[Below is a transcription of the podcast]
Cheri Landin: Hello and welcome to The Mortgage Company’s Community Partner Podcast Series. My name is Cheri Landin and I am the Community Development Director for The Mortgage Company and one of the things that I get to do in this role is interview some of our community partners, find out a little bit more about their businesses and just let some of our other community partners know who else is out there. So today I am joined with Christine Bergman from First General Services. Welcome.
Christine Bergman: Thank you for having me.
Cheri Landin: Absolutely. First General Services I guess by the name you wouldn’t necessarily know what you do. So tell us what you do.
Christine Bergman: We do a lot of explaining with that.
Cheri Landin: First general is very general.
Christine Bergman: So First General Services, we’re a general contractor first and foremost. And that is what First General Services started off as, as a general contractor. And we still do that. A lot of remodeling, renovation, complete home renovation. And what we found ourselves seeing in the market was there was a need for insurance restoration work and for contractors to actually partner with insurance companies and be sort of a preferred contractor for insurance companies, which is what we do now, primarily. We still certainly do non-insurance work too. But First General Services works closely with a number of large and well-known insurance companies to walk our clients through an entire restoration process from beginning to end.
Cheri Landin: Okay so a restoration process meaning, here we are sitting in Colorado, so we’re talking restoration because of hail damage.
Christine Bergman: Hail. Holy Hail.
Cheri Landin: Holy Hail. There is a lot of it around. OK so meaning restoration of roofing or…?
Christie Bergman: Everything. I’ll give you an example. So recently in Fountain, Colorado there was a catastrophic hailstorm, baseball-sized hail that actually came down in the middle of the night and went through people’s roofs and piled up in their living rooms.
Cheri Landin: While they were asleep!
Christine Bergman: While they were asleep. That’s right.
Cheri Landin: So Unusual.
Christine Bergman: That’s right. So what ends up happening then and this is sort of the process that I’m talking about. We call ourselves a family of first responders and we call ourselves that because after you’ve made sure that everyone is all right in your house and you’ve called your insurance company and you’ve called paramedics, God forbid that’s the situation, you would call our number at First General Services or Clean Master Services, which is our 24/7 emergency response unit if you will. And those folks are IICRC certified for mold remediation, water removal, and actually, they’ll go in and sort of assess the scene, clean it up and then turn over depending upon what direction you want to go. If you want to completely renovate your house or you just want to get it back to as good as it was before, then they will call First General Services and then we will come and give you an estimate for the renovation portion of that. We also have another division which is called Power’s Environmental which is a little bit separate. But Power’s Environmental focuses mainly on asbestos abatement and also a lead paint removal, which that doesn’t come up in the course of disaster services. Like nobody would call us, particularly in an emergency, “Oh my gosh I got asbestos in my ceiling” or whatever.
Cheri Landin: We just found out!
Christine Bergman: We just found out! But in the course of renovation, sometimes, particularly of older homes and older commercial buildings, we recommend that an outside company will test for asbestos and we find it quite often. And then we can give you an estimate for the abatement of that, which is very highly regulated by the EPA and some other government agencies because the removal of it, the handling of it is very important and very regulated.
Cheri Landin: Yeah I’ve heard about it. I’m glad I don’t think I have it in my house. Hopefully not. Alright. So when did First General become a company? Like you said you started as general contractors.
Christine Bergman: In Colorado, First General Services started in Colorado Springs in 1983. So the gentleman, Donald Smith is his name. He started the company in approximately 1982, 1983. That’s an interesting story if we have time I can tell you that story too. So Donald Smith was a builder and a general, just a general contractor, focusing on commercial quite a bit and he got a call from a company called Cheer’s Liquor Mart in Colorado Springs. But Cheers Liquor Mart was in the process of doing some inventory, moving around and sort of liquidation of some inventory. And in the process of stacking up all of their bottles of liquor in carts and so on and so forth, it crashed through the floor into their warehouse below and they called Donald Smith because he’s a builder. And they said, “Oh my gosh we don’t know what to do!” And he said, “Well, you need to call your insurance company.” And that is how it started, that we saw this sort of gap in the market that a lot of other contractors had no idea how to help. And so Donald learned the ropes and how insurance companies work and what they’re looking for in providing you the best coverage. They want thorough damage estimates and that’s what First General Services does. We go in and really pick apart every single detail where there’s going to be cost assessed or a claim payment and insurance companies appreciate that. So that’s kind of how we’re different.
Cheri Landin: Interesting. So and then you expanded into Denver?
Christine Bergman: Correct. Yeah, I forget that part. Yes. So Denver, the Denver branch opened in 2009 but we did extend their services. First General Services is actually a franchise that started in Canada and there are a number of other First General Services across the United States and Canada, but none in Colorado. We are the only two in Colorado Springs and Denver area. And we expand all the way up to Boulder, Denver kind of expands all the way up to Boulder and the Colorado Springs area goes all the way into El Paso County and I think into Pueblo, into the southern part of Colorado into Pueblo.
Cheri Landin: Alright. So someone so clearly there’s. Who do you I guess who do you typically get the phone call from? Do you actually get it from the homeowner or…?
Christine Bergman: I mean, yes. The answer to that question is yes. Generally, depending upon how the work comes to us, which we are also part of what’s called Contractors Connection and that is a network of contractors obviously and we are a preferred contractor in that Contractors Connection and they are partnered up then and get a lot of calls from large insurance companies, and then that feeds us business. And it sort of spreads it out evenly, if you will, depending upon what the job is. In other words, a contractor that doesn’t do mold remediation is not going to get a call. That’s right. Yeah, that’s right. And so we would get that call whereas maybe some other specialty that we don’t do, then they sort of parse it out a little bit more evenly that way. And so we get calls from insurance companies a lot of times, we get calls from homeowners a lot of times who have insurance and just haven’t.
Cheri Landin: They call you first.
Christine Bergman: They call us first because we do have an immediate response and a lot of times people get a little bit concerned that if they don’t stop the bleeding, if you will, it’s going to maybe not be covered or it’s going to it’s going to be worse than it is currently.
Cheri Landin: Ok, well that makes sense. So are there ever instances where someone would call you or use your services without insurance?
Christine Bergman: Absolutely. And because we are rated A+ by the Better Business Bureau and have been builders, the insurance aspect of it is just sort of the cherry on top of something else that we are able to provide that other contractors don’t provide because we understand that particular piece of the market. But we’re just builders, we’re general contractors. We can do everything and we’ll take all clients, big and small, whether you have insurance or whether you don’t.
Cheri Landin: Ok. But that is a nice thing because most people, you call the insurance company, you don’t know what they’re looking for. They ask a question you may not really understand.
Christine Bergman: Exactly. And there’s a level of fear and sort of you don’t know how to answer because you don’t want to give the wrong answer.
Cheri Landin: It can be intimidating right. Actually, that’s a great point because there are fears if I give the wrong answer is it not going to be covered because of what I said?
Christine Bergman: They’re judging judging judging about whatever I say or you know they ask, “Have you turned the water off?” “Well yeah. Should I have turned the water off?” I hope, I did turn the water off. But was it wrong for me to turn the water off? And so that comes into play a lot. And so when the insurance companies dealing directly with us, because we are 24/7 emergency response and we know what’s coming next, what that next step is with the insurance company and what they will cover and won’t cover, we can kind of help give a little bit better direction in the cleanup process.
Cheri Landin: Right. So where then today, where does your most of your new business come from.
Christine Bergman: New business comes from, unfortunately, fortunately, and unfortunately, from catastrophes and disasters. So you know it’s particularly seasonal, obviously, we’re in the hail season, we’re in the summer storm season right now, a lot of wind and roof damage, hail damage, damage to siding, windows, those types of things happens during this time of the year. And then later in the year in the wintertime obviously we get a lot of ice damming and frozen pipes which flood homes and so we get a lot of those kinds of calls too. Unfortunately, you know being in Colorado there’s a fire season and because we do fire and smoke recovery if you’re in the path of a wildfire you hopefully don’t have any damage to your home but you can get smoke damage because you’re close to it. And so we help with contents and clean up of that particular situation.
Cheri Landin: So it sounds like you really do a lot of restoration work.
Christine Bergman: Yes we do a lot of restoration work.
Cheri Landin: That would be you know whether just by design or just literally because where you’re physically located, that happens to be what you get called for a lot. Is that your primary line would you say?
Christine Bergman: It is our primary line of business and part of why I’m sitting here with you today is because we’d love to expand that out. We would love to grow our business in the non-insurance or even more so the commercial side of things and sort of working with property managers and being sort of the go-to person. Because obviously when you’ve got an apartment building or a building with office space or whatever, things happen and we’d like to be the go-to person. Because we are familiar with the building, we know where all the turnoff valves are, utilities are located and to have to recreate the wheel each time if you were to hire a new contractor every time something funny happens, that could cost you money.
Cheri Landin: Well and I guess it sounds like maybe for more of the bigger jobs, commercial jobs are something that you guys might have a little bit more bandwidth perhaps than even someone else because you have multiple. It’s not like if you’re a contractor or something, you’re solo if you well. It’s very hard to manage larger jobs.
Christine Bergman: Sure and we have a residential division and a commercial division. And because they are very different animals. And I actually work in the commercial side of our business and because right now the greater majority of the work that we do is residential, we’ve got quite a large team but because we’re growing the commercial side. We’re also growing internally too, the bandwidth for project management. So if you know of any project managers!
Cheri Landin: I was going to say, that’s a great lead.
Christine Bergman: You know any good project managers, superintendents water mitigation specialists are hard to find.
Cheri Landin: So those are great people that you know, who are your power partners or referral partners or who would be people that you would like to get more connected with?
Christine Bergman: Definitely property managers, as far as that goes. I mean, I don’t know if you were speaking of hiring. Property Managers for sure. We would love to build relationships with property managers because, whether they want it or not they’re going to need a contractor at some point or another. They’re going to need somebody and we’re fair and we’re honest and we’re familiar with, we manage quite a few different commercial properties, we don’t manage the properties but we manage the projects for those properties. If there’s a flood, if there’s mold, if there’s smoke, whatever the case may be, we’re in there all the time helping them keep their tenants happy.
Cheri Landin: Yeah. So I mean so it sounds like there are two different parts here. So if it’s disaster recovery you come out and you immediately have to do something. What about in the case where let’s just say someone has a renovation project. Do you offer coming out, assessing the situation, and giving a free quote?
Christine Bergman: Absolutely yes. We will sit down with you. We do design builds, so if you don’t have an architect, we don’t have architects in our own staff but we certainly have lots of connections and good relationships with architects. We also have a design center in our office. So you don’t have to go out and shop, shop, shop, shop, shop till you drop with you know all the different retail carpet folks. You can come to sit down with us and we’ll get an idea of what you’re looking for and what your budget is and kind of lead you in the right direction and you don’t have to be all over the place trying to figure it out yourself. We’ll kind of help narrow it down for you. And then we’ll come out to your place and get a full scope of what you’re looking to do and send you an estimate shortly after.
Cheri Landin: So just listening to all of this, it sounds like kind of one-stop shopping in construction.
Christine Bergman: We call it single source management and single source restoration management. Yeah. So if you’ve got damage we will absolutely help you assess whether there are any safety issues and we’ll kind of help clean those up for you on the spot if that’s needed. And then we can point you to any kind of restoration or the repairs that need to be done, we can also do that. And then if need be, if there’s any kind of asbestos testing or lead paint that needs to be tested we have the capabilities to get an outside party to come in and do that and then help you with the removal of that. That doesn’t happen as often but in older homes like in older homes and older properties, it’s certainly something to keep your eye on.
Cheri Landin: Yeah. So it just sounds like if it’s not something you specifically do yourselves you are absolutely connected. It’s not like someone comes to you and they have an issue and you take care of part of it and you say “See ya later, good luck with the rest.”.
Christine Bergman: Definitely not. No definitely not. We’ve got lots of good relationships with all kinds of people in the building industry. And although I have to say we can do a good majority of it ourselves. Every once in a great while, just because of the conflict of interest, I think that’s probably a good point, is we don’t do asbestos testing because of the regulation and it would be a conflict of interest for us to do that and we don’t recommend finding an asbestos abatement company that does their own testing. They’ll find asbestos every time.
Cheri Landin: Right. Of course, if that’s all they do, for sure.
Christine Bergman: But if you don’t know an asbestos testing company we can certainly give you an independent company and you can get a bid or an estimate from them if that’s what you choose to do and then come back to us if that’s what you choose to do.
Cheri Landin: Alright. So let’s just say someone is out there, we all have like house issues, questions, whatever it is. So if someone’s listening and they say, I’d like to talk more, learn more, just run their scenario by you. How would someone get in touch with you?
Christine Bergman: You can go to www.fgsfrontrange.com or you can call our main number which is 303-752-1317. And there’s a Colorado Springs number which is on the website. And if you’ve got an emergency, we’ve got emergency numbers that are different but they’re on the website as well. www.fgsfrontrange.com.
Cheri Landin: Okay good. Well, it’s a lot of information. You clearly do a lot of things which is awesome because I have only personally been in Colorado as a resident for about three years but it’s really clear to see that all of those things that you described, Mother Nature is wonderful but very active. Every season something different right.
Christine Bergman: Yeah that’s exactly right and we tease about it every once in a while we say, “Gosh, you know, the weather is so perfect in Colorado.” It’s perfect until it isn’t. And then it can take its toll on your property or your home and then you need to call somebody and we’d love you to call us.
Cheri Landin: Yeah. So is there anything just in closing that you’d like to say to people if they’re out there?
Christine Bergman: If you’ve got any building questions whatsoever, if we don’t have the answer we can certainly help find the answer for you but we’d love to do a lot more work with property managers and commercial properties. It’s definitely something that we can handle and definitely at a point where we’d love to grow into.
Cheri Landin: Great. Alright. Thanks for the information and for joining me.
Christine Bergman: Thanks for having me.
Christine Bergman is a Marketing Manager at First General Services in Centennial, CO. She also currently serves as interim Commercial Project Coordinator in the Denver office, serving as the direct point of contact to insure efficient and effective communications between commercial clients, project managers, sub-contractors and internal operations staff.
In her free time she enjoys traveling with her husband, cooking for friends, reading, hikes with her dogs and watercolor painting.