Jody Wesley, owner of United Services (USPRO), calls what his company does “emergency-room remodeling,” which is a good analogy. For restoration contractors, who arrive in the aftermath of a fire, flood, twister, or other disaster, “rebuild” barely begins to describe the range of services they provide. Fires, floods, and storms generate the biggest proportion of work at many operations. Many handle both commercial and residential work, which is more seasonal. Fires tend to happen when the weather cools. Greg Bowles, co-owner of Bowles Construction, in Augusta, Ga., says what he calls “fire season” generally runs from about Nov. 1 through March.
But big spurts in business also come from sudden storms. This spring, for instance, USPRO had more calls than it could handle after a series of storms tore through the Central Illinois market. “We had 100 new claims in two weeks,” Wesley says, and fortunately he has a network of local subcontractors who can be counted on when disaster insurance claims suddenly multiply.
Natural disasters are the wild-card, but can quickly bump up revenues, so some companies, such as Aspen Contracting, are organized to go where disaster strikes. President Pat Nussbeck says that Aspen Contracting, which is based in Lee’s Summit, Mo., is licensed in 42 states, and has a sophisticated phone network to ensure that homeowners can reach the company even when power is out and phone lines are down.
Regional weather events also provide the greatest portion of business for companies such as Construction Masters Roofing, in Little Rock, Ark., where owner Maro Croff says that the chance of a roof being damaged by a tornado or a wind or hail storm is greater than its simply wearing out.
A recent spate of damaging storms and floods has tempted builders and remodelers outside the industry to get a piece of this seemingly steady business. “Anybody who has a ladder is in the business now,” Nussbeck says. But contractors who specialize in restoration point out that it’s tough to enter. Not only must they be masters of paperwork, rapid response — both when providing an estimate and when actually doing the remediation and rebuilding — is essential, as is the ability to cover costs until an insurance check is issued. And code changes are pushing up construction costs in many areas.
But for those who are established, restoration has almost been recession-proof. Bowles, whose company for many years divided its efforts between remodeling and restoration, last year switched exclusively to insurance work. “We went cold turkey,” he says.
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—REMODELING contributing editor Jim Cory is the editor of REMODELING's sister publication, REPLACEMENT CONTRACTOR.