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Handy Firemen In the News

Plain Dealer
Referral service is hooking up firefighters with home repairs
April 21, 2005

Rich and Laura Storey thought they had found their dream home. They had the home inspected, then moved in.

That's when their nightmare began.

"We had an inadequate home inspection, which led to a bunch of termite damage in the home, said Rich Storey.

Months of repairs and thousands of dollars later, Rich Storey decided to do something to prevent other from enduring a similar plight. A Euclid firefighter for 15 years, Storey looked around him and saw many colleagues who owned part-time home repair and improvement companies. So he thought, "Why not promote the guys I know personally and offer homeowners quality services?"

Handy Firemen & Company of Ohio was born. The network is a free consumer referral service that matches homeowners in need of services with handy firefighters and other independent contractors in Northeastern Ohio.

Storey puts the handymen through a screening process, requiring them to fill out an information packet and show proof of insurance and licensure. He then checks with the Better Business Bureau for negative feedback.

He started last spring by visiting 15 area fire stations and passing out information about his idea. Word spread, and the network grew. To date, Handy Firemen claims 18 firefighters and 25 independent contractors who receive job leads through Storey. The firemen - so far, they are only men - hail from departments in Cleveland, Garfield Heights, Willoughby Hills, Euclid, Streetsboro and Westlake.

"A lot of guys have part-time businesses just because of our schedule," said Storey, who lives in Mayfield Village.

Among the home improvement services covered by the network; additions, remodeling, decks, floor refinishing, roofing, painting, tree removal and more.

Randy Potts, a fellow Euclid firefighter, has been doing electrical work on the side for about 13 years as RP Electric Inc. He said the Handy Firemen network takes the pressure off of him in referring fellow firefighters for jobs.

"I was always going to houses and was asked if I knew a fireman who did this or that," said Potts. I gave out names her and there, and a couple of times the person never called them. I felt bad about that." Now, he hands out Handy Firemen network cards.

Potts, who lives in Willoughby Hills, does everything from fixing the pole out on the street to the outlet in the home. He said he has secured several smaller jobs through the network, and most clients are relieved to be working with a firefighter.

Mary Kay and Chris O'Donnell have used Potts and other handymen in the network for several different jobs, including insulation and siding. Mary Kay O'Donnell said she was pleased with the fast response each time she's called.

"We bought an old home four years ago," she said adding that their 75 year old Euclid farmhouse needed a lot of work. "It just seems like it takes a lot of effort to get [contractors] to call you back or come over sometimes.

"Handy Firemen is so much more convenient. You just call Rich and tell him what you need done. I got two estimates each time."

O'Donnell said she has passed on the Handy Firemen number to other relatives and friends, adding that firefighters have a reputation for honesty and hard work, so it can be more comfortable calling the network for jobs.

"Absolutely I will call them again," she said. "I won't waste my time looking in the Yellow Pages."

Potts said he finds customers are comfortable with a firefighter in their house.

"Eighty percent of the time when they know I'm coming they tell me where the key is, "Potts said. "They trust me in the house."

But Potts, who is single, said he has yet to cash in on his firefighter status.

"I've always been unlucky in getting the desperate housewife," he laughed. "I go into a lot of high end houses, but those people are already married."

Storey advertises for the network through the Yellow Pages, direct mailings, real estate presentations, a web site - www.handy-firemen.com - and home improvement shows. When a homeowner calls the Handy Firemen network, Storey takes a description of the job and enters it into a computerized database, where a homeowners needs are matched with a qualified contractor. The handymen are asked to contact the homeowner within 24 to 48 hours to schedule an estimate.

"We do pretty much everything from small plumbing jobs to building projects," said Storey, who always follows up with the homeowner with a customer satisfaction survey.

They network generated 36 referrals worth $60,000 to contractors in the network last year; already this year, referrals have generated $50,000 in business to the handymen. Storey receives a commission check from the contractor once work is completed.

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