The Economy of Death Cleaning
Posted on Oct 28, 2013, By Don M. McNulty
Where do cleaning and the death industry meet? Mainly in BIO CLEANING; Bio cleaning is also known as Trauma and Crime Scene Cleanup. Many people now know there are companies in the United States and Canada performing this work. Until these companies appeared in the marketplace, the work mainly fell to the individual families. Friends, extended family, acquaintances, and an occasional church have handled the cleanup for the most part. There were those rare companies from time to time who would sporadically help out, but their focus was mainly on fire and water restoration or carpet cleaning, and the occasional bio clean was something they did once in a while when the opportunity presented itself. These brave souls felt they had the stomach to get in and do the work and were willing to help if they could. But, with the advent of more education towards AIDS and Hepatitis and other Bloodborne Diseases, and the OSHA regulations known as the Bloodborne Pathogen Rule in the mid-’80s, less and less of these individuals were willing to risk their lives in these scenes.
The Birth of a Whole New Industry
Thus the birth of a whole new industry known as “bio cleaning” came about. I have long told my students that we’ve been cleaning up after our death since Cane and Able and there have always been people individually help with the clean-up of these aftermaths, and some companies would do help from time to time. I officially started Bio Cleaning Services of America, Inc. in early 1993 and we were the first company dedicated to helping our communities and in just a few short years several other companies started by 1995. By 1998 various individuals have come on board and have built fairly successful companies performing bio cleaning work along with other services such as fire and water damage remediation, mold remediation, etc. Of course, many have come looking for riches and are already gone – broke and disappointed. In just the last couple of years, fire and water restoration, and carpet cleaning contractors, have now found that this can be a very lucrative niche as an add-on service to what they are already providing. Bio Cleaning Services of America, Inc. has been the catalyst in this movement by providing a seminar format that trains and certifies technicians within this industry.
Pricing has Grown
Although the invoices were much lower at the very beginning, the national average for an invoice is now $2800 to $3500 for just a few hours of work with a net profit of 65%, which at first glance may seem excessive. Although these companies now understand that without the proper training and equipment they would be entering into a very dangerous field of work and exposing themselves or their employees to things that can kill them and in order to have the ability to make this offer the personal risk, liabilities, higher wages, training, and disposal cost dictate the charges. A savvy provider can enter this work for less than $5000 in basic startup equipment cost less the cost of a vehicle; of course, more can be spent with added equipment and materials. However, in order to be successful, they will need to spend a minimum of $8000 a year on their marketing.
The Industry Has Taken Off Like a Rocket
In the latter half of the 1990s, this industry has taken off like a rocket. I estimate that there were only 30 or so companies by the end of 1998, but now there are over 250 companies operating within the United States and Canada today. Now the U.K. and Australia have companies performing the work as well. Most of the companies offering bio-cleaning services are less than five years old. So very few areas have no real established companies and the road for the competition is very broad. We see a heating up of competition mainly in the larger metropolitan areas. I estimate that currently this industry generates about one half-billion dollars per year and see it growing to reach an annual amount of more than 1 billion dollars within the next three to five years. There is only one company annualizing over the million-dollar mark, and that is Aftermath, Inc. based in Chicago, IL.
Information Is Hard to Come By for Marketing
Currently, numbers for marketing research are still hard to come by. Various entities such as Coroners, Society of Sociology, Departments of Health, and the F.B.I. are tracking numbers of suicide, and homicide, but other numbers need to be tracked as well. Such as, unattended death, these are people who die, (usually of natural causes), but are not found for three or more days. These numbers can be found from the individual county coroner’s offices, but they usually do not make a distinction as to where the decedent was found, indoors or out. Automobile incidents are another area where the numbers are totally unknown. Automobiles with blood are still being cleaned or remediated of the blood for the most part, by unqualified body or trim shop personnel, and then the disposal is illegal as well. Medical incidents or altercations where no one dies, but significant blood loss occurs are totally unknown too. So you can see, as these people become more educated as to the dangers lurking in blood and bodily fluids or OSHA becomes more alert to these areas where business and employee safety is a concern, the task of the bio technician will continue to grow.
Other Work Is Available
Other areas of remediation the bio cleaning company performs are large deposits of bird, bat, or rodent droppings. Since bird droppings can cause Histoplasmosis and rodent droppings to have the potential for Hanta Virus these present quite a significant health risk to those in and around the infested structure and need trained technicians to clean up the area properly. Many bio-cleaning companies run into other areas for work, such as “Unsanitary Dwellings” otherwise known as “Hoarding Syndrome” and “Pack Rat Houses.” These are usually homes that are covered in trash inside and out and many times a city is condemning the property until the owners get it cleaned up. The number of these properties is significant and can be found in almost every community.
The danger of bacteria growing from human waste, fungus from fecal material from rodents, and other animals, and dangers from the brown recluse spider are always present. It amazes me how much money people are willing to spend to have someone else clean up these messes left by a family member. One home we cleaned was an unattended death in an unsanitary dwelling. Upon inspection and subsequent clean out, I entered a room were I had to duck my head to keep from hitting the ten foot ceiling. As we emptied out the trash, we discovered we had been walking on an antique baby grand piano. On another clean out, I once found over $187,000 dollars in un-cashed dividend checks dating back some ten years, (yes it is recoverable) in one afternoon. Cleanup of clandestine drug labs are another area where the number of labs found indoors and where they are remain a mystery. Many of our companies have become certified in mold remediation as well.
Opportunities abound in our communities to help those stricken by tragedy or to help a family with work that seems insurmountable or grotesque. If you have a servant’s heart and are willing to help those in your area remove all sorts of debris and clean these properties – you can add quite a bit of revenue to your bottom line. The average bio cleaning company makes about $240.00 per man-hour plus ancillary cost. Some people think these amounts are a result of overcharging people who are in a distressed situation. If a company worked its employees a full forty hours per week, week in, and week out, perhaps there would be room to see a reduction in the hourly charges, but the truth is, for the amount of physical and psychological risk taken and the cost of maintaining a company of this kind, at this time, these charges are truly in line with standard business practices. The average revenue for a bio cleaning company in a market supporting 500,000 to One Million in population can be as high as $200,000 to $300,000 per year. Of course, much more can be made if this becomes the main market thrust for your company, or your coverage area has a higher population. As an add-on service to Fire and Water Restoration companies and Carpet cleaners in smaller markets, less will be made, but it can help boost the bottom line of these companies considerably. The smaller markets still are in need of those people and companies to step up to the plate and help their communities with these situations. Even operating a company on a part-time basis still can make good business sense for the money that can be made.
Growth and Stability
This industry is still young and growing each week that goes by. Not only from the standpoint of companies who offer bio cleaning services but from people within the general public becoming more aware that a company may exist to help in these times of need. Support industries such as the insurance industry have fully embraced the bio cleaning industry by maintaining a list of available companies to call once they’re aware of an insured with a need. Competing companies that do not offer these services are no longer saying, “No we don’t do this type of cleaning,” and hanging up…they are now referring the companies like ours that can help. This type of company or service can be recession-proof to a degree. This last decline in the economy has shown itself to hold true with a rise in suicides, but the effect is somewhat delayed, maybe six to eight months behind the economic curve. Being a hybrid type of company – part cleaning company and part death industry is something that takes a new mindset. But, for most of us doing this work we can honestly say without a doubt, this work is the most rewarding work we’ve ever been connected with. Getting paid very well for the work we do and getting the kudos that go along with it. Not many jobs hold those tenets.
The author of this article is Don M. McNulty, founder, and president of Bio Cleaning Services of America, Inc., based in Blue Springs, Missouri. Don offers training and speaks regularly on the bio cleaning industry.