Lauren Spaulding, founder and CEO of Spaulding Decon, with cleanup crew employees. Photograph by Alfonso Duran
After responding to a homicide in 2005, former Kansas City, Missouri, patrol officer Laura Spaulding was asked a tough question. The mother of the victim wanted to know when someone would be back to clean up the mess.
“I’d never been asked that before,” says Spaulding. Her fellow officers said victims’ next of kin usually had to take care of cleanup themselves. “I was like, ‘Oh, my god, this is horrible,'” she says.
Spaulding was already looking for a career change and had just gotten her MBA through night school at Baker University in Kansas. That 2005 murder was the aha! moment she needed to start her own business: crime-scene cleanup.
There was just one problem: She needed to figure out how to get the money to launch the business.
Four banks told Spaulding they weren’t interested in her business plan. She suspected misogyny: Two of Spaulding’s fellow grads from crime-scene cleanup training didn’t experience the same issues when applying, even though all three of them had business degrees, similar income levels, no debt, and great credit. In fact, Spaulding may have even been a better candidate because she didn’t have a family to support.
But both men went to banks with their business plans and walked out with the cash, Spaulding says. “We compared notes … I thought, ‘Wow there’s definitely some discrimination going on.'”
So Spaulding got crafty. She told the fifth bank she needed a home equity loan to replace her windows–and walked away with $15,000 to start her business. “I never got windows,” Spaulding says. But she did spend the next 15 years renovating other people’s homes as founder and CEO of her crime-scene cleanup business, Spaulding Decon.
Was what she did legal? “I don’t care,” she says. Maybe not, but the strategic ruse has definitely paid off: Tampa-based Spaulding Decon has 37 franchises across the country, and earned the rank of No. 784 on the 2020 Inc. 5000 list with $4.5 million in 2019 revenue and 608 percent three-year growth. The company’s 2021 revenue is projected to be $10 million, and it has even launched a new business vertical–real estate. You can sell your dirty (potentially traumatically-so) home to them, and they’ll clean it and flip it.
The company has even gained some fame on top of its fortune: Spaulding Decon hosts a YouTube reality show that’s raked in more than 41 million views since 2019, and launched a TikTok in July 2020 that now has 3.8 million followers. You can watch employees at Spaulding franchises across the country handle the most extreme messes–from severe insect infestations to hoarder lairs to meth labs.
“People are curious about things they don’t understand,” Spaulding says, citing more tales of home cleanup that are not for the weak-stomached. “And everyone is curious about death.”
Morbid curiosity aside, the need for the company’s work is pretty straightforward. “It’s something that no one wants to do. And it’s something that no one should do if they’re related to the person,” Spaulding says.
From the May/June 2021 issue of Inc. Magazine