Early Air Mover Wars - Claude Blackburn's Dri Eaz vs. Lloyd Weaver's Porta Dryer
As a carpet cleaner in the 1970’s, Claude Blackburn noticed a negative trend with his fellow professionals, “Twenty percent of our industry is going out of business every year.” He wanted to find a way to help entrepreneurs like himself to keep themselves working in the slow season. Claude’s first invention was the foam EZ Block which he mailed from his operations center (his garage) for $27 a sheet to cleaners replacing the wood blocks that were common in the industry.
Claude Blackburn attended a water damage seminar taught by the second face on “Mount Restoration”, Lloyd Weaver. The “Industry Watchdog” Pete Consigli writing for C&R Magazine in 2007 noted, “Lloyd introduced the first specialty designed Porta Dryer for on-location wet carpet drying. While that might not seem like much in today’s sophisticated world, 35 years ago Lloyd’s methodology challenged the rug cleaning establishment and its in-plant wet carpet service.” Shortly afterwards Claude experimented with his own metal carpet dryer and eventually produced ten units, sent out 24,000 expensive mailers to advertise the product, and only sold four. He was contemplating abandoning the idea.
Claude shares an interesting story about the device that would become the flagship of his company and an interaction with Mr. Weaver. At an industry trade show in Vancouver, Washington, Lloyd didn’t take kindly to Claude’s creations and publicly challenged him. While he physically shook the meek mannered innovator from Mt. Vernon, he also rattled his entrepreneurial spirit and only deepened Claude’s commitment to making his then fledgling invention work. With the arrival of an unlikely partner, Harlan Wright, Mr. Blackburn developed the first fiberglass molded air mover for the carpet cleaning and water damage restoration industry in the early 1980’s.
As Claude innovated products, he also developed methods for training contractors to utilize these evolving water damage tools in a manner that could be repeated across the country. Consigli recounts, “Claude was sometimes mocked for pricing his seminars under $100. But he knew exactly what he was doing; he consistently played to packed rooms, while the attendance of others’ seminars dropped off.” Claude wanted to help his fellow professionals to shorten their DANG learning curve and offered water damage training courses at pricing significantly lower than his competitors.
Mr. Blackburn also wrote the Carpet Cleaner’s Guide to Water Damage Restoration which he marketed via a dual sided mailer which promoted the popular EZ Blocks on the other side. Both sold really well, enabling Claude to further invest in innovation. Our industry is full of stories of trial and error and Claude was no stranger to this process. He shared on IAQ Radio Episode 473 that he ran his company by the 51% rule, “As long as I was right 51% of the time, we had a shot at staying in business.”
When Claude sold Dri-Eaz in 2006 it had:
Hear the rest of Claude Blackburn on The DYOJO Podcast Episode 47 “The Found of Dri Eaz Life Before, During, and After Property Restoration.”
This first appeared as Garbage In, Garbage Out (Part 2): The Imperial Order of the Work Order for my monthly column, The Intentional Restorer in Restoration and Remediation (R&R) Magazine.
Manager 1 complains, “I can’t get my workers to stop going to the hardware store multiple times in a day.”
“How detailed are your work orders?” the friendly neighborhood restoration coach asks.
For this segment of “Garbage In - Garbage Out” (see GIGO 1), we will discuss how an organization can align their processes with their vision to ensure they are not undermining their goals. We will take a trip down memory lane and construct this article in the fashion of the Choose Your Own Adventure Series paperbacks that were popular in the 90s.
As I have said before, I am a bridge millennial. I am technically Gen Y but I believe that my perspectives and experiences are more in line with Gen X. With The DYOJO Podcast, my goal has been to help growth-minded professionals to shorten their DANG learning curve, which often requires listening to and learning from those who have been there, done that (BTDT) and lived to tell others about it. By utilizing a structure that will bring some nostalgia to 90s kids, let’s see if we can unpack some of these common dysfunctions in the skilled trades.
How do you think Manager 1 answers the question we posed above regarding work orders?
Paragraph 1 - Definition of a Work Order
“What’s a work order?”
Define a work order: what should be in it and why it is important.
My second-ever article submitted to R&R was a little expose titled Peeling Back 5 Layers of Communication in a Restoration Business. In this article, we dug into the many layers that contribute to a customer calling your office wondering what the heck is going on with their project. Another common dysfunction in the skilled trades.
Again, in order to fix this, we will need to address the system from top to bottom and will need every layer of our organization to be invested in the restoration of our process. Communication is our organization showing our customers that we value them. Clarity and consistency is our organization showing our employees that we value them.
In order to achieve the ever-coveted, rarely-achieved accountability in your organization, we have to communicate clearly and consistently at every level of your organization. In the layers we discussed:
Younger readers may be surprised that even in 2010, I arrived at one of the largest restoration companies in our industry and they were still using carbon copies for hand written work orders. There is nothing wrong with old tech; use what you have and make it work. But, if your handwriting is illegible (which is the case for most people in the skilled trades), then you're not setting your team up for success if you are creating work orders that no one can read.
We quickly adapted our process to printed work orders which were much easier for everyone to read. As we added team members who were more tech-savvy than me, we further adapted our work orders and scheduling to Google calendar. I can tell you that we tried almost every app and software available at the time and found most of them took more time to manage than the actual work.
The shared calendar allowed us to put job relevant information into the hands of those serving our clients. A good work order does not have to be complex, but it must contain key details such as customer name, contact information, jobsite address, scope of work, and should even include budgeted time so that your team has a target to shoot for.
Now that you know what a work order is, you will want to advance to paragraph 2 to learn about creating clarity and/or advance to paragraph 4 to learn about developing consistency in your process.
Paragraph 2 - The Importance of Clarity
“They’re pretty good. Why are you busting my chops?”
For a work order to be effective, it needs to be clear enough to provide the details necessary for the receiver to be able to work from the orders. When the person assigned to the work reads the document, they should be able to comprehend:
It is important for people in a position of leadership to keep in mind that the goal of a work order is to communicate with the person(s) who will be assigned to complete the work assigned. It is not enough to document what the writer thinks is clear; those composing the work orders must work to ensure the information can be understood and executed by those on the receiving end of the transmission.
I heard a great analogy in regard to instructing a child to clean their room.
Parent: “Clean your room.”
Fifteen minutes later the parent returns and finds that the child has not cleaned their room to the parent’s satisfaction. Who is at fault for this failure? Many managers, and parents, might say:
Parent: “It’s common friggin sense, what’s wrong with you child?”
If you are in agreement while you read this segment of the article - advance to paragraph 1.
If we take it seriously, that effective communication requires those in a position of leadership to work at clearly and consistently transferring information, then we can clearly see that the child was not set up for success in the scenario above.
George Bernard Shaw aptly states, “The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”
So, what should the “clean your room” work order look like in order to enhance the opportunity for a better outcome?
Parent: I want you to clean your room. By this I mean, I want all of your clothes put away or in the dirty clothes hamper, your toys put away in their bins, and your bed made nicely. I will return in fifteen minutes to check on your progress. Do you understand what I have instructed you to do?
If you are ready to work on improving the process, advance to paragraph 4.
Paragraph 3 - The Illusion of Competition
“I’d like to see how Company X does their’s any better. Give me a break.”
Why would it matter what other companies are doing? If the bar is low among your competitors, making yourself feel good about your own lack of clarity doesn’t solve anything to prove that you are on par with the status quo. You are in competition with yourself. Your ability to make progress towards your goals is dependent on your ability to motivate yourself, your management team, and your technicians to raise the bar internally for your organization.
It’s time to return to the start and select the answer that most closely reflects your thoughts on the matter. For example, if you are deflecting because you don’t actually know what a work order is, advance to paragraph 1.
Paragraph 4 - Developing the Process
If this is true, why is it that you are not getting the results that you seek in reducing waste by curbing the unnecessary trips to the hardware store that opened our story? You may believe that your communication is clear, but this dysfunction is revealing that there is still work to be done either in truly creating clarity in your work order (paragraph 2), developing consistency in your process (paragraph 5), or holding people accountable through a plan of improvement (paragraph 6).
I have written at length on the process of developing the right mindset and habits for yourself and your team to succeed with estimating insurance claims in my first book, Be Intentional: Estimating. If you have a desire to dig further into these principles, as well as prepare your team to communicate scope more effectively from the estimating stage onward, you may find this publication to be of value.
To review the scope communication process advance to paragraph 5.
If your work order process is clear, as outlined in paragraph 2, and you have developed a consistent process, as outlined in this section, it may be time to move into the discipline phase.
If it’s time to discipline - advance to paragraph 6.
Paragraph 5 - Establishing Accountability
Whenever information has to translate from an estimator, to a project manager (sometimes one in the same), to a site supervisor, or carpenter, your scope communication process must be clear and consistent before employees can be held accountable.
A work order, as defined in paragraph 1, is a transfer of critical information so that all parties are clear on the scope of work. Before you can hold team members accountable for multiple trips to the hardware store, you must confirm whether they have been set up for success at the project start up.
It’s one thing when management holds people accountable, it’s another thing when team members understand the vision and values and are empowered to hold each other accountable.
The author of Necessary Endings, Dr. Henry Cloud, has said,
“If you are building a culture where honest expectations are communicated and peer accountability is the norm, then the group will address poor performance and attitudes.”
Many years ago, my beautiful wife went to work with my team on several large school projects. We needed people we could trust to do what they were instructed by the team. My wife was more than capable. She worked well with the team and has some fond memories of her time with people who stand out as some of the best that I have worked with over my career. They weren’t the smartest or the most talented, in truth, we assembled a rag-tag group of people who fought for each other and worked hard to do it right.
One cool story that came out of the experience was my wife seeing more of what went on behind the scenes. She confirmed what I already knew, that our team was committed to doing it right, doing it efficiently, and doing it excellently. Because our process was clear and consistent, the team held each other accountable to the standard that we all believed in. I am reading The ServiceMaster Story by Albert M. Erisman, in which he has a great quote from the founder Marion Wade,
“Don’t expect to build a super company with super people. You must build a great company with ordinary people.”
If you want accountability, focus on clarity (paragraph 2) and then build consistency in your process (paragraph 4). Even if you have an accountable team, there will be times when you have to discipline - advance to paragraph 6.
Paragraph 6 - Effective Discipline
My next book, Be Intentional: Culture, is a collaborative effort with several talented authors who have been there, done that (BTDT) and lived to tell about it. Our goal is to share real world experiences with those mindsets and habits that either enhance or undermine your efforts to build on your vision and values. In the opening chapters I discuss how those in a position of leadership need to understand that in many ways people are like banks - you have to make emotional deposits (credits) if you want to effectively make emotional withdrawals (debits).
As a person in a position of leadership, you often have to address issues in your organization (correction). Before you can build or expect accountability in your culture, you must build a foundation of clarity and consistency:
If we return to our opening scenario, our manager, like many people in a position of leadership, is frustrated by a clear example of waste. When workers make multiple trips in a day to the hardware store, you are losing on so many fronts. You are losing productivity, money, trust, and the list goes on. Lisa Lavender and I recently teamed up to share some thoughts on reducing common areas of scope creep in property restoration.
In our market, a trip to the hardware store consumes at least one hour. If you can reduce one trip to the hardware store, you gain one hour of productivity. Over the course of a week that is five hours of productivity gained. That’s almost an entire shift that your worker is either losing productivity or gaining productivity.
But before we can put all of the blame on our worker, people in a position of leadership have to face the music and ask themselves whether they have created a process of communication that is clear, consistent, and thereby facilitates accountability. We are quick to use, “Garbage In, Garbage Out,” as an indictment against our technicians when this responsibility starts with the organization, the management team, and the internal processes of the company before it ever reaches the ground floor.
*Credit: This article written with the help of Tiffany Acuff applying her keen eye for editing
The Adventures of Goldilocks the Adjuster and the 3 Estimator Bears
In property restoration, we train our team members for many technical skills but we are woefully behind in soft skills. This is a reality throughout construction and most skilled trades. While I believe the primary reasons for this gap are not nefarious, as no one is actively trying to prevent professional development, if you and I don’t face the facts, we will continue to struggle in areas that can be overcome with a dose of intentionality.
Often we allow ourselves to be caught in the hamster wheel of busyness, telling ourselves that we are working “harder” and therefore never stopping to develop a process for working “smarter”. It’s difficult to do, but you and I have to take a step back if we are going to improve the process. One area that I would like to direct our attention towards, that assists our team members to perform their functions much more efficiently and leads to much better project outcomes, is business relationships.
If we rate our relationships on a scale of niceness, perhaps we can compare this feature to the familiar story of Goldilocks the Adjuster and the Three Estimator Bears:
When Goldilocks the friendly neighborhood Adjuster, or any other business role player (this could be subcontractors, vendors, suppliers, third party administrators, consultants, etc), comes along to discuss a claim, she finds it easy to compel Pushover Bear into compliance. It’s almost too easy. Pushover Bears believes that if they are nice and the adjuster is nice, that must mean we have a positive relationship. In Pushover Bear’s defense, what would lead someone to fold in situations of adversity?
On the Blue Collar Nation Podcast, hosts Eric “The Tech Whisperer” Sprague and Larry “Pineapple Man” Wilberton discuss their experiences with an estimator who was a people-pleasing-pushover that cost them millions (by their estimates). As individuals in positions of leadership, they had to learn to better identify their team members' personalities and skill sets so they could train them to achieve better outcomes.
Some estimators are built for confrontation and any sleight is taken to the maximum offense so that they can exhaust their grievances with Goldilocks, the Adjuster, and the entire system of insurance (if not beyond). Pertinacious Bear often views a rejection of their estimate as a personal attack and/or they believe any concession is giving away too much. If Pushover Bear is good at playing the quantity over quality game, Pertinacious Bear will fight for every penny claiming they are only about quality.
If Pushover Bear is at risk of being played, Pertinacious Bear tries too hard to be the player. It is important even when making a valid case to remain polite and professional, above reproach. Pragmatism isn’t the only way to approach a situation, but as an organization it is important to define what your process is and how your responses will be in alignment with your values.
It may seem that Pragmatist Bear is the best kind of bear because their estimates would be ‘just right’ and their ability to negotiate must lead to profitable outcomes, right? The author is clearly steering the reader towards this conclusion, right? This is not my point.
The greater issue is whether your organization has discussed, defined and developed a process to optimize your approach to claims dynamics. If there is no clarity or consistency in the organization, there will be recurring issues as Goldilocks the Adjuster is ALWAYS visiting your estimating cottage. Those in a position of leadership need to be mindful to create a culture that attracts, develops, retains and enhances the traits which align with their process.
Writing a good estimate is the foundation of telling the story of the loss but the process does not end there. As former owners, Eric and Larry understand the importance of developing your team. They created Morning Tech Meeting to help business owners simplify soft skills training for field employees. The duo discuss how Jon Isaacson’s book Be Intentional: Estimating would have been required reading in their organization as it discusses how organizations can develop a robust approach to being professional and polite without getting played.
The First Step is Defining the Game
Something I like to point out in all of my creative outlets, whether it’s The Intentional Restorer, The DYOJO Podcast or Be Intentional: Estimating, is that the first step is to define for your organization the game you want to play. Is your approach to claims going to be:
Quick and Easy Claims
While I am not a fan of quantity over quality, there are plenty of businesses who have done very well for themselves operating this way. The program heavy organization that writes estimates to get approved must understand what they are doing and set their systems up to optimize this approach. We can write estimates that will get approved on the first draft, but if you want to play the quick and easy claim game, you’d better have your team set up to get in and get out with no interruptions or exceptions.
Fight for Every Penny
Depending on where you hang out in the property restoration ecosystem, there are plenty of contractors who are making it their mission to make their voice heard. They believe they are in the right, defending the honor of the process and fighting the good fight for their clients. Pertinacious Bears are in stark contrast to Pushover Bears and yet both extremes have their pros and cons. The right estimating bears need to be in the right restoration cottages in order to make the honey to flow.
This is not to say that pragmatism is the only answer as there is plenty of grey area in whatever approach you take. Pushover Bears and Goldilocks the Adjuster think that Pragmatist Bear is too severe while Pertinacious Bear thinks that Pragmatist Bear is as “soft” as Pushover Bear. This is not a matter of right or wrong but of defining the approach from the top down so that it can be executed from the bottom up in the organization. Be clear and be consistent.
Start by Defining Professional Relationships
In Be Intentional: Estimating I outline the MINDSET and HABITS that I believe will help owners, managers, estimators and growth minded employees to succeed with estimating property insurance claims. I think it is important to share a few ground rules for developing relationships in the insurance realm.
Anyone who has been in the industry for a period of time will have some level of pessimism about the claims process (porridge frequently too cold). It is important as an incoming estimator to form your own opinions, but that doesn’t mean you should disregard some of the battle tested wisdom from bears of all shapes, sizes and temperaments.
Four Simple Claims Relationship Optimizers:
For these and more tips on how to be professional, be polite but don’t get played, check out Jon Isaacson “The Intentional Restorer’s” new book Be Intentional: Estimating available in Kindle and paperback. Contact The DYOJO for discounts on bulk orders for your team.
Jon Isaacson, The Intentional Restorer, is an 18 year veteran of the property restoration industry and a business coach through his organization The DYOJO.