Oliver Threlfall – CEO Steamatic of Australia – A Unique Perspective on how the Global Restoration Big Dogs Play!

Air Date: 2-22-2019|Episode 535

Over the past 30 years Oliver Threlfall has been totally dedicated to the cleaning and restoration industry. He studied biology at Deakin University- before commencing Steamatic in Melbourne, Victoria in 1986. He then completed IICRC (The Institute of Inspection, Cleaning and Restoration Certification) training in various modules and in addition took Microbial and Bioaerosol remediation training under the guidance of Dr. Tullis and Dr. Thulman of Duke University. Steamatic was formed in Australia in 1986 following requests from underwriters to establish proven claims reduction services that had been demonstrated overseas. They then transformed an established cleaning company into a specialist cleaning technologies firm. Oliver is the Steamatic of Australia CEO which makes him a very busy and connected man “down under”.

Z-Man’s Blog:

Ignorance is our biggest competitor
Oliver Threlfall introduced proven claims reduction services to Australian market when he opened Steamatic Australia in 1986.
Nuggets mined from today’s interview:
What is the history of Steamatic? Hans Fischer was a storied rug cleaner in Australia. The Threlfall Family and Fischer family were friends and neighbors. An Australian insurance adjuster was on a business vacation to Hawaii, where he attended a disaster presentation done by BMS/CAT (Blackmon Mooring Steamatic Catastrophe). The adjuster asked Hans why there was nothing like BMS/CAT in Australia? The Fischers and Threlfalls discussed the opportunity, visited the USA in 1986 and acquired the master franchise rights for Australia.
Why is disaster restoration a global business? Restoration business is a global business because: customers have gone global, consolidation of insurers, and large policyholders are able to select their vendors. Having good relationships with international clients can take service providers global. Using friends and bring experts with them, Steamatic Australia has worked in: Hong Kong, China, Asia, South Africa, Africa, & South America.
What is the organizational structure for Steamatic Australia? Geographically Australia is unique, it’s a large continent with a small population (25 million). There are 36 service centers in Australia. The 7 offices located in the largest cities are corporately owned, this is where the major capital expense in equipment is made. The remaining 29 offices are franchised.
What are the unique characteristics of the Australian insurance restoration market? IAG and Suncorp are the two largest insurance carriers. Homeowners policies are different from those in North America. In Australia carpet is considered contents. Australian homeowners policies typically have only $40K-$60K of contents coverage. For Steamatic most claim assignments originate with a contents’ claim. While wool carpet was more popular in the past, today most carpet is synthetic because of lower cost and satisfactory durability. Most water damage claims are approximately $1200 AD$ (1 AD$= .71USD$). Unlike in the US where payments are often notoriously slow, restorers on insurer panels can receive same day payment.
Who calls the shots on water losses in Australia? Decisions are left up to the restorer unless there is a mold problem. Mold is still covered under policies. IEPs are used with growing frequency to monitor projects and prepare protocols. Insurance carriers are concerned over excessive sampling and clearance charges. Builders are more likely than restorers to play the Category 3 card.
Are Australian restoration firms respected as a trade? Builders are both recognized and respected; and restoration firms are embarrassingly poorly looked upon.
Are TPAs dominant in Australia? There was a big run of TPAs. As Australia is a continent that in many areas is sparsely populated, its hard for programs to offer service everywhere so the influence of TPAs have greatly diminished? There is no national pricing system such as Xactware in the US. Most insurance companies set and negotiate rates with their own panel (group) of contractors. While business cannot survive without profits; over-scoping losses pushes insurance carriers away.
Does Australia have public adjusters? There are local PA firms. They work on industrial claims where they receive money under a clause in the policy that covers Claims Preparation Cost.
What international events do you attend and where do you look for new technology? RIA convention and events, the Experience, and the Interclean show in Amsterdam. https://www.intercleanshow.com/en/amsterdam
What about RIA Australia? Prior mold events in Australia have morphed into the RIA. We are especially reliant upon RIA. There is an active Australian RIA Chapter. Ignorance is our biggest competitor.
What threats do you see to insurance restoration in Australia? Insurance carriers defer to builders to run the claim. Builders like to build and they commonly tear out materials that can be cost effectively dried.. Insurance companies have requested that Steamatic build and they’ve declined. Low replacement cost electronics and furnishings are also a threat. Steamatic has multiple restoration facilities one of which is 70,000 sqft.
What was the scope of the largest project your firm has completed? A large uniform supplier’s facility suffered a fire and water loss. Soot contaminated 2 million garments. The firm needed to continuously supply clean garments to their clients. Garments needed to be cleaned, deodorized and individually inspected. 5% of garments were sampled by industrial hygienist. As uniforms were replaced, the old uniforms were prepared for disposal. Insurance companies want to minimize what waste goes into landfills.
What project are you most proud? A water loss to a large collection of maps some of which were of great Australian historical significance (Captain Cook, etc.) preceded the firm’s investment into large freeze-drying equipment. The maps were first frozen to stabilize them and then systematically freeze dried and restored by Steamatic and overseen by conservators.
What’s the labor situation? Restoration work is often hard and unappreciated. We seek empathetic employees, whom we pay not to just work but to also help someone. It’s harder to find staff. The labor market moves, after several years staff seek a change of career. $25 AD$ per hour is the typical wage. Steamatic tries to make it sexy by offering the excitement of new technology and opportunity to travel with work. 350 employees within the system. Steamatic has many employees with 25 years of service. Generally Restoration firms know and respect each other and don’t often poach employees. Steamatic franchises work regionally together to handle large losses. Australia has national catastrophes cyclones (aka hurricanes). Townsville, Queensland was under 6 feet of water, 80% RH and 80 F. Noticing more frequent, more intense weather further south.
What is your newest technology? Laser surface cleaning. It’s been around for 30 years; its now become financially practical with higher production rates of up to 4 square meters per hour. Hoping to get the contract to clean the Sydney Harbor Bridge. Laser cleaner costs $150K USD.
In Australia, are IICRC Standards trusted and relied upon by restorers and insurance companies in Australia? Insurance companies are aware, they recognize the documents but don’t insist that they be followed.
Where do you see Steamatic Australia in 10 years? Expanding globally. Becoming a dominant player in large losses globally. Having offices in London and Singapore.
Final comments: Acknowledged and thanked Steamatic Corporate, the RIA and restoration friends in Australia, North America and around the world who have helped his success.
Z-Man signing off
Name the two Texas businessmen who in 1968 founded the business that would later become Steamatic?
Bill Blackmon and Scott Mooring