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Rapid growth from the rubble

Local owners discuss expansion of their disaster-cleanup company

Posted: April 21, 2012 1:55 a.m.
Updated: April 21, 2012 1:55 a.m.

Vicki and Norb Brown of Service Master by Master and Sons walk through their new 12,000 square foot storage warehouse in Valencia.

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Local emergency-disaster firm Service Master by Master and Sons of Santa Clarita has seen its business grow by 40 percent in the past year, prompting it to expand and move into a much larger building, according to the business' owners.

Specializing in disaster restoration, Service Master by Master and Sons responds to disasters caused by flood, fire or acts of Mother Nature, providing a full-service experience for residential and commercial customers.

"The business has been fairly recession-proof. People have major disasters," said Norb Brown, owner of the independently owned and operated franchise service.

Local residents since the early 1980s, Brown and his wife, Vicki, purchased the franchise from its previous owner in 2000, two years after Brown began working at the company.

"One of the guys from my church owned the business when I joined him," Brown said. "After two years, he retired and I bought him out."

Brown's lifelong background as a general contractor helps differentiate his company from others, he said. The company can take of the immediate cleanup from a disaster, and also help with the repairs, such as plumbing and electrical, too.

His wife, Vicki, was a banker for more than 20 years with a background in accounting and office management. That experience helped put the business on strong footing for growth, he said.

One-stop shop

Service Master by Master and Sons operates as a one-stop shop, he said. While the company initially responds to the disaster, Brown said it also packs up furniture and belongings when necessary, bringing them into his climate-controlled warehouse for secure storage while repairs are being made to the home or business.

When a structure is restored, the company brings the belongings out of storage and puts them back in place onsite.

In the case of a flood, a home is dried to its preloss condition, Brown said. Personal property damaged during the disaster will be repaired before it's returned to the home.

"Our general contractors repair the home according to the damages that were caused and then prepare the home to bring the furniture back and bring the people back home," Brown said.

Business has been so good that Service Master by Master and Sons purchased a new 12,000-square-foot building at 28486 Westinghouse Place in March. And it has another location in the Antelope Valley, Brown said.

Positive growth

Brown, with his wife, grew the small two-person company into a business grossing $3.5 million to $4 million in business, he said.

"It's been so crazy we can't see straight," Brown said. "We're usually going 900 mph."

Being open 24/7, 365 days a year, keeps the company busy, and its schedule requires some disaster-preparedness planning, Brown said.

"We do disaster preparedness plans," he said. "We plan scenarios based on what might happen and how we'll respond."

With his franchise's geographic area covering Los Angeles County, one of the scenarios it plans for is a "large loss." Service Master by Master and Sons plans for an earthquake affecting a high-rise building and anticipates the amount of damage the building might take one, Brown said. Planning includes what equipment they'll need to address a disaster.

"A disaster results in loss of customers, revenue, inventory and property for business owners," he said. "Water- and smoke-damaged items can quickly become unsalvageable but structural damage can worsen without immediate attention."

The local company owns 30 trucks and has about 50 employees in Santa Clarita with another 20 in the Antelope Valley. But if a disaster is really large, requiring more people to respond immediately, the company relies on other franchises closest to the area to respond.

"We all have the same certifications, so we call on one another within a 100-mile radius," Brown said.

But a company can't necessarily predict patterns of disasters.

"We could be just flowing along, doing some jobs on a comfortable pattern, and then a disaster strikes, and you think, ‘How in the world are we going to handle all this business?'" he said.

A couple of years ago during freezing temperatures, the company got 150 jobs in three hours, Brown said. He couldn't possible handle all the jobs himself, so he called in other franchises to help so people and businesses suffering from a disaster can get immediate help, he said.

Meanwhile, the business is planning not just for disasters, but future growth, he said.

Customer retention

Service Master by Master and Sons just bought a larger warehouse and is adding more mezzanines to handle storage, Brown said.

"We have storage vaults full of furniture until we can get a house or business restored," he said. "When we're done, we move the furniture back in."

The company also tracks its calls to see how customers learned about it. While people call the company individually, it also gets a fair share of referrals from insurance agents and claims adjustors, Brown said. And his company works with client's agents or adjustors on claims.

But while those calls from insurance companies are typically based on area codes, Brown said his company has been receiving referrals from outside his area because of past referrals.

"We believe in doing it right the first time, not gouging the bill, customer retention and creating a return on investment," Brown said.

Service Masters of Santa Clarita can be reached at 661-299-9090. More information is available online at





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