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This year Minneapolis-based Giertsen Company celebrates a century of residential and commercial remodeling, repair and restoration work.

Its longevity as a company is extremely rare in the remodeling industry. In fact, according to Harvard University’s Joint Center for Housing Studies, about 20 percent of remodeling firms never reach their 5th anniversary.

Giertsen’s success is a byproduct of two factors. First, the nature of insurance restoration requires an added degree of precision in estimating and communication demanded by insurance carriers. Thus, restoration firms tend to be very buttoned up and conservative.

The second factor is Giertsen’s long-standing approach to people. They tend to bring in-house people with specialized skills, compensate them fairly and provide a list of benefits that are not commonly offered in the industry. They offer a percentage matched 401(k), paid vacation, health benefits and a strong bonus structure on top of a long-standing philosophy (going back generations) in which loyalty is reciprocated. In short, they’ve built a culture where people want to stay.

The fourth-generation leaders of Giertsen Company (Richard, Kevin and Drew Giertsen) have been at the helm of the family business for 20 of the company’s 100 years in business. According to Kevin Giertsen, the company has had to cope with the current skilled labor shortage like everyone else, creating incentives—perhaps increasing pay to attract some of the new workers they’ve needed to keep up with recent growth.

But they’ve not been as hard pressed as most other companies in the industry when it comes to finding people, Kevin says. The average tenure of their current staff of 102 employees is 10 years. And many younger employees are coming up through a family connection to the company. They have fathers, uncles, mothers who have worked at Giertsen through the years, and they recognize its stability and consistency as a place to work.

“There are team members that we promote from within, given the opportunity they can grow and advance in the company,” Kevin says. “How we hold on to these people, how we incentivize them, and how we create an employment package in an environment that they’d like to come to work everyday is something we’ve done well to this point.

“This is not always the cleanest or easiest job to do,” he continues. “These jobs are in burned-out homes and businesses, and you are dealing with smoke and water. So [it’s] creating a competitive benefit package that provides an environment where people do like to work for us through multiple generations.

The company is actually able to bring in different family members, and now have fathers with sons and daughters coming up through the business. And it’s really an exciting thing. It’s kind of cool to be around. So you have this loyalty-based, quality type of employee who wants to work for you, and that is how we navigate these issues through the ups and downs of these different markets.” The company says it certainly works to attract all types of trades, but the skills being passed from father to son or father to daughter in carpentry have been particularly important, Kevin adds.

A conservative philosophy

In 1918, Walter Giertsen launched his business as a glass replacement firm for commercial storefronts. That led to commercial restoration work for building owners, and ultimately residential restoration, remodeling and repair.

The company was past its 80th anniversary when it began opening offices in other metropolitan areas. Today, Giertsen runs divisions in Milwaukee and Chicago. The new markets have helped the company grow to a level where it generates $23.3 million in remodeling and restoration revenue on 1,285 jobs.

As Giertsen looks at opportunities this year and next, the focus is on better execution, tighter systems and processes that will help make the company more profitable while growingly modestly to an estimated $24.5 million in 2018. The focus of the company’s business offering is consistent with this view, where service extensions are logical “next steps.”

“We are making sure each city is profitable and doing well,” Kevin says. “At this point, we are enhancing those services. We are not looking to go into different cities at this point. The opportunity is really growth within for us and bettering our systems. With that said, we will go with the storms. We have clients across the country. We have done a lot of work in Florida, and we have our Florida license—that is from hurricanes. And we have affiliates across the country from Oregon to Boston, so we do move around. Recently there was a large tornado in Iowa. It’s how you have those crews mobilize and how you go in and help out specific communities. It really sets us apart from other types of builders, contractors, even remodelers. It’s nice that we can do that for people.”

Technology is an area where there has been gains for the company, Kevin notes. Most insurance restoration firms use a software called Xactimate to quickly estimate and settle on price to be paid out by insurance adjusters.

“Obviously, there is a lot of technology in place today,” he adds. “Utilizing those platforms and streamlining our crews and how they are expediting the jobs that are coming down the pipeline and increasing their efficiencies on the jobsite; and at the same time, communicating effectively with the customer, getting the information up to the insurance programs and preferred vendor programs in a timely basis. It’s everything from photos to work authorization forms, so technology has really helped our business today. If you are not embracing that, I think you are going to be here today and gone tomorrow.”

Kevin points out that the nature of insurance work demands a set of skills not necessarily required in other parts of the residential construction market. “Let me say another thing: When people see us, they are devastated,” he explains. “They’ve lost everything. They’ve lost keepsakes, and you have to have empathy. You have to kind of sit with them and work with them. And connect with them. And get them back up and running. And that is what is quite unique in the insurance restoration business.” | QR

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