Heidi and Gene Pehrson love fixing things for people, especially buildings damaged by one of several disasters: windstorms, fire, floods and just about anything else you can think of.
“Seven years ago Gene and I began looking for a business we could operate together,” said Heidi Pehrson, co-owner of the Grand Rapids-based SERVPRO franchise.
Their backgrounds were diverse: Gene had been a general contractor most of his working career, while Heidi worked in the medical field as well as owning a commercial cleaning business in the Brainerd area. They looked for two years at various business options before landing on the idea of starting up a SERVPRO franchise.
“The Hibbing/Grand Rapids/Bemidji territory was open,” Gene said, “so we began looking at what it would take to get going. We talked to a couple of banks, and Grand Rapids State Bank was much more user-friendly than other options we looked at. Al Liestman was the banker we talked to, and I would say that we wouldn’t be in business now but for the faith he had in us. He warned us that it would be difficult, and he was right, but he and Grand Rapids State Bank stood behind us.
“We jumped in with both feet,” said Gene, “and here we are five-and-a-half years later.”
SERVPRO’s business niche is providing structural cleaning and restoration services from damage related to fire, water, smoke or biohazards. Gene and Heidi take pride in being able to say that one of the two of them are present at the front end of every job site. “We do this because we’re able to assess the gravity of the situation, the time needed to accomplish the job, and to provide a cost estimate of the clean-up effort involved. That formula seems to work, and it keeps us grounded in the business.”
Gene manages the production side of the business, while Heidi oversees the marketing and finances.
“We have developed relationships with insurance companies, fire departments and others in the emergency response business,” said Heidi.
“We got started in business later in life, and we are not willing to compromise our principles. Our integrity and reputation are everything to us, so we want be sure our crews are doing everything the way we would do them ourselves.
“Unfortunately, fraud is prevalent in this business,” added Gene. Our motto is: the truth is the truth.
The Pehrsons’ SERVPRO business serves Bemidji, Grand Rapids & Hibbing with 24-hour service, and they are equipped to handle any size disaster. They have 12 green SERVPRO vehicles and 17 field employees, as well as themselves. Two full-time marketing professionals and three office staff support the 11 production technicians in the field. While Grand Rapids is the headquarters, they have technicians living in Northome, Bemidji, Eveleth and Keewatin.
“We cover northern Minnesota north of Highway 2,” said Gene. “While our goal is to be on site within four hours of a call, the average time to report to the job site is one hour and 45 minutes. Our metrics are 1, 4 and 8: one hour to respond to a call; four hours to be on site; and eight hours to file a report with the insurance company. We routinely beat those numbers.”
Gene’s background as a contractor helps him evaluate the situation more fully than someone without that experience. That experience also helps the SERVPRO team put a building “back together” after they clean and repair damage.
“In some situations we pack up an entire house, inventory everything bring it back to our shop, clean it and put it in storage,” Heidi explained. “There are times when we have had as many as six homes in storage. Our customers are amazed that once we’re done cleaning, we go back and put things back where they came from. We have a list of expert subcontractors—carpenters, plumbers, electricians, heating and ventilating experts—who can help us respond to repairs and assist in restoration jobs throughout the region. This helps us be responsive and extends our capacity to handle larger projects.”
Heidi and Gene have been at this business long enough to have gathered a few stories. Last year they took a call on a Saturday morning from someone whose washing machine sprang a leak that flooded the home. The water damage was one thing, but they were going to be holding a wedding at the home later in the day. “We were on the job and out within three hours,” said Gene. “Luckily we were called right away and we were able to clean up quickly. Needless to say, the mother and bride were quite happy.”
Gene cited another job to clean up a flooded restaurant in Ely, Minnesota, on a New Year’s Day. “The sprinkler system burst due to cold weather. We responded with a team of 12 people and worked a 12-hour day.”
Heidi and Gene are proud of their operation, and they work well with local independent cleaning services that can’t provide the larger-scale resources for a major restoration project.
“We’re proud of our team, and we’re in growth mode,” said Gene. “As the owners, we need to keep our employees trained and motivated and we need to continue to invest in equipment.
“We are accredited by the IICRC, the Institute of Inspection, Cleaning and Restoration Certification. We like the fact that someone looks over our shoulders to see that we do a good job. We are certified in water restoration, fire restoration, mold remediation, biohazard certified, and radon certified.
“The relationships we form with insurers and emergency responders make a difference,” Gene continued. “We offer continuing education (CE) classes throughout the year for insurance agents, adjusters and real estate agents. The classes are an opportunity for the agents/adjusters to get CE credits and learn about what happens after the claim leaves their office.”
“We love this business,” Heidi added, “and we love the feedback we get from satisfied customers. It keeps us going.”