Ten things I want for the contents industry in the next decade:

My history in restoration started in 2011 working for a specialty sub-contractor that only handled contents. From there I worked as an education officer and magazine editor at Fireline. Today, I help elevate companies to higher standards of asset recovery. To say that I have seen changes in the contents industry is putting it mildly. The thought of a company only surviving on contents work was a stretch when I started. Today big money is at the table making that bet. (I see you Belfor)

So what can we expect in the next ten years. Higher quality standards, or more of the same? Regardless of what may come to pass, here are ten things I expect (want) to see.

  1. An urgency to get ART in the hands of real professionals. I still shutter at the thought of how I may have handled artwork in the past. Restorers need to be less cavalier about handling delicate art pieces and find a quality art restorer. My preferred vendor is in South Carolina and I will call him about a job anywhere in the country.
  2. Universal acceptance of inventory software. People ask me all the time; “what software should I use?”, and my answer is usually “just pick one”. Yes, you may prefer one over the other for a very good reason, but the fact is that they all basically do the same thing which is keep track of your client’s stuff. That one thing is paramount. It’s one of the few promises we make. We may not be able to guarantee the restoration of any particular item, but we can at the very least promise that we will bring it back!
  3. Universal acceptance that we can clean better and faster with ultrasonics. Anyone that tells me ultrasonics is just another tool has not sat at a hand cleaning table ever in their life. I train companies all the time on ultrasonics. The look on their faces when they see the cleaning results are the same as when a child puts on glasses for the first time. It’s that meaningful, especially if you are someone spending endless hours at the hand cleaning station.
  4. Insurance carriers directing work to companies specializing in contents will increase. Contents is specialized work. It requires ample space for storage. Specialized cleaning agents and knowledge. It is the aspect of the job that the claimant can more easily scrutinize. Therefore, channeling that work to contents-only or full-service contractors, is in the best interest of all the stakeholders.
  5. Education will improve. Contents training used to be a portal for increased equipment sales. In some cases, it still is. As the contents industry grows so does the expertise of industry leaders. I expect to see more voices in the arena, and I welcome them. The more of us with real hands-on experience teaching the better we can serve our customers.  

Industry Trends

  1. More opportunities to own a contents restoration business. Early pioneers of contents restoration proved that a contents only business model was indeed viable. Now smart people with deep pockets have caught on and have begun franchising. If you want to do the work and feel that a national brand will give you a leg-up, then you have a few choices. Some offer branding and national marketing. Other companies just as good offer attractive licensing agreements. If you want to know more, you can let your fingers do the walking.
  2. Tighter profit margins. Ugh, I know. You know it too. Between third party administrators making deals on your behalf and insurance companies paying out on devastating floods and fires more regularly, someone is getting the short end of the stick. Unfortunately, it’s the vendors and the homeowners. Understanding how to invoice has never been more important. Get proper Xactimate training and get involved with groups like the RIA to advocate for your rights as restorers.
  3. Access to education will move online. Nothing will replace the value of real hands-on contents training but traveling to a seminar to listen to a low-key sales pitch from an equipment manufacturer is not the move. Keep your eyes peeled for excellent training opportunities online.
  4. More soft goods serviced in-house. The need for multiple sources of revenue will move restorers into providing more in-house services. If you are not satisfied with the service provided by your local textile restorer and you’re not dependent on them for leads, adding soft goods to your list of services may be a no-brainer.
  5. Quality contents managers will continue to be in high demand. These organizational gunslingers do not grow on trees. If you are lucky enough to find one, pay them well.

In part two I discuss five factors to look for when bringing on a contents manager.

The role of a contents manager is one of the most demanding positions in our industry. We are asked to be responsible for the inventory of multiple jobs; coordinate pack outs and move backs, organize thousands of cubic feet of personal property, control breakage (as much as possible) and make sure we turn a nice profit. If you are looking to hire a contents manager or elevate someone to that position, here are 5 points that you may want to look for when making a change.

Obviously, the role requires more than 5 qualities but this should be a nice place to start.

  1. Organization – I’ve had the privilege of meeting some fine contents managers who have had no previous experience in the industry. The one thing they all have in common is that they all have had to make sense of a disorganized warehouse where jobs were in constant danger of getting mixed. This has always been the number one priority for managers who succeed.
  2. Communication skills – Contents managers deal with the fallout of things that happen either in the field or in production. Mistakes are made, it’s how you deal with these mistakes that makes you worth you salt in this job. Crews are made up of different personalities. You are asking these individuals to walk into a sooty house with no light, no power in the middle of July to take an inventory, box and pack out the structure until it’s empty. You are as good as your staff, and your company will not be very good if your turnover rate is high.
  3. Inquisitive – Experience is not on this list like it is on the list for promoting a lead tech. A contents manager might not get caught in the weeds of the daily grind the same way a project manager does. However, the contents manager has to be inquisitive enough to ask herself ‘is there a better way?’ When companies hire me to work with them this is typically the most common question. I provide them with my strategies and show them why it works. Soon their minds illuminate with the possibilities of a more organized workflow. This can only happen if a contents manager questions the status quo.
  4. Knows what clean is – At some point a contents manager will recognize that quality control needs more attention.  This will happen only if the cleaning quality is properly evaluated. The person in charge; the top dog, has to have a standard in mind. Is this okay to go back in my mom’s house? We have to be discriminating about our standards for what is clean. 
  5. Knows how to delegate – It is crucial to come up with a strategy for executing pack outs, cleaning and return of contents. If the contents manager gets caught paying too much attention to a single part of the process, myopia occurs and he/she can’t see the forest from the trees.  Team members have to be able to clearly recite their own responsibilities and follow through, otherwise the contents manager will be drinking from a fire hose.

5 factors that will help you determine if your field tech is ready to be a project lead.

I often encounter fresh new faces who are advancing into leadership roles when visiting companies who need contents training. I’m always excited for them as I myself had made a similar leap early in my career. Typically most techs that are asked to take on more responsibility are more than ready but some business owners like to validate that promotion with a set of criteria. To help anyone who wants to know if their tech is ready to take the lead; here are 5 indicators that tell if you are making the right choice.

  1. Experience – This one goes without saying and it is number one for a reason. Throwing someone into a role where they have authority over others but who don’t have an adequate amount of time on the job can be a set back to your progress and a morale killer. Knowing the process is key to being a lead tech.
  2. Knows how to assess the claim – A major responsibility for lead techs is making an initial assessment. Questions they have to ask may include: How much of the structure are we packing out and how do I know? How much labor time will this require? Will I need to outsource any part of this claim? Does anything need to be prioritized because of the type of contamination? Am I packing out by material type? What is total loss? Etc. A contents manager should also be prepared to make an assessment but having a lead tech with this same skill is a sign of a strong team.
  3. Understanding inventory methods – Project leads are typically responsible for inventory on the pack outs. Depending on the inventory method (written or digital) your project lead has to know how to execute a field inventory, which depending on the software may sometimes require knowledge of Xactimate codes. 
  4. Understand cleaning capabilities – Each pack out is different and some require heavy cleaning with ultrasonics while others require delicate hand cleaning with the gentlest cleaning methods available. Often times these decisions are made in the field if we are packing out by material type. (Packing out by material type in the field dramatically speeds the cleaning process)
  5. Communication skills – The property owner isn’t always present at the pack out but I’ve been on enough pack outs where the owner was present to know that a verbal misunderstanding can make the claim more difficult than it needs to be. A lead who can listen and understand the needs of a claimant is as important as any of the other skills mentioned.

In part two I’ll discuss five factors to look for when bringing on a contents manager.

What happens when your contents division loses a trusted employee?Today’s workforce is mobile and has more choices than ever when it comes to deciding how to earn a paycheck. Freelance opportunities like Uber, Lyft and delivery services like Postsmastes have given more people the opportunity to work their own hours without supervision. More traditional brick and mortar employers are faced with increased wage demands in cities where referendums have increased the minimum wage. So, how do you keep the employees you have and how do you attract new talent?

  1. Leadership is important. When I went to work for a restoration company, I always knew management had my best interest in mind as long as I had the company’s best interest in mind. The leadership displayed by the people I worked for was mirrored in how I treated the customers and my co-workers. Pride in working for a company has nothing to do with branding or corporate color-schemes; it has everything to do with how well everyone works as a team.
  2. Someone has to know what they’re doing. It’s okay to not know everything but it’s critical that somebody knows something. Employees who see visible failures like; broken items returned, contents not properly cleaned or deodorized, lost contents. These occurrences make people wonder if they should be working somewhere else. The best way to solve this is by making your employees part of the solution. Create a process that makes sense. Put your people in a position to succeed!
  3. Don’t play favorites. During the holidays I spent some time with a friend who was telling me about how he trained a new hire. He brought him up to speed on everything he needed to know to be a successful water technician. Now that new hire is his supervisor. There is nothing that should keep my friend from being promoted except that he did not come to the company with any established personal relationships. If an employee feels the game is rigged, he/she will be looking for a better situation.
  4. Get training so you can train the next class. Think of an employee who would be devastating to lose. She’s great with customers; she knows how to operate your ultrasonics to maximum efficiency, she’s been in enough situations to make you feel confident that the job can be handled right. Now imagine her leaving.  Who’s going to run the sonic? Who’s going to be my lead in the field? Who knows how to handle the back end of our inventory software? Understand that these are all temporary road blocks. You can always bring in an expert to right the ship and mold your next great employee.
  5. Anybody can offer a job. Just as anybody can get a job. What separates a job from an opportunity is the potential to grow. So many of us have found careers in this industry. Either as estimators, project managers, general managers to regional managers to sales. Opportunities are everywhere in our industry, but only at the companies that can grow and create those opportunities. Share your vision and find the people who want to join you for the ride.

Real Content Restoration Training

Dear Mr. Gavilanes,

Thank you so much for the great contents training you gave to our facility. Your
training was in great detail and was laid out in such a way that it was easy to follow. It
was enjoyed by all who attended.
Some of the areas that helped us the most were paperwork trail, a form for every possible
scenario, setting expectations (Setting up the job with the customer), along with
Xactimate charges. Although we have always used Xactimate, we learned and went over
billable items that we haven’t used in the past. This alone probably more than paid us
back for the training cost.
Last but not least, the training was NOT boring and the “hands on” stories really made
the training seem to be in real-life settings. The one thing I thought was great was
empowering our people to “Take care of the problem and move on to the next task”
(Problem Solving and time management).
I would HIGHLY recommend your training to anyone in need.
Sincerely,

Wayne R. Terry
President
PuroClean Emergency Services, Jacksonville, FL

 

Remap patterns in your organization to create better culture.

Training is a must. It is the path of least resistance for companies looking to add contents to their line of services. The alternative is time spent on trial and error inside pack outs and at the cleaning line. To be sure there is nothing wrong with that approach. You will eventually figure things out. For example: How do I know the exact number of people to bring on any given pack out? I know because I’ve been on several with a variety of personnel combinations.
The problem with training of any kind; be it fitness or cognitive, is that there is always a tendency to fall back on habits. Some habits (like a daily shower) are good. Problems occur when habits are messy and inefficient.
Anyone can pack out a house. Most of us have done this when moving at some time in our lives. We cannot however take that experience and apply it to a fire loss or a water loss when time is of the essence and a clear inventory is vital. So there is training. We learn procedures that lead to efficiency. More importantly, the procedures are calculated to push contents through your facility for different cleaning methods. (Aqueous, delicate hand cleaning, upholstery, electronics etc.)
Training provides steps. Follow the steps and see your way to the end of the claim with certainty that everything inventoried went back clean, without odor and without damage.

But why not fall back to the old way? Ditch the digital inventory for a few room photos and item description on boxes. It will be faster and less stressful.
False! Cutting corners on the pack out will only push problems into production. Lost items and longer clean times leads to sacrificing quality control.

Remap your organizational behavior patterns completely by:

  • Committing fully to a tablet style software system that executes reports and holds people accountable for their inventory.
  • Hold people accountable. Tasks are a part of project management. Each pack out is a unique project. Assign tasks!
  • Label everything! The number of iPad’s, vaults, cleaning stations, etc.
  • Measure success. Cleaning logs, average times spent at the pack out combined with referral letters and fewer crises (you know what I mean), reinforces the new path you have set.

In short time the old way will seem Ludicrous to anyone on your staff. New hires will be brought into a successful culture and bad habits a distant memory.

Inertia in people is commonly characterized with the phrase ‘A body at rest, stays at rest’. It is the inability to ‘Just do it’. So how does this manifestation creep into the part of your company that handles contents? The answer is something I see all too often. It happens when we accept that our pack outs take as long as they do because that is how long it takes. Cleaning takes a year and a day and the quality is not where you would like it to be but you just accept it. You have done contents for years and have seldom ever thought of changing. That is how a contents division suffers from Inertia.

So how did I avoid this entirely? Fortunately I worked for a company with strong leadership. I entered the property and claims industry as a contents technician. My first impression of a pack out was thinking to myself ‘there has to be a better way than this’. I was asked for my opinion and ownership had a strong desire to make improvements and provide the staff with the tools to succeed.

When providing training, I keep it simple. I explain how to manage a pack out with order and precision. I talk about the cleaning process and repeat myself often, so when I leave, each person can go on and teach the next person. The simplicity is what grabs my students. No matter how long someone has been doing pack outs “their way,” they instantly recognize that my way is better. The best cure for inertia is motivation. Motivation comes when a clear path to success is presented to you.

For Contents Training please call 919.694.RCRT

Or email daveg@RealCRT.com

Summer/Fall Classroom Training Dates

Paulsboro, NJ June 21-22, 2017

Location: Aramsco/ Interlink Supply | 1480 Grandview Avenue | Paulsboro, NJ | 08066

Dallas, TX July 18-19, 2017

Location: Aramsco/ Interlink Supply | 10702 King William Dr. | Dallas, TX | 75220

Orlando, FL August 17-18, 2017

Location: Aramsco/ Interlink Supply of Orlando | 1035 W. Amelia Street | Orlando, FL | 32805

Nashville, TN October 18-19, 2017

Location: Aramsco/ Interlink Supply of Nashville | 910 Fiber Glass Road | Nashville, TN | 37210

Seattle, WA  November 8-9, 2017

Location: Aramsco/Interlink Supply of Seattle | 18436 Cascade Ave S Suite 100 | Seattle, WA | 98188

As I travel the country teaching Pack Out protocols and the fundamentals of ultrasonic sciences, I am always pleased to meet the men and woman who have taken the initiative to expand their business. There is a principle on decision making that I often reference. It is borrowed from The Toyota Way – a gospel of sorts on management and large scale manufacturing efficiency.

Make decisions slowly based on consensus, thoroughly considering all options; implement rapidly.

The key to this message is the part where we implement rapidly. So many good ideas get stuck in the paralysis by analysis. Fortunately many of the people I train have advanced past the challenge of taking action. They have bought equipment, expanded their storage space and hired training. I am inspired every time I travel to meet a new business owner and every time I make that point I pause and congratulate the ownership on their ability to make decisions and implement rapidly.

Best,

every-staff-position-is-important

In baseball setting a lineup starts off easy. You take your best hitter and bat him 4th (cleanup spot). If one of your first 3 batters gets on-base you’ve given your best hitter the opportunity to drive home a run. Easy.

What about the back of the lineup and the middle?

Building a contents division is no different than constructing a lineup. You will trust the person who demonstrates the most skill and devotion to the job with greater responsibility. Let us not take this point lightly. The most effective employees believe in the company mission and are focused on end results. Each packout is in this way like a baseball game. There are protocols, challenges and goals. In baseball, you want to score more runs than your opponent. In contents the goal is to eventually bring back everything you promised to the property owner in pre-loss condition. Along the way there are varying sets of challenges – weather, scale, distance, coverage limits to name a few. These challenges are met with confidence so long as the people we employee care about the end result.

Conceptual image - success of professional work. Objects over white

What are the roles needed in your contents division?

What is the leader to follower ratio in your company? The scale of the business will make that determination for you as long as you allow it to. For example; you would not want two managers in a manufacturing facility that employs six people total but you may have two project managers with teams of three for your contents division. I advise that one person own as much of a job whenever possible. If the person responsible truly cares about the end result that person will embrace the challenge and their potential will be maximized.

The scale of your business will determine how much responsibility a project manager will have. As the The Contents Team grew, my responsibilities shifted from field and production to entirely field services. I was relieved to know that the management of the cleaning side (ultrasonics, electronics, hand cleaning, upholstery etc.) was as capable in their department as I was in the field.

The recognition of talented employees is important but we must see all of our employees as different position players with different  goals and expectations. If my role is simply driver/mover, I am effective if I am truly devoted to moving people and property safely. If my goals are clear and if I have good intentions I will be successful.

Be sure that everyone at every position knows what is expected of them and be sure that everyone embraces their role. Teams that do this well win more games. Companies that do this well will grow.

Best,