That was then and this is now! While we would all like to forget 2020, 2021 is a new chance to decide where you want to be!

I remember back in the day when we started out with a pail of water, a sponge, and folding tables, and BAM, we were in the contents business. While that was many years ago, it is still the journey many start-up companies are taking.

While I am a huge fan of education, 2020 may just be the year that changes much of our education paths forever. Who would have thought the education necessary to better ourselves and our technicians would go viral and be readily available online. Without the expense of time and travel, it’s becoming easier to take that next step.

As an instructor, I miss the energy of the classroom. I realize I feed on that energy and it makes me a better teacher. However, now I can teach a class in my blue jeans or pajama bottoms, and no one really knows the difference or cares! So, with the probability that some bloopers will happen, the German Shepherd will bark out of control, or spouses and co-workers will get in on the camera while you are not muted….Zoom away!


Education + Growth from Experience

box with a label that says Save

Edited image from Cunaplus_M.Faba/iStock / Getty Images Plus via Getty Images

As the development of the contents industry has graduated from primarily just carpet and upholstery cleaners to full service restoration professionals, so much information is available regarding fire, smoke, water, mold, pack-outs, software and more. The last two decades have brought up a whole new generation of restoration experts and if you’re not willing to grow and learn, it is easy to get left behind and just as easy to get yourself and your company in trouble when not meeting the standard of care, custody, and control of someone else’s belongings.

I have been managing a contents company for about 20 years now. In that time, I have regarded it as important to:

  • Earn an IICRC Master Certification in fire and smoke
  • Earn a Certified Restorer (CR) certification from RIA
  • Serve on some councils and boards
  • Help author the RIA’s new CLS (Contents Loss Specialist) program

Despite all that involvement, mistakes are still made. Just a couple of months ago, the contents division I oversee had a “failure to communicate” on a job. While the clients lost about 90-95% of their belongings and treasures in a fire, some handmade Christmas ornaments from the client’s deceased mother survived! However, our failure to communicate caused these precious, sentimental items to be disposed of. It was not realized for several weeks, if not months, after the insurmountable total loss list was provided and our company could not account for these precious keepsakes. The “anguish” had me losing sleep for weeks! I had an “Authorization to Dispose” signed, but nothing I could say or do would help this situation! After much apology, anxiety, and disbelief that this happened, a monetary offer was made to some very “forgiving” folks and we all chose to move forward. Not that there was anything else that could have been done or said at that point.

So the question becomes: is a mistake really a mistake if we learn something?

If we learn nothing and change nothing, then we only have ourselves to blame with the same mistakes happen again. I decided to attempt to make a positive change come out of a very negative situation. I used that incident to adopt some new procedures.

Traditionally, when the bulk of an assignment is a listing of “total loss” property (no one wants to store or pay to store total loss), items are inventoried and disposed. Now, items are no longer listed and immediately bagged for disposal. They are set aside, and nothing can be bagged or disposed of until at least 48 hours after the items were inventoried. There are daily conversations with the property owners about what items are ready for them to see prior to being disposed.

“Save” stickers have now been made and a staff meeting held explaining what the stickers are for.  If you are on a job and a customer asks you SAVE something, you immediately put a “SAVE STICKER” on it so someone else doesn’t mistake it for trash. We call this the “Lewis Rules”, in honor of the customer.


This Business is Personal

In our business, most of it is very personal. We need to exemplify empathy, sympathy, and compassion. We are typically being paid for services during someone’s most vulnerable time. We need to do it as right as we can.

Never underestimate the power of education and the impact that a 10-minute training session each week with our staff can have. The IICRC (Institute of Inspection, Cleaning, Restoration Certification) and RIA (Restoration Industry Association) have fantastic education and training programs available. With the new IICRC, CPT (Contents Professional Technician) for the technician and the new RIA, CLS (Contents Loss Specialist) for the owners or project managers, training has never been more available.

Make 2021 your mission to advance to the next level. Seek to better train your staff, make less mistakes, learn from your past mistakes and just figure out how to DO IT BETTER! If you do not, others will be passing you by.

Well, as we say goodbye to 2020 and hope for a NEW YEAR and a NEW YOU, let’s be sure to learn our lessons from 2020. Take the best out of what we learned and look to the learning efforts of our past mistakes and future education. SEE YOU ON ZOOM LEARNING! (Hair and make-up optional)