Originally, Woodard Cleaning & Restoration primarily performed carpet cleaning services for homeowners and businesses, but it evolved into dealing with problems such as water and fire damage and mold removal. Today, it has grown to 250 employees with four buildings located in Rock Hill, Missouri, and it also deploys its services in partnership with companies in other areas like Boston or New York for disaster relief situations, such as after Hurricane Sandy.
When Earl Woodard, a U.S. Army Air Corps pilot was shot down over the Pyrenees Mountains during World War Two, he was found and assisted by the French who protected him, kept him safe from the enemy, and helped him get back home to his wife Nancy in St. Louis, Missouri. After he got back, he and his wife decided to start a business, and in 1946, Woodard Cleaning & Restoration was founded.
This war hero dedicated his business to help improve the lives of people who have suffered a loss, whether it is something as simple as a stained carpet or as devastating as damage to a whole home.
As Woodard’s family grew, he brought his sons into the business and then later sold it to them. Eventually, one of the brothers – Charlie – bought out his brothers. In 2017, he sold the company to his son Justin, making it a third-generation family business.
It has been named one of the top workplaces for three consecutive years from 2015 to 2017 by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and WorkplaceDynamics, a recognition it feels it has earned because of something it refers to as ‘The Woodard Way.’
The Woodard Way is fundamentally how the company has run its business – not only by helping people get back to their lives, but also by working on nurturing leaders both within and outside the organization.
“Our core values are to do what’s right, learn every day, serve others, and knowing that our employees are what make us different and provide us with our success,” said Michelle Davies, Marketing Coordinator for Woodard. “Woodard cares for its employees, and since Woodard shows care and compassion for the employee, the employee then takes that same thing and shows it to the customer.”
The company spends a lot of time searching for the right fit in an employee, then invests in them through training and support. In fact, it is not uncommon to have someone start out as an associate and work their way up to crew chief, then management, and it is also not uncommon to have staff spend their entire career with Woodard. “Once you experience Woodard, you really sink your teeth into it, and you don’t want to leave,” explained Davies.
Customer service is always a priority. “We’re locally focused,” said Davies. “We are the best and right choice for all our customers. We are a one-stop shop for your restoration needs. We support our local community. “
And their customers have remained loyal and appreciative of that service over the years. Just looking at its social media presence and news stories shows countless praise for its work. According to one Facebook follower, “This is my type of business. Thank you so much for giving back to the community.”
This sentiment is backed up by an ambitious program the company launched in 2016 called “Helping People Get Back To Their Lives” which has a goal of helping one million people. Currently it has helped more than 125,500 people, and it hopes to reach the one million mark by early 2020.
It tracks how it helps people in different ways. That help could come in the form of just cleaning up a carpet stain, or helping a family get back into their home after a water or fire loss.
“We have an algorithm that was developed to determine how we calculate how many customers were impacted by a loss,” said Davies. “A commercial building may have three hundred people in it, but we do not count all three hundred. For example, when we have a large commercial loss, it may only impact and help five people get back to their life. For residential, it’s estimated that a water loss would help two people get back to their lives.”
One of the most common issues it deals with is water damage, which could be anything from toilet, dishwasher, and washing machine overflows to sewer backups, which are the worst type of clean up. But Davies says that the company is most impressed with its staff during this type of clean up because while it is a rather nasty job to deal with, the staff never mind because they want to help people get back to their lives and because they care.
Woodard is also very diligent when it comes to the type of FDA-approved products it uses in its work – considering environmental sensitivities and best practices such as hot water extraction. It is also concentrated on how its employees conduct themselves, both on and off the job sites.
As Justin Woodard says, “The number one priority that Woodard has is safety, and that goes above profit, margins, anything like that. Not only the safety of our employees but also the safety of our customers, making sure our job sites are safe so that our employees don’t get hurt, our customers don’t get hurt, making sure that when we’re driving to and from job sites, making sure we don’t do anything that could put others around us in danger, and so I think that’s another thing that sets us apart from everyone else.”
As the company continues to grow, the biggest challenge it tends to run into is finding the right employees who echo its care and compassion for customers. It is always looking for staff who will fully embrace the company culture and want to stay forever. In the past, this has never been an issue, as it has many employees who have spent anywhere from twenty to fifty years with the business, but today’s workforce does not tend to stay in one place that long.
The challenges it faces are due to pricing pressures from other carriers and insurance companies on the restoration side of the business. On the cleaning side, local competition comes in the form of pop-up businesses because, to get into the carpet cleaning business, is relatively inexpensive and not extremely difficult.
These challenges keep Woodard dedicated to ensuring that people know what it and what it represents. Its goal is not to be the cheapest just to get the sale; it wants the community and its customers to get a premium brand experience, not just a discounted solution.
And what it is, is truly a business that believes in its community. It participates in numerous charitable events in the community and supports all commercial insurance and property management associations with events, activities, and sponsorships with those organizations both locally and nationally. It is also very supportive of local fire, police, and medical first responders. One initiative, in particular, is called Back Stoppers, which is a charity that provides financial support to the family of a hero who is killed in the line of duty.
“We recently just wrapped up a Pay it Floorward contest in which our crew chiefs nominated ten local charities, and the charities encouraged their networks to vote,” said Davies. The three charities with the most votes were recipients of the contest’s prizes. “First place won $10,000 from Woodard; second place won $5,000, and third place won $2,500, so Woodard is very big on keeping St. Louis’s money within St. Louis, giving back to those within the community that need our support, keeping things local, supporting other small businesses. We really try to focus local, homegrown within the community.”
Davies went on to emphasize the importance of community to the organization. “As you may have noticed, we say helping people get back to their lives. We never say helping customers get back to their lives, because it’s not about a sale or serving our customers; it’s about serving our community and helping people. So the people really includes our customers, our employees, our co-workers, community, first responders, helping anyone that we can get back to their lives, whether it be through one of our services or supporting a co-worker if they need our help or providing a monetary donation to Back Stoppers who just experienced their worst nightmare of losing a loved one in the line of duty. We’re there for them as well.”
When asked what the future holds for Woodard Cleaning and Restoration, Davies says that the company is always looking for new ways to build and grow. “The one million people definitely helps us keep track of why we started,” said Davies. “It’s to help other people. So the more people we can help the better. It is not only from a business standpoint but also for Woodard as a company just because we help more people get back to their lives.”
Davies said that the whole organization is quite simple. “We do what’s best, we do what’s right, and we really just try to support our community.”