CHICAGO — A late-night fire scorches a two-story home, but firefighters are able to douse the flames before the structure is destroyed. Still, the smoke and water damage is extensive. Now, in his time of greatest need, the homeowner turns to his insurance company to begin the process of getting his family’s lives back to normal.
So, who does the insurance provider turn to at a time like this? It’ll call in contractors to see about repairing and/or rebuilding the structure, but before that can happen, something has to be done about the family’s personal belongings. Can they be saved? Are they worth saving?
That’s when the smart adjuster calls in a dry cleaner that specializes in restoring garments and soft goods. Long an offshoot of dry cleaning, restoration has come into its own as the add-on that can easily eclipse the core business.
When American Drycleaner last featured this niche market five years ago, it was written that “restoration is no longer a matter of saving a cherished wedding gown or antique quilt—it’s about reclaiming any item still useful to the customer and cost-effective enough to rehabilitate for the insurer.”
That still holds true today, plus the insurance industry’s increased awareness of restoration dry cleaning has led to more work for those businesses with the expertise to meet the needs of the homeowner and the insurance carrier during arguably the most trying of times.
What items are restoration dry cleaners able to save? Things like clothing, bedding, drapes, rugs, furs, stuffed animals, shoes, etc. “A textile restoration expert can clean about 23% of what’s in a home,” says Wayne Wudyka, CEO of the Certified Restoration Drycleaning Network (CRDN). “If you took a house, turned it upside down and shook it, CRDN would pick up 23% of the items on the ground and restore those. That’s the largest single category of content items in a home.”
It’s estimated that restoration can save 80% over replacement costs on a typical insurance claim. For example, it could take $60 to replace a Tommy Hilfiger golf shirt, but only $5.75 to restore it. A $295 Ann Taylor dress may cost the insurer only $15.95 in restoration costs. That “saved” money can be applied to another part of the insured’s claim.
“Keep in mind that the homeowners have a limited amount of (contents) coverage in their homeowners policy,” Wudyka says. “The more they can save in our category, the more dollars they have available to use for things like electronics, appliances, jewelry, furniture, artwork, items that they would otherwise run out of coverage for.”
But the serious restoration dry cleaner better be prepared to respond quickly to a disaster site at any time of the day or night.
“Some time ago, that maybe would have been a differentiator, to go in and promise … to an insurance company or to a contractor” that your business offers 24-hour emergency service, odor removal, or some sophisticated inventory process, says Jim Nicholas, president of FRSTeam. “Now, those have become standard expectations for anybody who’s going to work in that space.”
And not every operation can handle jobs of this size. It takes capacity to clean so many items, and storage space to hold jobs until disaster victims have someplace to put them.
“I’ve said this for 12 years, but cleaning is the easiest part of doing textile restoration for the insurance industry,” Wudyka says. “It’s all the other nuances that you have to be aware of, and take into account when you get into this business.”
“More accomplished cleaners can manage that part,” Nicholas says. “The challenge for somebody that hasn’t been in this space before is the transition of … actively marketing against other companies.”
And it’s an absolute must to make local contacts with the insurance companies and resident disaster restoration firms and work to develop those relationships or “you really won’t get any work,” he adds.
Members of North American Restoration Dry Cleaners visit other members’ facilities and give good, honest critiques of each other’s processes, says its president, A-1 Fabric Restoration’s Mark Folzenlogen. “We zero in on every aspect of our members’ businesses so that we can constantly improve, and help each other improve. … You have to have the ability to change with time, and to stay on top of the program requirements that are out there for the industry.”
“Ten years ago, the (restoration) category didn’t really exist,” says Wudyka. “Our biggest competitor 10 or 11 years ago was the Dumpster. Today, it’s a highly sophisticated part of the claim process that needs to be respected and handled appropriately.”