In 2010, R&R sat down with Kent Berg, director of the National Institute of Decontamination Specialists and founder of the American Bio-Recovery Association, to hear what he had to say about the state of the bio-recovery industry. Better known as “crime scene cleanup” or “trauma cleaning,” bio-recovery has made great strides since it first came into being as an organized segment of the industry almost two decades ago. Recently, R&R reached out to Kent again to get his take on how things have changed in the last year, and what the future holds for this growing specialization.
Restoration & Remediation: Kent, last year we discussed the state of the bio-recovery industry, what it encompasses, etc. One year later, what’s changed?
Kent Berg: Each year, the bio-recovery industry profile grows both horizontally and vertically. What I mean by that is that vertically, we are enjoying greater visibility, with the public as well as with allied industries such as fire and water restoration recognizing us as an important resource. With greater visibility comes more work and more interested parties entering the field.
Horizontally, we are expanding our sphere of services. Once only providing crime-scene cleanup, we grew to include animal waste cleanup, meth lab decontamination, and tear gas. This year we are seeing a major push into the hoarder home market. Television shows like “Hoarders” has brought this heretofore unheard-of crisis into mainstream media. People who quietly suffered with hoarder syndrome now know there are companies available to help them climb out from under a mountain of junk, garbage, collectibles, pets, vermin, and disease.
Also this year, we have seen a marked increase in the public’s level of awareness regarding emerging dangerous diseases. Bacteria and viruses once limited to hospitals are now resistant to established treatment and are migrating into mainstream America. Because of this, our industry is now being asked to provide environmental disinfection services to schools, offices, hotels and more. I expect that in the future, this will become a major market for our niche industry.
R&R: In every industry there’s a concern that the market gets over-saturated, that too many start-ups dilute the product. How does that affect the bio-recovery industry?
KB: Like other industries, we will always have new vendors jockeying for position within each geographic market. If they do their homework and find that there is an unmet demand for their services and they can out-market their competition, they will be rewarded with work. Those already in business who don’t recognize the need to constantly market, provide excellent service, and establish solid relationships with their clients will always leave room for the competition to “eat their lunch.” If we look strictly at the crime and trauma scene cleanup market, there are areas that are reaching saturation, such as Florida, Atlanta, central and southern California, Phoenix, Philadelphia, New Jersey, Ohio and Houston/Dallas. Most other areas are still seeing growth potential. Instructors like myself are taking heat from existing companies that feel we are helping to take away their livelihood by teaching their competition. What is amazing is that these complainers are the same companies who previously came to us for training so they could compete for a market share.
What many business-savvy owners are realizing is that they can add services such as hoarder home cleanup and environmental infection control to their menu in order to increase revenue and make their company more competitive. There will always be competition, we all just need to stay one step ahead. Getting more training in unique and growing markets will certainly help. Eventually, like all industries, ours will stabilize with the strongest companies surviving. For now though, there is still plenty of room for those willing to be innovative, aggressive, and well-trained.
R&R: Regulation and legislation is often looked down on, yet it’s been said that regulation might be one of the best ways to maintain high standards in bio-recovery. True or not? KB: True! Although the American Bio-recovery Association has set voluntary standards in training, ethics and other areas, it represents a small percentage of the overall number of bio-recovery companies in this country. What we are seeing now is a disturbing number of companies who are providing shockingly bad service, using scare tactics to get work, and pricing their services well above what many would consider reasonable and customary.
For instance, companies whose invoices are five to ten times the average bio-recovery invoice for the same work are causing great concern. Although these companies are charging the same rates for time and materials, the quantities of materials and the time spent cleaning these scenes are raising the eyebrows of not only the bio-recovery industry and insurance providers, but the courts as well.
But there is good news on the horizon! Last year, the IICRC approached the ABRA Board of Directors and asked if we would be interested in participating on a newly formed Crime and Trauma Standards Committee. After careful deliberation, the association board of directors agreed that establishing a standard for the industry that comes from a well-established and respected organization like IICRC would help to make identifying substandard practices easily identifiable and good practices more defensible. This summer, the committee is meeting to begin the process of shaping our future.
R&R: Last year you said that if you could do it all again, you’d have marketed harder. In your mind, what’s the biggest marketing challenge bio-recovery professionals face? KB: The difficulty in our industry is that the “end user” is not really our marketing target. What I mean by that is that when we go out marketing, we are not selling to the future dead person or the dead person’s family. Unlike other industries who are marketing to the actual consumer, we are marketing to “intermediaries” such as police, fire, EMTs and others who are in a position to let the families know about us right after the death or injury occurs. Of course we have clients like apartment managers and hotel managers that are repeat customers that we market to, but the real challenge however are the “intermediaries.”
These are public officials who are in perfect positions to “sell” our services, and yet they are not employed by us and are not compensated by us. The goal is to instill in these officials a desire to alleviate the family of the unpleasant and dangerous task of cleaning up the scene by referring them to our company. If this doesn’t sound easy it’s because its not. Many public agencies shy away from referrals, citing conflict of interest or aiding a profit making institution. Winning them over is the biggest marketing challenge we have.
R&R: Putting the laws of physics aside for the moment, where will the bio-recovery industry be in 5 years?
KB: Every industry reaches a point where it attracts the attention of large players. Just as we have seen in recent years where local, family-run, neighborhood funeral homes were bought out by a giant conglomerate, our industry is nearing a point where I believe we will begin to see major players emerge. In the next five years, at least one and possibly more large corporate entities will begin to service regional or possibly even national markets. Who it will be and how it will affect our industry…we’ll have to wait and see.