Empathy, Honesty, Trust
WOW Total Cleaning & Restoration puts itself in the client’s shoes
Gustavo (Gus) and Oscar Aldama want to make awful days a little better. They are Co-Owners of WOW Total Cleaning & Restoration, an Austin-based floor cleaning and restoration company that specializes in water, mold and fire remediation.
“Our core values are honesty, empathy, accountability and respect. We work hard to make our clients’ lives and structures better,” Gus says. “We work from a place of empathy. We see people on their worst days. Often, we’re one of the first calls after a fire or a flood. People are stressed. We come in and try to calm the situation. We want to make them whole.”
Empathy comes easily to Gus and Oscar. The brothers, who immigrated to America in 1996 to escape violence in Mexico, didn’t think they would end up in this line of work.
“We are both college-educated,” says Gus. He earned a degree in industrial engineering from the Instituto Tecnológico de Toluca. His brother, Oscar, earned his degree in accounting from the Universidad Autónoma del Estado de México. “My father was an entrepreneur in Tejupilco. We thought we would go into business, not the trades. Having a restoration and carpet cleaning company was not part of our plans.”
But life had other plans for Gus and Oscar. “Mexico was becoming more violent. You couldn’t even walk down the street without being afraid. I knew if we stayed there, we would be sucked into the violence. The people in charge didn’t give you a choice. It was very hard, but we decided to leave,” Gus says and then pauses. “We didn’t want to leave, but we knew it was our only choice.”
At the age of 25, Gus left for Texas.
Starting at the bottom was hard for Gus. He worked in restaurants as a dishwasher and busboy. Oscar immigrated seven months later and immediately joined the carpet cleaning industry. Gus later followed him into the trades. “It was hard. We didn’t know much English, and we didn’t have a lot of money,” Gus says. “But we worked hard. We were determined to make our lives here.”
Their immigration experience deepened their empathy. “It’s easy to judge a person,” he says. “But you have to put yourself in their shoes. In our case, you have to know that they have a life before the flood or fire and are in a situation they don’t want to be in. You have to understand they just want to get back to normal.”
How WOW Was Born
In 1997, Gus and his brother started working for a carpet cleaning company. He spent six years learning the trade. “My brother and I were the most requested technicians in that company because we treated the clients with respect and empathy,” he explains. “Unlike some of our colleagues, we showed up to jobs on time. We were polite and didn’t leave until the job was done to our satisfaction. We treated the clients like family, not because we were told to, but because it’s the right thing to do.”
Because of their reputation for excellent work, the company began sending Gus and Oscar to the homes of difficult clients. “One time, we were sent to this lady’s house. She was agitated because she had been rescheduled multiple times, and the previous tech didn’t even show up,” he explains. “She was furious and rude to us. But after her carpets were clean, she said, ‘Wow, you did a great job!’ All of the anger and frustration was gone. When we left, she was very happy.”
That moment gave the brothers an idea. “After that job, we decided to start a business focused on customer service,” Gus says. “We spent a year saving for a commercial carpet cleaning truck.” In 2003, the brothers started WOW.
“We chose the name WOW based on our experience with that client,” he says. “That ‘Wow!’ meant everything to us.”
To begin, WOW focused solely on carpet cleaning. And in 2009, the company branched into water, mold and fire mitigation and restoration.
“We both have master certifications in fire, water and mold remediation,” Gus says. “That’s a huge market differentiator—most people have only one. We have all three because we want to provide the best quality for our clients, and we understand the science behind remediation. Having in-depth knowledge of remediation allows us to make the right decisions, even if that means not taking work.”
“We bring empathy, quality and honesty to each of our projects,” Gus says. But that isn’t just lip service. An early story proves the company’s focus on honesty. “We were asked to submit a bid by a contractor who had already accepted a $30,000 water and mold remediation bid by a competing restoration company. But the competitor refused to give an itemized list of the charges. The client thought that was fishy, so she canceled that contract and called us.”
After looking at the water damage and mold, they submitted their proposal. “Our proposal was for $7,000,” he says. “Submitting an accurate bid demonstrates our integrity and fairness. A lesser company may have chosen to charge the contractor $15,000 or $20,000 knowing she’d be thrilled to pay $10,000 less. But by charging just over $7,000, it proved that we live by our motto: Always do the right thing.”
Gus notes that overcharging does happen in his industry. “It’s one of the reasons why we are so transparent—we want to build a lifelong relationship with our client and Austin’s construction community.”
Often, a relationship with WOW begins when things go wrong. One such example happened at Berkshire Riverview, a five-building apartment and condominium complex in Austin. “Yes, this was a big project,” says Gus, who notes that WOW is known for handling projects at scale.
When the general contractor and builder were in the final phase of construction, an accident caused a massive flood in Building 1. The next day, an electrician in another building accidentally busted a water pipeline. In total, five stories and more than 40 apartments were flooded in two days.
The general contractor called WOW immediately. “We could tell it was a mess,” says Gus. “We toured each of the floors and apartments.” The water was turned off to both buildings, and the team jumped into action.
First, the WOW team sucked out the standing water. “After that, we used infrared cameras to detect where water had seeped into the materials. Then we submitted our plan of work.” He notes that the company’s plans of work include the quantity of dehumidifiers, desiccants and other materials being used. “We make sure the client knows exactly what is going on and what they are being charged for,” Gus adds.
Once the client accepted the plan of work, WOW started remediating and renovating. “We installed air movers, desiccants and dehumidifiers on each floor,” he explains. “This was difficult because wood and drywall have different humidity and water requirements. So, you can’t just put a fan in one area and call it done. You have to take a systematic, materials-based approach.”
It took five days for the apartments to dry out. “We went in every day to take moisture readings,” Gus says. “There are some materials, like wood, that need humidity, so we were careful not to overdry the materials.”
WOW was able to fix the apartments in two months.
The WOW Way
WOW employs 20 experts in reconstruction and remediation, with 60% to 70% of the work from fire reconstruction, mold remediation and water remediation.
The company is also branching into high-performance disinfecting services. WOW is the exclusive provider of SteraMist in the Austin area. “SteraMist is a decontamination system originally designed by the government after 9/11 to fight bioterrorism,” Gus says. “It is designed to clean and disinfect all types of buildings and infectious materials. It’s another tool we use to help people get back to normal.”
At its core, the company is focused on giving back. “We clean the carpets at the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Central Texas at no cost,” Gus says. “We also have restored the home of someone who had no insurance at no cost.”
This generosity isn’t surprising from two brothers who are fueled by empathy. “We are willing to put our clients’ best interest ahead of our profits, which means that we are not afraid to find a solution that may even take us out of the running,” Gus says. “Doing the right thing is the only thing that matters to us.”