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Success through hardship

Enviro-Clean went from small home business to making millions


by: ISABEL GAUTSCHI - Estacada resident Melody Lowe-Spieler has a lot to be proud of as she nears retirement.Estacada resident Melody Lowe-Spieler has a lot to be proud of as she heads toward retirement.

Melody and her husband, Brad Lowe, started their Enviro-Clean Equipment business in 1995 with only $75 in their checking account.

Melody recalls typing invoices on a typewriter in her home in those early days.

Prior to starting his own business, Brad had been successful selling Vac-Con sewer cleaning trucks for a company.

But when that company merged with a competitor, it had to drop the Vac-Con line.

Melody explained that her husband was so valued by the brand, that they urged him to start his own business so that he could continue to deal Vac-Con equipment.

So he did, with his wife.

He was the president, Melody the vice president.

Melody handled the “legal part” of the business. She managed quotes, bids, marketing, licensing and administrative work.

Today, Enviro-Clean sells and services municipal equipment from a variety of brands, such as street sweepers, TV inspection camera systems, road patchers and crack sealers to public works departments and contractors in Oregon and Washington.

The business has been profitable in every year of its operation.

“One really good thing about our business is it's a necessity, not a luxury,” Melody said. “So when a recession hits we're usually the last to be hit and the first to recover.”

No matter what the economic climate, cities must still clean their sewers and sweep their streets, she said.

And Enviro-Clean provides the equipment to do so.

After outgrowing the Lowes' home office and another location, Enviro-Clean has been settled at a large facility in Gresham for more than a decade.

There is also now a facility in Kent, Wash.

From the handful of employees at the beginning, Enviro-Clean now has 20.

It used to be that one equipment sales representative handled all of Oregon.

Now the business has grown so much that three sales representatives are required for Oregon alone, and an additional three are needed for Washington state.

“This year is by far the greatest year we've ever had,” Melody said. “We're going to hit 13 million in sales this year.”

But things weren't always easy.

Brad had battled melanoma for several years. The family breathed a sigh of relief in 2004, when Brad appeared to be cancer-free.

But in January 2005, doctors found a tumor in his brain. He was told he didn't have long to live.

Melody said the couple's faith helped them stay positive.

“He had a lot of hope and encouragement and peace, even in facing death,” she said of Brad.

Melody said that aside from the cancer, Brad had a lovely final year of his life.

He got to walk his daughter down the aisle; have a family reunion; celebrate his 25th wedding anniversary; take a cruise to Jamaica, the Caymans, Mexico and the Bahamas with his wife, daughter and her new husband; and he got to turn 50 years old.

Brad slipped into a coma on Christmas Eve 2005. He died on Dec. 27, 2005, in his wife's arms as she sang to him in their home in Estacada.

Melody said she stayed home and cried for the next two months.

“Enviro-Clean was Brad's legacy. Brad was Enviro-Clean,” Melody said.

The employees kept the business going as she decided what to do next.

Finally they urged her to keep Enviro-Clean going.

She decided to do just that.

Melody was able to share her grief with Frank Spieler, a longtime equipment sales representative for the company, who had been “like a brother” to Lowe.

Eventually Melody and Frank's closeness blossomed into romance.

They married in 2008.

Earlier this year, Melody was awarded Key Bank's Key4Women 2013 Achievement Award.

The award celebrates female business leaders who are actively involved in their communities.

Honorees are selected for their entrepreneurial and community spirit, their financial acumen, management skill and the challenges they have met and overcome.

Melody said her nomination was a surprise that she was “quite honored and humbled by.”

She said she had long been grateful for Key Bank's support.

The bank, Melody said, kept Enviro-Clean's credit line intact after Brad's death and during the worst of the recession in 2008.

“The business can only be as successful as the bank that stands behind it,” she said.

Melody received the achievement award Oct. 8 during the annual Key4Women forum at the Governor Hotel in downtown Portland.

That's one way to go out with a bang.

Melody is planning to retire in January.

She looks forward to spending more time in the Eagle Creek Foursquare Church ministry, practicing photography, scrap booking, ATV riding and hanging out with her and Frank's grandchildren.

She also plans to keep up one very special three-year tradition.

Every Thursday, Melody lunches with her daughter, Katie Hawks, her granddaughter, Olivia Hawks, and Brad's mother, Ann Lowe.



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