Sinkholes are never fun, but luckily for those in the greater Florida area, help is at hand. Together, Brooksville, Florida-based L.R.E. Ground Services and L.R.E. Construction Services are leaders in the state’s sinkhole repair and remedial construction industries. Their services include everything needed to restore damaged homes to their former glory. From foundations to structural repairs and everything in between, whatever challenges await, the L.R.E. duo is always ready to step up.
L.R.E. Ground Services and L.R.E. Construction Services are two businesses that operate individually. L.R.E. Ground Services, Florida’s largest foundation contractor, specializes in foundation repair, soil stabilization, concrete laying, leveling, and replacement, while L.R.E. Construction Services takes care of rebuilding and restoring damaged properties. It also handles emergency mitigations due to losses suffered from flooding and mold, fire, and wind. After nearly thirty years in the trade, the companies are known for trustworthy, friendly and effective service.
It, therefore, comes as no surprise that the teams have enjoyed much praise for good business practice and their expertise over the years and have maintained A+ ratings with well-known commercial trade watchdog and consumer protection association Better Business Bureau.
The businesses were started in 1989 by Raymond and Susan Woolever. Susan had been employed by a geotechnical engineering firm and noticed the steep increase in sinkhole repairs around central Florida. Her employer was called out to investigate more of the holes, and it quickly became evident that there was nobody equipped to repair the damage properly. L.R.E. Ground & Construction Services came into being to provide a trustworthy repair service that quickly dominated the market. What started out as three employees and much smaller premises have become around 110 employees between the two companies and a 37,000-square-foot facility. Today, around sixty-five percent of the companies’ work is in the residential market, while the rest is in the commercial field.
Vice President and General Manager Frank Vitale, holds the licenses for both businesses. In addition, he is also serving his second term as president of the Florida Association of Soil Stabilization Specialists (FAS3) that was founded in 2006 by the L.R.E. group and another remedial contractor. The association welcomes all experts in the field, including professionals in the structural and geotechnical engineering fields, contractors, and suppliers. Its goal is to uphold industry standards like those of the Institute of Inspection, Cleaning and Restoration Certification (IIRC) that equips members to professionally deal with floods in homes, as well as the serious dangers of not interpreting mold tests correctly.
Furthermore, the association protects consumers from the numerous illegitimate operators and scams that were part of the industry’s past. There are serious health dangers involved in not professionally dealing with flooding, and it is very important to protect the public from roving charlatans. As such, L.R.E. Ground Services and L.R.E. Construction Services also have a very large safety focus, and no effort is spared to ensure that all certifications, licenses, and industry standards are in place at all times.
“We believe that fulfilling work creates fulfilling lives. We want to make L.R.E. Ground and Construction Services places where our employees have a sense of pride in their work. That’s really what they share with us. You have to love what you do, in order to do your work with love. Anything less than that is not acceptable,” says Frank. And the passion for the job is clear from the results.
The companies have some of the biggest names in America on their client list and over eight thousand completed projects behind them. The two companies have done work for NASA; MacDill Air Force Base; and Busch Gardens theme park, as well as multiple projects for Walt Disney World, to name just a few.
The work pays off in great ways. By giving customers much more than just outstanding service, growth has become inevitable. Top line revenue growth has recently shot to ten percent thanks to the gargantuan efforts in redefining the industry and building relationships with customers. Ensuring that mediocrity is stamped out of the industry as a whole has led to customers welcoming L.R.E. Ground Services and L.R.E. Construction Services to their properties with open arms.
More good news is that L.R.E. Ground Services’ latest service can level uneven concrete slabs with PolyLevel. This is an affordable process where polyurethane foam is injected under concrete slabs to fill voids and lift or level them back to their original position, thus eliminating sagging and trip hazards. It provides a permanent solution when not directly exposed to the sun as it is particularly hardwearing and is resistant to water and insect damage.
The industry has not always seen smooth sailing, however. Florida Senate presented an amendment to Senate Bill 408 on Property and Casualty Insurance in 2011 in a bid to bring private insurers back to the state. The bill determined that sinkhole insurance was now an optional premium in contracts which insurers could waive or include at their discretion. Up until this change, all home insurance automatically included sinkhole coverage.
“It significantly impacted the industry because homeowners were no longer able to afford the coverage for sinkhole insurance, so they simply weren’t signing up for the premium. This affected the industry very heavily because sinkhole remediation is a very expensive process,” says Frank. As an average job cost around $75,000 to $80,000, most people are unable to foot the entire bill from their personal savings.
While this was a great shock to the industry, L.R.E. Ground Services quickly rethought its approach and started diversifying. “In 2010, there were over one hundred sinkhole remediation contractors in central Florida. Currently, there are fewer than fifteen. We’re really proud to have survived that daunting challenge. Thanks to the help of our team, we could hone in on what we’re best at and succeed,” he adds.
L.R.E. has been well rewarded for this tenacity and as such, believes in sharing the goodwill. In 2014, it received the University of South Florida’s USF Fast 56 award for being amongst the fastest-growing businesses owned or led by USF alumni, as the owners’ daughters Rachel and Rosemary are part of the team’s leadership. L.R.E. was also nominated for Tampa Bay’s Top Workplaces award several years in a row and is actively involved in the community through churches, schools, and sport.
Frank’s advice to those who experience damage without sinkhole coverage is simple. While clients can consider the company’s finance options, it is better to call in L.R.E. Ground Services, Inc. for preventative work like installing pre-construction piers and/or grout that help to stabilize the foundation before a home is built.
Frank assures me that most sinkholes are not nearly as glamorous or as destructive as the horrifying images shown on television of massive craters opening beneath homes. “Most sinkholes are much smaller. First, they form over time and show cracks or fissures that open up in the bedrock. Sand then settles into the cavities, and everything on top of the sand slides along with it,” Frank says. “But there are a lot of affordable options for helping to prevent future settling before an issue occurs.”
L.R.E. Construction Services has its own challenges from time to time when forced to deal with competitors with Assignment of Benefits. This document is signed by a policyholder and allows a third party contractor to act as the insured by receiving direct payment from the insurance company on behalf of the homeowner. “It prevents the policyholder from communicating with the insurance company about the claim and enables the third party the ability to negotiate and endorse claim payments on the insurance with or without their knowledge,” says Shawna. “By staying mindful of our vendors’ guidelines, we are able to keep work coming in and avoid the companies who try to force customers into using them. We definitely stay on the right path with our vendors. This type of situation does present conflict when we’re trying to stay in touch with the homeowners or the insured.”
Shawna Fleming, marketing manager, started with the company six years ago and is very proud to be a part of it all. “It is a real pleasure working with a group of people who have such high standards and integrity,” she says.
L.R.E. Ground Services and L.R.E. Construction Services have done a phenomenal job at changing people’s mindsets to redefine Florida’s sinkhole repair, ground remediation, and restoration industries and their teams will continue to make the industry proud.