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Worthy of its Name

DSN-storyIt seems entirely possible that before joining Alacrity Services, one might be asked to define “alacrity.” While actively expanding its property restoration services to insurance, REO, and consumer customers nationwide, the company is determined to continue embodying the true meaning of its moniker: moving nimbly and with good spirit. 

“We often talk not only about someone’s fit in the role but also about their cultural fit and making sure they have a similar drive,” said Keith C. Hemmer, Alacrity’s Chief Business Development Officer. Alacrity’s 150+ employees—whether in the Eugene, Oregon, head office, or the new Charlotte, North Carolina office, or working remotely from locations across the country—are working in a family-oriented business. 

“First and foremost, we tend to treat each other as family,” Hemmer said. “Employees don’t hesitate to go above and beyond their daily job duties to do whatever is necessary to get the job done.”

A willingness to be available when needed is also essential within the restoration and repair space. “It’s a 24/7/365 job,” Hemmer said. “We’re available whenever and however you need us to be . . . We’re there for you whenever an event may arise.” 

After all, according to company CEO Jonathan Miko, “There is a low apparent bar to admission into this industry. Everybody thinks they can build a contractor network, and they are popping up all of the time. Very few of them actually succeed, but we need to be able to deal with the reasons these new networks pop up. What is it they think they can leverage to be successful? And is it real or is it a mirage?”

First Foothold in Insurance Claims

The Alacrity Services model was born in 1999 at then Atlanta-based engineering firm Project Time & Cost. The idea was to solicit contractors to create a network of service providers who could quickly and cost-effectively address insurance carrier claims. The pilot concept launched locally with one main insurer client in 2000, and within a year, it expanded to fill that client’s needs across the country.

The business rebranded as Alacrity Services in 2002. With insurance carriers so focused on customer service and paying claims quickly, the company promised its namesake—alacrity—in connecting insurers to credentialed contractors and providing warranties and guarantees. 

Today, Alacrity touts a network of 1,700 credentialed contractors. While competitors might claim larger numbers of available contractors, Alacrity’s management team is unfazed by that marketing ploy. After all, the goal of the network has remained the same over the last 18 years: Provide a consistently reliable and efficient end-user experience every single time. Instead of being concerned with the numbers, Alacrity has focused on  “right-sizing” their network. This approach allows them to provide contractors with steady work, and the company still has the ability to scale up the contractor network size if needed. 

Success was founded also on Alacrity’s proprietary web-based software AlacNet®, standardizing costing procedures and expediting communications between financial institutions or insurance companies, insured parties, claims adjusters, and contractors. 

In 2011, the company’s success administering and managing property damage casualty insurance claims, and its robust customer service throughout the process by regional field managers (RFMs) and customer service group (CSG) representatives, garnered interest from Fortune 50 company Lowe’s.

Alacrity, which by this point had moved its main office operations to Eugene, Oregon, was, at the time, a small power player dealing with much larger companies. A partnership with Lowe’s had many advantages. With the Lowe’s name recognition, Alacrity could enjoy opportunities to expand and to bring new clients to its contractor network participants which they might not get otherwise.

The partnership flourished, and, in 2013, Alacrity joined the Lowe’s family of companies, which in Q3 2016 reported $2.4 billion in net earnings. 

Lowe’s was drawn by Alacrity’s long-standing presence in the restoration service industry and its strong relationships with insurance carriers, said Mike Tummillo, SVP of Pro Sales. “The property-restoration market is a large and relevant segment of the broader home-improvement market, and Alacrity Services provides Lowe’s the opportunity to increase our presence in this space by serving contractors and homeowners in times of need.” 

Along the way, the parent company added another touchpoint to the service process by funding the restoration service specialist (RSS) position. The territory-based representative acts as a point of contact for the contractors to access product and materials.

 The Alacrity-Lowe’s relationship works due to their shared values of being service-oriented. Consider Alacrity’s work on property preservation for the likes of Wells Fargo. Wells has a network of bank-owned properties around the country, Alacrity has a network of independent professional contractors around the country, and Lowe’s has roughly 1,800 retail centers across North America. “When Wells wants to get a property off its REO rolls, Alacrity supplies local contractors to identify the repairs needed and the contractors can buy supplies at a nearby Lowe’s at a discount.

Alacrity has been able to maintain its point of pride: being a true partner to each of its B2B clients. As Hemmer describes it, “We try to understand their business and make adjustments to our platform to meet their needs, and more on a collaborative/consultative basis than one size fits all.”

In June 2016, Alacrity opened a new office in Charlotte, North Carolina, to gain an East Coast presence and to be nearer to the Mooresville, North Carolina, Lowe’s headquarters. “The past year has felt more like being at a technology company,” said Jason Kendall, Director of New Program Development. “We are moving so fast and iterating so quickly and adding new customers and developing new programs,” he explained. “It’s just a much faster pace.” 

At the same time, he said, employees enjoy the latitude to go and solve problems or meet customer needs. “We can move quickly and get things done and develop an answer in a week as opposed to a month.” 

Finding New Business Opportunities

With a long-range plan to realize significant growth in the next three to five years, Alacrity today aims to become a more full-service company. 

“It hasn’t been our history,” Kendall said. But customers, competition, and Lowe’s are pulling Alacrity in that direction. 

The drop in foreclosures is another reason to diversify, Hemmer noted. According to RealtyTrac, the first half of 2016 foreclosure filings saw an 11 percent decrease from the first half of 2015 and a 20 percent drop off from the second half of 2015. 

“It’s forced us a little bit to think about how we position our business differently as the B2B relationships that we have may not be turning out the number of jobs that they would in years past,” Hemmer said.

So while retaining a reliable contractor network remains crucial to the core business, Alacrity must also size up trends in pricing and fee structures and incentivizing contractors, and it must determine what technologies have the possibility to improve or disrupt the company’s model—all this while identifying promising markets where Alacrity’s contractor network model will work well. Considering market size, understanding of the competitive landscape, and opportunities to drive additional revenue back to Lowe’s, Alacrity is actively pursuing new relationships.

The challenge, though, is making that first leap into a new market area, said Kendall. “You almost have to have a partner company that wants to develop with you . . . We can’t snap our fingers and have a roofing network or a flooring network across the nation.”

Alacrity also aims to move into new markets adeptly. After all, Hemmer admits, the company did enter and decide to exit new spaces recently. For example, a move into the flooring warranty space turned out not to be a good fit. “We were being somewhat successful and we were managing it OK, but it really wasn’t our sweet spot.” Thus, while there is a need to diversify and grow, Alacrity has learned to move a little slower and take a deeper look at how a market will really play out.

Nevertheless, the primary mission remains the same. As Kendall puts it, Alacrity’s team is always looking to “be a better partner to our customer.”

Alacrity focuses on this better partnership by recognizing everyone in the restoration and claim process is important. In the insurance space, although the carriers sending Alacrity the jobs are technically the clients, the satisfaction of the carriers’ policyholders and of the network contractors are priorities paramount to optimizing Alacrity’s programs.

Meeting Customer Demand Now Too

Further embracing the challenge of leaping into new market areas, Alacrity has recently launched Resolve® powered by Lowe’s. The direct-to-homeowner program offers the company a new potential market. “It really, for the first time, gives us the opportunity to reach out directly to people who need our services who previously weren’t able to access them because maybe we didn’t have a relationship with their insurance carrier or their bank,” Miko said.

Describing the response to the program, which launched in September 2016, as “strong,” Miko says certain aspects of the process are still in the testing phase. “We’re trying to have very controlled growth with Resolve so that we can determine how the market responds to it.”

Under the Lowe’s umbrella, the Resolve program pairs Alacrity’s project management and restoration expertise with Lowe’s customers. With Resolve, the homeowner can become more involved in the restoration and claim process and help drive the conversation—that is, if they want to. The program also provides the personalized support of a dedicated project specialist, giving homeowners new peace of mind.

Within the platform, consumers can track deadlines, ask questions, and get answers from the contractors or insurance companies. They can also access Lowe’s materials and products and create Pinterest-like pages of favorite products to illustrate their preferences to the project contractors.

Resolve has also proven attractive to real estate investors who can now monitor and manage many property restorations. Being able to select standardized finishes and products, even when there are different contractors, is a boon for those with multiple properties. 

“We can help a potential investor create more value more quickly by having this offering,” Kendall said. With the project specialist on board tracking the project management side, investors are freed up to focus on oher aspects of their property goals.

Lowe’s focuses on helping customers, something Alacrity values as well. Kendall recently saw the impact of this firsthand when two different Lowe’s executives suffered water damage at their Charlotte metro area residences. Going to the project sites to review home losses made the customer’s journey much more important in Kendall’s mind. 

“You can see the angst with the lack of familiarity with the process, and you can also see their tension get relieved when you explain: ‘This happens every day all day, even if you don’t even know it, and we’re going to get you through this.’”

With Expedience and Good Spirits

Alacrity’s competitors range from other contractor networks to standalone contractors to home services websites. Still, more than 17 years’ experience and history in the home repair and restoration industry has helped Alacrity build a robust, reliable contractor network for its Direct Repair Program and Resolve powered by Lowe’s program. 

The company also seeks to differentiate by embracing a competitive model that also cares. Hemmer says the familiar business maxim “time is money” is transformed at Alacrity. Team members need to deliver the best product they can as quickly as they can, but they do so with an awareness of the very human anxieties tied to each project. 

“There’s always another side to the story, and understanding the homeowner’s side of the story will help you to want to move and act more quickly.”      

This attitude motivates unselfishness at Alacrity, Miko said. “People are willing to do what it takes to get the job done… You never hear the phrase ‘that’s not my job.’”

Hemmer, who has been with Alacrity from the outset, sees this mentality resulting from the original family-oriented business mentality, sustained through significant and rapid growth, and the return to the company’s start-up roots. 

“I’m getting the best of both worlds,” Miko said. “We’re embarking on Alacrity’s Launch 2.0. We are a substantial and stable and mature business. But it’s how do we then take that business model and rapidly grow it? That makes the opportunity very fun to think about as we go forward.”

About Author: Jenn Q. Goddu

Jenn Q. Goddu is a freelance writer and editor living in Charlotte. Her work has appeared in The Chicago Tribune, The Chicago Sun-Times, The Charlotte Observer, Midwest Real Estate Journal, and more. As a Canadian, she particularly appreciated getting to talk hockey for this feature.

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