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Restoration Rescue

The other day I’m walking through Walmart where I see a kiosk filled with, I kid you not, Duck Dynasty sugar cookies. Now to be fair, I have to concede that I haven’t watched five minutes of that show nor any other reality TV show.

You have to take your hat off to the Robertson family as they have built a very successful empire. Even so, I’m still not buying cookies from a brand where four guys on the package have long beards like ZZ Top and are known for making duck calls, hunting and getting muddy for a living. They may be great cookies but the odds are in my favor that not buying them was a wise decision.

So the big question: why would an organization sell something so far outside their area of expertise? And we all know that answer … more MONEY! Duck calls, yes, but cookies?

Unfortunately, with the downturn in the economy these last few years, we’ve seen similar trends in the restoration industry. The industry has been swarmed with inexperienced contractors and now mitigation companies are performing reconstruction work with subpar results.

Over nearly 27 years, PBI has far too often received calls to rescue a restoration project where the contractor was seriously underperforming. This is happening more and more often as of late with a particular project from a fire on a multifamily property being worse than most. This turnkey project should have taken about six months. When PBI was brought in, the initial contractor only had about two months of work completed … on a contract signed fifteen months earlier.

In our experience, projects that take far too long to finish often have plenty of poor workmanship embedded into the situation. This latest project had these quality issues also and to make matter worse, the initial contractor was paid far too much up front.

You guessed it, the property owner doesn’t have enough insurance money remaining to have another contractor fix the mistakes and complete the project. Their only recourse is to spend more money on attorneys and file a lawsuit because the original contractor won’t refund any money. In these situations, the money is usually gone but the contractor didn’t spend it on the project they were paid for.

A few years of training and experience should give most work crews a solid foundation for structural drying, mold remediation or fire cleaning. Especially for commercial accounts and long term contracts, it’s necessary to qualify the experience of crews on your projects then the longevity of the company.

However, reconstruction (especially commercial reconstruction) is a whole different ballgame. There are often no blueprints and no specifications and time is short because expensive real estate is out of service. Often there are complicated circumstances where the contractor must become an expert on unusual situations very quickly. Specific questions that are typically overlooked should be asked about the personnel for the project even before a contract is ever considered:

• How long has the project manager that will be in charge of your project been at that company? What type of projects has he/she been managing? Good companies have had the same good project managers working on similar projects to yours for five, ten or even fifteen years. If your project manager has been there for six months, the chances are good that a complex project could have serious trouble no matter how long the company has been in business.

• Have the key subcontractors, engineers and suppliers for your project been part of their team for years and on how many projects? Again, a complex project could have big issues if this team isn’t strong.

• Are the subcontractors, engineers and suppliers paid in full and on time? How contractors pay their vendors will usually reflect the quality of the vendors to begin with. Good subcontractors and vendors typically do good work and work for good companies that pay promptly. Poorly run contractors usually have poor quality subcontractors as the good ones won’t work for them.

There’s a saying that goes, “don’t let someone learn how to shave on your face.” Personally, I’ve had enough cuts and scrapes of my own where the pile of Band-Aids could make a quilt. The last thing any of us needs is to pay someone to learn on the job while valuable real estate sits idle or the work performed is substandard.

Let’s face it, all companies in all industries have some stink bombs in their past. Even the best companies can screw up the simplest of projects from time to time. Nobody’s perfect … but the good organizations surround themselves with good people and remedy any problems the best they can.

So instead of following the Duck Dynasty model and hoping someone can do something outside their true area of expertise, take the advice of Ronald Reagan: “Trust, but verify.”

Mike Popowski is President of PBI Restoration Resources Contact him at