Master of disaster: Fast-growing firm cleans up after flooding and fires

Phil Castle, The Business Times:  

Service Master
Tyson Witkamp oversees the operation of the ServiceMaster Clean franchise in Grand Junction, a fast-growing business that offers a wide range of disaster recovery services. (Business Times photo by Phil Castle)

Tyson Witkamp ticks off the list of circumstances that most often lead to disastrous results. The water line to a swamp cooler or refrigerator breaks and the leak goes undetected.

A clogged sewer line backs up. Worse still, a candle or electrical cord sparks a fire.

When flooding or a fire occurs in a home or business, Witkamp and his Grand Junction company offer a range of services to help customers recover. The goal, Witkamp says, is straightforward: “Restore as much as possible.”

Witkamp and his father, John, own a ServiceMaster Clean franchise that earns about 80 percent of its revenues from disaster recovery services. And revenues have grown quickly since the Witkamps purchased the franchise in late 2006. Tyson Witkamp estimates business has nearly doubled every year.

What started out as a two-man operation with a van and pickup truck has grown to a staff of 10 with a fleet of 10 vehicles.

The company recently relocated into a larger office and warehouse space along the Interstate 70 Business Loop to accommodate the growing venture.

The Witkamps have expanded in other ways, too, adding commercial and residential carpet and floor refinishing to their services and launching separate businesses that seal crawl spaces and conduct professional home inspections.

Tyson Witkamp says there’s no secret strategy associated with the rapid growth. “It’s a lot of hard work, honestly.”

Headquartered in Memphis, Tenn., ServiceMaster operates a network of more than 6,900 franchise and company owned locations. The company’s brands include not only ServiceMaster Clean, but also American Home Shield, Furniture Medic, Merry Maids, Terminix and TruGreen.

John Witkamp operated a ServiceMaster Clean franchise in the Denver area when the opportunity arose to buy the franchise in Grand Junction. “He jumped on it and invited me to join him,” Tyson Witkamp says.

John Witkamp recently sold the Denver franchise and relocated to the Grand Valley on a permanent basis.

The Grand Junction franchise serves a large geographic region that stretches from Meeker to Telluride to Paonia in Western Colorado and Moab in Eastern Utah, Tyson Witkamp says.

The bulk of the business for the franchise involves disaster recovery services following flooding and fires, Witkamp says. ServiceMaster works with insurance companies covering losses and serves as a preferred vendor for many of those companies.

In the event of flooding, fans, dehumidifiers and heaters are brought in to  extract water and moisture from a home or business, Witkamp says. When the damage is too extensive for salvage, some demolition could be required. The goal, though, is to recover as much as possible in the least invasive way possible, he adds.

The drying process is carefully monitored and ServiceMaster certifies that a home or business has been thoroughly dried so that mold damage won’t occur, he says. “You’ve got to get it right.”

Other times, ServiceMaster is called in after mold damage already has occurred to remediate that damage, Witkamp says. Surfaces must be thoroughly cleaned and sealed. Air sampling ensures all of the mold has been removed.

In the event of fires, some cleanup work occurs on-site, while other work occurs at the ServiceMaster warehouse, Witkamp says.

In some situations, furniture, household goods and clothing are packed up and moved to the warehouse for cleaning. A variety of techniques are used to clean goods and remove soot and odors before they’re repacked and returned to the owners.

Advancing technology not only has improved disaster recovery techniques, but also reduced the substantial paperwork involved in the process, Witkamp says.

ServiceMaster Clean technicians use hand-held computers and proprietary software to track services and readings, complete forms and inventory property. The computers come equipped with built-in cameras and bar code readers. Office computers connect to the hand-held computers to download information that’s subsequently reported to insurance companies and customers.

In addition to disaster recovery services, ServiceMaster offers commercial and residential carpet cleaning and floor refinishing services.

A separate venture called UnderHouse Solutions installs air- and water-tight barriers in crawl spaces to control moisture and mold as well as reduce energy costs, Witkamp says.

Still another venture called AmeriSpec — a franchise brand of ServiceMaster —offers professional home inspection services.