It's not lust but the survival instinct that drives homeowners and disaster restoration companies straight into bed together. Fire, vandalism, water damage — whatever the impetus, the relationship that ensues is more complex than many remodelers realize, says Michael Griggs (Big50 1995). His $12.5 million company, Disaster Restoration, of Denver, is the rare sustained success story in this volatile industry.

A full-service remodeler before he launched First General Services of the Front Range in 1987 (renamed Disaster Restoration a decade later), Griggs oversees a multifaceted business with seven locations and 80 employees. Jobs range from $2,000 to $2 million, “without the normal courting time regular contractors enjoy,” he says.

Staying power in this line of work necessitates intense handholding of clients, tenacious follow-through, and rapid deployment of skilled tradespeople. In a typical scenario, Griggs says, a client “had a fire yesterday and needs somebody today.” They're in shock or grief, and frequently are poor listeners, “so we're always re-educating them on what's going on, and what they need to do [to keep the process moving],” Griggs says. He notes that even the most satisfied client “never wants to see us again,” but that clients do refer friends in need to his company.

Ray Ng

Beyond these challenges, new obstacles surround what Griggs calls “the getting-paid portion.” Insurers control the situation very aggressively, he says. Approvals and reimbursements can take months, forcing contractors to go deep into pocket in the interim, and fraying nerves all around.

For these and other reasons, the company is always adapting. An environmental division, for instance, remediates crystal methamphetamine labs. It has also carved out new niches; 45% of revenue is from commercial properties, up 10% in the last year. And instead of marketing mostly to insurers, “we're going to end users,” Griggs says. To that end, his company sends targeted e-mail newsletters, holds educational programs, and makes friendly visits to groups including fire departments, homeowners' associations, and property managers.