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Storms create business opportunity

Kenny Kemp
Tim Clay, crew leader, retrieves pipes to hook the generator up to the house's natural gas line.
Kenny Kemp Electrician Brian Abbott hooks up a 17-kilowatt natural gas generator.
Kenny Kemp Brian Abbott, an electrician with Gentech Repair, works on connecting a generator to power an entire house if needed.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- From the derecho to superstorm Sandy, major storms in the Mountain State left homes damaged, trees displaced and residents without power. All of this created an increase in demand for area businesses working in home repair, tree removal and generator installation.

"We always stayed steady with business but when the derecho hit it was overwhelming," said Edwin Boggess, owner of Gentech Repair. "And then Hurricane Sandy hit and there was pick-up from that."

Gentech, located along the Kanawha-Jackson County line, has been in business since 1996 installing, servicing and repairing generators for residential, commercial and industrial customers.

Boggess said that with the increase in demand for the products and service, more companies are entering the marketplace, which has created the most competitive atmosphere the company has operated in since it began operations.

"Where generators are getting so popular everybody is wanting to jump on the wagon and be generator installers," Boggess said. "Competition is really hard. We've had to lower prices to compete with other dealers."

Since the derecho storm, Boggess said he reorganized the company and added eight new employees. He is planning further expansion with two additional offices in Charleston and Wallback. 

To keep up with business, Boggess said he added new service trucks and increased on-site inventory for installation and service parts from $10,000 to $100,000.

The company has installed generators all around Charleston, mostly in newer subdivisions or at older homes in South Hills.

"The real increase in business has been in the [outlying] areas, where it's hard to get to," Boggess said.

Danny Lester, owner of L&L Tree Service, has been in business more than 20 years. Lester also experienced an increase in business.

The company has six employees and completed a lot of jobs in the Kanawha City and South Hills areas. Lester has had clients who have had trees downed or damaged during storms, as well as clients who have had trees on their property they wanted removed before any damage could be done to personal property.

"There's been a lot of damage in the Charleston area," said Brandon Tulloh, general manager for Aspen Contracting.

Nearly 36,700 insurance claims were filed in the month after the June 29, 2012, storm according to figures complied by the offices of the state Insurance Commissioner. Following superstorm Sandy last October, insurers also paid out about 4,000 claims totaling more than $15.4 million.

Aspen, a national company, has been in business for seven years. The company moved into West Virginia a little more than three years ago.

Tulloh said the various hailstorms have created the biggest spike in business for them.

"Damage incurred from hailstorms isn't something you can always see from the ground or even when you are on the roof," Tulloh said.

The hail rains down so forcefully on the fiberglass of the shingles that it breaks the fiberglass matting foundation making the roof more susceptible to leaks, Tulloh said.

"So it might be six months or two years before you start to see that interior leak," Tulloh added.

The company has 10 local employees. When they have an increase in business Tulloh said he has the option of calling other regional Aspen offices and requesting more workers.

"At the end of the day you want to get people taken care of as soon as possible," Tulloh said.

After losing power at his home for about two weeks because of the derecho, Trey Frame of Daniels Electric figured it was time for his business to enter the residential market for generator installation.

The majority of the company's business is in the industrial sector.

"We get calls all the time from people wanting generators installed," Frame said. "Definitely there is a huge need for it in the market. It's just very competitive."

Since the company started installing generators for residential homes, they have completed 15 different jobs. The generator itself costs about $4,500. Frame said installation is different for every house but installation fees range from $2,500 to $3,500 depending upon the house's setup. The entire job costs about $8,000.

Frame added that they don't make much money on the generators themselves, but on the installation process. The company hopes to expand to installing generators on the commercial side and will continue installing generators for residential and industrial customers.

Frame hasn't installed a generator at his own home because of the electrical and natural gas connection setup. He did install one for his neighbor, who calls every time the power goes out to thank him.

"It's definitely a nice investment to not have to worry about not having power," Frame said. Reach Caitlin Cook at caitlin.cook@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5113.


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