Steri-Clean’s services help people improve their lives,
so it approaches its work with care and compassion.
By Staci Davidson, Knighthouse Media
As a firefighter and paramedic, Cory Chalmers saw a lot of tragedy and lives coming close to ruin. As the founder and CEO of Steri-Clean, however, Chalmers has found a way to assist those affected by some of life’s tragedies. With the services Steri-Clean provides, the operation has compassionately helped tens of thousands of clients reclaim their lives, and with this goal, it continues to grow. In fact, Steri-Clean is the nation’s leading cleanup provider, cleaning up crime scenes, hoarding and biohazards, as well as offering decontamination services.
“At heart, I am a helper,” Chalmers explains. “When I was a paramedic and firefighter, I was going in to homes and seeing the need for something like this. A fire or a crime is likely the worst thing these people would go through and I had to picture them having to clean it after we left, which is further trauma for them. I started this business to give people another option because there was no industry like this in California at the time.”
Chalmers started in 1995 by taking the seats out of his Ford Aerostar van and filling it with cleaning supplies. After a job was complete, he’d put the seats back. But soon, the business grew throughout California. After the “Hoarders” television show launched – often the show’s episodes are hosted by Chalmers and other Steri-Clean staff – the company went national.
“We were getting calls from all over the country,” he says. “Hoarding wasn’t well known back then, but the show helped people see how prevalent it was. The California office was spending so much time on the phone trying to find companies that would do this in other areas of the country that we set up a website – HoardingCleanup.com – which provided self-help for people. But we tracked all the leads and started first by growing the company and then went into franchising. When we opened our second office in Northern California, we had duplicated our sales in Southern California within just 4 ? years. We had a good call volume and knew there was a need for our services in other areas, so we realized franchises could open without any marketing.”
A Proven Model
Steri-Clean franchisees come from all backgrounds, but what they tend to have in common is that they want to make a difference in their communities and help people, while making a good living doing so. A dedication to the human side of the business is important to Steri-Clean because it remains passionate about delivering these services with caring and compassion. People approaching this business to make a quick buck are turned away because they don’t fit into the kindness culture.
“This is a proven business model, and it’s recession-proof,” Chalmers says. “Actually, during recessions we get busier because there are more foreclosures, so we get hired to do the cleanup. We get calls from potential clients all over the country, but we still do local marketing with apartment managers, police departments and various agencies. We already have a lot of presence online, but we do more marketing for our franchisees with specific websites.”
Once someone has made the decision to franchise the Steri-Clean concept, they go through training to fully understand what they are taking on. This starts with a two-hour session so franchisees know exactly what Steri-Clean is and what services it offers. The next step is for franchisees to see some graphic photos of what they might encounter in the field. Chalmers notes some franchisees have questioned their decision to join Steri-Clean at that point, but “the only way to know is to do it,” he says.
Therefore, the next step in training is to have franchisees practice in a mock crime scene with animal blood Steri-Clean gets from a lab. “We stage a room to look like it would in the field,” he explains. “We put them through a real cleanup, from pulling up to interacting with a family member and doing a real clean up. It’s often different from what their anxiety led them to believe. You realize you’re having a positive impact on the family and you stop thinking about what it is you’re cleaning. You’re making some of the family’s problems disappear.”
Steri-Clean’s work is more than just cleaning up crime scenes and hoarding, he notes. The Pittsburgh office recently cleaned five medical surgical centers after a virus outbreak, and the North Carolina office often cleans hurricane shelters. Offices also may clean up schools after a flu outbreak.
“All of these jobs are extremely rewarding in their own way,” Chalmers says. “We had a 70-year-old woman jump on her bed because she hadn’t seen it in 20 years due to hoarding. Seeing something like that is better than anything. We’re not just cleaning; we are restoring homes and lives. This has been my most rewarding job ever – more than when I was a fireman or paramedic – I honestly feel like I am saving more lives than I did in my previous career.”
Staying On Top
Steri-Clean spent $150,000 and three years developing a new app that will vastly reduce the use of paper in the field and allow franchisees to take photos, issue receipts, provide estimates, invoices and more. In terms of geographic growth, the company is looking into markets in Tennessee, Arkansas, New England, Massachusetts, and Central Florida.
“Smoke removal is a new service we have been offering in the last year and although we try not to add too many services, that one has been very successful,” Chalmers explains. “As an industry, the more visible stuff will always be more important, but as bugs build up a tolerance to antibiotics, those services will be much more in need. We plan to provide more training on high-end disinfection because we keep getting calls for very large jobs. Our industry is constantly evolving, and we will stay on top of it.”