Add a Zero: Proven Strategies for Growing Your Restoration Business

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My name is Jeff Moore. I’m a proud second-generation restorer. With my brothers Scott and Ryan, I work for our family restoration company, ATI Restoration, the company our dad, Gary Moore, founded 34 years ago.

Born into a stereotypical blue-collar household, Dad learned the value of hard work and determination early on. While still in high school, he began working in the carpet cleaning and restoration industries. Dad entered the restoration business full-time after college, going to work for a multi-generation restoration contractor. 

ATI’s story, from startup to America’s largest family-operated restoration company, is one of how our father shaped us, our company’s growth, and, ultimately, the growth of the entire restoration industry. Dad never expected my brothers and me to work for the family business, but he taught us the value of hard work and determination. Lessons that continue to guide us and our company today. 

My brothers and I started at the bottom, working as technicians, and moving up to operational roles like project manager, estimator, and project director. We were exposed to complex jobs, large losses, and catastrophes. Between the three of us, one has been involved in every significant event since 2001, from 9/11 in New York to Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans.

As a leader in ATI’s mergers and acquisitions department, I’ve had the opportunity to meet hundreds of restoration company owners. I’m grateful and humbled to have been welcomed with open arms into their personal and professional lives. I’ve also been blessed to serve the restoration industry as vice president of the Restoration Industry Association’s board of directors, helping elevate and educate hundreds of restorers.

The most common question independent restoration owners ask me is how to grow their business or expand into adjacent or additional markets. While there is no one-size-fits-all answer, I always start by sharing my family’s journey. Whether you started your business yesterday or have been in operation for decades, our story is relevant, irrespective of revenue or number of jobs performed annually.

Montana Moore Boys and Dad Trip

PART I: Playing the Insurance Game

To Be or Not To Be

That is the question all restorers must answer. I’m talking about whether to be in the insurance game or not. The restoration industry can be broadly divided into two categories: those who play the insurance game and those who don’t. Both strategies have their merits, but the approach to generating work with insurers versus negotiating it on your own is very different.

Throughout my career, we have always played the insurance game. If you want to work within the insurance industry, there are numerous ways to generate revenue and profit from restoration jobs. The most common approach is getting to know your friendly neighborhood insurance agents, who may be independent or direct writers.

Independent agents can write insurance backed by one of dozens of different insurance companies. Direct writers only write policies for the carrier they represent. Visiting insurance agents can also benefit franchise companies with limited geography, as agents tend to write insurance for customers close to their offices. Your best strategy is ensuring the agent and everyone in their office knows your name and number, and staying top of mind through frequent visits. When one of their insureds calls looking for a contractor, your name should come to mind first.

Another approach is to get to know insurance adjusters in your market. Insurance adjusters are often the gatekeepers for restoration projects, as they are the ones who assess the damage and recommend restoration contractors to policyholders. Adjusters can also help you stay up to date with industry trends and best practices. They possess a wealth of knowledge and experience in the industry. Collaborating with them can give you valuable insights into policyholders’ needs and insurance companies’ expectations.

Insurance adjusters go by several titles, including adjuster (smaller claims), senior general adjuster (medium claims), and executive adjuster (large and complex claims). By establishing relationships with adjusters, you position yourself as a trusted partner in the recovery process and increase your chances of being recommended for restoration projects. Insurance companies often have preferred vendor programs, which allow contractors to receive referrals in exchange for agreeing to specific terms and conditions. Building relationships with adjusters increases your chances of being included in these preferred vendor programs and receiving more referrals.

As with agents, adjusters can be independent or work for a single carrier. They may be inside desk adjusters or outside field adjusters who are walking projects and meeting customers in the field. Developing a relationship with an insider desk adjuster is incredibly difficult. Building a relationship with an outside field adjuster is much easier. 

Independent adjusters tend to handle more complex, significant losses and juggle many projects at once, making them an excellent place to start building relationships. However, they tend to have relationships with several restoration companies, so it may take time to build rapport and start getting on rotation. Adjusters can refer only one job to a contractor for every five jobs they receive. But once you’re on rotation with an independent adjuster, they can send you anywhere from $50,000 to several million dollars in revenue per year, depending on their qualifications, experience, and job size.

Working with public adjusters for referrals can be even more lucrative since they tend to work with the most significant losses. Our company does not work with public adjusters, but we understand the merit and value of doing so, if it’s right for your business. The downside of working with public adjusters is they usually charge a fee or take a percentage of the insured’s compensation, ranging from 5% to 12%. They may also expect you to reduce the claim amount by that percentage, affecting your margin. Nevertheless, losses in these projects are often exponentially more significant. Public adjusters’ primary role is to ensure that the insured party receives adequate compensation. Every claim may work against the insurance carrier, making the project challenging, complex, contentious, and sometimes litigious. Although these jobs generate significant revenue, they may take a long time to pay out, sometimes months or even years.

Early in my career, I took on the dual roles of project director and regional manager in our San Bernardino/Riverside location in Southern California’s desert region. As a project director, I recognized the importance of fostering relationships with independent adjusters. My rule of thumb was cultivating connections with five adjusters who consistently referred losses to me. This strategy proved highly effective, yielding annual revenues ranging from $3 million to $10 million. Over time, these relationships deepened and evolved into personal friendships. Before long, we were celebrating birthdays, weddings, and even swapping dog-sitting. These connections generated substantial projects for our company and long-standing personal friendships for me.

That experience taught me the value of investing time and effort into building and nurturing professional relationships. Trust, camaraderie, and shared experiences are at the heart of creating mutually beneficial opportunities. By recognizing the potential for personal connections to drive business success, we can harness the power of relationship-building to achieve extraordinary outcomes.

TPAs

TPAs, aka program work, account for 25% of the restoration industry. A third-party administrator is a company that provides operational services such as claims processing to another company. Insurance and self-insured companies often outsource their claims processing to a third party. Thus, such companies are often called third-party claims administrators. A TPA sits between the insured, the contractor, and the insurance carrier. It’s essentially an adjusting group that reviews estimates on behalf of the insurance carriers and has a network of contractors who perform services. 

Half of all restoration companies generate revenue from TPAs in some capacity or another. Program work offers both advantages and disadvantages. The disadvantages include having a TPA audit and critique your estimates. Sometimes, after the TPA has critiqued them, the insurance carrier’s adjuster may critique them further. On top of that, the contractor typically pays a fee to the TPA. The typical fee is 5-6% but can range from as little as 4% to as much as 10%. That fee comes right off your top-line revenue and eats into your margins.

While margins are lower, the administrative burden is higher. From photographing the site to filling out paperwork, the administrative overhead is exponentially more costly and burdensome than other projects.

The advantage of program work is simple: revenue. Meet their performance metrics, and TPAs will introduce you to many insurance companies and losses. These jobs can generate substantial revenue for your company.

At our company, we discovered one of the seeming disadvantages of TPAs, the additional administrative burden, was actually a positive. The additional time we allocated to inspect, estimate, and complete a project improved our business. Aligning our company’s policies with our TPA partners improved our processes and overall performance for TPA and non-TPA work. While it is the most challenging work you will ever do, program work will elevate your company’s performance and make it more competitive. 

One caution: it’s possible to do too much program work. As a rule of thumb, you never want one customer generating more than 10% of your business. Because a TPA by nature works for many insurance carriers, that doesn’t strictly apply; however, I would not recommend generating more than half your revenue with a TPA. As with any customer, TPA or otherwise, you’re only as good as your last job, and you’re only as good as your worst employee. 

Even at our company’s size and scale, we occasionally upset carriers, individual adjusters, and customers, which has prevented us from getting work from a particular carrier or TPA. We’ve been kicked off programs entirely for nonperformance in particular markets. One day you receive a letter stating you are no longer doing business with that carrier, no explanation, no conversation, and just like that, you’re done. If that carrier represents a substantial portion of your business, it can be hard to recover, especially if you’ve added staff and overhead to handle that workload.

I recall one particular TPA relationship that highlights the valuable lessons we learned from losing a customer and how we worked to replace that revenue. One of our offices was pleased to be activated as a preferred service provider for a major carrier. This account became our number one customer at that location, generating a staggering $5 million annually. That relationship helped propel the office to one of our flagship locations—a true beacon of success.

We did extensive work and provided exemplary service on numerous jobs for many years. However, we eventually hit a rough patch. It wasn’t the TPA that removed us, but the carrier itself, citing three separate issues on three different jobs. Three strikes, and we were out. We received an immediate suspension notice and would not receive another assignment again, ultimately leading to our deactivation from the program.

Losing this account was undeniably a devastating blow. We bid farewell to $5 million in annual revenue with that carrier under the TPA umbrella. Despite this setback, we refused to allow adversity to define us. We redoubled our efforts to ensure customer satisfaction on every job and worked diligently to diversify our client base to mitigate such risks in the future. It was an agonizing journey that tested our resilience and determination.

I’m pleased to report that our unwavering persistence finally paid off. In 2023, we were reactivated by the carrier. It had taken nearly a decade, resulting in a staggering $50 million loss of business. But as an office and a company, we are stronger for it. While we are grateful and excited to welcome back the account, we won’t soon forget the bitter pill we had to swallow, especially considering the extensive work and exemplary service we delivered for them for many years.

This experience is a poignant reminder to avoid over-concentration with any one client. While we should always strive to provide exceptional service to every client, we must remain mindful that any customer, even the largest, can be lost instantly. It is a sobering reality emphasizing the need to continually diversify our portfolio and treat every client with utmost care and attention.

If you’re interested in pursuing program work, I recommend you check out the TPA Scorecard provided to members of the Restoration Industry Association. The RIA is the oldest and largest non-profit professional trade association dedicated to providing leadership and promoting best practices through advocacy, standards & professional qualifications for the restoration industry. The TPA Scorecard is the restoration industry’s answer to Yelp or Google reviews. Surveying contractors about their experience with TPAs helps other contractors make informed decisions and ultimately improves the restorer/TPA relationship. It’s the only way for restoration owners to gauge how TPAs are performing from the point of view of the restoration industry. 

RIA’s 2023 TPA Scorecard ranked the following TPAs: 

  1. PRN affiliated with Hancock Claims – https://hancockclaims.com/preferred-repair-network),
  2. ENCORE affiliated with Core – https://gowithcore.com/oncore-claims-network/
  3. Lionsbridge – https://lionsbridgecontractorgroup.net/
  4. Alacrity – https://www.alacritysolutions.com/solutions/network-solutions/
  5. BrightServ – https://www.brightserve.com/
  6. Contractor Connection affiliated with Crawford & Company – https://www.contractorconnection.com/
  7. Direct Claims Management Group (DCMG) – https://www.contractorconnection.com/
  8. Westhill Global – https://www.westhillglobal.com/
  9. IPN
  10. Accuserve, formerly called Codeblue – https://www.accuserve.com/

PART II: Uninsured 

Most restoration companies that don’t work with insurance tend to acquire most of their business through direct commercial relationships, referrals, and cultivating a positive reputation through word-of-mouth and reviews.

As a buyer of restoration companies, I always seek out those with a diverse customer base and a small concentration of large customers—ideally, every customer accounts for at most 10% of their revenue. The typical restoration company generates about 80% of its revenue from residential and 20% from commercial. Subsequently, increasing market share in the commercial sector is a surefire way to increase your top and bottom line while diversifying your business.

The easiest way to break into the commercial sector is through property managers. Property managers can be categorized into two groups: multifamily and commercial.

Multifamily

https://www.nmhc.org

Multifamily includes apartments, condos, townhouses, and similar properties. Marketing to multifamily property owners and managers can be advantageous in several ways. First, multifamily properties are often managed by professional property management companies, which means there is a higher likelihood of regular maintenance and repair work. This allows for establishing ongoing relationships with property managers and owners, leading to repeat business and a stable revenue stream. Multifamily properties have multiple units, which means the potential for larger-scale restoration projects is higher than for single-family homes. Finally, marketing to multifamily property managers can help establish yourself as an expert in the field, building a reputation for quality work and professionalism that can lead to referrals and new business opportunities.

The best way to meet multifamily property managers is by joining the National Apartment Association (NAA), a non-profit trade association of apartment communities, owners, and vendors in the United States. (Visit their website for more information at www.naahq.org) Joining your local chapter is an excellent way to meet many property managers who can refer projects to you. You’ll find a local chapter of the NAA in most large metropolitan markets. They organize monthly meetings, social events, trade shows, conferences, and other opportunities. For example, I live in Phoenix, Arizona, where our local version of NAA is the Arizona Multifamily Association (AMA).

Our active engagement with the NAA and local apartment associations has proven critical to our company’s growth over the past decade. The multifamily sector has become a primary source of revenue and referrals for us, both locally and nationwide. Our multifamily revenue now surpasses an impressive $75 million annually.

Among the multitude of events that we regularly attend, one stands out as a favorite: the reverse trade show, hosted by local apartment associations. This unique event provides property managers and owners the opportunity to sit at tables, while vendors like us make the rounds, engaging in interviews and discussions, and exploring potential partnerships and business opportunities. The reverse trade show format, akin to speed dating, proves highly effective in forging meaningful connections and generating valuable business. I highly recommend it to anyone in the industry.

Our company’s deep engagement with apartment associations has been pivotal in our ongoing success and remarkable growth trajectory. We remain enthusiastic about continuing to cultivate relationships and fostering new business opportunities through these invaluable channels.

I advise anyone seeking to generate property manager referrals to join the board or a committee of your local chapter. Investing time in these associations is more critical than investing capital, as members tend to be very loyal to individuals and companies that participate in volunteer activities, particularly committee and board positions. 

Joining is the first step; building and maintaining relationships with other members is crucial to generating business. As an owner, estimator, project director, or business development person, I encourage you to get involved. The return on investment in this vertical is high, because each building has many individual units, and they experience a high frequency of losses and incidents. The severity and size of those losses range the entire spectrum.

Commercial

Commercial property managers are responsible for large commercial buildings like high-rise offices, shopping malls, and hospitals. Many commercial property managers belong to groups like the Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA) and the International Facilities Management Association (IFMA). BOMA (https://www.boma.org/) is a professional organization for commercial real estate professionals based in the United States and Canada. Its membership includes building owners, managers, developers, leasing professionals, corporate facility managers, asset managers, and vendors of products and services needed to operate commercial properties. IFMA (www.IFMA.org) is an international association for facility management professionals. Joining these organizations is an excellent way to get to know these property managers. 

Both BOMA and IFMA members manage more significant buildings with more enormous losses. There tends to be a property manager or a facility representative at each building, as well as regional property managers that can influence referrals on multiple buildings. BOMA and IFMA members are very loyal, even more so than Apartment Association members. Both organizations are precious for referrals, but only once you’ve done your time. When I say time, I’m talking about two to four years invested in serving on committees and board positions before you’re likely to see a significant return on your investment.

The return on investment in commercial is not as high as multifamily. Though buildings are more significant, they have fewer units than multifamily, so losses are less frequent. The severity and size of those losses ranges the entire spectrum.

Hospitality (i.e., hotels and motels)

https://www.ahla.com (National)

https://azlta.com/ (Local)

Our company engages with hotels primarily through national accounts but not so much locally. This group is much easier to target for local restorers. Remember, just because the hotel says Hilton, Marriot, or Hyatt doesn’t mean those entities own the property. Most hotels are owned by local community members, who may own one or more properties. Less than 5% of all significant branded hotels are owned by corporate. Those prominent brands simply manage them. Sometimes these brands can refer a national vendor for services, but the owners trump the management company. Get to know your local hotel and motel owners, regardless of the brand on the marquee.

Government (i.e., cities, counties, municipalities, state and federal agencies)

https://nspma.com/

https://www.naco.org/

There are countless cities, making them your most promising prospects. There are also several departments that can refer you for work. Among them are facilities, construction, risk management, and sometimes claims. We have one city that’s been a customer for 15 years. We probably average $1M per year and have also done several multi-million-dollar jobs for them. We have another city that only used us once, to my knowledge. Still, after a significant local event, they awarded us 110+ buildings for several million dollars on each building – parks and recreation facilities, fire and police station, city hall, etc. It was an incredible opportunity.

Retail 

https://www.icsc.com/

We have several national account customers in retail and banking. The frequency is high, and annual revenue is high. Unless your company has national reach, pursuing such accounts is not worth the time investment. Then again, according to IBISWorld, there are more than 170,000 small specialty retail stores in the U.S., stores that the 15,000 small specialty restorers have a good shot at landing as customers. 

Schools

https://www.facilitiescouncil.org/

https://nspma.com/

https://www.urmia.org/home

Schools have never been a significant source of revenue for us. I’ve personally been involved with one university for about a decade. This school is a top 25 university in the US, and their annual spend on restoration services is between $5-$7M. They use their best performers on regular rotation. Split among five vendors, our revenue averages a little over $1M per year and has for the past decade. That said, we’ve done several individual jobs for significantly more than $1M.

Healthcare (i.e., hospitals, assisted living, senior living)

https://www.ashaliving.org/

https://www.ahcancal.org/

Healthcare is perhaps the most complex vertical, but also among the highest margin, given the nature and complexity of patients and the buildings they occupy. The approach to getting your foot in the door in healthcare is similar to other commercial verticals, only more specialized. You need to provide additional training and resources to ensure that when you win this work, your team knows the rules of engagement of working inside a healthcare facility.

Once your team is adequately trained, generating business is also complex, because hospitals are large and complex. At least four to five departments can refer you for work within any given hospital. Your primary referral source is in facilities management. These men and women typically work in some engineering capacity. They may or may not perform small day-to-day or routine projects. Still, they typically need outside resources to tackle medium or large-scale projects resulting from damage or other business interruptions.

Other departments include infectious control, environmental, risk management, and the construction department, all of which may be involved in different projects and losses outside the scope of facilities management. For example, the construction department will manage day-to-day capital improvements in the hospital, adding a wing or doing substantial renovations. In the case of water, smoke, or fire, facilities will typically not be involved because it falls under the budgets and constraints of the construction department.

The construction department may refer you in these cases or use large-scale prime or general contractors to handle them. Sometimes the hospital may not refer a subcontractor because they’ve already outsourced it to the general contractor. I once experienced this when there was a multimillion-dollar project inside a hospital with which I had an excellent relationship. Still, the general contractor made the referral since it was part of the construction capital project. Even though it was a hospital where we were engaged weekly, we missed out on a multimillion-dollar opportunity. 

Hospitals are not cost-conscious. Speed and getting rooms back online are typically more important than the cost of restoration services, which is peanuts compared to lost revenue when patient rooms and other portions of their facility are down for business. 

We have enjoyed more success with local hospitals, where decisions are made locally, versus corporate-run facilities. We have dozens of examples of a single hospital generating $1M or more annually by becoming their go-to service provider.

Organizations like the American Hospital Association (AHA) and the American Society for Healthcare Engineering (ASHE) tend to have local chapters where, again, you can donate your time and resources and become a member. The AHA is a healthcare industry trade group representing nearly 5,000 hospitals and health care providers. Visit their website to find out more, www.aha.org. ASHE is the largest association devoted to professionals who design, build, maintain, and operate hospitals and other healthcare facilities. Their 12,500 members include healthcare facility managers, engineers, architects, designers, constructors, infection control specialists, and others. Visit their website to find out more, www.ASHE.org. 

Depending on the size of your business, you may not have the resources or staff to get involved in more than one or two associations. If you don’t have substantial time or dedicated staff, you must choose one vertical you most want to expand your market share. The worst thing you can do is join three, four, or even dozens of associations and not have sufficient time to commit. At that point, you’re simply spending money with no end in sight and no return on your investment. I encourage you to choose one vertical and join one association. As you grow your market share in that vertical, feel free to expand to a second or even a third. Keep in mind you may need someone other than yourself to get involved in different associations.

ATI Employee Event

PART III: Growing Your Business Online & IRL

Whether you play the insurance game or not, every restorer can generate leads online and in real life through these opportunities:

  • Fire departments
  • Plumbers
  • Website
  • SEO
  • Social media
  • Reviews
  • Restoration Industry Association

We all have finite resources, so you’ll want to determine which mix of opportunities best fits your company’s market, skillset, and budget.

Fire Departments

Chasing fires is a time-honored tradition in the restoration industry. Restoration contractors are critical in helping communities recover from disasters such as fires. When a fire strikes, contractors quickly clean up and restore damaged homes and businesses. Fires tend to be financially lucrative due to the size and magnitude of projects that have suffered a fire loss. You can follow the news, subscribe to various fire alert services, work directly with fire departments for referrals, or hire someone on staff who does this for a living. 

One of the most effective ways for restoration contractors to reach potential customers is by marketing to fire departments. They are often the first point of contact for homeowners and business owners in the aftermath of a fire. We can position ourselves as trusted partners in recovery by establishing relationships with our local fire departments.

Fire departments possess a wealth of information about the local community, including potential customers who may require restoration services. By staying in regular contact, you can gain valuable insights into the community’s needs and tailor your marketing efforts accordingly.

Finally, marketing to fire departments can help build credibility and trust with potential customers. By demonstrating your expertise and commitment to the community, you position your company as a reputable and trustworthy partner in the recovery. This helps differentiate you from competitors and increases the likelihood that potential customers will choose your company.

How can you effectively market to fire departments? One effective strategy is attending local fire departments events such as open houses and training sessions. Setting up a booth and providing information about your services is a positive way to introduce yourself to your local firefighters and build relationships with them.

Another effective strategy is to offer training sessions or seminars for fire personnel. Sharing your expertise in fire damage restoration and mold remediation demonstrates your knowledge and establishes your company as a trusted partner in the recovery process.

Breaking into fire departments can be challenging, especially if an 800-BOARD-UP franchise dominates the market in your area. Getting to know your local firehouses and their staff is essential, as they require familiarity with your company before they’ll refer you. You can increase your visibility and grow your business by establishing relationships with firefighters, gaining insights into the community’s needs, and building credibility and trust with potential customers. 

Plumbers

Developing relationships with plumbers is another proven strategy for any contractor looking to grow their business. Plumbers are often the first point of contact for homeowners who experience water damage or other plumbing-related issues. Building relationships with plumbers can position your company as a trusted partner in the recovery and increase the chances of being referred for restoration services.

When a homeowner experiences water damage, they often turn to a plumber for help. If the plumber does not have a restoration contractor to recommend, they typically refer the homeowner to their insurance company, who may then recommend a restoration contractor. This can result in the homeowner choosing a restoration contractor with whom they have no prior relationship. By developing relationships with plumbers, you increase the likelihood that your company will be referred for restoration services. This can be financially rewarding, as these projects tend to be smaller in scope but can add up over time.

Bear in mind that collaborating with plumbers for referrals can be fiercely competitive and may require paying significant referral fees to both the plumbing company and individual plumbers. Negotiating with insurance companies can also present challenges regarding plumbing referrals. Insurance companies may not appreciate this referral source, preferring to recommend their preferred restoration contractor. Navigate these challenges carefully and ensure you provide high-quality services to both plumbers and their clients.

Website

Investing in your website can help you attract new customers, increase sales, and grow your business. These days, a website is often the first point of contact between your business and potential customers. A website serves as a virtual storefront, providing customers with information about your business, its services, and its values. A well-designed and informative website demonstrates to potential customers that your business is reputable, trustworthy, and committed to providing high-quality services. Providing customer testimonials and case studies also helps differentiate your business from your competitors and persuade potential customers to choose your company. A high-quality website can make a lasting impression on potential customers and be a key factor in driving sales and growth for your business.

SEO

Search engine optimization (SEO) is the art of optimizing a website to improve its visibility and ranking on search engines such as Google, Yahoo, or Bing. Optimizing your website for search engines can increase your online visibility, attract more traffic, and ultimately increase business.

For a company specializing in disaster recovery, SEO is vital. When disaster strikes, people often turn to the internet to find a local restoration company to help them with their needs. Optimizing your website for search engines ensures you appear at the top of search engine results pages (SERPs) and are more likely to be found by potential customers.

In addition to improving visibility and ranking on search engines, SEO can also help target specific keywords and phrases relevant to your business. For example, you may want to target keywords such as “fire damage restoration” or “water damage restoration” to attract customers specifically looking for those services. Targeting these keywords and phrases attracts highly targeted traffic to your website, which can result in more leads and conversions.

Another important aspect of SEO for disaster recovery companies is the ability to provide valuable information to potential customers. Restorers can demonstrate their expertise and build trust with their audience by creating high-quality content that addresses common questions and concerns related to disaster recovery. This can help establish your company as a trusted resource for customers looking for guidance in a stressful situation.

SEO is an important tool for restorers. Optimizing your website for search engines, targeting relevant keywords and phrases, and providing valuable information to potential customers can increase your online visibility, attract more traffic, and ultimately grow your business.

Social Media

Social media is another powerful tool to connect with potential customers and showcase your expertise. Social media provides a platform to share before-and-after photos and videos of restoration projects, which can help build credibility and trust with potential customers. This is especially important for companies specializing in fire and water damage restoration, where the results can significantly impact a customer’s home or business.

Social media can also provide valuable information to potential customers who may be dealing with a disaster situation. You can demonstrate your expertise and build trust with your audience by sharing tips and best practices for preventing and addressing fire and water damage. This helps position your company as a trusted resource.

Social media can also be used to provide updates and information to customers who are already using your services. For example, you can use social media to provide updates on the progress of restoration work, answer questions, and provide information on the steps you’re taking to ensure the safety of the customer’s home or business.

Finally, social media can effectively provide customer support and address customers’ concerns or complaints. By responding promptly to customers’ comments and messages on social media, you demonstrate your commitment to excellent customer service and build loyalty among customers and prospects alike.

Reviews

Online reviews have become an essential part of running any successful business. Reviews are a powerful factor influencing a potential customer’s decision to purchase a product or service. Studies have shown that almost 90% of consumers read online reviews before purchasing. Positive reviews can build trust and credibility with potential customers, while negative reviews can significantly impact your company’s reputation and sales.

Online reviews can also provide valuable feedback for your business. By reading reviews, you gain insight into what customers like about your products or services and what you can improve on. This feedback can help you make necessary changes to improve your service and ultimately increase customer satisfaction.

Online reviews also improve your visibility on search engines. Positive reviews can help your business rank higher in search results, making it easier for potential customers to find you. Reviews also serve as user-generated content, which also improves your search engine optimization (SEO).

By actively managing and responding to online reviews, you can build customer trust, improve your offerings, and ultimately increase your bottom line.

We learned the hard way how online reviews can hurt our business. A next-door neighbor of one of our high-level executives suffered an extensive fire. Naturally, he reached out to us. But after reading our reviews online, he elected not to hire us. Just like that, we lost a $500k project. You can bet we pay attention to our online reviews today!

Professional Development and Training

Training and education are crucial to any successful business. To make the most of these investments, it’s important to break them down into three parts: the business, the owner, and the staff. Each of these areas requires a different approach to training and education.

For the business, investing in coaching, consulting, or mentoring is important. This helps you identify strengths and weaknesses, develop strategies for growth and improvement, and provide guidance on important decisions. A coach or consultant can provide a fresh perspective on the business, while a mentor can offer valuable insights based on their personal experience.

For owners, joining groups like Vistage, business mentors, YPO, or other business leader groups can be incredibly valuable. These groups provide a supportive environment where owners can share experiences, learn from peers, and develop new skills. They also offer a sense of accountability, as members hold each other accountable for achieving their goals.

For our employees, training and education is critical at all levels of the organization. Remember, our company is only as good as our worst employee. Soft skills like communication, teamwork, and problem-solving are essential for building a strong and effective team. Technical skills, such as expertise and certifications, are necessary for providing high-quality service to our customers.

Investing in your employees is not just about your company’s bottom line. It’s about investing in their future and long-term potential. Providing education, knowledge, and technical expertise helps our employees succeed in their current roles and sets them up for success in their future careers. By investing in our employees, we invest in their growth and development, ultimately leading to increased loyalty, trust, and commitment to our company. Prioritizing the growth and development of our employees, creates a culture of excellence, innovation, and continuous improvement that benefits everyone in the organization.

We believe our employees are our most valuable asset. By investing in them, we are investing in the future of our company and our community. My advice to any owner seeking growth: invest in the people who already work for you. Make sure they are technically trained and certified.

Our company employs over 2,000 restoration professionals. Our in-house training and development center offers over 500 self-paced training courses. Fortunately, RIA enables contractors of all sizes to meet their employees’ training, certification, and continuing education requirements. Their training courses are led by industry experts and offered in various formats, including in-person, webinars, and on-demand. RIA also administers several advanced certification programs, considered the premier certifications within the restoration industry:

  • Fire Loss Specialist (FLS)
  • Water Loss Specialist (WLS)
  • Contents Loss Specialist (CLS)
  • Environmental Risk Specialist (ERS)

These advanced certifications are challenging. As an owner, you should have all four, so should your management team and the long-term talent you are cultivating within your organization. Once you have your four pillars, you go for the granddaddy of them all, the Certified Restorer (CR) designation. It’s the Ph.D. of the restoration industry.

Only send your most talented employees, smart people who want to learn and are hungry for education – people you cannot afford to lose. Speaking from experience, don’t force anyone. They must want it. These certifications require a HUGE COMMITMENT of their time and your money. 

For more on RIA Pillars, see https://www.restorationindustry.org/certifications.

When it comes to industry training, there are plenty of other options. Here’s my cheat sheet:

  • IICRC is the best and most common place for restoration, remediation, and carpet cleaning training.
  • Verisk and Corelogic both offer training and certification for their estimating platforms. Don’t expect your estimators and project directors to be experts in a software system unless they’re certified.
  • Don’t overlook training outside of the industry. I would recommend classes on management, leadership, writing, negotiating, etc.

Restoration Industry Association

In addition to training, the Restoration Industry Association is an excellent resource for restorers to work together and improve the industry collectively. Membership is an indispensable tool for growing your business. Here are three other membership benefits: 

Affinity Partnership Program

RIA has negotiated discounts and rebates on all the products and services we restorers use. The ever-growing list of Affinity Partners reads like a who’s who in restoration, including Sunbelt Rentals and the industry’s leading software vendors. RIA members enjoy discounts with all of them. What’s the catch? You must be an RIA member. These discounts pay for your membership.

Size Matters

RIA is the voice of the restoration contractor. The bigger we are, the louder we speak. That’s particularly important when it comes to getting paid. Large or small, we contractors are dwarfed in size by insurance carriers and third-party administrators (TPAs). When getting paid, we have precisely zero power to negotiate. When we unite, we even have the playing field. 

Jeff and ATI Friends

Networking

It’s not what you know but who you know. Strong relationships have always been crucial to success in our industry. RIA’s International Restoration Convention and Industry Expo is the year’s premier networking event. Over a thousand restorers, vendors, and insurance professionals converge for a week of golfing, training, and networking. Not already an RIA member? Go HERE  to become one today.

Conclusion

There is no definitive roadmap to success. Businesses of all sizes and shapes can be successful, regardless of their business partners or preference for insurance companies or TPAs. It’s crucial to define who you are, whom you want to work for, and what will prove most successful for your business.

If you’re a contractor thinking about expanding into a new market, you should consider whether you’re in all the verticals you want to be in and if you’re getting all the business you want from your current customers. If you are, then it’s time to expand. However, expanding close to home is best to avoid losing focus on your business and profitability.

If you choose to expand, find an employee who already works for you and is willing to move or transfer to the new market. This person should be someone whom you trust and respect. Ensure they understand your business to be your eyes and ears in the new location.

Before expanding into a new market, take your time to invest in the marketplace and conduct research. Spend the next 6 to 12 months researching the market and meeting with vendors, suppliers, and potential customers. As you make those rounds, the timing will become more logical on when you should open that office or if you should open that office at all.

Expanding your business may make you bigger, but it won’t make you better or earn you more money. On the contrary, you should expect to lose money as you expand, especially for the first year, and perhaps even the second and third years.

I remember growing up, Dad was gone a lot, chasing fires, running jobs, building an empire. He would come home from work and announce a milestone.

  • He opened a second office.
  • He received its first $1M job.
  • He hired his hundredth employee.
  • He expanded outside California.

One of my favorite stories is Dad reading about a fire at a local Chinese restaurant in the newspaper, back when we still read hard copies! Dad didn’t even have a business card yet. On his way to the restaurant, he stopped at the local print shop and had some cards made up. He went to the restaurant, met the owner, and convinced him that he could restore his family’s restaurant. Turns out Dad knew the adjuster, and just like that, he landed the first large loss in ATI’s history.

Each new milestone felt like ATI had reached the pinnacle, that the company had finally achieved real success. Looking back now, I learned that doubling your revenue means a bigger office, new vehicles, maybe an upgrade to first class on your next flight. But if you truly want to make a difference, you must add a zero.

I joined the family business full time after graduating from college in 2001. I was astonished when the company achieved a record $26M in revenue that year. I couldn’t imagine how I was going to help double our revenue, let alone add a zero to that lofty number. Yet here we are two decades later, America’s largest family-operated restoration contractor, closing in on $1B in revenue.

I’ve shared our family’s strategies for successfully growing a restoration business. No doubt you’ve discovered your own strategies, too. There’s no magic formula, just old-fashioned hard work, hiring people smarter than you, and believing in them. Time does the rest. The best marketing and business development is still a job well done.

Whether yours is a $1M company or a $10M company, here’s to adding a zero!

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Jeff Moore

After earning his degree from Southern Methodist University, Jeff Moore began his career at ATI in 1994 as a restoration technician, working his way through the ranks of every division of the company, both in the field and at the corporate level. He served as Executive Vice President from 2012-2019 and has served as Co-President with his brother since 2019, Ryan Moore. At the helm of the company, Jeff is responsible for the day-to-day operations, focusing on the future of the organization and revenue generation, including Sales, Marketing, and Mergers and Acquisitions. He is driven and has a passion for differentiation through technology and innovation.

Jeff serves on the Board of Directors for RIA, continually advocating for the restoration industry. He holds several advanced designations with RIA, CR, WLS, and CMP. He also has his Master Designations with IICRC for Fire & Smoke, Water Restorer, and Textile Cleaner.

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