Thursday, March 30, 2017

Disaster Restoration: The New Bandwagon Business

I remember a time about eighteen years ago when the housing market was booming and interest rates were low for the first time in years. The real estate and mortgage businesses were hot. Since getting started in real estate was more expensive and time consuming, people who wanted to make big money fast were getting into the mortgage business.

People were leaving long careers in other industries to become mortgage originators. New mortgage companies were springing up everywhere. Banks were suddenly expanding their mortgage departments in order to get a larger piece of the pie. People with no experience were suddenly trying to be experts in a field that was growing so fast there was barely time to learn all the ins and outs.

That, along with other factors, ultimately resulted in the housing crisis of 2007 and the strict regulation that followed. Suddenly, the mortgage business was very hard. Many left the business within a few years. Many banks shut down or reduced their mortgage operations, and many small mortgage companies closed shop.

Something similar is happening with the disaster restoration industry right now. People have noticed the success of old, established companies like ServiceMaster and they have decided that they too can be disaster restoration experts.

Almost every month I hear of another construction company or plumbing company that has added disaster restoration to their professional repertoire. Like us, they know that no matter what, pipes are going to burst somewhere and fires are going to happen. They want their piece of the pie, and who can blame them? Unlike us, many go it alone without the backing and resources of a brand with a proven system of training and support.

That's not to say that they can't learn the business the right way and do a good job; Some of them do. But that's not as easy as it sounds, and it often takes years to get it right when you're starting from scratch.

Consider this: When you suffer a fire or water disaster in your business or home, who would you rather depend on to put things right again; a company that added disaster restoration as an afterthought, or one that has been perfecting their process for over sixty years. ServiceMaster Restore has even spent years developing and constantly improving their own proprietary cleaning products.

ServiceMaster Restore franchises are not only required to adhere to rigorous ServiceMaster brand standards in order to be designated a Quality Restoration Vendor (QRV), but they are also required to adhere to the strict certification standards of the IICRC (Institute of Inspection Cleaning and Restoration Certification).

Keep in mind also that ServiceMaster Restore has long-standing relationships with almost all major insurance carriers, as well as local agents. We know how the claims process works and what your insurance company requires in order to make the claim go as smoothly as possible. Those companies that are new to the industry might not have those relationships.

More than a few restoration companies have come and gone over the years, and that will probably continue. It's not an easy business, as many find out quickly. But the ServiceMaster brand and ServiceMaster by Cornerstone in particular have stood the test of time, and we plan to be around for many years to come.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Public Notice: We're Watching, and We Know What's Going On

A couple of weeks ago, I caught wind of a story about a mold inspection that two of our team members did. It was only one of several they had done last month. What made it unique, however, is that instead of having to convince the property owner that they needed to take proper action for their mold problem, they had to convince this one that there was no mold problem.

This customer, an elderly woman, had already been told by a different company that she had a mold problem in the crawl space beneath her house after they had done a visual inspection of the area.  Fortunately, she was smart enough to get a second opinion. Following the recommendation of someone she trusted, she called us. When our technicians did a thorough inspection, they concluded that there was no evidence of mold growth.

The people who had performed the initial inspection had this customer pretty frightened. According to the customer, she had even been told that she had toxic, black mold. That's a pretty serious assumption.

One of our technicians showed her the photos that they took of the supposedly mold infested area; there was no visible sign of mold. Our technician also told her that if the previous inspector had actually seen any microbial growth at all, there would have been no way to determine the type of mold it was (if it even was mold) without proper laboratory testing.

The customer later called our office and asked again if it was possible that our technicians were mistaken. That's how much worry the initial inspector had caused this lady; she was terrified that her home was in danger. Our customer service representative reassured the customer, and by the end of the conversation, she was satisfied that there was no need to worry.

This demonstrates that even though unscrupulous companies sometimes try to frighten people into paying for unnecessary services, someone is always watching. In this case, I'm glad that "someone" was ServiceMaster by Cornerstone. Take note, all you scammers out there: We know what's going on, and we're still watching.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Life Lessons From Funerals, and Legacies That Last

I used to hate going to funerals. It was depressing, and I never quite knew what to say to the family of the deceased. I used to avoid going whenever possible, but that all changed one day when I was asked to speak at my aunt's funeral. I couldn't say no to my uncle, so I reluctantly took on the responsibility. After that, I was asked to speak at my grandmother's funeral a couple of years later, and again at the service for my best friend later that summer.

The thing I thought of most when preparing my remarks was the legacy each person left behind. I considered what made each of them memorable, and whether or not the impression they left was strong enough to last beyond a few years. I considered how they inspired the people who knew them. I also discovered that there's nothing like a funeral to make you ponder your own mortality and legacy.

Legacy is one of those words that makes us nervous. We like to pretend that we'll always be around, even though we know better. More often than not, as we go about our lives, we get bogged down in our routines and we forget about the big picture. We don't think about our legacy much, and when we do, most of us probably think of it as something big and momentous that we hope to do, and so we place it on our to-do list for a time far in the future when we believe we'll be better prepared to do something great. As Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, "How much in human life is lost in waiting."

But I think I've figured out the secret to legacy building, and it was really kind of obvious: Legacy is more about the quality of countless small actions and habits than it is about the big accomplishments. It's not so much what you do, but the way you do whatever it is you do. You have to think of it as a building that you build on a little bit every day. You use small building blocks of actions that add up over time and grow into something that lasts.

Building blocks for your legacy don't have to be huge ones. Little ones like a kind word or an encouragement to others every day have a way of building lasting legacies. How about things like creating good memories for your children, or helping someone (even a stranger) with something when it would be easier to make an excuse and go along your way? Or what about being there for others who are struggling instead of shying away from getting involved in their problem? Those are the things that last beyond your lifetime because they will inspire others to do the same kinds of things. 

If you think of the things that people have done to make you feel good, and do those things for others every day, you'll build a lasting legacy without even realizing the impact you're making. You probably won't even remember doing a lot of the things that will end up being meaningful and memorable to others.

There's a reason for that, and it's something I learned by attending and speaking at funerals. It's this: The thing that people remember about you most is the way you made them feel, not what "greatness" you were able to accomplish in life. People remember the way you were more than what you were.
That's a sobering thought. It means that you could just as easily be remembered for making people feel bad as you could for making them feel good.

The people I've known with the greatest legacies never got rich or had huge success. They never set world records or became famous. They were humble people of high integrity who cared about others more than themselves, and were intentional about finding ways to show it all the time. Example: I knew one man whose children remembered how he constantly wrote each of them special notes throughout their childhood, and not just on special occasions. He just noticed when they needed a little extra encouragement.  They kept those notes because they were part of their dad's legacy, and it set him apart from other dads they knew. His legacy will live on because he has inspired his children and grandchildren to do the same thing. How amazing, yet simple!

At ServiceMaster by Cornerstone, we begin every day with a reminder to "impact the lives of others at every opportunity so we can lift people up," and we discuss how we have done that lately. I like that we do that. It keeps our legacies in the forefront and reminds us that our work life can and should be part of something bigger than just completing tasks so we can get paid. Work is a part of our lives, and it's an opportunity to make something that seems ordinary on the surface into something extraordinary.

Consider that someday it'll probably be you that people are remembering at a funeral. What do you hope they will remember about the life you lived; about the way you were? It's worth thinking about.

Monday, October 24, 2016

When Expert Advice Becomes Worthless

Imagine for a moment that you're the owner of a multi-million dollar business and tax time is coming up soon. Your accountant has poured over all your profits and losses, and has concluded that you will need to pay the government $130,000 (I have no idea what the average multi-million dollar company would actually expect to pay in taxes).

Now imagine that you tell the accountant that you disagree, and that you think you should only pay $30,000. The accountant asks why, and you reply that you heard from your cousin who teaches finance at the local college that you can write off all meals you and your family eat, the vet bills for your horses and dogs, plus the college tuition for all three of your kids. The accountant warns you that you're making a big mistake, but you still insist on only paying the $30,000. Your future looks bleak.

As ridiculous as that sounds, we run into equivalent scenarios occasionally in the disaster restoration industry. A homeowner or building owner calls us to inspect their damage and asks our expert recommendations, only to tell us which steps they feel are not necessary to mitigate their problem. I'm not talking about cases where a customer has the knowledge and ability to do parts of the work himself to keep costs down; some do. I'm talking about people who want to skip entire steps in the process altogether because they don't believe they need to be done, or because they don't want to go over budget. That's when expert advice becomes worthless, and dissatisfaction is usually the end result.

A customer has the right, of course, to reject our advice. It's their home or building, and we respect their right to refuse. When that happens, we always re-state our advice to make sure they clearly understand the possible results of not following our recommendations, and then we ask them to sign a release form stating that they understand and do not hold us (or their insurance company if it's a claim) liable for any problems resulting from their decision. We have no other choice, except to turn down the job, which we are willing to do in some special circumstances.

Compare that to the owner of the multi-million dollar company in our earlier example. He has the right to refuse the accountant's advice, but he also accepts the consequences. The accountant has done his due diligence in preparing the correct figures. His responsibility ends there. It's the a same with us.

Just like the accountant, qualified project managers and coordinators in our industry have to complete specialized training and testing to acquire the right certifications to be able to make credible recommendations to customers. Equally as important is that those technicians also have the benefit of experience, since they see similar damage scenarios over and over on a weekly basis. They also have the benefit of seeing and correcting the results of mitigation jobs that were done incorrectly by others.

While it's true that it's always smart to ask questions and not just automatically believe things that might not make sense to you, there comes a point where common sense tells you that there is a reason you hired an expert instead of trying to fix the problem yourself. That doesn't mean that you shouldn't ask for clarity regarding the expert's suggestions; it just means that you shouldn't base your decisions about what they want to do on something you heard from a friend or read on an Internet forum. Instead, ask questions about anything that makes you uncomfortable. A trained expert will have answers that make sense, and will be able to explain them in a non-technical way that their average customer can easily understand.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Why A Disaster Restoration Company Hates Disasters

Almost every time we get bad weather in our service area, someone inevitably says something like "I bet you guys love this kind of weather." Even when conditions are good, people often think we are constantly hoping for a cold winter (pipe freezes), or heavy rain (flooding).

Insulation from collapsed, water damaged ceiling

While those conditions are admittedly part of the life blood of the restoration industry, we honestly don't savor the results of those conditions. Just as a doctor doesn't rejoice over an epidemic or a big accident with lots of injuries, we don't rejoice over floods, fires, mold or trauma. Yes, disaster restoration can be a profitable business, and we want every opportunity to do the work, but industries grow from effectively meeting a need, and the need we meet just happens to be the result of bad things. Even as we acknowledge that our business wouldn't exist if bad things didn't happen, we sympathize with our customers.

So, it doesn't make us happy when a customer's home or business gets burned or flooded . In fact, we hate it; mainly because we've seen the hardship it causes day after day. We especially hate it when someone has had an accident or died unattended and not found for days, and someone is needed to clean up the scene. We're mindful of the sadness others are going through, even as we send out the bill for our services. After all, if we can't grow profitably, we can't continue to meet that crucial need.

The fact is, disasters happen, regardless of whether we want them to or not, and we're just glad that we have the skills, training and equipment to make things better again; just like a doctor is glad when he or she can help a patient recover and go back to a normal way of life.

Monday, June 6, 2016

ServiceMaster by Cornerstone's Dirty Little Secret

I remember the first time I saw my toddler eat something he had just dropped on the floor. I was too far away and couldn't stop him. It completely grossed me out because I couldn't stop thinking of the shoes that had walked across that floor and all the places they'd been. I later learned that he was building immunity in a very natural way. It must have worked because he almost never gets sick. I still think it was gross.

Although most of the germs on my living room floor are probably pretty harmless to a healthy person with a normal immune system, there are dangerous pathogens lurking out there. One of the worst of those is Staph; the very mention of which sends terror through doctors and hospital administrators. They hate that word so much that they don't even like to refer to their employees as "staff." It's unnerving how many people develop Staph infections during their hospital stay. Then there's MRSA (often pronounced Mer-sah), a type of antibiotic resistant staph infection, which has been a problem in athletic locker rooms for a several years now. 

As if those two weren't enough, there's also Listeria; Salmonella; E. coli; Norovirus; and even Ebola (which terrified the world last year, even though it has been around for decades).

There are blood-borne pathogens and there are pathogens that come from all the other various bodily fluids secreted in all the routine ways. Some are airborne, and some just linger on surfaces, waiting for us to touch them so they can get into a cut or end up on our potato chips when we dip into the bag before remembering to wash our hands. It's almost enough to make you go all Howard Hughes and hide from the world!

Since most of us aren't wealthy enough to skip work indefinitely and lock ourselves into our mansions, we have to find another way to cope with pathogens. Well, ServiceMaster by Cornerstone now has a quick, easy solution, and we're happy to reveal our "dirty little secret": Chlorine Dioxide (Clo2), and a method perfected by our friends at Prokure1.

This stuff is going to revolutionize the way we deal with germs. Unlike past methods of pathogen control, Clo2 doesn't just combine with the pathogen; it actually breaks it down into it's basic parts (carbon, nitrogen and hydrogen), and causes it to dissipate harmlessly. The best part is that unlike many commonly used chemical agents (bleach and popular spray disinfectants), Clo2 leaves no carcinogenic (i.e. cancer causing) residue. It's also color safe, so you don't have to worry about damaging carpets, curtains or upholstery.

It gets even better! Clo2 not only works on pathogens, it eliminates even the most stubborn odors, and it kills mold. We've used it to convert smoking apartment units into non-smoking ones, and we've even used it to deodorize and disinfect the homes of hoarders where the odor was extreme. On a less pleasant note; we've also used it successfully for cleanup after an unattended death where a body has begun to decompose. It handles both odors and pathogens in that scenario.  To top it off, Clo2 is even being used against the highly contagious Ebola virus in Africa.

Here's something that truly amazes me: As of this writing, ServiceMaster by Cornerstone is the ONLY disaster restoration company in the mid-south using this method of odor and pathogen control.

Germs and odor will always be a part of life on earth, but it helps to know that there's a devastating new weapon in our arsenal that will solve both problems quickly and safely.

Thursday, March 3, 2016

From Filthy to Food-Grade Clean in Ninety Minutes

In the old days of disaster restoration (only a few short years ago), soft contents (clothing, textiles, shoes, leather goods) that had been saturated with super-heavy soot and smoke, or that had been exposed to contaminated water, bio-contaminants, or other pathogens would've been automatically discarded and replaced (per the insurance company) during a disaster cleanup. There was just no way to get them truly clean, deodorized, and decontaminated without damaging the fabric. There's no telling how many tons of soft goods were relegated to the land fills during all those years.

That still happens today in a lot of places. It was happening right here in the Mid-South until last summer when ServiceMaster by Cornerstone met the folks from Esporta Wash Systems, and things haven't been the same since.

We were thrilled with the results on our first contents restoration job using the Esporta iS4000. This particular job was the result of a toilet overflow. Since toilet overflows are considered category three water (full of bio-contaminants), most insurance companies allow for full replacement. We explained our wash system technology to our customer and left the choice to her. She decided to give it a try; after all, we have a 100% satisfaction guarantee on items washed in the Esporta.

We restored several items for our customer, but the one item that stands out in our minds is the Coach handbag that she loved. It had been a gift from someone special, and she didn't want to replace it with a new one. The problem was that it had been sitting wet in a bag for a few days before we were called, and by then it was covered in mold in addition to all the other microbial life forms growing within the fabric.

When we tested the handbag with our ATP meter, the same kind used by health departments for testing restaurant surfaces, the reading was 2460 RLU (relative light units). To give you some perspective on that, 30 RLU or below is considered food grade clean. Most surfaces that you handle daily, such as a cell phone, average around 300 RLU. This handbag wasn't just dirty, it was filthy!

Coach handbag before washing

This was going to be a true test of our new Esporta Wash System; the moment of truth. We put the handbag in one of the Esporta's stationary compartments, adjusted the settings, and started the machine. The Esporta passed the handbag through detergent-laden water over and over, using hydraulic action instead of agitation to wash it. That's why we were able to machine wash something as delicate as this, and that's one reason Esporta is superior to traditional washing methods. Doing it this way protects the integrity of the fabric because nothing is rubbing against it and wearing it out. Instead, water and environmentally friendly detergents just keep passing through the fabric, over and over.

The result was incredible. At the end of the process, this handbag that had previously tested at 2460 RLU was testing at 22 RLU. That's food-grade clean, meaning it was so clean you could safely prepare food on it. It also looked brand new and smelled clean and fresh. Our customer even commented that it had not looked that good since it was new. She was also thrilled with how her clothing items and shoes turned out. We were able to get items that she needed immediately back to her within 24 hours, and she had all of her items back in less than a week; delivered neatly under plastic covers, hanging in nice boxes. The whole thing was a home run for us and a pleasant surprise for our customer.

Coach purse after going through the Esporta Wash System

We've done several jobs with our Esporta since then; all of them wildly successful. We're cleaning items that come to us from as far away as Jackson, MS, three hours south of us. There has been so much demand that we just bought a second machine to keep up. It's that good! Word is out about ServiceMaster by Cornerstone and the Esporta Wash System. It feels great to be an industry pioneer.