Some structural restoration contractors avoid taking on jobs that involve contents restoration, thinking that it is just too much trouble to clean, packout, store and bring back valued items.
The problem is that they are leaving an estimated $10,000 to $20,000 on the table (and that is just for an average job). However, we understand their concerns. You may recall in some of our earlier articles we mentioned the company owner whose insurance carrier had to pay to replace $30,000 worth of art that two workers broke by tossing them, one to the other, in order to get them packed faster.
Mistakes without training
And many other restoration company owners can tell you stories of how they lost significant sums when their team did a second rate job of packing delicate items or large pieces of furniture, only to discover that those same pieces were damaged and that they now had a hefty restoration or replacement bill.
Recently, I was called in to oversee the packout of a couple of examination beds in a hospital. These are foam-filled, vinyl mattresses on top of massive, heavy, metal bases. Before I arrived, the crew used webbed-belt, ratchet tie downs to secure the mattresses. But after the packout was complete, they realized that they had tightened the ratchets so tight that the vinyl and foam were now deeply creased, possibly permanently, and the company was liable for their repair or replacement.
I got to thinking that heated hair blowers might coax the vinyl to “re-inflate” and the foam to relax back into its original form. It worked. We got lucky.
Of course, had I been there in the early part of the job, I would have instructed the workers to use other means to transport the units. I did, in fact, arrange for a dolly system to move the heavy metal bases.
A similar challenge arises when untrained employees move delicate, wooden furniture. Imagine an expensive Duncan Phyfe dining room set that needs to be removed from a smoky environment.
Many adjusters have attended my courses over the years, but let’s pretend that neither the adjuster nor the contents crew has been trained. The adjuster glances up on her way to another room, sees the team wrapping long sheets of shrink wrap around the delicate legs, arms and backs of chairs, tables, couches, etc., in order to protect the shiny, smooth wood, and she’s satisfied.
The contents crew is protecting the furniture’s surfaces. The adjuster nods in silent approval and moves on. A few weeks later, the various pieces are returned smoke free but look as if they have been cleaned by gorillas. The joints are coming loose; there are mottled-looking spots all over the wood; and a few small dents are located in various places on several of the pieces. What went wrong?
First of all, shrink wrap won’t protect soft, fragile wood from getting dents, even when those dents are only caused by an errant jolt from a box of books or plates. Second, shrink wrap shrinks! As it gets warmer (even without heating guns) it will pull in upon itself and tighten until it can actually pull the joints apart on many types of furniture.
Also, shrink wrap, plastic wrap or plastic sheets trap moisture between themselves and the wood they are supposed to be protecting. That moisture will actually soften the wood and varnish, giving it a “mottled” look.
How can all this be avoided? Paper pads. They are plentiful, inexpensive, protect the furniture from dust, dirt and light scratches — and best of all, they absorb moisture rather than create it.
If the team uses plastic wrap around paper pads to hold them in place and the wrap is not too tight, even if it contracts, it will compress the paper padding instead of pulling the joints apart.
Improving the company
There are a thousand and one things a trained contents professional learns, which can save you money, make you look good adjusters and get you more jobs. Untrained contents workers can get things into boxes and onto trucks, but they simply don’t know how to save the insurance company (and the company owner) significant sums by restoring instead of replacing.
For example, particle board furniture is almost always a total loss — but we have seen beginners trying to “dry them out” after a flood or a good drenching with fire hoses. A contents manager will simply point out to the adjuster that any time used attempting to restore such an item would be a waste.
Consider the silver coffee pot with the dull patina covering more than half of it. Many beginners are ecstatic about how nice the pot looks after they have cleaned and restored it to a mirror-bright finish — only to hear from the owner that it was a priceless antique, and the patina was one of the main things that made it so valuable.
There also was a case of an untrained group that merrily cleaned a collection of antique silver dollars that had been smoke damaged. They used a high-end silver polish and paper towels, working for hours to get the collection looking brand new and in mint condition. You guessed it. The coins may have looked shiny, but now they were all but worthless.
Paper towels are made from wood pulp, which can make tiny scratches (almost invisible to the naked eye) all over a pristine surface… so can paper towels.
You might also have seen workers putting a dozen or more wine bottles into a box for easy shipping to the warehouse. Since they know that heat, direct sunlight and shaking the bottle can destroy fine wine, they put as many bottles in a box as possible, cover it with cloth or some other shield against the sun, and carefully carry it to a temperature-controlled chamber as soon as possible.
Everything looks great and feels “right on,” until the owner gets the bottles back and is fit to be tied!It seems that the bottles rubbed up against each other, “scuffing” the labels a little. As it turns out, the labels on wine bottles are often worth as much as the wine within them.
There is even an auction house that buys bottles of fine wine if the label is damaged — for as much as fifty cents on the dollar.
Lastly, you probably heard about the untrained contents cleaners who were so excited about their new ultrasonics machine that they were cleaning everything they could with it — glass, ceramic, crystal, jewelry, pots, pans, knives, forks, spoons and many, many other items.
They even ran a set of matched pearls through on a short, low-energy cycle, only to be dismayed when they saw that the nacre (the iridescent shiny part) had been stripped off, and the necklace wasn’t nearly so glossy (or valuable) anymore.
Training is the secret
When you have trained personnel who can restore valued items for far less than they can be replaced, you have an asset, and when you have people who can “wow” the adjuster, agent, homeowner or business owner, you get more business. When adjusters know they can count on you to produce results that make them look good, it will keep your telephone ringing.
Contents work can help you bring in, on average, an extra $10,000 to $20,000 per job, or they can cost you so much that you actually end up losing money for the privilege of working!
The contents professionals in your company are your best advertisement. They are the ones who get the really strong testimonials. They are the ones who the adjusters know can save them money on virtually every job, and they are the ones who mark your company as something above the norm.
If you aren’t already pursuing contents work, just remember: It is not uncommon for an insurance adjuster or agent who has a serious contents challenge to go looking for a competent contents team. If you don’t have one, not only are you leaving money on the table for the contents work you turn down, you also may not even get the structural part of the job because you have to say “no” to the contents restoration part.
Barb Jackson, CR, is president of Total Contentz, an educational organization concentrating on the field of contents processing. Visit www.TotalContentz.com,or e-mail Jackson at Barb@TotalContentz.comfor free ebooks, free consultations and free information about upcoming classes and services.