Small Business Insights Interview SBI Interview: Kevin & Ryan Oakley Successful Business Owners EMERG+NC Property Rescuers
Kevin Oakley, Chairman/CEO/Owner
Ryan Oakley, Vice President/Owner/Technical Operations Manager/General Contractor
Wake County, NC
Sam: Good afternoon. Sam Gibson and I’m here with the Emerg+NC Property Rescuers with the owners and Kevin and Ryan Oakley, a father and son ownership duo of this great company. Kevin, we’re going to start with you. Tell me a little bit and describe, if you would Emerg+NC Property Rescuers and what it’s about.
Kevin: Well, Emerg+NC Property Rescuers is a property damage restoration business and we focus on kind of different model than most businesses like us. We are a direct-to-consumer business where we brand our self in an ‘easy way’ for customers to know who we are and then, we focus on marketing to their interests and having them reach out to us in a time of need, as opposed to the other way around that most companies do. We are in the fire restoration, water damage, mold removal, smoke damage removal and wind and storm damage business, for all intents and purposes.
Sam: Okay, do other companies similar to you guys do the same thing?
Kevin: Yes, other companies provide these same functions but, most of those companies market themselves to insurance companies and so, their customers end up being whoever the insurance company is or whoever the insurance agent or adjuster is. Our customer is the property owner, or the end user of our services.
Kevin: And so, that’s the primary difference.
Sam: Okay so, it is basically, a benefit to your customer. That’s who you’re working for.
Sam: That’s who you’re working for.
Kevin: It’s a different approach to the same marketplace, with the focus being on their… the property owner’s needs primarily, and customers these days want that kind of special attention and customer service.
Ryan: We… we truly work for the homeowner… and not the insurance industry.
Sam: Okay, okay. Do you find sometimes that the insurance companies, you know are sort of will limit you guys from working with their customers? I mean, is… is that a possibility?
Kevin: Sure. I… I think the issue is not so much, they want to limit us. The issue is they want to control the process.
Kevin: The goal here isn’t to give the customer less for their investment. I mean basically, insurance is an investment tool, just like putting money in a bank and, the goal here is for the customer to actually get what they deserve out of the insurance product that they’ve been buying and investing in for X number of years. So, the insurance companies have a tendency to want to control it because, if 100% of the work needs to be done and they’d really only like to pay for 80% of work then, they’re going to try to find folks that will work for them…as opposed to work for the end user.
Ryan: The thing about that is, ah there are ‘industry standards’ that we are required to follow. There’s a standard for drying. There’s a standard of property restoration that everybody should adhere to and us working directly for the homeowner, we follow the standards. We don’t have any ties to any insurance companies. So if they try to put pressure on move away from the standard… we don’t. We just do things by the book.
Kevin: And… and that keeps the playing field even, because “the standards” tell professionals like us how to do the job… And since we follow the standards, then our integrity is always maintained and our potential liability exposure is always going to be less.
Kevin: The other part of it is that the insurance pricing of the projects is based on standardized pricing, called Xactimate. We use the same Xactimate estimation software as the adjusters use who come out and look at a claim. We spend more time making sure that the customer actually gets what happens to their home…fixed and taken care of correctly. And that’s really what customers want, as opposed to getting only part of what they should get.
Ryan: It’s actually the same price list that all of our competitors use as well. The difference being, we actually work for the home owner and not the insurance company.
Sam: Okay. What would you guys… say, the primary type of ah… property risk you would… since you guys, do… was it fire damage, smoke damage, water damage?
Ryan: Probably about 90% of what we do is water damage drying and water damage repair related… and I would also throw mold removal and mold remediation in there as well just because, without water there is no mold but, the majority of the work that we get is broken pipe, water heater leaks, toilet overflows, flooding, sewage backup kind of work which then, rolls into the mold and bacteria when it’s been left long enough.
Sam: Okay, alright, interesting.
Kevin: The other part of that is, if there is a fire, there’s typically smoke and water associated with it. So even if there’s a fire, you’re going to need to know what to do from a water mitigation perspective to address a fire, clean up and the reconstruction process.
Ryan: Right, after the firemen are in the house and putting out the fire and unleashing all of the hoses and the water, there’s water and fire damage.
Sam: I understand.
Kevin: But, the name of our business is Emerg+NC Property Rescuers because, we focus on property emergencies of all types, and if you capture the ’emergency work’ and you take care of the customer, then you have the ability to provide them all the other potential services that come along with that.
Sam: Sure. So, how do customers know who they should call when an emergency?
Kevin: Well the real criteria should be, “What’s in the customer’s best interest?” if the customer is looking for somebody that’s looking for needs to be addressed… they should shy away from preferred vendors and… and/or third party administrative groups that distribute jobs to preferred vendor companies, in favor of the insurance company because, unfortunately that end user customer becomes a client of a restoration company works for the insurance company… and not one that works for the customer and… and the reason that’s an issue is because where do their priorities lie? What’s going to happen if they only do exactly what the insurance companies feels is important when in fact, if EMERG+NC Property Rescuers works for the customer, we’re only going to ‘follow the standards’ and do exactly what the IICRC standards require.
Ryan: The primary difference is if someone has a preferred vendor-group that the insurance company is referring to them, the first question is “Who does that company work for? And that’s a good way to filter out whether or not that’s somebody you’d want to have working for you, or not.
Sam: Okay. As a general standard for a regular consumer are there certain credentials that we should be looking for in the property rescue company that sort of signifies that they are properly trained to… to perform mold removal, they can handle water damage and smoke or whatever, Ryan?
Ryan: So, you want to make sure that do have all the proper training whether it be through the IICRC: Institute for Inspection, Cleaning and Restoration Certification training courses and… and have experience in the industry. They also want to make sure that they have a general liability insurance and full-fungal liability insurance as well. That’s something that we carry. A fungal-liability insurance policy. I like to compare it to, if you like hire any plumber you don’t want to hire a non-licensed plumber…. If you a hire a restoration company that does not have fungal insurance.. and that’s a separate rider on the insurance policy… not… policy, not just general liability.
Ryan: Then if there was any secondary damage, cross-contamination, mole spores get into the HVAC systems and gets circulated throughout the house, it would fall on the property owner for not properly vetting their contractor. We are one of the few in the area that… that go above and beyond to get that uh full-fungal liability insurance.
Kevin: It’s… and that type of coverage is called “Contractor Pollution Liability Coverage” (CPL coverage) and it… it basically covers as an umbrella any secondary problems related to fungal, bacteria, viral, pollution related ah issues that might come back and find… you know, where a customer may not have full coverage. You know, making two to three, four, five years down the road when… when somebody finds out that uh, the company that came in and did the work, really didn’t do it properly… it covers a contractor created mold problem for example.
Kevin: It covers continuously the… the water damage mitigation work and any secondary mold contamination. We… we all strive to do our jobs perfectly but, if someone makes a mistake and ‘people are people’ then, the customer is covered and so is the insurance company who may have referred or suggested us to them on a casual basis.
Kevin: So, anybody who suggests us or refers us will not become involved in any nasty ligation if in fact, the company you just referred is properly insured too.
Sam: Okay. Now, do you guys just work here in the Raleigh NC area? What is your coverage area as far as the way you guys are willing to help?
Ryan: We typically on a day-to-day work about a 60-mile radius around the Raleigh North Carolina area but mostly we do work in the Wake, Johnston, Lee, Orange and Durham county areas (in the towns like Cary, Apex, Holly Springs, Fuquay Varina, Durham, Chapel Hill and Clayton NC. But, we’ll really go wherever the work is. We have done some ‘storm and flood chasing’ to the North Carolina coast (i.e. New Bern, Wilmington and the Outer Banks of NC) in surge event situations. So when the NC coast gets hit with a hurricane or storm surge flooding, those areas become under serviced just with the local restoration companies out there, so we’ll go out there and… and spend a couple weeks or what not and helping out sometimes. It’s a good feeling and obviously beneficial to our business.
Sam: Now, does EMERG+NC Property Rescuers do primarily residential properties or commercial properties? Does it matter what with you guys or…?
Ryan: Luckily, we’re large enough to do a large commercial jobs but, we do a lot of residential jobs as well. So, we can do both. We have over 400 pieces of specialty drying equipment and all the resources, box trucks and equipment that we need to cover a lot of area at the same times.
Sam: Okay, good. Now, for other aspiring business owners such as yourself who’s desiring to get to your guys’ level of success, you know, what other… maybe two or three tid-bits of advice that could you possibly give them if they’re trying to get started or maybe trying to grow their smaller business into a little bit larger size business?
Kevin: We’ll, we don’t want to give up all of our trade secrets (laughing)…
Sam: No, I understand that, mostly but, any type of small business.
Kevin: Oh well, of course.
Ryan: No, I would… I would say, think outside the box, especially if you’re in a competitive area and you see all your competitors doing one thing. Um, if you really want to get a… a strong grasp of the market then, try something different.
Sam: Okay, okay, alright.
Kevin: Look, clearly, it always comes back to the customer service… and word-of-mouth referrals and providing excellent customer. Well, no one ever shops for this kind of service. Good customer reviews are very important to our business.
Kevin: In our niche, we have to be able to be very professional and essentially, ‘close the job’ within about five minutes most of time. And so you know, it always comes down to just taking good care of the customer in any business that you’d want to become involved with, and especially if it’s a service-business for sure.
Kevin: And then making sure that you follow up and… and get others to understand how well you were able to take care of customers and then tell other people and so on and so forth.
Sam: Okay well, tell me if you will, you know why did you get into the property rescue business? You know, what was the driving force to get this thing started way back?
Kevin: Well, I spent most of my career in corporate America in smaller and larger high-tech businesses and because, I worked in smaller start-up businesses, ah I always enjoyed the entrepreneurial aspect of being there, watching a business in its early starting stages… and then, being a part of its growth. It’s always more fun to be a part of an early start up than it was to be a part of a big, big machine and so, that what happened. About 10 years ago, I found myself looking for ways to go about doing that and, I owned some land assets that I was able to liquidate and buy into a business concept and that’s what we did here. The nice thing about this business is the barrier of entry is… is not impossible for people to get into… but, it’s not easy from the standpoint that you have to be willing to go out and invest a few hundred… hundred thousand dollars in equipment and technology to get there but then… then, the other exciting thing about it is because it’s complicated, not everybody can do it…
Kevin: … and then eventually, after you get though all the discussion process of getting everybody on the same page… which is challenging, uh the same uh part of the thinking, you eventually get paid, right? And you… you get paid ah, by a source that’s typically q doo one… a large insurance company.
Kevin: So, the challenge is getting through the ebb and flow of ongoing cash flow… because of the things that you have to do ‘in advance of being paid’ that cost money… But, if you like a challenge and if you like being in control of your own destiny, this is a good one to consider especially, if you like technology… Because it certainly has all of those things wrapped up in one bundle.
Sam: Okay, alright and one final question. Tell me about the things that make Emerg+NC unique but tell me why the customer should call on Emerg+NC?
Kevin: Because, we’re a local NC family-owned and operated business. We do quality work and we truly have the homeowners best interest in mind.
Sam: Alright, alright. That’s it. Thanks.
Kevin: Okay. Sincerely appreciated this opportunity.