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Business Planning / Restoration
August 2014

The 2014 Restoration Industry Leader Review

The secret components of successful restoration contractors.

August 01, 2014
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Paul Davis Restoration

What does it take to transform a one-truck carpet cleaning company into a successful restoration firm?201408_310x310.jpg

A lot of planning and a lot of work! Just ask Greg and Kelli Thode. They thought about it, planned it and eventually put all the pieces together.

But they didn’t do it alone. Along the way, they picked up a business partner who helped kick the entire operation into yet another gear.

Greg Thode and Jason Holberg own Paul Davis Restoration of Seattle, serving King and Snohomish counties since August of 2000.

Being part of the Paul Davis national franchise has helped the two business partners continue to grow their successful restoration firm. Today, they operate their two PDR territories from one location, a 13,000 square foot warehouse north of Seattle, with some 38 in-house employees and 20 work vehicles; the company also utilizes more than 50 subcontractors when the need arises. Paul Davis also provides virtually all restoration services, from water damage restoration to emergency board-ups to biohazard cleaning and more. The list is so long it’s hard to keep track of what they do.

It’s easier to say they do it all.

A typical (but successful) story

Greg and his wife Kelli had an interesting career path before carpet cleaning and eventually restoration. They owned a pub early in their married life and thus spent long hours making that a success story of its own. Greg was also involved with commercial fishing and crabbing. That type of work has an off season, so Greg decided to jump into carpet cleaning to fill the gap.

It didn’t take long for him to make that a better choice for his family, with more time at home. Acquiring small, local cleaning and restoration businesses added to his growing company, and with an avid desire to learn and attend industry seminars and workshops, Thode was a key player in the local market.

But they saw a bigger picture.

Enter Paul Davis

What caused this successful business owner to look beyond the traditional “local company” model?

You can blame insurance adjusters. Thode would go to jobs and attempt to get work from adjusters and he was told too many times, “We automatically go with [insert franchise company name here].”

That started the conversation with Paul Davis Restoration and they purchased their first PDR territory in 2000 with a business partner, Jason Holberg.

A systematic approach

As owners of a new Paul David Restoration franchise, Thode and Holberg got to work. It was just the two of them in a 600 square foot office with two employees and four vans.

In 2002, they moved to a 4,000 square foot building and had 11 employees. Four years later… a 13,000 square foot building with a two-story office space, warehouse storage and a contents processing facility. They purchased a second PDR territory in 2007.

What will help them grow? They are quick to say it will come from a variety of factors, with customer satisfaction at the top of the list. They use a third party vendor that independently surveys their customers, which helps them to continue to provide better service to their customer base.

Their favorite quote? “One profits most who serves best.”

Words of Wisdom

Both Thode and Holberg have studied and then applied various systems and strategies to growing a company and finding quality customers.

They put together of list of “do’s and don’ts” for Cleanfax readers.

  • Do what you say you are going to do.
  • Be careful of overpromising.
  • Don’t sell your products too short.
  • Don’t lowball your bids.
  • Know your actual costs and work forward from there.
  • Have your financing in order.
  • Learn from your mistakes.
  • Build great relationships with insurance adjusters.
  • Keep up on your education.
  • Seek out face-to-face interaction with everyone.

Paul Davis Restoration of Seattle is a growing, successful company. It’s one worth watching.

Dayspring Restoration

As a high school student growing up with a family-operated cleaning and restoration business in Montana, Mark Springer would often say he wanted to do anything but “cleaning and restoration.”

Guess what? Be careful what you say. Springer is a good example of that. He’s now running Dayspring Restoration, in five locations (Bozeman, Butte, Helena, Great Falls and Missoula), with 120 employees and some 90 work vehicles serving the entire state of Montana.

Not an easy task to handle, as Springer is quick to point out, since Montana is the fourth largest state in square miles (147,164 or just a bit larger than Japan) with a very small population base, close to just 1 million residents. This means a lot of driving between jobs.

Impressive numbers

When he joined the business as a partner in 1998, and his high school comments about never working in the restoration industry solidly behind him, revenues for the company were less than $100,000 a year.

The company started with one location in Missoula. Springer and his father Larry, who is still involved with the company, worked together in a more strategic manner and, with acquisitions combined with consistent marketing and advertising, doubled revenues consistently for many years.

And now? Projected revenues for 2014 will hit close to $14 million.

His company of more than 25 years has grown tremendously.

Raising the bar

Springer is definitely a unique marketer. Yes, he uses traditional marketing systems to reach clients, and when the entire state of Montana is your potential target area, that takes a lot of marketing muscle.

But traditional marketing is just the tip of the iceberg.

A few years ago, Springer decided to create a television campaign where he flooded his own home and subsequently walked the viewer through the restoration process. This became a multiple-part series. It was immediately successful and galvanized his brand in the mind of his customers.

Springer couldn’t help himself. The success of that campaign upped the ante and he decided to burn his own house. Obviously, this wasn’t wet carpet and walls. The much larger effort ended up being 14 different commercials that educated viewers about the restoration process and fire prevention in general. The local fire department supervised the fire and assisted in education efforts. This concept was highly effective and truly established Dayspring Restoration as a household name in the communities they serve.

Another strategy Dayspring Restoration uses is developing a cutting-edge direct sales and marketing approach that reaches the insurance community and other target markets. The company utilizes Chicago-firm Business Development Associates (BDA) for this project, along with a brand launch/rollout into new markets.

Marathon planning

Springer is quick to discuss what works and what doesn’t. He’s not afraid of competition and is heavily involved in the restoration industry as a volunteer, such as serving as the vice president of the Restoration Industry Association (RIA). He wants all companies to succeed.

As he said, patience in marketing is important. He has seen dozens of companies spring up in the past decade only to fall by the wayside in a short amount of time. He feels these new business owners want instant results and a silver bullet to guarantee those results. One example is how he sees companies engaging in short blasts of advertising instead of budgeting a realistic monetary amount for a longer period of time.

The longer he is in business, and the more he learns about people, the more Springer is convinced of the paramount importance of personal growth and visionary leadership.

While profit and livelihood are vitally important, Springer believes legacy is about more than money.

Duraclean Restoration Services

Most restoration business owners make good decisions. Many of them have a plan in place for continued growth of their companies.

One company takes it to a new level altogether and leaves absolutely nothing to chance.

George and Kelly Gibson own the Duraclean Restoration Services franchise in Waldorf, MD, serving Maryland, the District of Columbia and Virginia.

In the 11 years they have been in business, they have grown the company to (depending on the season) more than 20 employees and 14 work vehicles, offering virtually all restoration and cleaning services you can think of.

Strategic planning

The very nature of disaster restoration services presents daily challenges to business owners. To ensure continuous growth of his company, and to keep those challenges from negatively impacting his company, Gibson makes sure they measure, monitor and evaluate all key performance indicators on a daily, weekly, monthly and annual basis.

Part of the company strategy to guarantee success is to utilize the services of Canton, OH-based Violand Management Associations (VMA). Together, Gibson and his management team works with VMA to have an annual, three-year and five-year strategic plan, along with constant evaluations of operations across the entire spectrum of his Duraclean Restoration Services franchise.

Gibson keeps all his employees involved and engaged with helping to grow the company and make it a success. The company’s mission, vision and core values are topics of many company-wide meetings, along with strategy sessions on sales and marketing techniques.

Steady progress

Prior to working in the restoration field, Gibson spent seven years in law enforcement. He went on to work as an employee for a restoration firm, learning the business from the ground up. He then decided to step out on his own, at the age of 32.

It wasn’t all glamorous in the beginning, as he started working out of a one room in a basement in his home. Then he moved to a larger basement in a commercial building. During this time and getting tired of basements, Gibson increased revenue 100 percent each year for several years and then moved into a 15,000 square foot fully functional office and warehouse building.

Sales continued to grow at a rate of 50 percent annually, prompting his move into an even larger office and warehouse space. His building is set up and equipped with a complete contents cleaning service, along with storage. Now he sees steady growth at 10 percent annually.

A key factor of company growth that Gibson has enjoyed is also credited to the reputation that the Duraclean Restoration Services franchise has built, combined with hard work and aggressive marketing at the local level.

Sharing ideas

George and Kelly Gibson have learned lessons along the way as they have built their company.

Both offer the following suggestions for anyone wishing to expand their companies and see steady growth:

  • Do your research.
  • Be prepared to sacrifice during the short term.
  • Start slow and control the growth of your company.
  • Appreciate the importance of customer service.
  • Create a balance between home life and work life.
  • Understand the complexities of small business ownership.
  • Have a plan to hold yourself accountable for everything.
  • Don’t assume that what works for one company will work for another.

As both George and Kelly said in conclusion, this is a noble and worthy profession that everyone should be proud of as they make a positive impact in the lives of those needing restoration services.

Sharps & Robbins Construction

While many firms boast they “do it all,” others concentrate on keeping a narrow focus. And some might then say that a narrow focus equals lost opportunity and limited revenue streams.

Tell that to an extremely successful firm located in both Nashville and Memphis. They would have other opinions on this.

Dale Sharp and Dave Robbins are the principles of Sharp & Robbins Construction and they know they have a unique business model among restoration contractors. S&R is a specialty contractor inside a niche market. Sharp and Robbins have built a company that keeps its focus on capital expenditure renovation projects and disaster recovery for large hospital, commercial and multi-family losses.

It’s like they are sniffing out the toughest challenges they can find in the restoration industry. And it looks like they find them, and handle them successfully, as many of the projects they have completed have won industry achievement awards.

Creating success

Both Sharp and Robbins have long histories with the construction industry, both working for their respective family businesses. Sharp worked with his father and focused more on new construction projects, while Robbins worked in restoration and renovation for his grandfather’s firm during his high school years and beyond.

Sharp graduated college with a construction management degree and immediately found employment as an estimator/project manager for a commercial general contractor. During the first couple of years, he transferred from bidding and managing commercial new construction projects to estimating and managing large insurance losses.

Robbins has never done anything else, and said he feels like he doesn’t even have a job, since he enjoys every aspect of the business. Each day feels, to him, like he’s spending time with people he loves, admires and respects, rather than the daily grind of getting the work accomplished, as some might view typical employment.

S&R started in 1991 as Crawford-Smith Construction, and in 1994 Sharp joined as manager of the Nashville operations. In 1997, the company ceased all residential work, and a year later Sharp purchased a third of the company. Robbins joined the company in 2005 as an estimator and project manager. In 2009, Sharp purchased the business in its entirety and sold Robbins a percentage and now they are joint owners of the firm.

With both Sharp and Robbins at the helm, growth rapidly developed. When Sharp entered the company, revenues were at $2 million annually. When Robbins came on board, revenues were at $7 million annually. Hard work and perseverance from both owners — and their very capable staff, they are quick to point out — helped annual revenues grow to nearly $20 million.

The work now is accomplished by some 40 full-time team members with additional resources on standby, ready to deploy at a moment’s notice. They have more than 30 work vehicles and a large inventory of equipment between the two locations.

Of interest is that a number of the S&R estimator and project managers, including Sharp, have either engineering or construction management degrees, which means the company is able to more readily secure an audience with commercial property owners or managers — which means more work for the company.

S&R holds an unlimited general contractors license in 14 states and works throughout the entire southeast region.

Achieving goals

Both Sharp and Robbins believe that teamwork and dedication make all the difference, along with surrounding themselves with top-notch people.

An early mentor and friend once told Sharp that this industry is simply an act of managing problems, and both Sharp and Robbins are by nature problem-solvers, drawn to the challenge of complex losses, construction defect issues and the most difficult of situations this industry presents.

How do they combine this with a desire to grow?

It’s simple, they say. Spend time with clients and get to know them on a personal level. They believe there is no better marketing plan than one-on-one time with clients, since they feel this is clearly a relationship-building business. They do all they can to ensure that every client they work for is as glad to see them the last day of a project as they were when the project began.

Their taglines include “Quality, Integrity and Communication.” They have built a business on the belief of doing what you say you will do and communicating what you are doing every step of the way.

As they evolved from being project managers to managing their own project managers, they realize that to maintain and continue growth means keeping a close look on their style and method of management.

They are now in need of expansion of both their Memphis and Nashville office locations. They have begun the research and planning process for this undertaking.

S&R may have a narrow focus, but it is sharp (no pun intended) and it works very well for them.

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