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9 Lessons I Learned: Becoming An Award Winning Restoration Chick

“You won’t make it another month! What were you thinking!” That’s what they told me. Who? Lawyers, business consultants, other business owners…. Pretty much everyone that I had told what I had gotten into. Maybe they were right. But if you know anything about me, you know I love a challenge; along with being a mom, and a restoration chick! I won’t go down without a fight and I truly never give up. How did I get here? More importantly, how did I survive the lows to turn around my company to become an award-winning business owner? I’ll tell you….

I ABSOLUTELY love this industry! But I certainly didn’t see myself owning a restoration company. My upbringing as a child was different than most. Due to that, when I grew up, I just really wanted to help people (most importantly kids). When I was 18 and just getting out of high school, I felt I could do that by either being a social worker, a lawyer or even a police officer. The foundation of each of these professions was helping people. However, each of these professions also have a bad rep due to not having enough people or the funding to help as much as they can or want to. My servant’s heart was telling me to do whatever I can for other people. I wanted to show how it can be done and that helping others was completely possible, no matter resources you have. I wanted to show there are people that care and that want to help.

I started working at a restoration company as a receptionist when I was just out of  high school. I loved being the cool receptionist chick that was able to work a full time job while still going to college full time and being a part of everything that came through the business. You know… because I had to answer those calls! I was really surprised how much I loved it. I saw how much I could help people, even if I was at a desk hiding behind a telephone.

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On one occasion, I was able to show off my superpower (people being comfortable enough to tell me things). A woman called because her home had caught fire. Unfortunately, she lost many of her material possessions and even lost her precious cat. She was devastated. I remember being on the phone with her for over an hour. She talked, vented and cried. I listened and attempted to comfort her. Before she hung up, she told me that I had made such a difference for her just by being there for her on the phone. I realized it wasn’t that I exactly cared about her cat… but I was able to empathize with her. She just needed someone to care enough to listen for that moment, even if she was going to get riled up again later. That comment meant so much to me. After that call, I knew I was in the right place. I was determined to move up the ladder from that point on. As I think about it, I ended up in an industry that is often looked down upon and has a bad reputation after all. I had my chance to show them who I was and how it should be done.

I had the opportunity to help people when they are most vulnerable. I genuinely believe that each of us must wear some kind of mask when we are in public, with others. But once we are home, we can literally and figuratively take off the mask and be “naked”; our true selves. When a person’s home has mold, a fire or water damage, that sanctuary is no longer a place of freedom. It is a wreck for months on end sometimes, strange (but awesome) people are marching around the various rooms of your house, and it can be psychologically damaging when you can’t have that “naked” break. I want to help give people their freedom again and I realized that is what this industry is all about.

“I had the opportunity to help people when they are most vulnerable…. I want to help give people their freedom again and I realized that is what this industry is all about.”

Eventually, I went from being in one position at the initial company to being in accounts receivable, invoicing, coordinating, project management, estimating and sales/marketing for another Bravo. No, not a moving up the ladder slow paced progression as I wished; but all these positions at the same time! It was exhausting, scary, frustrating, and overwhelming at times. At one point, the owner of Bravo at the time, expressed to me that he didn’t have the internal drive to run the company anymore. I just knew I had to do something. I took it upon myself to save the company, to save everyone’s job.

Nerves were high! I was excited! I was petrified! I was naïve…. Little did I know the true hard work that was ahead of me. After some thought, I decided to buy the company. It was a dream come true! The dream took a fast and unexpected turn quickly after though. I learned valuable lessons in the purchase of this company. (1) Both the owner and I had the same lawyer. That was a HUGE mistake! (2) I did not have the company evaluated properly, and even though I ran the books, (3) I did not really understand how to read any financial reports. These are all things I would research more if I had to do it again.

Nicole Humber Bravo Restoration

Turns out, the company I purchased was what could be kindly described as a fixer upper. There were many, many issues. The employees would steal, the work was low quality, the leadership/culture was nowhere near where it needed to be. The first one to two years was tough… really tough.

The company was certainly not a reflection of who I was or what I wanted my company to be. I found myself in survival mode. I was facing multiple lawsuits due to the occurrences that happened before I purchased the company. My company was being trashed on social media. By the end of the first year, we had a net loss of $800,000+, our credit cards were maxed out, we had a horrible reputation with paying subcontractors on time and though I did make payroll, there were a few times that I couldn’t pay myself. Like I said… tough. There was a lot of anxiety, doubt, and a WHOLE lot of tears shed during this time.

To add on to this, my employees had no respect for me, was it because I was a woman? Was it because I was a new owner? Or was it because I was only a spry 26-year-old? Maybe a bit of everything. But I honestly don’t blame them. At the end of the day the real reason was that I didn’t know how to be a leader at the time. That needed to change. The company was going to follow my lead, good or bad. I needed to change.

“By the end of the first year, we had a net loss of $800,000+, our credit cards were maxed out… The company was going to follow my lead, good or bad. I needed to change.”

What helped me make these changes?

I am a big believer in learning and growing from trials. There are lessons in every low point. If you are going to go through pain, you might as well make the most of it and get everything you can out of it. Also, if the pain was caused by a mistake I made, then I’m going to be sure not to do it again. If it wasn’t a mistake then it was some sort of blessing so lets repeat that again. That is how I literally handled all situations during that time and to be honest… still do.

I had to work on myself in order to be the leader my company needed. I believe knowledge is power and I tried to take in as much knowledge about this restoration/construction industry as possible. (4) I spoke to other business owners, fellow restorers, business consultants, basically anyone with business experience. (5) I went to class after class and soaked in as much as I could. I did what I could to embed knowledge about leadership, culture and being a good owner on top of getting my certifications and increasing my understanding of day-to-day operational tasks.

(6) One of the best decisions I made was to hire Violand Management Associates. Our personal consultants, Bill Prosch & Tim Hull, were a huge help. If I could go back, I wouldn’t have waited a few months to hire them. They became my sounding board. They helped me develop processes. They listened to me and were a constant hand at my back pushing me towards being more successful. I like to refer to them as my dads of business, Bill would let me call him with the tears and tell me I’m doing a good job, where Tim would say suck it up and you need to do better. They were and continue to be the perfect combination of consultants for me and Bravo.

Nicole Humber and Luis

Next, (7) I had to improve our company culture. Once again, it started with me. I had never physically worked on any kind of job. I was not a water technician and had never swung a hammer. I still have never even been in a crawlspace! But I felt it was important to learn what I could and to support my team in any way possible. Whether it be delivering equipment/materials, doing job walks to discuss scope, etc. I wanted them to know I was there to help. Sometimes I still feel like I need to validate what I know about our industry, especially to customers. Sometimes I still am a little self-conscious about that. But, in reality, I’ve worked really hard to try to know everything I can about our business and what we do.

While never physically working on a project, it was really important to me that my guys knew that I would always have their backs! Well, as long as they didn’t do something unethical that is. I really value our team. I never wanted to be the owner that was off on the golf course while they were away from their families sucking water at midnight. So, if they needed equipment, or needed information on a job, I have always made myself available to them 24/7.

Next, I had to work on the employees themselves. I believe in treating my employees as I wanted to be treated when I was an employee. So, (8) I started investing in my team.

Their gaining knowledge was just as important as me gaining knowledge. So, I put them through classes as well. When I went to industry-based classes that would help the company, I took along some of the members of my team. For example I brought my field supervisor, Luis, to the Next Level Event at Reets Drying Academy. Luis has been with me since the very beginning (like when I was an employee of Bravo beginning). I wanted him to see this industry like I do, I wanted him to be around others striving for greatness. When Luis learned more about the management, estimating, and what it takes to be in the restoration industry outside of a technician, he really lit up and was pumped for the future. He is now training to be a Project Manager, which I had been trying to get him to do for years now. It is about seeing potential and fostering an atmosphere of respect and family.

I did have to cut my losses on a few employees that were used to the old way. But it was a new day. I wanted our company to be extremely collaborative and work together. For example, even when we are hiring, it is a team effort. The employees interview their new potential teammate first and see how they would work. If they pass the first 2 interview sessions, then I interview them, which by that point it’s a given. The same is true of firing. I rarely need to fire anyone. The culture gets rid of people on their own. If they suck, they will just leave. It is a fantastic team to work with. The team even likes to refer to me as “Mom”, because of how much I care about them and do my best to take care of them. It’s so endearing and kind of embarrassing too. But I do love them like family, almost like kids, I cant even control it.

“I wanted our company to be extremely collaborative and work together…. The team even likes to refer to me as ‘Mom’ because of how much I care about them….”

My team can be very much like me in the essence of being competitive! We use that as a strength. How?

We have challenges that incentivize their knowledge and their understanding of their craft. We work like crazy… but man, do we have fun. (9) If the team works hard and does a great job, we reward them for it. We have paid for monthly massages (when its not shelter in place due to COVID-19); we go on offsite team retreats to make sure we are all on the same page and working towards our goals. I even incentivize Google and social media reviews. If an employee’s name gets mentioned in a review because they did a great job, I give them $50.  I also do monthly bonuses based on our goals and the gross profits, which has even made the team become salespeople because of it. They continue to impress me with their drive to keep winning.

I believe it is not just the employees’ job to work extremely hard in the field. It is their job to be a part of the team. So, we communicate with them and touch base with them often. A month doesn’t go by where we don’t meet as a team to talk about the good, the bad, and the money. My team is great. Not saying it is all rainbows and cupcakes over here, BUT I am so proud of what we have accomplished together up to this point.

Restoration Company Culture

But what/how can I and this industry improve now and into the future?

I love our system and I have learned so much from owning Bravo Restoration. I believe in what we have done, so much so that I would love giving people in different locations the experience that we have here. It will be amazing if and when we could have multiple satellite locations or offices so we can spread our goals, values and overall #TeamBRC philosophy.

I also have this deep desire to want to help kids who may not have had the best upbringing, that feel like they don’t have the same opportunities as others and to help them see this trade as an option. I work with the amazing Letitia Hanke with The Lime Foundation. We met at a BNI group 5 years ago. The Lime Foundation is a non-profit that works with students (apparently I can’t call them kids), to harness their individual skills in music, arts, tech, health and the trades like construction and drying. It is so fulfilling! Once every few months, I go to a high school and help train students about the restoration services we provide. I personally love teaching them about mold. Some of these students even work for me now!

I want people to view this industry like I do. It can be a way to pay bills, but it can also be a career that is so fulfilling. I am a prime example of how a trade can do more than just putting food on the table or a roof over your head. It can satisfy internal aspirations that are more satisfying then just having a job. We need to teach our kids it is more than ok to be in the trades! It is an amazing privilege to help others.

” I want people to view this industry like I do… We need to teach our kids it is more than ok to be in the trades. It is an amazing privilege to help others.”

So how did I start out as a bright-eyed receptionist, buy a “fixer-upper” company, and end up winning the R&R 2020 Ladder Award for being an outstanding restoration professional?

I learned every step of the way. I was prepared to be uncomfortable when necessary. I stuck with my moral compass and didn’t compromise on it. I honed in on my values and stuck with them with every opportunity I could. I learned to be a consistent leader. I learned how to protect myself (as best I can in California) from lawsuits by not making the same mistake twice. And lastly… I didn’t give up. I showed them how it should be done. You can too!

– By Nicole Humber

*This Contractor Experience was written by the author with help from the editor. The post is this person’s actual experiences in what helped them find success. The experience was collected to help other contractors that may be in a similar situation. The views and opinions expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the opinion of Reets Drying Academy.

If you, or someone you know, has an experience that could prove beneficial to our industry, please send an email to nick@reets.tv.

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