For the best perspective on Rytech’s response to the Texas freeze The Dry Log went straight to Gino Lenzi who, along with partners Amy Edwards and Ted Soetaert, owns Rytech of Houston, Austin, Dallas and the newest opened, San Antonio.
They were on the ground as the power grid collapsed and the huge losses started pouring in.
This is their story as told by Gino Lenzi.
Before we begin it should be said that the following interview reveals not only the street level challenges from unprecedented weather events but, it’s also proof positive that Rytech’s national reach can laser focus on local, and even statewide responses, when necessary.
The Dry Log first interviewed Gino Lenzi in November of 2019 for a Featured Franchise article titled Big Operation in a Big State—Texas! He shared then that when the franchise was first purchased “it was floundering” and “…the manager told me he didn’t like doing big jobs, which I obviously had a problem with!”
He immediately set about to right the ship by hiring Amy Edwards, now an owner. According to Lenzi “Within one year, she had completely turned it around, recouped our entire initial investment and produced a rock-solid operation.”
“Rock solid” is the right word to describe Rytech’s overall response to an event with an economic toll, according to the Dallas Morning News, exceeding $130 billion in Texas alone and $195 billion total…and climbing!
Here now, word-for-word, is The Dry Log conversation with Gino Lenzi regarding Rytech’s remarkable response to this historical and defining event.
First, thank you Gino Lenzi for agreeing to do this interview. Can we start with some numbers? How many losses, how many dollars, and any other numbers can you share off the top of your head?
The first number that sticks in my head is 700. That was the number of assignments we had in Texas from our insurance partners in the first three days of this storm February 15-17.
For perspective, in an average month we have about 200 losses. It was like trying to take a drink from a fire hose.
Other numbers. We set our team best for air movers on one job with 229 on an assisted living facility in Austin. Two weeks later that record fell to Houston where we had 277 air movers on a job in a Hotel.
Five million was another big number–that was the number of people in Texas that didn’t have power. That is what made this the event it was, no heat to keep the houses warm.
Where did the damage and the storm occur in relation to your territories?
The most unique thing about this storm is the size of the territory it covered. When a hurricane comes it can cover a large territory but that’s mostly coastal areas with the biggest impact.
This storm covered the entire state of Texas except El Paso where we don’t have coverage. All of our Markets in Texas including Texas Gulf Coast (Paul Bedair), Bell County/Waco (Brent Keel/Joseph Babbs), Houston, Austin, San Antonio, and Dallas were affected.
In a normal storm, we mobilize people form one of our markets to the storm affected area in Texas. With this storm that wasn’t an option for us locally because all of them were seeing a huge increase in volume. Worst of all… the Texas power grid failed. With 5 million customers without power, these buildings in Texas could not be sustained without heat.
When did you first realize this was going to be something more than just a cold spell; what were you doing, what went through your mind?
My first hint of weather usually comes from my mother-in-law Donna. She lives in Waco, but she is very dialed into the weather patterns in Texas. She told me there was going to be freezing temperatures in Texas. That was about a week before the freeze hit.
Normally, I then start to look at the weather, but like many of us, I am very skeptical of the media coverage of storms as I feel they often try to sensationalize things to get more viewers.
As we got closer to the freeze, about 5 days out, it was clear that all of our Markets would be affected with the cold–the forecasts were calling for single digit temperatures even as far south as Houston and San Antonio.
That prompted us to do some research. In January of 2018 we had a freeze in Houston and Dallas. We went back and looked at the daily temperatures and the volume of business and when it spiked based on the temperatures. What we learned was that the volume of business spiked when temperatures got below 21 degrees in Texas.
Based on all the information we had at that time on the temperatures, it became clear all our markets were going below that temperature and this was going to be a massive event for us.
So in the few days before the storm, we bought 80 air movers and 20 more dehumidifiers. It was a calculated gamble, but we felt we had the data to back it up.
The following week once the storm hit, we purchased another 214 air movers and 20 more dehumidifier’s because that was all we could get our hands on.
But we already had 700 claims and were pretty confident it would work out.
What did you do first? Are there protocols for this that you deal with like contacting someone at corporate and what steps are involved?
Generally when a storm is coming there is a lot of communication between corporate and the field where this storm is going to hit. I spoke daily with Ben Tepedino, Matt Ship and Randy Kerlin from probably the week before the storm and then would talk with one of them probably every day for a month after the storm.
Initial calls were along the lines of what would the impact be and should we try to get people from out of town to come. We agreed pretty quickly that there was going to be enough business for out of town Rytech’s to come. So they sent out a message to the field to see who was interested.
A few franchises, Joe and Max from Riverside/San Bernardino, for example, as well as Anthony and Brian from Midlands, said yes instantly because they saw the potential and are set up to travel for storms.
This was a big help and pressure relief. Eventually I think we had 10 Rytech Franchises from out of town come to help. This was even from the new Franchisees like Bo in Mobile, to the ones that have been around forever like Atlanta and including Central Florida, Tallahassee, South Carolina, Mississippi, Philadelphia, New Orleans, and as I said from Orange County and Riverside California. It was great to see the teamwork.
After the Storm hit, there was daily communication about claims, volumes, territory assignments for franchisees capacities and communication with insurance companies. Essentially we took the Dallas/Ft. Worth market and Houston market and sectioned them off.
Each Franchise for Rytech was assigned a geographical territory to operate in based on their capacity of equipment and people–in hopes to reduce drive time and increase efficiency.
Corporate then triaged the assignments and put them in an admin bucket. When a franchise wanted more assignments, they could say to corporate, “please give me 20 more.” Boom… 20 more claims hit your mica.
There of course was lots of teamwork going on. There were more assignments than anyone could handle, which is a great thing when you travel for a storm because you have some increased expenses, and you want to know you can pay those and have something left at the end.
I will say the help from corporate and the support was amazing and there is no way we could have done what we did without them.
How does this event compare with what you’ve come up against in the past and why? Is it the worst, what weather event does it rival or surpass and why?
This was the biggest storm event we have been involved in here in Texas. In 2017 we experienced Hurricane Harvey. That event produced massive flooding, which is significantly different than this storm. Because that was just one market, Houston, the ability to mobilize our Texas forces made it easier to handle. This storm, because of the geography it covered, made it much more challenging.
Can you describe for our readers one loss you faced that was extra challenging?
Our most challenging losses came from one of our insurance partners via Jay Straughn at corporate. When Jay called he said another vendor accepted a loss over a week ago on a hotel with 18 rooms damaged and they have not showed up, but it needed a pack out too. It was out of our service territory, but he wanted to see if we could do it.
Our challenges were:
1. Outside of service territory.
2. It was a big job that was going to require a lot of equipment and people.
3. We have never done a pack out in-house in Houston.
4. Our contents manager in Dallas was just coming off medical leave and could not travel to the location.
5. We had 4 large full houses with 155 air movers out already in Houston.
So we did what you would expect. We said “yes.”
Jerry our Houston Ops manager was there that evening, scoping the loss. We then mobilized our Dallas contents team led by Amy, Randy, and Amanda for the 5 hour drive.
Then, we Packed out 18 hotel rooms worth of furniture (5-18 ft. box truck loads). We signed a 3 year lease in Houston for more space to put it in. We moved equipment from Dallas and Austin to 60 miles East of Houston. We received demo help from a contact other franchises had given us who mobilized to Texas from Georgia.
Somehow we pulled it off, but it took an amazing team effort to do so!
I interview insurance agents after Hurricanes, and many are just dazed from the events. Can you tell me a little about the emotional strain this had on you, your staff, your family?
I always say storms like this are hardest on the loved ones of our employees. Essentially, when something of this nature hits, as an employee you will work incredible number of hours for a month. Your normal day to day routines get very disrupted. The families of our team members are the real heroes here and we all needed to be reminded to tell them how much we appreciate what they do to help us do what we do.
I can say personally this event was the most emotional I have experienced so far. As a business owner, you take great pride in taking care of all your accounts and doing it each and every day by saying yes.
Unfortunately, in this instance, you can’t say yes to everything. Hosting an event like this creates more pressure because you are worried about the long term impact to your accounts. You only hope our partners see the effort and sacrifice our team puts in and you hope they understand, and you build long term trust.
One of the most amazing things from this is watching our local Texas team perform. Under some crazy circumstances they did incredible work and really showed the commitment and dedication.
I am proud of them all!! Thank you from the bottom of my heart. You Rock!!
Can you tell us any lessons learned, particularly anything instructive for other franchises?
Push yourself out of your comfort zone. There is great money to be made when traveling for storm duty, but it is a risk reward proposition. The more you push yourself the better you do. Share your successes with others, learn what others do well and try to replicate it. Track performance, push your team to do more than they think they can. Recognize everyone’s help in getting it done.
Anything that you would like to say about the franchises that came to assist? What they did, how they did?
I was completely overwhelmed by the support from other franchise locations. I think in Rytech’s history we had the most out of town support ever to visit for a storm. Again, we had teams from California, The Midlands, Philadelphia, Mobile, Central Florida, Atlanta, New Orleans, Tallahassee.
Looking back, what would you change or do differently if you could?
The biggest thing we could have done better is to be more prepared for handling contents. I was amazed to hear Joe and Max [California] did 8 contents jobs while traveling from out of town! As we are just getting into contents we didn’t have the infrastructure to do contents effectively on the scale needed. We will learn from that and be more prepared for the next storm.
I think all Rytech franchises should look into contents as an additional revenue stream and better way to help our insurance partners.
Editor’s Note: The Dry Log would like to thank Gino Lenzi personally for the time he took to respond to our questions. And to do so comprehensively, even while he and his team were still emersed in the wake of the storm. Thanks Gino and thanks Team Rytech for the dedication and operational efficiencies you consistently bring to the table.