Bob Contraguerro never dreamed when he started his carpet-cleaning business 44 years ago as a one-man operation in Wheeling that his company would eventually become a major player in the disaster recovery services field and employ 175 people at additional offices in Westover, Pittsburgh and Sarasota, Fla., its newest location.
He also never thought his company would be doing business nationwide.
“We like to call ourselves the hidden gem nationwide,” said Josh, Bob’s son who serves as Panhandle Cleaning & Restoration’s vice president of Specialty Services. Josh’s brothers, Tom and Bob Jr., also work in the privately held family business.
The roots of Panhandle go back to Bob Contraguerro’s days as a paper boy. As he delivered newspapers in his Wheeling neighborhood, Bob said he would stop and ask his customers if they needed anything. That led to extra jobs such as cutting grass and other chores.
“I just kept diversifying,” he said.
“It doesn’t matter what you do,” he said. “You can dig ditches, but be the best damn ditch-digger there is.”
That, and taking chances like buying the most-up-to-date equipment and segueing into related business sectors, including providing emergency heat and air conditioning to customers who may have lost power, and cleaning up after water, fire or storm damages, and doing mold removal.
Panhandle also provides office cleaning and infection control services for locations such as universities, nursing homes and hospitals, municipal buildings and retail venues.
“COVID affected us in multiple ways,” Josh said. “Internally, we had to social distance, but we also ramped up our business.” Since the pandemic began nearly a year ago, Josh said Panhandle has done more than 2,200 COVID disinfections from as far away as Alabama and Mississippi, and north to Pittsburgh, and they have also donated hundreds of thousands of pieces of personal protection equipment.
“We’ve been fortunate to be able to help businesses stay safe.”
Earlier this month, Panhandle opened an office in Sarasota, Fla., an area of southwest Florida where it has done a lot of business and was a place to logically expand. Like its other locations, the Florida office will offer 24-hour, seven-day-a-week disaster recovery services.
“We’re very excited to provide day-to-day restoration service to Southwest Florida,” Josh said. “This location provides us the ability to restructure our National Catastrophic Response Team. It also means the creation of jobs in all areas from project managers to office staff and not just in Florida.”
Josh said he and his two brothers were never forced to go into the family businesses, but it seemed like a natural thing for them. Growing up, they were often found washing company vehicles and helping out where needed. (Daughter Stacy Bordas is a Wheeling attorney.)
“It was something we were around as kids,” Josh said. “It was never forced on us. We all went to college, but ultimately came back here.”
“I was a big dreamer,” Bob said. “I never dreamed I would have four children and three of them would go into the business.”
“I am very proud.”