From a mom’s passion for cleanliness rose a firm that’s spent four decades taking care of Rockford homes. There’s been plenty of unpredictability over those years, but one thing remains steadfast: a commitment to quality, adaptation and customer service.
From observing her parents, Lisa Campion learned over the years how to become a successful businesswoman. As a kid just starting high school, she watched as her mom, Gail Kelce, opened Kelce & Co. in 1980.
Before long, she even became one of her mom’s first employees.
“I would go into houses, wash walls, clean up whatever needed cleaning,” reflects Campion.
“We had a whole nighttime division where we went into offices after hours and did all the janitorial cleaning. They used to hire me, my friends, my siblings – anyone they could, and we used to drop of flyers at people’s houses door to door,” Campion laughs. “That’s how we did our marketing back then. Things have definitely changed since 1980.”
Today, Kelce & Co. offers carpet cleaning, fire and water damage restoration, and residential and commercial disinfecting. Campion has been the president of the company for about 15 years, continuing her parent’s legacy of treating customers the way you would want to be treated.
“My Dad ran the business in front of the scenes, while my mom ran things behind the scenes,” Campion recalls. “My Dad always instilled in me to show up every day and do the best you can with a smile on your face.”
Kelce & Co. has always provided carpet cleaning services, but flooring has changed tremendously since the company first opened. Staying on top of flooring trends has been critical to the company’s success, Campion says.
“I mean, think of all the surfaces you have in your home. There’s a lot of ceramic tile and grout cleaning. When wood floors became popular, we dove into that market and learned how to clean wood floors. On the restoration side, the chemicals and the tools we use have improved.”
Campion is most proud of learning how to install epoxy floors. Around 18 to 20 years ago, she came across her first epoxy floor that needed repairs in a customer’s garage. Not knowing initially how to tackle that project, she dove headfirst into learning everything she could about epoxy.
“We painted houses all the time since we were in restoration – we painted walls, we painted floors, but we had never done epoxy,” Campion remembers. “But I thought, ‘Oh, we can do epoxy!’ And it was well before YouTube where you could look something up. We quickly figured out that we couldn’t do the job, so we had to hire it out. It was interesting because it was something new in people’s homes back then.”
Campion knew she had to learn and adapt to keep the company on a forward trajectory. So, she took advantage of a brand-new, free training program provided by her company’s supplier. After that, she started doing epoxy floors for friends and family members.
“We made mistakes, got better, and after about two years, we started selling epoxy,” Campion recalls. “It’s now the biggest division of our company. That’s probably the thing I’m most proud of because that was my baby.”
Epoxy has a speckled look to it, which some people love, Campion says. Kelce & Co. can also do more decorative finishes, such as fun metallics that look like marble on the floor, or concrete overlays with flagstone patterns.
“We do pool decks, basements, garages, and we can do very specific coatings for businesses,” Campion says. “We have such a variety of products that we can use. We’re not limited to one specific system.”
Campion emphasizes the importance of communication with customers. Setting appropriate expectations is important to a successful project.
“I consider us a team member with the customer,” she says. “If someone calls us – maybe they need something cleaned, or they need a coating on their garage floor, or they had a fire, whatever it is – I feel like we’re in this together and I’m going to provide them with as much information as they want and share with them how we can get the best results. I think good communication and valuing customers goes so far.”
She also emphasizes the importance of keeping her employees happy.
“Investing in your people is so important,” she says. “We don’t have a lot of staff turnover here. We want our technicians to be able to stay for a really long time.”
Campion sends Kelce & Co.’s technicians to various trainings so that they can obtain certifications that are able to go with them anywhere. In addition to extensive training, she makes sure to provide employees with vacation pay, retirement planning, and 100 percent coverage of health insurance.
“I think that creates happy employees, and that follows through to retain happy customers,” Campion says. “I think that’s why we’ve been successful for 43 years.”
Even though she’s the president of the company, Campion speaks with customers directly all the time. In fact, she gives out her personal cell phone number.
“Sometimes people will call and ask for me, not realizing it’s actually my phone,” Campion laughs. “And I always try to help. Some people call all the time.”
She also isn’t afraid to admit if she makes a mistake.
“There’s value in embracing the learning curve,” she says. “When I was young, I wanted to do things my own way. But honestly, it’s better to talk to people who put the systems in place. Sometimes, people might now respond right away to a customer’s concern because it’s difficult, and it’s easy to bury your head in the sand. But I’ve learned to address it and carry on. The biggest thing is listening to people whose experience before me paved the way.”
Campion used to work for the company as a salesperson until her father decided to retire. Now, her mother is in the process of retiring as well.
“She only comes in one day a week,” Campion says.
The succession plan includes Chris Weeks, a former technician who’s now a part-owner of the company.
“We experienced the growing pains together on developing the epoxy division,” Campion says. “His willingness and ability to take on that challenge made him a great fit. I feel like I come up with ideas and he implements them. That’s what makes us a good team.”
And, as one generation moves on, a new generation is coming up. Campion’s son, Ben, joined the family business back in April of 2021. Besides being a family member, his background in finance makes him a great addition to the team.
“Now that my son is working for us, I feel that it’s truly a homegrown business,” Campion says. “It’s family owned, and we’re always striving to do the right thing – to clean things up the best we possibly can, to provide training for our employees, to make sure the customer gets what they’re paying for and the best possible results. I think that just shows through.”