Flood Restoration Business Strategies

October 20, 2003
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There's an old saying that, "When it rains, it pours." This holds true in more than one way for flood restoration specialists. There are many situations where they can go for months with nothing but a few calls for pipe-break water leaks. Then a regional flood will occur, and they are "flooded" with calls for help.

Other disasters can lead to the same increased demand for services. Two years ago, on Sept. 11, 2001, the first call came into ServiceMaster from the Pentagon about 9 a.m. for flood-damage work. "Within four hours, they had about 300 people en route," said Joe Arrigo, Sr., CR, WLS, CMRS, president of Arrigo Construction and Restoration in Pueblo West, Colo. "All of the employees had to be citizens, and they had to pass stringent security checks before even entering."

In most cases, though, floor restoration work from flood damage comes in on a slow but steady basis. What's the best way to get your name in front of people so they call you for this service?

Building Business
Darryl Clevenger, owner of Rainbow International Carpet Cleaning and Fire and Water Restoration in Marion, Ill., does some newspaper and radio advertising. But while it's useful for carpet and upholstery cleaning work, he doesn't depend on it for flood restoration work. Most people don't call carpet cleaners on a regular basis, he says, so they're not going to remember radio or newspaper ads months later when they have a flood.

What works best for Clevenger are two other strategies. First off are ads in the Yellow Pages, around $16,000 worth. "This is where people tend to go when they need water-damage work," he explains. Second, any time his company does any kind of work for a customer, the technicians leave a company refrigerator magnet, a minimum of three business cards, a brochure on how to keep carpets clean and a "$10 off" certificate for the next job. "As such, our name is always in front of people once we've done any work for them," he explains.

Arrigo finds that he gets a lot of business from insurance agents and adjusters who call him to respond to emergencies. "They have learned the importance of calling quickly in order to prevent secondary water damage problems, which saves them money," he said.

Alsip, Ill.-based Brouwer Brothers Steamatic also gets the majority of its flood restoration business from insurance companies and prior customers, according to Joe Goetz, the company's restoration manager.

Response Time
Virtually all successful flood restoration specialists try to emphasize to insurance agents and adjusters, as well as businesses for which they do carpet cleaning, the importance of being called quickly in flood situations. "You have to catch water damage within 24 hours, or the Sheetrock starts to fall apart," explains Rainbow International's Clevenger. "If you catch it within 24 hours, you can dry it out with dehumidifiers, air movers, and extraction."

Arrigo agrees. "It is important to be able to respond quickly. We are like firemen in that we are on-call 24 hours a day, 365 days a year," he said.

Strategies
Professional flood restoration specialists follow guidelines put out by the Institute of Inspection, Cleaning and Restoration Certification which explain how to work in the three categories of water situations: clear water, gray water, and black water. "The color is indicative of the amount of contaminants in the water, not the color of the water," Goetz explained.

  • Clear water work involves soaking up the water and drying the contents.
  • Gray water work varies depending on the materials involved.

    "Carpet pads must be removed and discarded," Arrigo said. "We can then clean the floors and textiles if appropriate and then reinstall them." If the material is nonporous (vinyl or laminate flooring), it can be dried. If it is semi-porous, such as wood, it can usually be saved, but it dries slower. If it is porous (carpets and textiles), it may or may not be able to be cleaned.

    "Black water situations, which might involve sewage or chemicals, require that we discard carpet pads and textiles," Arrigo said.

    The type of water is only one consideration in how work is done, though. The other is building occupancy and building use. "For example, day care centers and hospital rooms need to be cleaned differently than warehouses," Arrigo said.

    Goetz agrees. "In a clear water situation, you may need to follow the path of water behind a wall in a day care center or a hospital," he points out. "However, you may not need to do this in a gray-water situation in a factory."

    Keeping it a Secret
    Some businesses, concerned about future loss of customers if it's known they sustained water damage, may want you to work "behind the scenes." This isn't difficult, according to Goetz. "A lot of the equipment is the same as what we use for traditional carpet cleaning, so that's what people passing by will assume," he notes. "In addition, since we clean carpets twenty-four seven, people frequently see our employees working after hours." And if there is any wet debris that needs to be removed, he said, it can be done in black plastic trash bags, which won't attract anyone's attention.

    Ramping Up
    As noted earlier, you need to be available for the routine one-room water cleanup as well as for the widespread flood situation. One way is to call in temporary help. But this is not a good idea, according to the experts. "We don't like to use temporary labor in flood restoration situations, especially when contaminants are involved, because working in these types of environments requires specialized training," Goetz said. "In addition, people working in 'black water' situations need the proper immunizations."

    If you're part of a franchise, the best way to get help is to call other franchises in your region. "We are part of Steamatic, an international cleaning group, and we can get help from nearby franchises," Goetz said. "We can also get additional equipment from regional restoration centers operated by BMS Catastrophe, a sister company."

    Arrigo concurs. "We employ about 20 people who are trained in water damage mitigation, so we rarely need more than this at any one time," he said. "However, when we do, such as (when there is) damage in multi-story buildings, we network with other companies within 100 miles. In sum, our competitors become our colleagues."

    Clevenger is usually involved in three to five small or medium water-damage jobs a week, which he is able to handle with his current staff and equipment.

    "If we have more than we can handle, I have three part-time people I can call," he said. "In terms of equipment, I have over $40,000 worth of water-damage equipment that I can use as needed. I also have one truck fully stocked for water damage, and we use it for standard carpet cleaning when there isn't a need for water damage work."

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