HOWLAND, Ohio – Many industries had to weather a downturn during the height of the pandemic but damage restoration companies were not among them.
While natural disasters, fires and broken water pipes are immune to any virus, people are not. The owners of damage restoration companies had to exercise more caution with employees and clients..
Lewis Construction, a reconstruction contractor based in Howland, experienced a hiccup that many companies continue to face: finding employees.
The 50-year-old company, with offices in Warren, Boardman, Akron and Mentor, employs about 80.
Kevin Wyndham, vice president of Lewis Construction and business manager of its ServiceMaster franchise, says employees “displayed true courage and perseverance,” showing up for work every day at the height of the pandemic.
Wyndham brought the ServiceMaster franchise to Lewis Construction in 2009.
It was when employees departed the company, primarily through retirement, that gaps on the team began to form.
“The problem, as every business in every industry has experienced,” was attempting to replace them, Wyndham says.
That lone factor was what contributed to 2020 not being as successful as it was on track to be for ServiceMaster, he says.
In the last 60 days, Lewis Construction returned to a full staff, Wyndham says, “a goal we would not have thought possible just three to four months ago based on the previous 12 months’ effort.”
And ServiceMaster is “getting back on its expected course,” he says.
A different reason for staffing shortages occurred at National Fire and Water Repair.
The company employs 44 and was established in 1913. Its headquarters is in Youngstown with offices in Warren and Sharon, Pa.
Faced with trying to find prospective talent, owner Paul Clouser says the biggest problems came when his employees had to be quarantined for possible COVID-19 exposure.
“In the beginning… it happened a lot,” Clouser says, referring to staff quarantines. It has since leveled off.
“Work keeps coming in but we can’t hire enough people to handle the work. You do the best you can,” he says.
Damage restoration companies comply with CDC guidelines, and work with customers to ensure they feel comfortable.
“Some people want you to suit up and others don’t want you to wear masks. If there’s anything required beyond what the CDC says, we entertain that,” Clouser says.
The public has been generally “easy going,” he says.
BUSINESS ALMOST AS USUAL
One local cleanup company reports seeing an increase in fire damage cleanup jobs.
“Business kept going,” says Rodd Myer, marketing representative and continuing education instructor with Servpro. “If anything changed, it was likely because we got more fire calls,” he said.
The Servpro franchise, owned by Jim Dobson, his son Andrew and daughter-in-law Katie, employs 175 and has its main office in Warren.
Team Dobson Servpro has been in business for 10 years, and operates 13 offices in northeastern Ohio. Two more will be added in the near future, he says.
The franchise received more than 100 calls in July after a microburst storm wreaked havoc in Ashtabula County. Another 50-some calls were made to the company after storms pushed through the Mahoning Valley that month, Myer says.
Since the start of the pandemic, National Fire Repair’s Clouser has had to play a waiting game to receive materials.
His calls his company a “one-stop shop” for damage cleaning and restoration. But lately his clients are being forced to wait months for replacement cabinets, compared to what used to be a couple of weeks.
Vinyl siding is taking six months and fencing up to three months. A specially ordered door can take up to a one year, according to Clouser.
Before a crew begins its cleaning process, a responder meets with each client to go over paperwork, cleaning procedures, and to discuss issues crews may see in a client’s space.
“Above all, we want to keep in mind what the customer is going through. It could be an inch of water or eight feet of water. It’s traumatic. Spending time with them is most important,” Servpro’s Myer says.
Service Master’s Wyndham says thorough work and professionalism keeps clients loyal. More than 40% of its sales come from repeat customers and personal referrals.
“Agents trust us. Adjusters trust us. Customers and clients trust us,” Wyndham says.
Pictured: Joe Aulizia and Dakota Kellar of Servpro unload a semi-trailer that is kept stocked with 100 dehumidifiers, 50 air scrubbers, and 400 air movers for large commercial losses.