Written by The Business Journal Staff
Founder of ServiceMaster Benevento
Education: Masters in human relations and organizational studies from Pacific Lutheran University
What we do: Fire, water and disaster restoration
Family: Two sons — Tony Benevento and Seth Benevento.
How did you first get involved in a disaster restoration business, Larry?
I was a YMCA director for 16 ½ years — that was my first vocation — then I decided it was time to own my own business. I actually went and did a survey on the computer at the College of the Sequoias. I was trying to find a new career — you know, one of those mid-life type things — and I heard the College of the Sequoias had those type of computer programs. I took the aptitude test and it came back an undertaker, a social service worker or small business owner. I thought to myself, “Small business owner, I think I can do that.” I looked around Visalia for a business because we wanted to raise our children here, so that’s what we did.
Is there a specific type of damage or disaster that you most commonly address, Larry?
We do about 600 water damages a year.
What are the most expensive, Larry?
The fires damages, whether to a residence or to a business, are a lot more expensive to the insurance companies and the home owners, just because they do more damage.
Is there a particular thing that you recommend to business owners to be more prepared for such disasters, Larry?
I’ve known companies that have been the most prepared in the world that have someone back into a fire hydrant that squirts water into their building or a faulty sprinkler system goes off. So a lot of these things are pretty much accidents. They’re the kind of thing that most people are prepared not to happen, but they happen. For example, grease fire in the kitchen and someone walks away and it ignites and starts the cabinets on fire. It’s one of those things it’s just hard to prepare for. The thing we recommend, especially in the wintertime around Christmas, is to not leave the lights on your tree. We have a lot of tree fires every year and we also have candle fires. Those are the two things people can alleviate in advance. Other things like the dryer fires are common because people don’t empty the lint basket and that catches fire. Next thing you know, their entire utility room or hallway is on fire. Also with chimneys, make sure you have a chimney sweep clean your chimney so you don’t have a fire in the chimney. The other thing is sometimes people don’t remember to open the flue and they start a fire, then they walk into another room and the smoke detectors are going off and there is smoke all over the house. That’s one that’s pretty easy to alleviate if they just think in advance. But most of them are just accidents. People do stupid and silly things.
Did the recession affect your business, Larry?
We’ve grown every year since we’ve started. Some years have been really great and wonderful to us and then there have been years like this year, where we only grew about 6 percent. We shoot for 10-15 percent growth every year and we’ve had years where we’ve hit 25 percent. I can’t say we’re recession proof, but we haven’t lost ground as far as profit.
I understand your sons will take over the business. How has it been working along side them, Larry?
My youngest son is like my wife, very calm, easygoing, laidback, but gets things done. I’m a very high A-type personality and my eldest son is just like me. When we first went into business together we were butting heads and one day we had a screaming match, and we kind of scared the staff. We said, “Wow, we can never do that again.” The most important thing is our relationship, so we get along a lot better now.
What was your first job growing up and what did you learn from it, Larry?
The one I remember the most was working at a driving range. I was 15 years old and I think they paid me 95 cents an hour and we would shag balls. The owner of the driving range was very particular about showing up on time and he would tell us we couldn’t keep a job if we can’t show up on time. One of the things we learned is that you show up and you show up on time. He also didn’t want you dressing like a slob, even if you’re just shagging balls against the fence or driving a cart around.