Contents restoration must be numbered among the top three easiest ways to increase your bottom line.
After all, you already have the job, and if you turn down the contents portion, you are leaving money on the table.
You move furniture out of the way in order to get to the structural part of the job. You clean up after the job, and you move things back to where they were before you moved them — so, in effect, you are already doing contents work (and perhaps not even charging for it).Here are five quick ideas on how to get started on the right foot in contents restoration.
Tip #1: Training
The big challenge for new companies entering the contents field is that they have personnel who are not trained and don’t know what they are doing. A front line worker may know how to perform demolition work but have no idea how to pack a collection of fine china.
This is how quite a number of companies get out of the contents business as fast as they enter it. You can make a fortune by adding the cleaning and restoring of contents to your repertoire – you can also lose one with untrained employees. A good example comes from a discussion some years ago on a restoration blog in which a contractor explained such an incident. He saw a couple of his men tossing figurines to each other across a parking lot to speed up the packout process — they dropped two of them. One was worth over $10,000, the other more than $20,000!
There are ways to save everything from fine wines to electronics, but if your personnel don’t know the correct methods, a single job can cost you more than the entire invoice.
Training can quickly and easily turn all that around.
Tip #2: Work with it
Many contractors just entering the contents field think, in order to compete, they should purchase all the latest “fancy gadgets” that they can. In the past, I have seen them purchase a single washing machine for almost $100,000 and ultrasonic suites for upwards of $40,000,
Having in-house soft contents (clothes, sheets, drapes, etc.) processing can be a splendid advantage, and ultrasonics cleaning devices have proven themselves to be a real “door-opener” to new levels of income. But if you bankrupt yourself getting them (with the anticipation that they might get your company more work), you may just end up selling them at a fraction of what you paid when you find the work is not forthcoming.
Adjusters don’t care what machines you have; they only care about results. Promised results might get their interest, but they have heard from lots of companies about how new machines can improve the carrier’s bottom line, only to be disappointed in the final outcome.
So, how can you compete if you don’t have the expensive equipment? The simple answer — marketing. It all has to do with how you present your company to prospective employers (adjusters, building managers, homeowners, etc.).
For example, if an adjuster asks, “Do you have an ultrasonic machine?”, and you don’t, you can answer, “No, we found that they damage delicate items too often. They strip the nacre [the shiny part] off pearls, they pit aluminum items and can break glass and dishware that have any form of small fractures, so we do all that sort of work by hand.”
Or, even better, we encourage all contents companies (established or beginner) to create a database of “associates” to whom you can refer (sub-contract) cases that are beyond your expertise. For example, it is quite common for companies that have ultrasonics machines to accept work from competitors whose clients require ultrasonic cleaning. In fact, some ultrasonic cleaning divisions change their names from the parent company so they can accept work from competitors without prejudicing prospective clients.
And, when you are building your team of affiliates, you can choose the best in the business and use their reputation to enhance your own: “No, Mr. Adjuster, we don’t perform soft contents cleaning in house. We use (insert name of company well known to the adjuster). I believe your insurance firm has found them to be the best in the industry.”
Or, “We use (insert name) because they have state-of-the-art machines that are superior to those some restoration firms have, and their expertise is far greater than anything we could produce in the warehouse.”
In other words, don’t apologize for not having some new form of technology, paint it red! Showcase the fact that you can choose the best in the business as your ally.
Tip #3: Selling yourself
Conversely, let’s say that you get a new piece of equipment. Your marketer can then boast of its remarkable ability to get the job done better, faster and less expensively.
For example, one of our clients recently told the story of how they restored $4 million worth of electronics from a single building with an electronics cleaning, spray cabinet and some dedicated workers. You may be sure that the adjusters heard all about it!
And when our clients approach a hospital or home in which there are young children, the elderly or those with compromised immune systems, we make sure that they explain how they use “electrolyzed water,” or “aqueous ozone” that can kill more than 99 percent of bacteria and viruses but turns back into plain water just minutes after it does its job. Or the thyme-based cleaning products that are harmless to humans but are powerful disinfectants.
The point is that you don’t need to buy the most expensive equipment when you are first getting started (a bottle of thyme-based spray is less than $10; table-top aqueous ozone devices have sold for less than $200). Buy what you can afford and let that generate the capital to purchase more and better devices. Then let your business relationships and marketing techniques level the playing field.
Tip #4: Information
Speaking of marketing, many adjusters have no idea what a contents division can do. Since they don’t understand the process, they don’t trust it.
When I started “the contents movement” about 25 years ago, my biggest challenge was the lack of knowledge by the adjusters and agents. And here, a quarter of a century later, it is still problematic. We’ve published articles for them; we’ve invited them to our classes (and they come!) We’ve had private discussions with them and even set up a contest with an adjuster to show how much we could save a carrier by restoring instead of replacing (over simply writing a check and handing it to the insured).
And all these methods worked.
But the absolute master stroke came when we created a newsletter for adjusters, agents, building managers, etc., that informed them month after month of what contents pros can do and how they can save the insurance company serious money on virtually every job.
We strongly recommend that you do something similar. In the past, it was very common for an adjuster to take a look at a scorched couch, soot-encrusted computer, smoke laden clothing and fire-damaged figurines and say, “Load them up on the truck and take them to the city dump.”
Now, we point out (month after month) that if an adjuster has a leather couch, valued at $5,000 — which smells like a camp fire — and we can restore it for less than $1,000, we just saved the company $4,000. And if a contents contractor stops an adjuster from “cashing out” boxes of figurines, valued at over $30,000, then cleans and restores them to pre-loss condition, we have just saved the adjuster’s company a small fortune.
Your most powerful marketing tool is to save money for the carriers while doing an exceptional job — but if they don’t know what you can do, they will never even consider hiring you. That is where your “newsletter” comes in handy. Don’t include barbeque recipes and your latest in-house promotions. Just show them how you can do the job well and efficiently, while saving them money virtually every time.
If you would like to see a couple of sample newsletters from the Total Contentz’s collection, we’ll email them to you free of charge.
Tip #5: Photos
Now this one may surprise you. Take pictures of everything as you first enter the home or office.
There are lots of terrific inventory techniques out there, but we have found nothing that can surpass the simple technology of a digital photo. Beginners and well-established companies alike can benefit from a digital photo inventory.
It is inexpensive, quick and can protect you from false claims and misunderstandings. Take pictures of the items before your crew even touches them. Take pictures of where everything is so you can return all the items to their proper places. Take extra pictures of damaged items so there is no question that they were damaged before your team packed them out.
Such a small addition can save you from questions like, “Hey, has anybody seen Mrs. Smith’s jewelry box? It was the brown one that was on the dresser?” or “Danny, did the dining room set go to storage or is it in the ozone tent?” Your digital inventory helps you to know what was moved, when it was moved, to where it was moved and what condition it was in each step of the way.
In all my trainings, I take extra time to make sure each individual in attendance can maneuver through a digital inventory like a professional – it saves time, money and headaches.
And it is a terrific marketing device that even many of the biggest companies overlook. When your project manager hands a CD of all the pictures to the adjuster and the homeowner, the adjuster may simply tuck it in a purse or attaché case. The owner may just put it in a computer and scan rapidly through the images without realizing the significance of what he or she is seeing — but no other company will have given the adjuster such a reminder of how professional your company really is.
And the owner gets the comfort of knowing that you know where everything is — nothing is lost, nothing is misplaced and everything is shown to have been skillfully, competently and carefully packed, moved and cleaned.
When it comes down to it, entering the contents restoration field is entirely a matter of information. Make sure that all of the parties involved — your workers, adjusters and agents and the customers — have a clear view of the process, and you’ll be on your way to adding a successful new avenue for income.
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.com for free ebooks, free consultations and free information about upcoming classes and services.