2021 Industry Leaders Review: Sage Restoration
By Amy Hughes
In the earliest days of starting their business, Stephanie and Alan Sage, owners of Sage Restoration in Kansas City, Kansas, were confronted with one of the company’s biggest challenges that they promptly turned into one of its most important assets: being a female-led company in a male-dominated industry. When the couple began taking restoration training courses, Stephanie was the only woman in attendance. Several men told her she would never be able to “do the work” in restoration, but Stephanie never shied from the task and set out to prove these naysayers wrong.
She not only succeeded but excelled where her competitors fell short by turning her unique perspective in the industry into an asset and thinking outside the box about marketing, customer care, and team leadership. Today, Sage is a successful and trusted company in the Kansas City market, and the Sage leadership team prides itself on encouraging women to enter the restoration field. “The thing we most enjoy in our line of work is the satisfaction of knowing that we have helped a family during some of their most challenging times and done our part to get their property and lives back on track or minimized the downtime of a business owner affected by disaster,” says Stephanie, CEO of Sage.
All in the family
In business since 2010, Sage Restoration is a true family-owned and operated company and one of the few in the restoration industry headed by a woman. Stephanie leads the company as CEO, establishing strategic goals for growth and overseeing the entire marketing program. After starting her career as a sales representative in the mortgage banking industry, Stephanie left the corporate world in 2010 because the real estate market was floundering. She knew she still wanted to work with homeowners and found a recession-proof avenue for that in the restoration industry.
Her husband and business partner, Alan, also has a background in the corporate world and joined the company full time in 2012. As CFO, Alan manages Sage’s financials, accounting, and administrative functions. Together, Stephanie and Alan turned a one-person operation into a competitive small business that has grown significantly in the past 11 years.
Their son, Connor, first joined the team as a technician in the field. With a natural aptitude for leadership, Connor worked his way up to emergency services project manager, then director of sales and operations, and is now the current president of Sage. He officially became a co-owner in January 2021.
Sage is a full-service restoration contractor offering water mitigation, fire and content cleaning, pack out services, mold remediation, inspection and testing, and specialty cleaning services (hoarding, odor control, biohazard, and biological disinfecting) with plans to offer build-back and repair services in the near future. Operating from a 15,000-square-foot facility, Sage runs with 13-15 employees, and the company is on track to do about $2.5 million in sales this year.
The start-up phase of Sage Restoration was painfully slow as they struggled to gain a strong foothold in the Kansas City marketplace. Stephanie faced a huge learning curve to enter the physically demanding, male-dominated industry and figure out how to compete with larger national franchises operating in the region. Many of these franchises have major contracts with the insurance carriers and adjusters on top of large advertising budgets.
Rather than butting heads with “the big guys,” Stephanie used her background in residential real estate to establish connections with local realtors. “When a homeowner is considering selling their home, they may need to have mold removed or other problems corrected before they can list it. They often turn to their realtor who will then suggests a company,” she explains. “I learned to look for markets that are untapped by the larger competitors and then service them and their clients to the highest level possible with a think-outside-the-box mentality.” Sage grew for years on realtor referrals, and in hindsight, Stephanie believes networking has been one of her most fruitful strategies.
Her resourceful marketing helped establish the business as a reputable restoration contractor in the Kansas City area, allowing Sage to expand into the commercial marketplace, develop relationships with insurers, and land larger projects. “Sage’s first year’s revenues were only around $37,000, but year by year we managed to grow at a steady 15% average until we finally reached our first milestone of achieving $1 million in revenues in 2017,” recalls Stephanie. For her, this was a major achievement, as only 10% of all U.S. businesses grossed between $500,000 to $1 million in 2017 and just 4.2% of U.S. women-owned businesses had revenues of $1 million. In addition, Sage succeeded in becoming a preferred vendor with several national insurance programs, which she sees as significant given her company is an independent, family-owned business.
With a strong referral base and recognition as a local industry leader, Sage continued to see steady growth. “Now on track to do $2.5 million in 2021, we feel we have reached a place of being a major player in our market,” Stephanie said; however, growth presents its own challenges. Stephanie admits that she had put management systems and processes on the back burner, so when Sage entered a high-growth period just before 2016, the company was ill-prepared to handle the additional workload. Fortunately, Stephanie and Alan’s son, Connor, joined the company at that time, allowing Stephanie to focus on developing management processes so that Sage is always prepared for growth.
Stephanie has built her brand around being a woman-owned company that listens and truly cares about taking time for customers. Her unique perspective informs Sage’s company culture, which is centered on taking extra time with customers to explain the process and listen to their concerns. “Our technicians are trained to work the Sage Way which is to approach every job with a sense of urgency, care, and compassion,” Stephanie explains. She says she discovered some of her competitors simply went charging into a customer’s home, dragging along equipment and technicians and getting to work with very little communication. “We take the fact that we are literally strangers in our customer’s home or business seriously and try to show respect, care, and compassion while on the job.”
Stephanie brings this same culture of care and compassion to how she leads her team and is passionate about mentoring and developing her employees. “Without them, we would not be able to help hundreds of customers every year and truly make a difference in people’s lives,” Stephanie says. “We encourage our employees to set personal and business goals every year so that they can achieve and live out their own dreams and aspirations.”
Stephanie notes that starting Sage Restoration was particularly challenging because she and Alan were completely new to the industry and lacked experience and connections in the early days. She says that hiring experienced salespeople from inside the industry earlier would have helped Sage scale much more quickly. Last year, the company added a business development manager to the payroll, and Stephanie notes that resource has been instrumental in making new connections in the insurance industry and commercial segment that will help fuel Sage’s future growth.
For those considering getting into restoration, Stephanie says, “One thing I always tell employees who haven’t worked in this industry before is that this type of work isn’t for everybody. It can involve working odd hours in extreme temperatures, and you never know what a phone call or the day could bring you.” If the industry is the right fit, then Stephanie believes success comes down to service. “Our main
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