With the retail dry cleaning business in a state of lackluster growth, many cleaners are looking to related business opportunities to offset this trend. One such opportunity is fire restoration work. Drycleaners who once thought of fire restoration as a small sideline effort are now finding this type of work profitable and rewarding.

Fire Restoration involves several key elements for success:

Networking

One significant component of fire restoration is the ability to network with the right people. Insurance industry people understand that restoring a home full of garments will cost thousands less than the cost of garment replacement. Check with Insurance Agencies in your area to learn which ones cover property damage, and also how their claim program works. Some insurance agencies may have discretion over who will contract the restoration work, while others have this dictated by the insurance company. In some cases a restoration contractor will sub-contract the work to a pre-selected group of dry-cleaners.

In either case, your job is to find the right person who can have an effect on this decision making process. Build a relationship with this person. Invite them to your plant and describe how your operation will effectively process their restoration work. Giving them the confidence that you are fully capable of processing the work is half the battle in landing a contract.

Preparing Your Plant Operation

Pickup and Delivery

You will need to have a pickup and delivery system in place.

Normally the drycleaner will pick up the damaged items right at the home or business where the damage occurred. You will be picking up garments, shoes, stuffed dolls, drapes, comforters and almost everything that can fit in a washing. These items should be bagged before removal.

Ozone Room

You will need to set up a small, airtight room for an ozone generating system. Ozone removes fire and smoke related odors from fabric and kills any organic life such as mold or mildew. Items are hung in the ozone room for a period of 24 hours. This room must be off limits to anyone in the plant until the room has been ventilated with fresh air after ozone processing.

Wet and Dry-Side Processing

The proper programming and chemistry is essential in processing fire restoration garments. The first step in the process is to remove any soot and water damage from the fabrics before deodorizing. The use of proper chemistry and programming can be very effective, depending upon how much heat from the fire the fabric was subjected to, water damage and length of time the fabric was left untreated. On the dry-side, a POG remover, used in a pre-wash step will help remove the soot from fabrics. This pre-wash or first bath should always be sent to the still. Once the fabric has been properly cleaned, we can begin the deodorizing process.

In the past, all garments labeled “dry-clean only” would go through the ozone process to effectively remove the smoke odor. Today however, advanced dry-side de-odorizing chemistry, used in the second bath of the dry-cleaning process will greatly reduce the need to ozone fabrics. Used properly, this chemistry can reduce your ozone requirements by up to 90%.

By far, most of your restoration work will be wet-cleaned. The wet cleaning of fire restoration work requires careful classification for proper results. You will need proper washing and drying capacities, as this will be the bulk of your workload. Always have a minimum of one and a half times the drying capacity as you do washing capacity. If you have a 100 lb. washer, you will need at least 150 lbs. of drying capacity for reasonable productivity.

You are not only removing the smoke odor, but you are also killing any mold and mildew in the garments as well. Remember that a big part of the fire restoration equation is water damage from fire fighters putting out the fire. Today’s advanced chemistry is very effective at safely addressing this part of the equation.

A good percentage of your orders will be puff backs, (damage caused by smoke “puffing back” from the home furnace), and these orders clean well and are relatively easy to process. Even though the odor may be slight, insurance companies and claimants will insist on having all items in the house processed. These claims are the most profitable for the dry-cleaner.

You will need a good area for sorting, which is isolated from the rest of the plant to mitigate against smoke odor contamination of other customer items.

Workflow

Another key aspect of fire restoration is workflow organization. You will need to set up procedures for workflow, to insure that each order is processed and completed properly and separately from your retail work. Also, you will probably be asked to rush through some garments that need to be processed immediately. Proper pin tagging is essential, as the garments will be going in several different directions for processing. As stated before, you should have a room or an area, isolated from the rest of the plant to prepare the work for processing.

Unsalvageable Items

In the most extreme claims, there will be items that simply cannot be saved. Be honest, if you are not happy with the results on some items, return them, no charge. The claimant will appreciate your efforts, and the insurance company will reward your honesty with additional contracts.

The Waiting Game

You have done the networking, secured the contract, processed the order and everything is ready, or is it? Many times, people have been removed from their fire-damaged homes, living temporarily with family or friends, and simply do not have any place to put the garments you have so carefully processed. You will need a storage area for completed orders waiting to be delivered. This could take up some room and it might be a good idea to create or secure storage room unless you have a lot of empty space in your plant.

As a contractor to an insurance company, be prepared to wait, sometimes for several months for payment due. This is just the nature of doing business with an insurance company, and pricing/profitability needs to allow for the delay on accounts receivables.

There are many challenges to doing fire restoration work, but the rewards are great. Due to the extra handling and processing, you can expect to realize a 40 to 75% up-charge for restoration work.

Done properly, with the right planning, Fire Restoration can be a very profitable and rewarding part of your business. Good luck!