ServiceMaster in Auburn will get some national exposure March 13 when its workers appear on an episode of “Hoarders,” the A&E television show that follows a crew trying to clean up extreme filth and clutter in someone’s home.

It’s big exposure for a cleaning and restoration business that is a little over five years old. Owners Carl Carlson and Steve Cox have known each other since they were children, but became business partners when Cox decided to buy a ServiceMaster franchise in Oxford. He asked Carlson to review the deal, and it looked good enough that Carlson asked to join in.

The company recently relocated to Auburn because business has doubled and it needed more space for its 20 vehicles and 30 employees.

Before buying the franchise, Cox ran a logistics business in Westbrook and Carlson ran an information technology consulting firm. Carlson agreed to answer questions about the company:

Q: How did you get involved in cleaning up a house for “Hoarders?”

A: We had met Matt Paxton (one of the cleaning experts on the show) at a conference and talked to him. The homeowner actually reaches out to the show and asks for assistance. Producers selected a family in Lisbon and Matt reached out to us. They provided a day of training because there are emotional and psychological issues you need to be aware of. We were on-site for three full days.


Q: How bad was it?

A: It was not the worst that we’ve experienced. But when you fill seven dumpsters and there’s still a lot left, you know there are a lot of health issues and other things that go into making that bad of a mess.

Q: How do you prepare for that?

A: We get the training and make sure all our people are properly equipped with personal protective equipment, to keep everyone safe. Also, we are reminded that this person has an issue, and we’re helping them work through that. The woman involved in this (instance) might have an attachment to certain things, so you have to be aware of that and work through it. We take a lot of breaks because it is stressful. It helps to remember the show is not about us. We’re helping a person through a difficult situation, but we are not the highlight of the show.

Q: Have you dealt with other hoarding situations?

A: We get these jobs sometimes because of an insurance claim, or we’ve been called in by family members, by the town, or a fire department or a police officer. We’ll get called in to see if we can help a person stay in their home. It’s a very emotional and difficult situation.


In the case of the show, there was a licensed therapist on site. Normally, when we’re working on a private basis, there’s not. But there are family members. We understand there’s an underlying issue that led to this, like a death of a family member or a loss of a job or a divorce. They just experienced a loss.

Q: What are some of the other types of jobs you take on?

A: We deal with water from burst pipes, flooded basements, a roof leak, fire cleanups, mold remediation. Sometimes they’re small projects, other times they’re major issues. Mold remediation is a big issue now, which we sometimes treat with dry ice. You put dry ice into a hopper and it shoots out like a pressure washer, at really high pressure. It’s so cold and under such pressure that you can clean off a fine layer of mold. It’s a great way to kill it and remove it. It’s also very expensive. If you have a little mold in your bathroom, you don’t want to go the dry ice route.

We also clean up after animals and rodents that get in houses. If you have bats in your attic, that’s one of the most hazardous situations we deal with because of all the diseases that are associated with bats.

We also do post-construction or post-renovation cleaning. That’s the other side of the business. The disaster restoration side of our business is up-and-down and the other side is a little more stable.

Q: Are there any issues unique to Maine that you deal with?


A: People have over-sealed their homes, over-engineered them and they trap moisture inside, which can lead to mold. The insurance industry has also changed – insurers pay for a lot of this. If it’s something that’s a covered claim, the insurance companies will step forward. For them, we’re required to do an incredible amount of documentation.

Q: How did you transfer your skills running an IT consulting business to disaster recovery?

A: The basic business fundamentals are the same – it’s a service business. It’s all about providing service to customers. The basic principles apply –hire good people, build a good reputation and provide a good service – and things like cash flow and profitability are important. We wanted to establish ourselves as the pre-eminent disaster recovery business in Maine and we’ve more than doubled the business in five years, so we’re making progress.

Q: What’s next for your industry?

A. One of the biggest drivers for us is the technology and data side of the business. We’ve had to become an information technology company – we have iPads out in the field and laptops and cellphones. We take moisture readings that are uploaded with photos. How we handle the information is a key to getting the insurance carrier to work with us.

Q: But even with all that technology, I imagine a big part of the business is dealing with the emotional reaction of homeowners.

A: It is. We had a situation just last week, when we had that cold snap. A family came back from vacation and the ceiling in their dining room was on the floor. They just walked in from vacation and had no idea what had happened. Our guys were there in an hour and saying, “It’s going to be OK.” The family was able to stay in the home with our emergency mitigation. We have some very good technicians who can talk people off the ledge and say, “It’s OK, the experts are here.” That’s the key for us.

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