The Contents Manager


Just about everyone knows what a project manager is and what he/she can do. But one of the best kept secrets in the restoration industry is the awesome power Restoration professionals learning about contents restoration.of a “contents manager.”

Project managers are usually concerned with an office or home’s structure — walls, ceilings, roofs and floors. And when they do a great job, it goes a long way toward creating a satisfied customer (and a happy adjuster.)

But more recently (historically speaking) the contents manager has appeared on the scene and his (her) focus is on the “contents” of the building — everything from furniture to appliances, and from bric-a-brac to genuine antiques.

When I entered the business of contents restoration about 25 years ago, it was fairly common to find that there were only a very few genuine restoration professionals in the contents field and the jobs were largely held by “cleaning girls” and moving companies.

Today, the contents pro is one of the most highly trained and highly valued members of the restoration community. And the contents managers are greatly prized by insurance firms and the customers they serve.

Protector of property

When a $5,000 vase is about to be packed out, it is no time to have an amateur wrapping newspapers around it and cramming it into a cardboard box with silverware, salt shakers, plates and a couple cans of creamed corn!

When you are faced with $4 million worth of electronics from one fire and smoke damaged building alone, and your choices are to restore them or replace them, insurance adjusters call the contents managers. This scenario actually happened recently after a university fire.

Contents managers walk the owner through the home or office and take pictures of every important item as they pass from room to room. They spend time with the owner, discovering which items are valued by him/her.

Often, the manager will oversee a “digital inventory” (taking more pictures) of each item that is packed out, where they were originally located, what condition they were in before they were even moved, which room they came from, which vault they are moved to, etc.

This provides a “digital photo inventory” that gives the owner a sense of security, impresses the adjuster and acts as a quick and accurate way to protect against false claims. It also shows the before and after condition of each item and enables the contents crew fast, easy access to any item the owner can name.

When the contents manager gives a CD to both the adjuster and the homeowner with the entire inventory at their fingertips, it sets his/her company head and shoulders above the competition and it gives the owner or building manager a sense of security that is often lacking in companies that simply move contents out so they can get on with the structural work.

The contents manager often acts as a liaison between the adjuster and the family or office personnel, creating a peaceful and forward-moving experience. He is just as often a “solution finder,” especially when challenges are presented that directly affect the owner’s valuables.

The t-shirt challenge

Recently, we presented a challenge to hundreds of agents and adjusters nationwide. We showed them two t-shirts and asked which one they would salvage if the items were smoke or water damaged.

Both shirts were black with white ink designs. Both were cotton and either one could easily end up in a trash bag on the back of a truck heading for the city dump.

What they didn’t know is that one of them sold for about $20. The other sold for $300,000.

Our challenge asked the agents and adjusters which t-shirt they would save, provided they would save either one at all. They had no idea the price tag attached to each.

Contents managers may well be able to tell the difference, but it wouldn’t matter, because they would save them both! Their motto is, “Restore, don’t replace.”


For the contents manager, training is paramount.

When a fire “bubbles” the paint on a masterpiece and small pieces of the art work peel off and ended up on the floor, an untrained worker might just sweep them up and discard them.

But a fully-trained contents manager would collect the flakes, put them in a protective bag and send them along with the painting to an art conservation center where the insurance company would save thousands and the owner would be amazed by the extraordinary restoration.

Building contacts

All contents managers have what we call a “million dollar database,” in which they collect the names and telephone numbers of top specialists in everything from taxidermy to Persian rugs, to computer hard drive restoration, to art, fine wine, crystal, books, antiques of all kinds, freeze drying, media blasting and beyond.

If it helps them to restore a client’s valuables, they want to know about it and have a top professional to pitch in when needed.

And all their training, experience and contacts really pay off. For example, where an untrained worker might reach for a cabinet door in order to open it and remove a valuable collection of crystal, after a fire, the contents manager would seal off the cabinet and wait until it had completely cooled. Heated crystal can turn into crystal confetti when a cool breeze touches it. Cooled crystal stands a chance of being completely salvaged. Contents managers know these things, while workers without training rarely do.

Coordinated movements

Contents managers coordinate the efforts of all the other contents pros. It is up to him or her to develop a rhythm, a system that moves the entire job forward in much the same way as an automobile assembly line.

His or her efforts save the insurance companies time and money just by implementing a deliberate, well-planned system. But again, it doesn’t happen by accident. It is all part of training and experience.

One remarkable skill that has recently captured the imagination of the restoration industry is the contents manager’s almost uncanny ability to write an estimate so fast that it occurs during a walk-through. And it is so accurate that it is virtually challenge-proof. It isn’t a magic trick or something that only works for small or simple jobs. It is a strategy that they use on every job and is part of their basic training.

Comparing apples to oranges

Often, the difference between a contents manager and a structural project manager is in how they perceive a given job. For structurally oriented restoration professionals, contents are often in the way of the job. For contents pros, the contents are the job.

For example, a structural manager may find that ozone is the most expedient way of deodorizing a home or place of business. But a contents manager has seen how hard ozone can be on leather couches, big screen TVs, computer screens, appliances, everything that is leather, fiber, plastic, vinyl, foam and various combinations of these elements.

They are constantly searching for alternatives to ozone that really work, and not just covering up odors. And because of their constant and never ending research into how they might improve their part of the industry, they have actually found options that allow them to clean, sanitize and deodorize workspaces and homes while the office workers and families are actually in the room.

That sort of thinking gets more customers and makes their companies even more popular with homeowners and insurance firms alike.

When dealing with a distraught homeowner, they become consultants and motivators. When dealing with adjusters, they become valued advisors. When acting as “crew chief,” they provide solution-oriented resolutions.

Contents managers are often the last to leave after a final walkthrough. It is they who most often get the stellar testimonials, and most recently they are the ones who find creative ways of making the adjuster look good to the client. This in turn sends words of praise to the adjuster’s boss, and that helps generate even more business for their restoration company.

So how much are contents managers worth? Someone recently suggested that they were “worth their weight in $300,000 t-shirts.”

Barb Jackson, CR, is president of Total Contentz, an educational organization concentrating on the field of contents processing. Visit or e-mail Jackson at [email protected] for free ebooks, free consultations and free information about upcoming classes and services.

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