Some markets in the U.S. are feeling a little saturated by restoration companies. It’s true, only the best and strongest survive – and perhaps in some capacity, the most creative. Last May, R&R published a Restorer’s Perspective piece from Polygon. It was an honest take on the importance of renewing a company’s focus when services begin to stray too far from the organization’s core specialties.
Jeff Dudan went through a similar evolution with the business you know today as AdvantaClean. The company now holds a unique market share thanks to his ability to hone in on a mix of services to maximize reach and profit. But the birth of the nationwide franchise system was not so clear.
In the spirit of entrepreneurialism, Dudan started a painting business with a friend while going to college at Appalachian State, keeping them and other student athletes employed during the summer. Growing up in Chicago, he already had experience in the trades like concrete, painting, and construction. Over time, the painting business really grew. When Hurricane Andrew hit South Florida in August of 1992, Dudan and his partner drove south to see how they could help.
“I told my girlfriend I would be back in three weeks and it ended up being a three year trip,” Dudan laughed. “That’s where I really cut my teeth in the restoration field.”
At first, Dudan and his partner worked on their own, but later partnered with a regional restoration company in Florida. When work slowed from Hurricane Andrew in 1994, Dudan, his partner, and two others started AdvantaClean in Winter Park, Fla. One year later, they had two offices in two states, and built the brand from there – as a traditional restoration contractor.
Ditching the traditional restoration business model
Fast forward to 2016, AdvantaClean has about 100 ownership groups, covering more than 220 franchised territories in 33 states, and growing seemingly every day. They were also just named a Top 100 franchise by online franchise directory Franchise Gator.
Dudan has been the sole owner of the company since 2004, and began offering franchises to the general public in 2009. That’s when things really took off, but the growth didn’t happen without some major restructuring of the company’s offerings and thinking.
“What I’ve learned over 27 years in the industry is I think what every business learns – it’s about focus, understanding margins, and ultimately learning what is profitable for the time and energy you have to put into it,” Dudan explained. “We were like everyone else, we did all these different things; too many.”
So Dudan took a good look at the profitable services in the restoration and remediation industry, and voilà – the concept of offering a complimentary suite of “light environmental services” came about; services like mold remediation, residential and commercial duct cleaning, emergency water damage mitigation, and offering solutions for moisture problems in basements, attics, and crawlspaces. Jobs occupying the “heavy” environmental space did not make the cut for primary services; like fire damage restoration and crime scene cleanup. Don’t let the term “light environmental services” fool you – the company is full of very educated remediators.
Getting government contracts & big projects
“We still have many of the people who have been here since day one, many of whom are among the best technical people in the industry,” Dudan explained. “We’ve completed numerous government contract jobs over the years, including many at VA hospitals. We are very experienced in institutional settings like hospitals and schools.”
Barry Hintz, an Army veteran, opened his AdvantaClean franchise in Milwaukee, Wisc., in 2012, after doing a lot of homework on different franchises to find one that matched his beliefs and goals.
Hintz put in the work and time necessary to get the certifications, licenses and technical training needed to open his franchise, and says AdvantaClean’s leaders were there every step of the way. With AdvantaClean headquarters handling much of the internet marketing, website management, scheduling appointments, and manning an around-the-clock call center, Hintz was able to focus on his business, and contracts. In 2014, he purchased a second territory.
He now has three full-time and two part-time employees. They are all also veterans.
“I’m a veteran, so I want to help out my fellow veterans,” Hintz explained. “I like the fact that they have self-discipline, they’re focused on mission accomplishment, and they can give and take orders. We need to have someone who has supervisory and leadership skills, who can both manage and lead.”
The largest project he and his team have handled so far is cleaning the air ducts for the VA hospital in Milwaukee.
“That job takes the most time and effort,” Hintz said. “There is a lot more coordination in terms of where patients are, so they and the staff can be moved out, and so we can work on off-hours or weekends.”
In the ER and other especially sterile areas, Hintz is careful to schedule the cleaning during a time it will be the least disruptive. Plus, they closely follow additional protocols for infection control to make sure not a speck of dust gets anywhere it shouldn’t. Containment comes into play here. It takes 10 nights to clean 14 sections.
“The first time we cleaned the ducts for the hospital, it was daunting just because it’s a gigantic building and a big campus,” he said. “But we’ve really learned we have to do each job one piece at a time. We come up with a game plan – what’s the first step, the second step, the third step, and work it through.”
AdvantaClean partners with a company that’s part of the federal government’s Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Business program, which helped Hintz land the VA hospital account. They are also part of the federal government’s GPO (Group Purchasing Organization), so they can be used if, for example, there is a water emergency, or some service is needed at the FBI headquarters or other government agency. In those instances, the government actually contacts them for the work.
Equipment for “light” environmental work
One of the reasons Dudan initially zeroed in on light environmental work was by assessing equipment and facility requirements to perform the various services. He says AdvantaClean’s light environmental service offerings are efficient in terms of the amount and relative cost of the equipment and facility required versus other typical restoration services.
For Hintz, his main equipment includes dehus, fans, air scrubbers with HEPA filters, chemicals, and negative air machines. Just to name a few.
It’s about more than the business
Since the beginning, Dudan and his team have always stepped up to help others in need. And today, many AdvantaClean franchises are heavily involved with local and national charities and non-profits.
When the family of a young girl with terminal cancer wanted to bring her home for her final days, AdvantaClean and its franchisees stepped up remove mold in the house to make that wish a reality.
In 2016, AdvantaClean signed a national strategic partnership with St. Jude Children’s Hospital, and remains committed to helping families in need in any way they can. They committed to an annual fundraising goal and are coordinating a nationwide event that all AdvantaClean offices will lead in their local communities.
“AdvantaClean is one big family, and many of our owners desire to be leaders in their communities,” Dudan said. “There is a true servant’s heart in this organization.”
While Dudan was building AdvantaClean, he indulged his passion for coaching youth sports, eventually publishing “Hey, Coach!”a fictional book that shares his coaching philosophy and techniques in a fable so that others can learn from his trials, and errors. “Many lessons in coaching children translate to how we should treat one another in business. Working with kids reminds us to keep it simple, trust is everything, and we must earn a relationship before we can ask for results.”
Dudan says optimism, continuous improvement, and approaching your business with an open mind are the keys to taking your business from where it is today, to a new, and better future.