ICS Magazine

To Be or Not to Be... a Disaster Restoration Service

March 10, 2008

Disaster restoration service is probably the easiest diversification into which a professional contractor or cleaner can transition.

It’s also caused more company owners to go broke than any other diversification I know of; in other words, if not handled correctly, it’s the easiest to get out of – literally overnight!

Of all the diversifications available in our industry, disaster restoration requires the most management skill, and thus has the most potential for profit. I get calls all the time from cleaning contractors in particular asking how to get into the field of disaster restoration – and just as many from frustrated contractors who have made a half-hearted attempt, but are having huge problems getting the business and paying the bills.

Diversification Phases
For cleaning contractors, a disaster restoration diversification can be implemented in phases. Probably the easiest transition for most carpet cleaners is to begin with water damage restoration. They (hopefully) already have the knowledge of carpet and other flooring materials; they may already have water extraction, installation and repair equipment, and possibly even some drying and inspection equipment. With an additional modest investment, cleaners can establish paperwork, response procedures, and marketing coordination with the insurance industry and other business sources.

From there, they can expand into fire cleaning or “mitigation” services and, once comfortable in that, they can further diversify into reconstruction services as well – if qualified to do so. But the trite old advice about not “biting off more than you can chew” still applies. Preparing to Diversify
Before – note before – deciding to diversify into the restoration services field, contractors should attend comprehensive courses and/or join an association that caters to the disaster industry. It’s important to become oriented to diversification requirements in terms of management (organization, personnel, facilities, vehicles, equipment, finance), administration (forms, paperwork, pricing) and processing procedures (water restoration; cleaning structure and contents; deodorization; even reconstruction).

Attending a comprehensive training course – even if you decide that the diversification is not for you – can be the best investment you can make. The alternative is to spend $20,000 to $50,000, and then discover that the 24/7 availability and the financial investment are a little more than you bargained for.

A number of industry training organizations offer courses or books covering disaster restoration marketing, management, and sales. There also are several IICRC-approved courses covering water-damage restoration, microbial remediation, fire restoration, and deodorization and decontamination. Industry books on these subjects are available, addressing fire- or water-restoration organization, management, marketing and sales, as well as technical books dealing with fire-, water-, microbial- and odor-restoration subjects.

Avoiding the Pitfalls
Next, as with any diversification, it’s extremely important to avoid the seesaw effect. From the outset, it’s important to establish an organizational structure, designate at least one person to assume daily responsibility for the diversification’s affairs, to ensure consistent marketing and sales, and to oversee processing, paperwork and completion once claims begin to come in. Otherwise, the company’s original service business will decline while the disaster diversification gets all the owner’s attention. The objective is to build new business without sacrificing current business.

Consistent Marketing
Unlike marketing home and business cleaning services, effective marketing of disaster restoration follows a simple three-phase approach. First, the all-important personal contact with insurance representatives (agents, adjusters) must be established and maintained by the one in charge of the diversification. Second, a monthly direct