ICS Magazine

The 40,000-foot View of the Cleaning and Restoration Industry

August 22, 2008
ICS is thrilled to announce that long-time ICS columnist, industry stalwart and master of his domain Tom Hill is now blogging his way through the ins and outs (not to mention the ups and downs) of the cleaning and restoration industry.

When ICS editor Jeff Stouffer contacted me about blogging about the industry for the magazine, I was flattered and took it as a compliment. Then I began to think about it a bit. Are the terms “Industry veteran” or “Well connected” really flattering, or just another way of saying “Industry dinosaur/old guy”?

Granted, I have been around the cleaning and restoration industry in one form or another since 1967 (My goodness, is that really 41 years?), and I have seen the creation and development of “new” cleaning systems such as hot-water extraction, “new” equipment like truckmounts and air movers, and the founding of “new” trade groups like IICRC and SCRT. Looking back, it is truly amazing how far this little industry has come and the many changes that have occurred.

There is truly nothing as constant in this business as change and growth, like the general trend toward specialization of services. When the IICRC was first formed (I was there, and back then it was known as the International institute of Carpet and Upholstery Cleaning), there was just one general certification. It was called the COP or “Certificate of Proficiency.” The COP was a 3-day training program followed by an exam that covered carpet cleaning, upholstery cleaning, odor control, carpet repair, and water-damage restoration. By attending an extra day and taking another test, you could also become a carpet inspector.

Then it started. Carpet and upholstery cleaning were separated into two certifications, followed by the creation of odor control and carpet repair as specialties. It wasn’t long after that that water damage and fire damage restoration were recognized as separate specialties. Today, the IICRC has 23 separate specific certification categories. The specialization goes even deeper; in the area of water damage restoration, for example, there is the general Water Damage Restoration Technician (WRT), plus the specialty categories of Applied Structural Drying (ASD), Applied Microbial Remediation (AMRT), and Commercial Drying Technician (CDT). There is even work being done on developing a specialty certification in sewage remediation.

This move toward specialization is really a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it allows for more detailed and documented training and knowledge, with true experts emerging and, hopefully, reducing the likelihood of involvement of the untrained “fly-by-night” segment of the industry that tends to give us all a bad reputation.

On the other hand, total specialization indeed limits the base of business that serves to even out the “bumps” of seasonal or other business ebbs and flows. We all know that the broader the base of services, the more stable the business. For example, many restoration companies that jumped into mold remediation with both feet are now looking for ways to diversify again.

An old cowboy saying is “Don’t forget the horse you rode into town on.” Specialization is OK, but not to the point of abandoning what got you to where you could consider it in the first place. Technical expertise has its place, but never forget the basics of customer service, quality workmanship and fair pricing.