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April 2017 Certified Firm Spotlight

John C. Solloway, Jr., Owner
Soil-Away Cleaning & Restoration Services, Hooksett, N.H.

How did you land in this industry?
I was working in the corporate world during the 1980s. It was not for me and I knew I wanted to start my own business. During this time I had a horrible experience with a cleaning and restoration company at my own house. That was the push I needed to start my own company; I never looked back.

How are you involved with the IICRC?

The IICRC and its standards, such as the S500 and S520, are the backbone of how we run our operation. I am personally Master Certified in water, fire and textiles, and send all our technicians, management and office staff continuously to get certified. We also hold our teams accountable to perform to the standards in the field. WRT is our most frequented certification class followed by ASD, FSRT, AMRT and CCT.

What do you do to market your business?
We put a lot of effort into marketing our business. We have full-time business development managers who are responsible to maintain existing client relationships and find new opportunities for us. Conducting CE courses for insurance professionals is a big part of our strategy. We also invest heavily into both pay-per-click (PPC) and search engine optimization (SEO) efforts online. A small percentage of our business comes directly from third-party administrators. We do NOT fire chase.

What's one unique thing about cleaning and restoration in your area? Any specific challenges you face due to your location?
I am not sure if there is anything necessarily unique about our area. It seems that the southern New Hampshire marketplace is getting more crowded with new franchises and independents trying to move in. Fortunately we continue to grow and expand our market share despite increasing competition. I believe our 26-year reputation for doing things right has helped us in this regard.

Your firm specializes in water damage mitigation. How did you end up in this particular area of the industry?
When I founded Soil-Away in 1990, we were initially a carpet cleaning and janitorial company. Like so many of my peers who have been around 20+ years, we eventually find ourselves shifting into primarily restoration work. Your carpet cleaning clients call you because they “have some water in the basement” and need it extracted. After enough of those calls it opens yours eyes to all the opportunity in the water damage restoration part of the industry. Now over 50 percent of our sales are in water damage alone.

Is there a restoration/cleaning job that you are particularly proud of?
I can provide some examples. First, I am really proud of how we’ve been able to maintain our client base. We have some clients who have been using our services for 15+ years. In addition to that we are turning into one of the top large-loss restoration contractors in our area. One project we recently completed was a 100,000 square foot office furniture storage facility. We cleaned and deodorized the entire structure and all its contents. Another large loss we recently completed was a 200 unit high-end apartment complex in which over 60 percent of the units had water damage from ice dams.

If you could give one piece of advice to a young professional starting out in the business, what would it be?
There is a lot I could say here. I would stress that having a passion for the industry and what you are doing is critical. Remember you are helping people at a serious time of need. Never forget the importance of that. Also, invest in education for you and your team! If you are passionate about the industry (or at least about serving your clients), then they will be too.

What do you like best about your job?
I have been doing this for so long it is just a part of who I am. Every day is a challenge. There are always new opportunities to find or problems to solve. It takes a team effort and it is so rewarding when we all succeed together.

What is the most rewarding thing about owning a cleaning and restoration business?
I was able to support and raise my family along with helping my employees do the same for their families.

Can you talk about a cleaning or restoration "horror" story or anything funny you have encountered during your career?
I made it rain in a customer’s house one time. About 20 years ago when we first started getting into water damage cleanup, my lack of knowledge and training in drying science and phycrometrics almost got me in trouble. Long-story-short, I misused equipment and created too much evaporation and not enough dehumidification. Moisture was dripping off ceilings and down walls – you get the picture. Fortunately some friends and industry colleagues were able to help me solve the problem quickly. Live and learn and then hurry up and get educated! I am glad we can look back and laugh at ourselves. It makes you appreciate where we are today as a company and industry.

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