When a homeowner experiences flooding, fire, or some other disaster, the insurance company will send out a firm that specializes in remediation and restoration. These contractors have crews that specialize in removing water or smoke damage from a site. But often the damage extends into the HVAC systems, and that requires an even more specialized set of skills and knowledge.
This creates an opportunity for HVAC contractors to partner with these firms. Some may even consider specializing in remediation work or adding remediation services to their offerings. There are several franchise opportunities if they wish to do so.
VetCor provides one of those opportunities. The Tampa, Florida, company is expanding across the country and is looking for HVAC contractors who want to either partner with their franchisees or take on a franchise themselves. Paul Huszar, the company’s CEO, said VetCor started out seeking military veterans as franchisees, but now considers anyone that shares the company’s values.
Using Existing Skills
Huszar himself is a veteran. He served with the Army Corps of Engineers after graduating from the U.S. Military Academy. In some ways, the Army Corps of Engineers is the ultimate remediation service, taking on projects such as keeping the Mississippi River from flooding major cities. Huszar also was deployed to Iraq and received a master’s degree in engineering from the University of Washington before leaving the Army eight years ago.
He moved to Tampa and started applying for jobs. Unfortunately, Huszar faced the same challenge as many military veterans — few employers understood how to translate his military experience into civilian job. Then his resume landed on the desk of David Howard, another former Army officer. Howard worked in the insurance business and had just taken over an engineering firm that investigated claims. Legislation made that business less profitable, so Howard started transitioning to remediation.
VetCor started on Nov. 11, 2013, and Huszar became the first hire. Remediation soon proved a way to help out a lot of veterans. Huszar said many people gain trade skills during their time in the military, but that training often doesn’t count toward civilian licensing. The barrier for entry to the remediation business is low in most states, allowing these veterans to put these skills to work.
“It’s science, but it’s not rocket science,” Huszar said.
Production Manager for Field Operating Systems ServPro Industries
Opportunities for Partners, Additions
VetCor started franchising its brand two years ago. It now has five franchise locations in Florida, two in Texas, and four in other states. There remains one corporate location.
Remediation firms work with insurance companies, so relationships are crucial. Insurance companies are looking for firms that can act quickly before damage grows out of control. One area of special concern is mold, which is where HVAC contractors often get involved.
“We can be a good referral source for HVAC contractors and vice versa,” Huszar said.
ServPro Industries is a national remediation franchisor headquartered in Gallatin, Tennessee, with more than 1,700 locations. Every franchise should have go-to contractors for HVAC, plumbing, electrical, and other needs that they can call on for assistance during the mitigation process, said David Ragsdale, ServPro’s production manager for field operating systems. HVAC can be impacted by water, fire, mold, etc., so there is an opportunity for these types of vendors, but those relationships are developed and secured on the local level with the franchise.
It’s also a business that HVAC contractors can consider adding to their existing services. Huszar said again that the barrier to entry is low. Most HVAC contractors could dispatch existing employees, just changing the shirt they were and which truck they drive. The skills needed for HVAC translate well into remediation, Ragsdale said.
“HVAC contractors understand building and material assemblies, as well as controlling and directing air flow, all of which is critical knowledge to perform remediation services,” Ragsdale said.
The needed equipment to start performing remediation work include inspection tools and devices, air movers, dehumidifiers, specialty drying equipment, high volume extractors, media blasting equipment, deodorization equipment, power generators, power distribution equipment, pumps, sprayers, and negative air machines. Franchisors offer training and support to those who add a franchise. For example, ServPro provides a training program to new owners, ongoing support through a network of regional level consultants, and more than 450 employees at headquarters whose purpose is to support new and existing owners. Outside of franchisors, restoration/remediation industry certifications are available from organizations such as the Institute of Inspection Cleaning and Restoration Certification (IICRC), Restoration Industry Association (RIA), and the National Air Duct Cleaners Association (NADCA).
At least one remediation firm, Alliance Environmental Group, saw enough opportunity in HVAC that it added a division specifically to address that. AirTek Indoor Air Solutions provides commercial and residential duct cleaning, kitchen exhaust hood cleaning, dryer vent cleaning, and power washing. Dan McMillan, AirTek’s general manager, said most of what the division does isn’t remediation work. But when a remediation project arises, AirTek understands the speed requirements.
“You see it today, you start it tomorrow, and you finish the next day,” McMillan said.
This differs from the traditional HVAC business, he said, in which it may take several days to get what’s needed to get a system operational again. The other main difference is the client. A remediation firm works with the homeowner, but not for the homeowner. The insurance company is the connection between the two.
There are times when an HVAC contractor can have the opportunity to get work directly from the homeowner, however. If, after an evaluation, a homeowner decides to take a cash out rather than have the insurance company pay to make repairs, the contractor may be able then to work with the homeowner to install a new system that costs more than what the insurer was willing to pay for repairs.
The remediation business is growing, due in part to the increase in extreme weather that brings flooding everywhere from the Southeast to the Upper Midwest. In California, where AirTek operates, fires are becoming more common, which increases the need for restoration and remediation services. All these events occur regardless of what is happening in the economy, making this business even more recession-resistant than HVAC. And insurance pays for the work, unlike most cases of HVAC repairs and replacement.
“The opportunities are tremendous,” said Craig Sawyer, vice president of operations for Alliance Environmental.