Robert Russell (known by all as Bob) grew up and attended Building College, in his formative years, and with his hard working ethic Bob would sometimes be known to not only do his full time job, but also hold down two part time jobs starting work at 5am and not finishing until 11pm and beyond. His hard work and determination have always been strengths for Bob. It was this determination that made him start window cleaning back in 1985, when he was made redundant from his job as a sales representative within a pure wool company. In true Bob style, he started Chimney sweeping back in 1986, when he saw an advertisement for a chimney sweeping round in a local newspaper, and decided it would be a good supplement to his window cleaning round and he would juggle both businesses to maximise his chance of success.
When he purchased the business, he was trained by the previous owner, who in turn was trained by his father (the original founder of the business). Bob changed the name of the company and very, very, quickly realised that he had been taught some horrible practices to sweep flues, so ever keen to increase knowledge, Bob, then joined the only trade association in the UK at that point (National Association of Chimney Sweeps [NACS]) and soon became a Master Member of NACS.
During his time as a NACS member, Bob went on a trip arranged by the organisation to the German Chimney Sweeping School. It was a revelation to many members who all thought; with the free trade within the EU, we need to have Qualifications to be able to sweep and set standards. This was not necessarily agreed with by all, and this prompted Bob and a small group of other likeminded sweeps to break away and set up The Guild of Master Sweeps (GOMS, now known as the Guild of Master Chimney Sweeps, GOMCS) as a professional body. Bob became the Chairman of this organisation from 1989 until 2010. It was the aim of the organisation to increase standards, train sweeps and gain reputable qualifications, so as to set standards as other EU countries do.
As Bobs first two children finished School and College, he immediately gave them work in his company as chimney sweeps. Tony started training in 1987 and Mark in 1989.
Bob was always increasing knowledge and encouraging his sons to do the same, in 1991 Mark was the first ever City in Guilds Qualified Chimney Sweep.
Tony left Chimney sweeping in the 90’s and set a career path in sales ultimately rising through his career path to become a “Corporate Development Manager” managing Sales Representatives throughout East Anglia and the South East of England for a Major Blue Chip Company.
Mark went on to increase his skill set and became a Corgi registered gas engineer as well as a chimney sweep. Mark latterly managed a fleet of gas engineers (as a contacts manager) covering from Southern UK to the Midlands. During this time Mark was tasked with commissioning some IT software and hardware that would help manage hundreds of engineers, and help him with all the legislative paperwork and tracking etc. Mark found he had a natural aptitude to IT, and through a series of different circumstances became a director of an IT firm based in Wales writing some complicated software for many clients in the service related industry including gas engineers.
Bobs daughter (the youngest of his 3 children) got married and in 2001 the family relocated back from Wales to the South East of England where her husband (Martin) was trained by a chimney sweep (that Bob taught himself) and Martin was then to take over this sweeps round upon the owner’s retirement due to ill health. Martin’s background was in manufacturing as a manager, and he is a natural “tinkerer” engineer.
Like every family the children find their own paths in life and throughout Bob and his wife Gina continued to sweep chimneys. Bob has always enjoyed sharing his passion for the industry, and has helped architects with flue/chimney issues, tried to help lobby government about policy, and legislation, and sat on European advisory boards related to the industry. Even becoming the City in Guilds “assessors-assessor” and it was Bob’s responsibility for the alterations to the examination paper, so that no two papers were the same. He has even had journalists seek his advice to write a piece in the Financial Times Newspaper, about solid fuel and its economy related to other forms of fuel. As you may imagine Bob and Gina have been invited throughout the world to various trade and social events held by chimney sweeping organisations. Some of the countries include Italy, Slovenia, Belgium, Germany, Hungary, and USA to mention but a few. Bob continued to try different methods of sweeping drawing on his experiences from chimney sweeps throughout the world, and thrived in finding solutions and shared this knowledge with other sweeps to make the profession better. From the early start of his business, he tried many different methods of dust control, vacuums, heads, rods and methods of sweeping, to get the best results he could for his customers.
How Rodtech UK Ltd came about was from solving a reoccurring problem;
One of Bob and Gina’s customers was not happy to listen to advise given, and placed overly large Vermont appliance in a room no bigger than 11’ x 11’ (3.36m x 3.36m), this customer had a twin walled stainless steel lined flue, and the wood he burnt was kept outside in a pile uncovered, so that the moisture content would be much greater than the recommended 20% maximum.
The customer was never able to fully open his appliance up, as the stove was too big for the room, so consequently the tars and creosotes that would build up in the flue would choke the flue dramatically. Year upon year, Bob would struggle to clear the flue, and would have to start by using brute force to pierce the choked flue with a ball attachment just to give access to the brushes he was to use. He would then use increasing brush head sizes and literally scrape the tar from the flue by using mole grips and spinning the rods manually. He would curse under his breath with each rod that would snap, of which was usually 3 or 4. It was one of these rods that gave Bob a spark of inspiration…. he hypothesised that if he used one of the broken rods in a drill as a drill driver, then some of the hard work would be taken out of this job. He applied his idea, and realised a few things very quickly;
1. The rods had a tendency to melt because of the friction.
2. He could only spin the rods up in a clockwise rotation.
3. The rods would chock themselves together with the resultant forces applied to them and almost be impossible to undo.
4. It killed the brush heads in moments.
5. It was a good idea in principal but wasn't quite right
The payoff was the amount of tar that it got from the flue! It had never been cleaner, except when the appliance was installed! This made him think of all the variations and loads of experiments were conducted, including making a ¾ universal ferrule adapter for the drill in brass. This method worked but could only be used in extreme cases, where there was no other way of cleaning a flue.
A few years after Bob had started to experiment, by chance he and Gina were due to go over to the U.S.A. (as representatives for GOMS) to a trade event. It was here, that he met up with a company selling 3 very interesting items. The first was a 4 inch disc, which had 3 clamps and held nylon trimmer line, this same disc also held chain, and lastly there were very specific rods which did not have a screw thread but instead locked together with the aid of a button.
Bob brought a set of this equipment, and had it shipped over. When Bob received the equipment, he set to testing it, and on many different flue types, he set out to see the ramifications of using this equipment here within the UK. In its USA format, the rods and heads were not compatible with UK flues. There were several bugs, like the disc could catch and become almost impossible to retrieve from the top of a flue, the nylon strands were better than what had gone on before, but didn’t really cut the tar out of the flues as easily as he was expecting, and the disc looked as though there could be a possibility it could come into contact with a metal liners or pargeted flues causing damage.
This did not deter Bob, as he saw such a potential, and with Martin (Son-in-Law) they started experimenting, and came out with what is now called a Super Scrub brush, it did look very different from the way it does now, but the initial concept was there. Numerous different stranding materials were used and just about every configuration of strand, in some cases, looking more like a heavy duty bottle brush than what you see today.
After much research carried out by Bob in 2004 he and Gina would show members of GOMS the equipment and how good it was, it was a low key affair and use of the equipment was actually quite exclusive here within the UK.
In 2008, Mark was chatting to Bob and Gina, expressing his views on web shops and sites, this was out of Bob and Gina’s comfort zone and requested Mark to work (part time) for the company to use his expertise in designing and organising a host for the new website. In 2009 Rodtech UK Ltd was born. At the start, lots of people had very differing views on what was acceptable, and how could chimney sweeping change so much and so quickly. What they didn’t see was the years of experience and the endless hours of testing!
Bob and Gina continued to run their successful chimney sweeping business, and work part time from the back of their home in a small shed they had dedicated to Rodtech. As the business grew, so did the shed, and in 2011 a 10 M x 4.5 m purpose built shed was located on land at the back of the house. The old shed was used for storage, and then as it grew more and more, Garages were converted to offices, and space was filled with more sheds for storage.
For personal reasons Tony had left his flourishing sales career, and had taken up chimney sweeping again, and Bob and Gina saw the use of his skills to progress the company, so in January 2012 Tony came to help part time and Bob would delegate some of the responsibility to his son. It soon developed into a fulltime roll, and Tony had to sell his chimney sweeping round. Bob and Gina sold their beloved and thriving Chimney sweeping business and the whole family pooled their skills and have helped meld Rodtech to the company it is today which is a far cry from its humble beginnings in 2004.
Mark became fulltime so he could devote the time and effort into the Rodtech website, get the integration between services (like shipping and payment) and then the administrative side of the company as well as continuing to try to increase web presence.
Martin comes and helps part time with Training, Exhibitions and also manufacturing together with running his own very successful chimney sweeping business, and stove installations.
With everything going on, and the website gaining views worldwide, Bob and Gina were contacted by one of Sweden’s top advisers together with a 5th generation chimney sweep. They wanted to visit, and see for themselves what this new product was, which had started to make ripples in the European market. The UK by this time was already accepting this method. Sweden has very tight laws involving chimney sweeping and legislation now dictates that in some districts you can only sweep using a re-branded version the Rodtech equipment, and further the adviser and sweep, have become agents for Scandinavia as a whole.
Through this contact and extreme winters we had to develop rods that could withstand the harshest of winters and yet still be able to be used in high summer temperatures, we also developed and tested more equipment and still do to this day. We have had to develop products to be used in air-conditioning and extraction ducting (from hospitals to chip shops), to use within food processing and industrial applications.
By 2012 the power sweeping method using Rodtech equipment had been approved by the two largest liner manufactures in Europe (Schiedel and Poujoulat) and two of the associations in the UK have endorsed power sweeping as a recognised method of sweeping. Further other agents had come on board selling Rodtech equipment covering countries within Europe such as Italy, Ireland, Sweden, Denmark, Norway and more. Rodtech gave more to their customers by introducing a Find-a-sweep section, so that we could help promote businesses that use our equipment. We also started training Chimney Sweeps how to use the equipment and continually strive to improve knowledge within the industry, and the products that we care so passionately about. In fact we never see Rodtech ever stopping testing and improving anything and everything we do.
A year further on and in 2013, Rodtech launched the new click range, this was followed shortly after by receiving an Industry Award at the Hearth and Home Exhibition for the very same range in June. In the summer Rodtech grew at such a rate that it was clear to all that the offices and workshops were just too small for us, and we moved to our new head office (Hingham, Norfolk), this facility will allow us to run our own In-House training facility, with all the usual appliances to train on, but many of the more complex appliances and problematic scenarios available to the attendees of the course. Simultaneously, we also doubled our IT staff, and they have helped streamline much of the admin work, and helped put in place some safeguards and procedures to help with our rapidly expanding company.
2014, saw more awards, but this time from an international source in France. More distributors came online, our staff increased also with the addition of a new head of manufacturing and distribution manager.
2015, was one of the first years we had not won awards, but still continued to grow, and the industry still relied on Rodtech as the leading force in this field. Mark left the company as his work had been completed with all of the IT infrastructure in place, and just requiring maintenance.
2016, was a year to remember. This was when we were officially awarded by the Queen “the Queens award for Innovation”, which was a highlight for all of us. The Rodtech Distribution channel has also increased vastly and now we are in over 18 countries, including; USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Russia and most of Europe.
2017, has started out as a good year. We have procured the building behind our head office and set up (with different management) the HEATS School (Heating Education And Training Services), which trains chimney sweeps in traditional and manual sweeping techniques achieving an accredited City and Guilds certificate in a “competent persons scheme in chimney sweeping and fault finding”. We now run a competent persons scheme, dry liner installation course through OFTEC and we continue to grow our company so watch this space.
You could say Rodtech has all the infrastructure of an international business, and yet for obvious reasons has the feel of a caring family company with high values on professionalism and customer service.