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  • Writer's pictureDave Veale

Who do you call when disaster strikes?

Updated: Sep 23, 2021

Chris Long ServiceMaster

Chris Long, President, ServiceMaster Saint John Photo: Craig Allen

Chris Long and his team are there when you really need them and often his customers call when they are in dire straits. They are the disaster restoration specialists at Saint John’s ServiceMaster Restore and ServiceMaster Clean. The franchise employs more than 40 people and uses state-of-the-art cleaning and restoration equipment, proprietary products and also provide ongoing technician training to bring peace of mind when disaster strikes.

Chris, the president, wasn’t always in the disaster restoration business. He spent 15 years as the district sales manager for Labatt Breweries in New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island before purchasing the Saint John ServiceMaster franchise. This experience at Labatt set the groundwork for his entrepreneurial venture.

On the restoration arm of their business, ServiceMaster Restore, they mitigate property damage – the range in the type of damage they restore is huge. It’s a 24/7 business that could include an explosion, fire, large water loss and anything in between. There’s a lot of science to the restoration industry now which creates a huge opportunity as Chris and his team look at what they can save, clean and restore to minimize what goes to landfill.

I began our conversation by asking Chris what caused him to jump from the corporate world, purchase a business and enter the entrepreneurial world.

A: Labatt was a very entrepreneurial company, especially when I started. I always felt that the journey with Labatt would take me to entrepreneurialism. And that’s what happened.

Q: When you started looking around to buy a business, what were you seeing?

A: I looked at a multitude of businesses and a multitude of balance sheets. I really tried to find something that fit, for one, my personality as well as what I believe in – something that would be interesting and new. This business, the restoration side especially, is really about helping people and that’s in my DNA.

I come from the brand world so I also wanted to have a brand, a franchise of some sort, because I knew that that’s where I would fit best and that’s where my expertise lay.

Q: What was it about the Service-Master brand at the time that attracted you?

A: I thought the brand had great markers and great cues – the yellow truck, the logo itself. When I looked across the country at the market share, the brand was a lot bigger and more stable in many different places than it was here, especially communities our size, like in PEI and Moncton.

Q: What did you learn from getting out of corporate and being self-employed?

A: The biggest learning, I think, when I moved into entrepreneurial-ism was pulling the reins back and saying,“We can only go so fast,”because I wanted to charge hard and make a lot of change really quickly and I wanted to do a ton of things.

Q: What helped you slow down?

A: I’ve got a bunch of business friends and leaders that I respect and look up to. After gathering a few of them together and having the counsel of these folks, the biggest light that turned on for me was that we needed to kind of chunk this up, that we really do need to make a three-year plan and a five-year plan, and that’s what we did.

Q: What did you know about the industry prior to getting into it?

A: I didn’t know a whole lot. I knew nothing about the commercial cleaning side and I really didn’t know a whole lot about restoration.

Q: Who are your clients?

A: We have a customer and we have a consumer. Eighty per cent of our customers are insurance companies that we work for. Our consumer is Mr. and Mrs. Smith and any commercial company.

Q: What is unique about the restoration industry that made it attractive to you?

A: One thing that’s neat about the industry in Canada versus the United States is that most restoration companies in the states are really just cleaning mitigation companies. If you have a fire in Canada, we take all your contents out, repair and clean all of the fixtures in your house and then put it all back together. We reinstate the hardwood floor and the drywall, do the electrical or furnace work.

Q: In other words that one job is worth a lot more to your company in Canada than in the U.S.?

A: It’s a much bigger opportunity for our company to be full service. Our customers have one single point of contact. So, when we come in, if there was a water loss, we would save all of your contents in the basement. We would send packers in, pack it and move it out. We take it out and lock it up on site here. We do the repairs, then we clean and put your contents back.

Q: So how do you monitor the process?

A: We use SLAs: service level agreements.

Q: Are SLAs unique to your franchise?

A: Yes. It’s allowed us to hit our scorecards and lead the country in scorecards. It’s one of those things we saw seven years ago. What the industry wants is a reduced cycle time, which is the duration of the file being open.

Someone is staying in a hotel, there’s more work that needs to be done. So, the quicker or the more we can reduce cycle time on overall claims, emergency and rebuild/reassembly, the better it’s going to be for the customer. It is also better for us because the customer is happy that we’re closing the job quicker.

Q: I understand that you have tripled the size of your company. What is the biggest learning for you during the growth?

A: There’s one thing about leading that I’ve learned: if you’ve got a message, the more times you can say it, the more times you can deliver it, the more it becomes part of what we all are. Now we’ve got a whole lot of leaders that say the same three or four things that describe what we’re all about. We talk about being a corporate citizen and giving back to our community. That’s a big part of our play. It’s important to us.

Q: How do you approach change?

A: You know what? I think people can glad-hand around change. People say,“It’s tough,”and, yes, true, change is tough, but it’s also rewarding. I believe you need to reward the people that want to change with you and want to grow with you.

Q: How would your team describe the culture at ServiceMaster?

A: They would say we have an open-door policy and a very flat management style.

Q: If you look out five years from now, what does the future hold?

A: We want to continue double-digit growth for the next five years.

Q: How would you finish this sentence:“A leader’s job is to…”

A: Create a shared vision. If you look at 100 people, typically the top 20 people act and spend money like it’s their company. Then you’ve got the bottom 30 per cent that would leave you in a minute and they’re a little bit negative. The 50 per cent in the middle – they make the difference so it is important that they share your vision.

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This article published in the Telegraph-Journal on Saturday, January 28, 2017.

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