How I Got Into Contents Cleaning
By Amanda Hosey
More than 70% of claim value comes from contents, but only 60% of restoration companies offer contents cleaning, according to our research. That’s a lot of money that’s not going into the pockets of restoration companies.
For some, contents cleaning seems a difficult addition because of the additional and pricey investment in the required equipment and staffing. For others, contents work seems hard to prepare for because the training options are more limited than other industry services. Still others see the work as entirely removed from the restoration process and/or feel more than okay with subcontracting out.
Whatever your thoughts on contents cleaning, your likely interested to learn more about how others got involved in the work and how they feel about their choice to perform it. In the following pages, you’ll meet the leaders of three companies who successful care for contents every day and hear their thoughts on the work so you can decide if your company’s stance on the work is still the right one for you.
[infobox title=’Full-service Restoration With a Contents Division’][/infobox]
Sherry Stanley-Reynolds | President, Stanley Restoration and More, Cedar Hill, Texas
Amanda Hosey: What initially sparked your interest in starting a contents division?
Sherry Stanley-Reynolds: Customer service has always been a priority to us. Contents hold a great sentimental and monetary value to our customers. We wanted to make the restoration process as seamless as possible by restoring their home and their contents.
AH: What made you ultimately decide to add the contents division?
SSR: We realized we could best meet our customers’ needs when we could assist them with all of their concerns. Anytime a homeowner suffers a water, fire, or biohazard loss, most often their contents are involved and need restoration. When a second or third company is involved in the restoration process, it often leads to frustration and confusion to the homeowner. Stanley Restoration wanted to solve the customers’ problems with one phone call to one company.
AH: What first steps did you take to add the division?
SSR: Stanley Restoration first started to do pack out and in-house cleaning of contents and outsourced garment and electronic restoration. Once we were able to serve our customers with the pack out and contents cleaning process, we researched the best technology to expand into garment and electronics restoration. We wanted to have control of the quality of the service every customer experienced. We felt the only way that could be achieved was with us doing most content restoration services in house.
AH: What training did you do?
SSR: We expanded with new technology that required extensive training, which has prepared us for the work.
Our hard contents are processed with ultrasonics technology. We are able to address most items from delicate China that has been exposed
to smoke and soot to Legos contaminated in a category 3 water loss. The process delivers consistent cleaning quality on every job. [/one_half]
Our soft contents department uses a wash system and European finishing equipment to restore items that have been damaged by smoke, water, mold, and biohazardous materials. We have been successful in restoring heirloom quilts, wedding dresses, leather handbags, boots, sentimental dolls, designer jeans, and many more soft goods using the latest in technology.
We also use an electronics cleaning system to restore TVs, gaming systems, computers, and many more electronic devices. To track a homeowner’s contents, we use the iCat inventory system that uses photo recognition technology and barcoding to bring peace of mind to our customers. We also use this same system to catalog and document contents that are deemed a loss on a claim. We then generate a report that is sent to the adjuster and customer to help expedite their claim. Our customers are able to login to iCat anytime to view the items we have removed from their homes and to request any rush items they need.
The most recent addition to the Stanley Restoration arsenal of technology is a 3D camera. We are able to generate a virtual tour of every home before and after the restoration process. Adjuster’s and customers enjoy the ability to view a home even when they aren’t able to be on site.
AH: What was the most difficult part of adding the division, and how was it overcome?
SSR: Adding a contents division takes time and money. It was a large investment for our company to purchase the very best in restoration technology. However, with our dedicated staff, we are able to deliver quality service in all aspects of our contents division.
AH: What’s the best part about the addition?
SSR: Being the one phone call that does it all!
[infobox title=’Full-service Hard Contents’][/infobox]
Kevin Jones | CEO and visionary of the Content Specialists, San Diego, Orange County, and Sacramento, CA and Seattle
Amanda Hosey: What initially got you interested in starting a contents company?
Kevin Jones: After spending some time in this industry, I realized that contents required a lot of work all on its own. Communication is a big factor that we all need to improve to help out the homeowner, but contents specifically was an aspect where I saw more and more homeowner questions coming about that just didn’t have the right answers and more and more items contaminated that didn’t have the right procedures to make sure they could be salvaged and cleaned.
When I started working in contents, the actual contents weren’t being given the attention of contractors they should be. If contractors really looked at the percentage they focused on contents, it was only 15%, maybe 20%. If a doctor does 15-20% of a heart surgery, he’s probably not the best heart surgeon.
You need to be able to give contents specific, everyday focus. That’s something I saw was needed and very valuable to the insured, the insurance company, and the entire industry.
AH: What were the first steps you took to start the company?
KJ: To start my content’s company, I really just sat down with a piece of paper and said, “What do you need in a contents company?” And I wrote out every aspect from the legal to the vehicles to the needed employees to the facilities to the tools to marketing materials—everything.
AH: Which contents services do you offer?
KJ: My company offers digital inventory, onsite decontamination, packing, offsite decontamination and cleaning, storage, and pack back, on items that are affected by water Category 1, 2, and 3; fire; mold; and asbestos. We’ve even had tear gas claims.
We do hard and soft contents for the pack out inventory. For the decontamination aspect we give that to the heart surgeon of soft contents, which is a textile company where they can utilize their dry-cleaning plants to perform the soft contents cleaning in the elevated way we do the hard.
AH: What types of training did you do?
KJ: There isn’t a lot of contents training out there, so the areas I’ve looked to most for contents training are actually the Moving Association of America—they have some good videos on training on how to pack lamps and things like that and a little bit of details on how to save or protect some of the items—and Barb Jackson in certain areas. She’s done very well for herself in the realm of contents and has been able to provide great information. From there I utilized the different trainings from the specific tools we use like iCAT.
In this realm, the training itself isn’t as available, especially for contents specifically, so I recently bought URLs so I can create an online contents university for my locations and also to open up that knowledge to the rest of the industry because, at the end of the day, the goal is to create a better contents experience for the homeowner.
Having that ability to take care of not only the physical, but also the emotional aspect of a loss is a missing area in our industry that, if provided better, can offer better experience and full emotional comfort for the homeowner, which is one of the biggest aspects doing the job.
AH: What is the most difficult part of coming into the content side?
KJ: A lot of these guys have been in restoration for 35 years. They are the guys in town, and breaking into the “old boys club” is kind of the hard thing to do. And if you are a contents-specific provider, you are a subcontractor; you are seen as less than; you are the littlest brother because you’re going after the contractor, who goes after the adjuster, who goes to the TPA, etc. You are at the bottom of the hill when things start to roll downhill.[/one_half]
One of the hardest things in being a contents provider is that you want to do right by your customer, which is traditionally the contractor because you’re providing a service that they want to include in their capable services in order to compete with the big guys. But you’re also answering to the homeowner, and you’re also answering to the insurance company. At that point, there’s not much leverage you can utilize. If you have the homeowner’s stuff and the insurance company’s not paying you, you don’t not pack back the home because that’s not right for the homeowner or the contractor and they’re both your clients.
With the hand that’s biting me while I’m feeding it, the insurance company, if they haven’t agreed to anything, I still have to do my due diligence all of my clients, which are three people. So, one of the hardest parts of being a contents-specific subcontractor is satisfying all clients because the homeowner, contractor, and adjuster are all need to be satisfied with your job.
AH: What’s the best part about working in this field?
KJ: I would say the best part is that most everyone I get to work with is a regular person. The homeowners are just regular homeowners with something going on in their lives you get to shine the light for in an area that is in darkness. They do not know what’s going on; they didn’t sign up for a water loss; they didn’t want a fire; they didn’t ask to be displaced from their house for four to six months; so giving them that comfortability in that time, that sort of clarity in what’s going to go on, is actually very gratifying. I can walk into a claim and the homeowner says, “I finally kind of understand what’s going on and I appreciate that.”
And then the people I work with are contractors, so they’re just your regular Joes. We all go to our jobs. There’s not a lot of ego that goes on; there’s not a lot of disconnect in hierarchies. Most everybody I work with I can go have a beer or iced tea or lunch with, and they’re willing to sit down and chat. There’s not a lot of positioning.
My value in this industry is the opportunity to have employees, to create something that helps other people out. I’ve been in this industry for five years, and I’ve been able to make my own future and I think that that is such a beautiful opportunity that we don’t see anymore. People go to college and say, “I don’t know what I want to do.” And they pick whatever job comes their way and work with little passion. In this industry, with some hard work, you can make something for yourself. If you come in and work hard, you will be making as much as the top project manager in any restoration company in two years.
AH: Was it hard to find restoration contractors that were ready to work with you, or was that an easy thing to get into?
KJ: It’s all in marketing and knowing the power of numbers—you have to reach out to everybody. But honestly, I’d say 80% of restoration companies do not want to do contents. I’d say about 40% of companies don’t do contents. The other 40% find it a necessity and do it, but they would prefer to hand it off because they don’t have the customer service that comes with contents. You know, a contractor walks in with work boots, work gloves, and a sledgehammer. A contents person walks in with booties, white gloves, documentation, and bubble wrap.
The focus is different, and there are so many companies that don’t want to do it. You’re wanted you’re needed to help provide the service
So it’s really just about going out and finding out the needs of the contractor and their desires. Some might do pack outs, but what happens when they have a three-story fire or flood? What happens when they need 20 people to pack out something for a weekend? Are they going to give it to the bigger competing companies, or are they going to utilize somebody else to make their service better, full service, so they can compete?
Finding the restoration companies [to work with] was just about being at events, being out and social, being in the mix, and just going by and find out what their needs are.
[infobox title=’Loss Inventories’][/infobox]
Ramona Gallagher | Owner of Great Estates Inventory LLC, Stonington, CT
Amanda Hosey: What initially sparked your interest in contents work?
Ramona Gallagher: I kind of got thrown into it because I was an office manager working for a company called an inventory service company in Westfield, MA. I was hired to be the office manager, but my background is in retail—I did an internship at Bloomingdale’s and worked in department stores and specialty stores, so I knew how to do inventories.
I noticed that the people doing the contents work didn’t really know how to inventory properly. I started telling them how they should be doing their inventories, and one day they invited me to come in the field with them. That’s how it all started. I was out in the field and really enjoyed doing the inventories.
AH: What first steps did you take to learn the work?
RG: I’ve been doing contents work for over 20 years, and when I first started, there wasn’t any training for contents. Luckily my background was in inventories, so most of my training has been done out in the field, and I kind of learned along the way. I have done some specialized things, like I went to the Rhode Island School of Design and have a certificate in Appraisal Studies in Arts and Antiques.
I have not had any formal training, but I’m planning to get the new [RIA Contents Loss Specialist] designation.
AH: What’s the most difficult part of contents work, and how do you overcome that?
RG: I think the most difficult part of contents work is trying to manage the job and make sure you are able to record everything properly. How you overcome it is that you just make sure that you are a good project manager, making sure to cross all your t’s and dot your i’s and that you have everything done.
AH: What’s the best part about the work?
RG: The best part of the work is actually helping the customers, the insureds, after their loss because a lot of times it’s one of the most devastating times in their lives. And you get to be an integral part of making their lives complete again. So, I get the most joy out of helping people.
AH: Anything else you’d like to share with people who are thinking about moving into contents work?
RG: I think people should know it’s not a very easy job. You’ve got to know what is good, what is better, and what is best in terms of value in order to do contents properly. That means, if you need to bring in an expert, then you need to know that you need to bring in an expert. You just can’t try to handle the whole contents job yourself if it’s a high-end job. And not all jobs are the same. If you have an expensive painting, for example, you need to call in an expert.
It’s a matter of good-versus-better investing.
Amanda Hosey is the managing editor of Cleanfax. She has worked as an editor and writer for more than six years including four years with Cleanfax. Reach her at [email protected].