MAY 29, 2019
BY RICH GRISET STAFF WRITER
This is an excellent article about one of our fellow franchise owners. It is an accurate glimpse into what we do and why we do it.
It’s tight quarters inside the apartment. Located on the ground level of a three-story complex in Midlothian, the space has become so overpowered by clutter that visitors have to watch where they step.
Everywhere you turn, the bric-a-brac of life has taken over, piled in mounds on the kitchen counters, sofa and floor. Lingerie, romance novels – and a few old copies of the Chesterfield Observer – are just some of the items that constitute this mess.
But where some people would simply see chaos, Marc Garber sees an opportunity to help.
“This is a very, very clean hoarding job,” says Garber, standing in the middle of the room as one of his employees raises a plastic shovel filled with someone’s personal effects.
Garber should know; as the owner of Bio-One Richmond, a local franchisee of a nationwide biohazard cleanup company that includes roughly 70 affiliates, Garber specializes in handling extreme cleaning jobs, and settings like these have become common to him. The sites of suicides, unattended deaths, crime scenes, hoarding situations – basically anything unpleasant that the average person might not want to handle themselves – are Bio-One’s purview.
Garber, a Brandermill resident, officially opened for business last October. His first job, which he handled solo, was cleaning up after a suicide on Halloween. A strong constitution for grisly scenes isn’t all the job requires.
“You need to have a big heart and a strong stomach,” Garber says. “The big heart because we’re often helping people on a very, very bad day.”
Garber’s path to owning an extreme cleaning company was a circuitous one. Though he attended law school, he ultimately decided that becoming a lawyer wasn’t for him. Instead, he went into medical sales, spending 17 years selling medical products – including those for wound care – to clinics around Virginia.
“I would go into wound clinics and be in the room with patients with some very severe open wounds,” he says. “Seeing those kinds of things in a professional context let me know that I’d be able to handle these kinds of things,” he adds, in reference to his current work.
Though he’d always wanted to own his own business, Garber had a hard time deciding what to pursue. While still working in sales, he began poking around on a website called BizBuySell.com, which specializes in buying and selling businesses. He came across Bio-One through the site.
“Everything fit,” he says. “I don’t really like being in a brick-and-mortar establishment. I like being out and about and meeting different people, doing different things every day.”
Founded in 2008, West Coast-based Bio-One deals with situations ranging from rodent droppings to sewage backups to decomposing bodies. The company’s motto, as stated on its website, is “Help first: Business second.” For Garber, one of the key selling points was how the company emphasized its customers. In the aftermath of a traumatic incident, he says other companies might wait until a customer has payment preauthorized with their homeowner’s insurance.
“We don’t ask those questions at BioOne,” Garber says. “We try to respond within 90 minutes, especially if it’s an occupied structure that other family members are living in. They need that situation taken care of.”
That’s because most people can’t – or don’t want to – uproot and move when something unexpected and traumatic takes place in their home. Property owners need to be able to rid interior spaces of blood stains and bodily fluids so they can continue being lived in. Biohazard cleanup services exist to deal with these situations, and any others that require specialized handling of contaminated materials.
While some mom-and-pop cleaning services might opt to expand into biohazard work, most, if not all, of Garber’s local competitors are franchises or branches of larger companies. That could be because biohazard cleanup and disposal involves specific training and certification, as well as compliance with governmental regulations, including the Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s Bloodborne Pathogens Standards.
In becoming a franchisee, Garber says Bio-One trained him on details of invoices and dealing with insurance, certified him to handle biohazardous materials, and taught him how to properly clean a site with the company’s own proprietary chemicals. Garber says most of his business comes from online advertisements, but he’s started getting more referrals lately from law enforcement and government agencies.
Since opening, Garber has gained a roster of about 15 employees he can call in for a job, which usually require anywhere from one to six people. So far, he says, he’s been surprised at how much of his work is dealing with hoarding – about half.
“The hoarding jobs can be some of the most interesting jobs, because it’s kind of a treasure hunt,” he says. “You never know what you’re going to find.”
For hoarding jobs, Bio-One Richmond asks residents to provide a list of personal items to look out for that may be hidden among the clutter. Recently, the company undertook a job from an elderly woman who had been hoarding for the past 25 years. Among the valuable items Garber and his crew found were multiple handguns, a wedding ring, a wedding album and other important family photos. They also found more than $3,500 in loose cash, in addition to 23 gallons worth of coins. In some hoarding situations, the floor is so stacked with belongings, Garber and his workers have to duck to get through doorways.
Once considered a form of obsessive-compulsive disorder, in 2013, “hoarding disorder” was included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition, as an independent diagnosis. It is partially defined as the “persistent difficulty discarding or parting with possessions, regardless of their actual value” which is “due to a perceived need to save the items and to distress associated with discarding them.”
There are a variety of theories as to why extreme hoarding has become a phenomenon. Different studies infer genetic and nongenetic causes – including brain injuries, clinical depression and dementia – but late-onset hoarding has been linked to loss or trauma, such as the death of a spouse or loved one. And as the baby boomer generation ages, more Americans are entering the prime age for hoarding, which is three times more likely to affect adults over the age of 55. Garber says he lends a sympathetic ear to hoarders, who come from all walks of life and education levels.
But for Garber, the hardest jobs are suicides. His second suicide job, for instance, was a gun suicide that left blood spray throughout the room, penetrating the hardwood floors. To remedy the situation, Garber had to remove the floor, treat the subfloor and seal the subfloor, as well as clean the blood spray and dispose of items from the room.
“I got a nice follow up thank you email from the son of the deceased for that job,” he says. “That gives you a sense of satisfaction to know you could help someone during that time.”
Though Garber is the only person at Bio-One Richmond who’s currently trained to handle biohazardous material – substances that could harm the health of living organisms, such as blood, tissues or infectious disease cultures – recent hire Jordan Bouchér will soon undergo the necessary training.
“I love it,” says Bouchér, Bio-One Richmond’s only other full-time employee aside from Garber. Not only does he find the job incredibly interesting, but, like Garber, he feels it’s a way to help people in need.
“Every day is different, and after every job is done, it’s one of the most satisfying [feelings],” he says, before remarking on the woman whose apartment he’s currently cleaning: “She’ll be able to relax.”
That said, Bouchér has encountered some scenarios that tested his stomach. On a recent hoarding job, he discovered a mountain of used adult diapers 7 feet high and 12 feet wide. The gel inside had dried and fused the diapers together, causing Bouchér to spend hours hacking at it with a pickaxe.
One woman who recently employed Bio-One Richmond for help with her cluttered home has become such a fan that she gives their business card to friends. The woman – who wishes to remain anonymous – has a bad arthritic condition, and was having trouble taking care of her house.
“It was getting cluttered to the point that it was getting on my nerves, and it was time to take action and get things back in order,” says the woman, who is in her early 70s and lives in Henrico. Garber and his crew were prompt and professional, she says: “They are so respectful and helpful, and every positive thing you can come up with.”
But best of all, finally having a clean home again was a relief.
“I could breathe. I think my house raised a few inches,” she jokes. “It helped me reorganize my mind.”
Bio-One Raleigh is owned by Karen & Rick Jacobs and offers trauma (including undiscovered death and suicides), biohazard and hoarding cleanup services. We proudly serve North Carolina’s Triangle (Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill) & Triad areas, including cities in Wake County, Durham County, Cumberland County, Guilford County, Orange County, Chatham County, Harnett County, Johnston County, Nash County, Franklin County and Pill County. Contact us today.