knew the name better reflected our passion. Now, I didn’t know this at the time.”
“I had a few incidents where I’d have people who’d come in from really good addresses like Broadmead, Uplands, Beach Drive, and Dallas Road. I know those people had really good rugs in their homes, but they were bringing me their cheaper rugs, not their really really good rugs. I thought that was weird, but maybe they weren’t dirty.”
“I had one client, I think she lived on Beach Drive. She brought her rugs in, but there were no good ones. The next day, I get a call from a Persian rug dealer on Fort Street and he says,
‘I have a bunch of rugs here that need to be cleaned.’
I go down to Fort street and–get this–the name on the rugs was the same lady that dropped off her fair-to-midland rugs to me the day before. And I’m going, what the heck? What’s going on here? Obviously she doesn’t trust me with her rugs, but why? It still wasn’t computing.”
“A few days later I got a call from a really well known designer that commands the very highest prices in Canada. And she goes,
‘Dusty, I need you to come pick up these rugs. I need you at 10:45am to come to this address and pick up these rugs. Don’t be early, don’t be late.’
No problem, it’s a designer right? They’re really hard to please, but hey, you know what, she says be there at 10:45, I was there at 10:45. So I get in, I’m rolling up all the rugs, and the designer tells me I have to hurry. I’m like what’s the big hurry? And she goes,
‘oh, I don’t want my customer to see you. She said specifically that she doesn’t want Lug a Rug to clean my rugs.’”
“But the designer said,
‘Dusty, I know you’re the best. You do my rugs. You take care of all kinds of people. I know you’re the best. But we’ll just keep this a secret that you’re doing the rugs. Because I trust you, I don’t trust anybody else to clean rugs in this town.’
And I asked her, I said well what’s wrong? Why doesn’t she like me?
And she goes, ‘It’s your name! Your company name! It’s a terrible name.’
That hit me hard, because you get really attached to your company name, and that’s a personal attack when someone criticizes the name of your company. I was mortified. But I guess maybe I was also smart enough to listen. And it got me thinking.”
“A couple days later, I got a call from a fella and he told me that a big name in carpet cleaning in town recommended that I clean his rugs. So I go to pick up his rugs, picking up from this older gentleman out in North Saanich.
And he said to me,
‘Normally I would’ve never called you to take care of my rugs. Because you have a terrible name.’
‘really? I keep on hearing this. You know, I think I’m going to have to change my company name.’
And he goes,
‘I have the perfect solution for you. Change the G to a V and it’ll change everything.’
“And he was right, it was amazing. The difference was, as soon as we started trading under the Luv a Rug name, people started to trust us with really good rugs. It happened over night–it was really amazing. So names are really important.”
How do you think Luv a Rug positively impacts the community?
“I’d love to talk about that. You know, there was a guy on Youtube and my business partner, Andre, he told me, “you gotta listen to this guy, I think this guy has got something here.”
I listened to him–his name was Simon Sinek. I’m sure a lot of people have heard of him. And he was talking about some really weird stuff. He was talking about, you’ve gotta find what your bigger reason is. He says that all these companies that have incredible brand names, they have really really great reasons. They know what they’re about. They have a deeper reason. He kept talking about this deeper reason, and it was not quite hitting it for me. I wasn’t quite getting it.”
“It took me a little while, because I kept asking myself, what is your bigger reason? What is the bigger reason for Luv a Rug? Yeah we clean rugs, we restore rugs. But it got me really thinking more and more about it and I thought well, our bigger reason was to connect people to the artform of weaving rugs. And not just the art form, but the people that actually weave rugs. That’s true.
“That’s a really big reason: to connect people to well, who wove that rug? Who put that rug together? What were they like? What was important to those people? Their culture, their religion, their families–it’s all woven in one knot at a time. They weave their life into a rug. While they’re weaving, they can have great joy in their lives or they can have terrible tragedies–births and deaths. There’s lot’s of happy laughter as the women are weaving them, because primarily women weave these rugs. Often it’s the mother, the grandmother, and the daughter altogether, sitting there, maybe drinking their tea and they’re weaving. Chatting. Gossiping. And that’s pretty cool. It’s an art form.”
“That was a bigger reason, but it got me thinking a little bit more. That’s really good, but I thought maybe there’s more to it than that. And I realized, there is a bigger reason than that even. And the bigger reason, well, it’s all in our name–love. We can show our love for our community, and so that’s what has really become a big deal for us to look for ways to give back to the community.”
“The truth is, our business is healthy. We have amazing local support, it’s off the charts. This business is fantastic. And it gives us an opportunity to give back, so we look for ways to do that.”
“As I started to discover that maybe we could give back more to the community, I realized we were already giving back and I didn’t even really realize it. Because what was happening is often, I have people coming in with rugs to be washed, and they go, ‘this rug here, I want you to wash it too, and I’m going to give it to charity.’
And I was saying,
‘hey, don’t worry about the cost on that one. We’ll do that one for free.’
So, we were always doing it, to a limited degree but we weren’t getting the message out there.”
Dusty and his team then made it their mission to start cleaning more donated rugs for free and giving them to charities like Habitat for Humanity and their ReStore program, as well as Women in Need.
“Often we give rugs directly to refugees…now, you gotta understand, often these families come in–they’re big families, and they don’t fit into apartments. So it’s often into a house with a big basement suite. Well basements in Victoria are cold! Coming from a place like Syria or Sub-Saharan Africa, it’s really cold. And they need rugs. So we’re happy to give them these rugs that have been donated by the customer. We do the washing–don’t charge anybody for it. And then we give it to charity.”
“I have a favourite story about a refugee family who came in to pick up their rug. I got a call from one of the directors of an organization in town, and he asked if I had any rugs for a refugee family in need. He goes,
‘I have a family–there’s five kids and a grandmother.’
I said ‘send them down!’
They came in, and they were from Eritrea. I found out really quickly that those kids had never actually lived in Eritrea. They were all born in refugee camps. And they had no mother, and they had no father. The oldest daughter was I think twenty years old. And the grandma–I’m not sure how old she was–she was probably seventy-five years old anyhow, and she was in a wheelchair. And boy, she ruled those kids. They did everything she said. She was running that family. But they were really excited to be picking up their rugs for their new Canadian home. You know, it really struck me in that moment just how proud I am of my country that we can accept people that somebody else might call losers. I don’t call them losers. We accept them because they deserve to have a country like Canada to live in. So I was so proud to be part of that and give rugs to refugees or other places.”
“We always look for ways to give back. That really makes us feel better about what we do. And not just me, being the owner, but for the rest of the team. I know my team is really proud of what we do in giving back to the community. And we all have a sense of what our bigger reason is. Our bigger reason is to love our community in practical ways.”
What type of values are important for your workplace culture? Can you tell me a little bit about what it’s like to work for Luv-a-Rug?
“So staff–we call them team members and we mean it. It’s easy to say stuff like that –‘part of the team’–in words only. But it’s important that we operate as a team. I am the team lead, but we have to have a two-way street. This is my team too.”
Dusty explains that one of the biggest things Luv-a-Rug did that made their team stronger was give all their members a full benefits package.
“Back in 1996, I only had one employee. I’d already gone ten years of being a business owner and having tremendous turn-around in staff. It was really hard to keep the staff working. They’d be here today and gone tomorrow. But I realized that we had to do better, we had to be a better place so that when that young fella–let’s face it, young fellas, that’s who works for us. This is a very physical job so we need to have strong, young fellas working here. But we wanted to make sure that they could be proud when they went home. Maybe when they’re having Christmas dinner with their family and their uncle or their grandpa says,
‘Hey Joe, so what are you doing now? What’s your job?’
We want them to be proud of their job and say,
‘I get paid really well and I get benefits.’
So that was the thing I did that was the big deal–I made sure, right from the get-go, we got a full benefits package. It’s the most robust one I can get, and I’ve upgraded a couple times since. The company pays 100% for it. There’s none of this 50% or 60% or 70%–it’s 100% and I’m so proud that we do that.”
“And you know what, it pays off. Because gosh, the first guy I hired, he’s still here 28 years later. We have another fella, he’s been here for 24 years. All our staff are long-term and have been here for a very long time. I like to think it’s because we’re generous, because we have this full benefit package. And I don’t think there’s many other companies out there, especially in our field, that are willing to do that. And that really helps a lot, keeping your staff. You need to have that continuity in your staff. So that is really important here.”
Dusty also says that it’s important for the team to be able to have their voices heard.
“It’s cheap work for me to say that we’re the best. It’s easy–anybody can say that. But the way that we make that factual, is we empower all our staff. Even the new guy on the team always has the right to say this isn’t good enough. We can do better. So if we’re somewhere in the cleaning process, and it’s not coming out that great, any of my staff can say it’s not good enough!”
If someone had never heard of Luv a Rug before, what is one thing you wish you could tell them?
“I’d say, the way we really stand out, is we’re real. We are a real rug washing company, we’re not a carpet cleaner. That is really something we want people to understand. We’re not going over your rug with a carpet cleaning machine. We are literally a laundry for rugs. We wash rugs. And we’re proud that we wash rugs one at a time, individually. We never, ever wash a rug in a tub with anybody else’s rug. We never use the same water, our cleaning solution is always fresh. And we feel that anybody who does that, anybody who washes in a tub, puts other rugs in the tub, wash them in the same cleaner–they’re cheap. That is dishonest. We only do it the right honest way.”
What makes Luv-a-Rug unique? What sets you apart from the competition?
“One of the things about Luv a Rug is we truly are different in what we do here. I’ll say it again–we’re not carpet cleaners, we’re rug washers. We wash rugs properly and we do them honestly. We use a lot of water, but we do it properly. And you know, one of the most popular questions I get from prospective clients, they call or text, is they want to know how do you clean my rug? That’s a good question, you know, people should be concerned. How do you do this? Is it done properly? It’s really easy for any of my competition to be able to say well, we wash rugs. They can say whatever they want. They can say that’s the truth. Maybe they think carpet cleaning with a carpet cleaning machine is washing. So they lead the prospective client astray.”
“And you know, that’s always really bothered me, so when we moved into this location 8 years ago, we decided that whenever a client asked how we cleaned our rugs, we would say,
‘Well when you come in, we’ll show you. We’ll take you on the walk and we’ll show you that we are a real rug washing company.’
And that was fantastic, up until about two years ago with a thing called Covid. We couldn’t have people coming in anymore. I couldn’t prove that we were real anymore.”
“Webcam was next. By the way, it wasn’t that easy to set up. Nothing is easy when it comes to technology. Anyway, we have a phenomenally stable platform now, and everybody can actually drop in and take a look and see us washing rugs. Individually, one at a time, not in a tub, not with anybody else’s rugs. Doing them honestly, ethically, getting them cleaned up and beautiful so that the client at the end of the day will fall in love with their rug all over again. So that’s what the webcam is all about and it worked out phenomenally well. We have a big audience on there, all the time. We get people from all over the world on there watching my poor guys wash rugs.”
What advice do you have for other business owners?
“Our USP–unique selling proposition–is, in fact, that we promise that you’ll fall in love with your rugs all over again. I gotta tell ya, that took a long time to come. And this was really interesting, as much as I tried, I didn’t get it. But your ears–you’ve got two of those. Listen. I found our USP because my customers said,
‘Dusty, I’m falling in love with my rug all over again.’
So it’s important to have a powerful USP. Listen to your customers if you don’t have one, because maybe, they’ll give it to you.”
Where would you like to see Luv-a-Rug go in the future?
“We know we’re the best at what we do. We absolutely know. There’s nobody that can clean a rug better than Luv a Rug properly in all of Canada. We’re definitely leaders and I actually coach other people around the world. We know that nobody can wash a rug, or repair a rug, or know a rug like we do. But that’s not good enough, that’s nowhere near good enough. Because, I hate to tell you this, I hate to admit it. But washing rugs is an imperfect science. So there’s room for improvement. We’re always pushing that boundary. How can we do an even better job than last time? Or last month? Or last week? Or yesterday? What can we do? How can we do a better job in the finished product and in the actual service?”
“And we struggle with the service, I’ll admit it. You know, we had supply chain issues too. Bottom line is, we’re just insanely busy, and have a very small footprint. So actually right now, we are looking for a new building. As a matter of fact, my dream here is to have a bigger building, about twice as big, and to be set up so that my automatic rug washing equipment has space. I’ve had some of that equipment in storage for a couple of decades now. It’s incredible machinery, and for rugs like the school rugs or the rugs we’re doing for charity, they’re fine to go through the automatic machine. Now a fussier Persian rug, we’re still always going to hand wash it. But there are some rugs that can go through the automatic machine which means that we can do more charity work. We want to do more charity work. It makes us feel good. We love it. So that’s our dream.”
What do you think Think Local First members can do more of?
“I have really strong feelings about shopping local. It’s really important to me”
“Our business is not affected by someone going on Amazon or going to Costco or Walmart and shopping. No worries–people are going to come to us anyhow…the thing is, people can’t go shopping at Walmart, or Costco, or Amazon, to get my type of service. Not going to happen. So our business doesn’t really quite fit in with this. You know, I don’t need the Shop Local, Think Local program in my business. We’re healthy anyhow. But I really wanted to get involved because I really wanted to show support for other small businesses in town.”
“But the bottom line is, I cut up my Costco card. No Costco for me. I wish I could say that I have completely stopped shopping on Amazon–truth is, there’s one thing I have to get on there and when I say I have to, I mean I really have to. I have no choice in the matter, it’s the only place I can get this particular cleaner that I use in my business. But I really, really have been trying hard to find it somewhere else, even if I have to shop from another online supplier. But I want to shop as locally as possible.”
“I mean, it might be inconvenient for you to shop locally. It might be slower, or it might be frustrating. But you know what, if you’re asking your customers to shop local with you, and you’re shopping at Costco or going to Amazon, well, what can I say? It’s not good, it’s really bad for local business. So you’ve got to start by example. So cut up the Costco card–done…No more clicking for me.”
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
“Sometimes it’s not really that obvious what you can do to give back. Maybe you have a service company that does things like us or maybe you sell products. But if you don’t have the answer for how to support a cause that you really believe in, just ask yourself the question, what can my company do to give back to my community?”
“As of lately, in terms of all the rugs that we wash for charity, we’re now asking the client if they want to have it sold for Ukraine relief. So I communicated with the Ukrainian cultural centre, and what we’re doing is providing rugs for garage sales that are donating the proceeds to Ukrainian relief. We wash the rug and then we make sure it goes onto the charity that needs it. So right now, obviously, the big need in the world is helping with humanitarian relief for the Ukrainian people.”
“Us, as a small company, know that we should do more rug washing for free. We’re so small so we can’t do a ton, but we’re doing as much charity work as we possibly can. Washing the rugs, and then they’re going to go to help with Ukrainian relief. So I guess what I’m saying to people here, if you have something you do–a skill, product–ask yourself the question, what can I do to give back with my business?”