“We don’t see any end in sight to the backlog,” confessed the president of Fras-Air Contracting, Inc., a Service Experts company. “We have enough work now to work for the rest of the year without any new requests, and then some.”
While this may sound like heaven to most hvac contractors, last month was anything but uplifting for Fraser and his employees. A little over a month ago, Hurricane Floyd did a nasty deed to his place of business, putting it literally under water.
To date, it is still unclear how much of Fras-Air’s losses will be covered by insurance. But, that’s the last thing on the minds of callers seeking his company’s services.
“The customers don’t sympathize [with our loss- es],” he said. “There are lots of people with no heat in their homes and it is getting colder.”
So, instead of dwelling on the past, he has his 50 employees working on the future. The company continues to work to prioritize its service requests, ignoring air conditioning work until heat is restored for those who are without it. Still, technicians simply cannot fulfill the service requests quickly enough.
It’s a case of taking the good with the bad, a reality many contractors — from Florida to Maryland — can say they are still experiencing. Like Fraser, they are trying to get through this “Post Hurricane Floyd Syndrome.” Fraser’s story is just one example of how one contractor is staying afloat after being nearly washed away.
Calm before the floodIt was about 5:30 p.m. on Sept. 15 and Fraser was in downtown Manville, checking out the effects of Hurricane Floyd. The Raritan River didn’t look too threatening — nothing that Fraser hadn’t seen before. Because this appeared nothing to be concerned about, he went home satisfied that his business and the city would be spared from flooding.
Seven-and-a-half hours later, Fraser was alerted that the fire alarm was going off in his downtown building. The call from the fire department came in at 1 a.m. — shortly after the river had crested 15 ft higher than usual.
Luckily, there was no fire. However, the reason the alarm sounded was because the system shorted out due to flooding in his office building. One of the first things that popped into his mind was the fact the company had storm damage coverage, but no flood insurance.
It wasn’t until the next day that Fraser was able to enter his business and get a look at the damage. It wasn’t pretty, either.
Assessing the damageFraser found 3 to 8 in. of water still standing on the first floor, a basement full of lost inventory, five of the company’s 46 vehicles completely under water, and three partially under water. Also, the phone system had shorted out and the main computer was flooded.
The losses for this company, which is split 50-50 between residential and commercial work, appeared staggering.
Fraser estimates that $200,000 to $250,000 worth of inventory was in the basement before it went bye-bye, 100% unrecoverable. Meanwhile, his five flooded-out trucks were also unsalvageable. He is thankful the three vehicles that were only partially flooded were salvaged following several days of work.
According to his calculations, damage to his building is in the $50,000 to $60,000 range, not counting the floors that have buckled and swelled in the weeks since the flood. Add it up and that’s more than $300,000 worth of damage, not including the replacement-repair costs for the trucks.
While you’re at it, add in another $100,000 to $150,000, the average weekly revenue for the company, and you get the full picture of Floyd’s wrath.
“We expect to be affected by this for the next three to four months,” said Fraser. “I don’t know when insurance will give a final coverage estimate or how much will be covered.”
Picking up the piecesFraser attributes a large portion of his company’s ability to rebound to its affiliation with Service Experts, which is working with the insurance companies and the contractor to reach settlements.
To help with the company’s increased demand, Service Experts has also provided Fras-Air with crews from other locations experiencing slow periods. With two extra crews now and the possibility of getting three more in the near future, Fraser is thankful for this benefit.
Also, he could not say enough about his employees, who pulled together and worked through the weekend following the flood to clean the building and get the business up and running.
Luckily, Fras-Air received new inventory right away and was able to replenish the damaged equipment. The phones were restored within two weeks after the flood. And, of course, that’s when the calls started flooding in.
With its commercial work, Fras-Air is facing predetermined deadlines for completion of its jobs. This means that the struggle is fulfilling contracts while working to get heat to customers before winter sets in.
“In some ways, it’s been a really trying time,” said Fraser. “But, in others, it has been very rewarding. It has pulled all of the employees together to be a team.”