KILLEEN — Looking at the youthful face of Nicholas Darby, one’s first impression might be that he is a recent high school graduate. One might also observe that he is a far cry from the stereotype of the slovenly male teenager with his impeccably ironed shirt, precision haircut and blindingly white shoes.
Darby is actually a 23-year-old Army veteran who was honorably discharged this month as a specialist promotable after serving six years in the 1st Cavalry Division. And while it is not at all uncommon for a young soldier to get out of the Army and transition into civilian life, it is rare that he has a successful small business waiting for him.
Darby has exactly that as the owner and operator of Pristine Home and Carpet Care, based in Killeen.
“I really jumped right into it,” he said, explaining that what initially got him interested in carpet cleaning was getting a dog. But he was far from satisfied with the results of his first stain-fighting efforts. After he and friend later cleaned a woman’s carpet with a “Rug Doctor” in order to make a few dollars, he was dismayed at those results, too.
“It didn’t look professional at all,” he said, laughing. “She wasn’t really pleased but she paid.”
That’s when he discovered the “powerful piece of equipment” that would become the hallmark of his business — the Rotovac.
“Everyone wants to know what it is and how it works,” Darby said, describing it as “lightweight but durable.” He has invested a significant amount of capital into his company by purchasing the vacuum as well as a trailer that attaches to his truck. Inside he stores large tanks which hold the clean and dirty water as well as a long hose and cleaning chemicals.
“I really got it to look more professional,” he said. The truck-mounted system is self-contained and allows him to do his job more efficiently than when he first began cleaning carpets. “It just makes my job easier.”
Originally from Tusumbia, Ala. — a small town near Huntsville — Darby was “fresh out of high school” when he found himself joining the Army. He chuckles at the memory of his recruiter.
“We were hanging out shooting basketball, being friendly ... next thing I know I’m signing papers and (then) I’m on a bus.”
Calling his younger self “kind of troublesome,” he credits the Army and his unit for helping him mature and grow. “The work ethic was the main thing,” he said, describing the long hours he and his colleagues put in while deployed to Mosul, Iraq, from 2010 to 2011. “I definitely took that with me.”
Although his interest in carpet-cleaning began as a way to make a few dollars, it has become much more than that as word-of-mouth spread and customer satisfaction grew. Darby knows the value of relationships in business and has steadily been meeting people in the Killeen area and gaining recognition. His carpet-cleaning philosophy is simple: “You need three things to clean a carpet really well — hot water, good equipment and good chemicals.”
He has all three of these and strives to make his customers happy. “My main focus now is on customer service ... it’s more of a relationship, it’s more personal,” he said. “I love to take before and after pictures — I show the clients.”
When he was still a soldier, Darby said his days were long, often starting at 5 a.m. for physical training and ending at 10 each night with carpet-cleaning jobs. “Sometimes I’d clean carpets in my military uniform,” he said. “It’s all about time-management ... my phone is always on me.”
He is looking forward to devoting more time to Pristine now that he is a civilian.
“I’ve lost plenty of customers (because of his Army hours),” he said. “I’m ready for move-out season this time.”
LaToya Moon, property manager for Shine Residential Management, calls Darby “very responsible.” She met him about a year ago when he was called at the last minute to clean a rental property’s carpet, and now he works for them regularly.
“We trust him to the utmost and he definitely gets the job done,” she said. “Of all my vendors, I think he may be the most organized and professional.”
Set goals often
Darby is big on goal-setting and doesn’t believe in giving up easily. “You’ve got to set new goals often — I was taught that young,” he said. “If you don’t meet (a particular) goal, set another one.”
To other young business-owners, his advice is simple: “Do NOT give up ... it’s tough and it never gets easier.” But he stressed that being an entrepreneur is also rewarding and satisfying.
As for his own long-term goals, he hopes get into the real estate business and in 10 years to have Pristine be a “household name.” In the more immediate future, Darby is planning to attend Central Texas College to study real estate and business management.
Another goal is to begin hiring employees for Pristine, which he is hoping to do this year. He admitted that running a business by himself can be tiring. “When I finally get to lie down, it’s the best feeling ever,” he said, adding that monthly visits to his chiropractor and masseuse will definitely be happening.
Pristine was voted Best Carpet Cleaning business in Central Texas in the 2015 Killeen Daily Herald Readers’ Poll. Clearly this is a young entrepreneur who knows what he’s doing. And he appreciates all the kudos. But Darby truly just wants to make his customers’ carpets look and smell “brand-new” again. “It’s the peace of knowing that something’s clean,” he said. “That’s the feeling I love to give.”