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Brandon Kirk, as his Instagram page states, is a business owner, mentor, speaker, networker and nerd.

He’s also, as of last month, the Pikes Peak region’s 2021 Small Business Person of the Year; the honor was presented at the ninth annual Small Business Week Awards, hosted by the Better Business Bureau of Southern Colorado and the Pikes Peak Small Business Development Center. At the time, Kirk was owner of Hydro Clean Carpet Cleaning and Planet Duct, an air duct cleaning company; he has since sold Hydro Clean to focus on the faster-growing Planet Duct.

“We’re scaling 10 times faster than we did with Hydro Clean,” he says. “That’s because I learned all my mistakes scaling Hydro Clean and we’re not repeating those mistakes.”

Which is not to say Hydro Clean has been standing still — far from it. Kirk bought the business from a friend in 2011, and at the time, “it was just one little van, one little truck-mounted carpet cleaning machine, and every year we just kept adding on more machines and more staff. 2019 was our first million-dollar year. We beat that in 2020 even with COVID.”

So why sell? “I’m so busy, my bandwidth is exceeded,” Kirk says. “It’s too much to run two full companies. I wanted to narrow my focus and really concentrate on building Planet Duct, and let somebody else, with more time and more energy, handle Hydro Clean.”

That somebody else is Ryan Jackowiak, owner of EE Cleaning. EE was already offering carpet cleaning as one of its services; now Hydro Clean will live on as a subsidiary of EE.

“I’ve known Brandon for probably 10 years now,” Jackowiak says. “Keeping his legacy and his mark on what he has done in the industry was really important to me.”

Despite being in the same business, Jackowiak considers Kirk a friend and a mentor — never a competitor.

“Brandon says if we all just work together, we create greatness within ourselves and within our community and within our industry.”

A salesperson at heart

Kirk, 50, grew up in Yuma, Ariz.; his dad was a Marine combat aviator stationed in Yuma. It was there that Kirk’s longtime passion for sales began.

“When I was a kid, I loved sales,” he says. “I did sales for the Boy Scouts for Scout-O-Rama and stuff like that and sold a ridiculous amount of tickets going after my target audience, which was the retirees, what we called the snowbirds. They loved buying Scout-O-Rama tickets.”

In high school, he was a member of DECA (formerly Distributive Education Clubs of America), a nonprofit that prepares “young leaders and entrepreneurs” in marketing, finance, management and more.

“That was my jam,” Kirk says. “I thought, ‘This is pretty cool.'”

Kirk has lived in Colorado since 2005, but he also lived in the Springs before, from 1991 to 2001, a decade he spent in wireless sales. In early 2001, ready for a change, he moved to Las Vegas.  He was working for AT&T, with most of his salary based on commission, when terrorists stuck the nation on Sept. 11. The city of Las Vegas essentially shut down, as did his source of income. “We lost everything. … We pretty much ended up homeless.”

He made his way back to Yuma, where he worked on vehicle and weapons system testing at the Army Yuma Proving Grounds.

“I started in data acquisition, taking test data on vehicle and weapons testing, and then within four or four months I had 14 technical writers working underneath me. I got to drive tanks, I got to blow things up. … Whenever a new concept vehicle came out, we would put it through its paces.”

That included the Stryker combat vehicle. “We took it from concept vehicle to field and combat within 18 months,” he says.

Eventually, though, he no longer wanted to work for the government. Back in Colorado Springs, he and his brother started Colorado Handgun Safety.

In addition to teaching gun safety classes on nights and weekends, Kirk attended night classes at Colorado Technical University, where he went on to earn a bachelors degree in project management. But that still left his days free.

“I thought, I had all this free time and wanted another revenue stream.” Thus came the deal to buy Hydro Clean.

He started Planet Duct in 2019.

“I wanted to do the air duct cleaning for a long time,” he says. “It’s a complementary business; we’re already in people’s homes and we’re there to clean.”

But if he was going to add that business, he says, he wanted to do it right. Some carpet cleaning companies claim to do air duct cleaning, he says, but they simply use a carpet-cleaning van to clean the ventilation system, “and that’s not how it’s supposed to be done. It’s not powerful enough; they’re not getting all the contaminants out.”

So he invested in the right equipment and the right training, including spending a week in Michigan with what he believes is the best air duct cleaning company in the country, “and then came back and just went crazy with it.”

Kirk envisions a bright future for Planet Duct. “I see us expanding north into Denver; we’re already doing some business there,” he says. He’s also expanding Planet Duct’s menu of services, such as internal air duct sealing, which adds to the efficiency of the HVAC system.

He attributes the success of Hydro Clean and Planet Duct to a commitment to excellent service and “the fact that we do a lot of networking. We do a ton of networking. We’re in multiple chambers.”

The area’s “amazing networking environment” helps make the Colorado Springs business environment “a very good one,” Kirk says. And while some lament growth, he’s a fan. He has an eye on the growth to the east of the Springs; with that development comes more homes and businesses in need of cleaning.

He shares that positive view when he speaks at area high schools. “I want young people to learn about entrepreneurship and learn they can own their business, they can basically chart their own path. I recognize that college is not for everybody, its not always the best fit. But if you get into trade schools, you can make more money in the trades than you can as a doctor or a lawyer now, with less liability and no student debt.”

One lesson he teaches: Don’t be afraid to fail.

“Failure is a great teacher,” he says, “as long as you fail forward and you learn from your mistakes.”

When not running businesses or talking about businesses, he may be indulging in his “nerd passions.” His full name is Brandon James Kirk; the name James Kirk, of course, is a revered one to “Star Trek” fans. So perhaps it was inevitable that Kirk would become a sci-fi fan; his office has such treasures as a Captain America shield, action figures, a “Star Wars” poster, a Power Rangers helmet and more. His Planet Duct business card contains his full name, followed by “Captain.”

His wife is an artist; they have a son who used to be vice president of Hydro Clean and now is a truck driver for a local construction company — “He loves to drive big trucks,” Kirk says. They also have a daughter who does some computer work for him and happily goes with him to anime and sci-fi conventions.

“We just dig it,” he says.

This content was originally published here.