There’s a reason why Mark Elpers doesn’t sport a company logo on his truck.
When he shows up for work, clients would probably just as soon not have neighbors know he’s there.
Elpers owns Steri-Clean, which cleans up after crimes, trauma, suicides, undiscovered deaths and hoarders.
“It’s probably 60 percent hoarding and 40 percent crime,” he said. “The hoarding is actually worse than the crime.”
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It’s almost all pretty bad, at least to somebody unfamiliar with the business.
Elpers, who owns the business with his son, Luke, has cleaned up after a man who staggered around inside his workshop for hours, unaware he was bleeding to death. He’s cleaned up after a woman whose home was full of old TV dinner boxes serving as protective covers for books, and another home so unkempt that one inhabitant complained she couldn’t get a job because the home’s smell stuck to her.
Steri-Clean is a California-based company with franchises in about a dozen states. The Elpers opened one here last October, after stumbling across an advertisement for the business and considering it about six months.
“It was just the way the advertising read,” said Mark Elpers, who previously had been a road rep for his father’s mattress company.
The father-son team is based in Cheney, although they work anywhere in Kansas. Steri-Clean’s phone is answered 24 hours a day.
Starting a franchise required going to California for training and acquiring a substantial amount of equipment, such as a machine capable of quickly disinfecting a large room, and another used for odor removal.
“Let’s say they have a flu outbreak at The Wichita Eagle,” he said. “We can go with the machine and set it up. It’ll completely disinfect the room in a couple of minutes.”
Elpers said many people don’t realize that after law enforcement and medical personnel leave the scene of a crime or trauma, it’s up to the property owner to clean up. Most people find his company by searching online.
They have little idea what the cleanup requires and Elpers said it’s usually better that way, comparing the process to “walking on glass.”
“When you go there, you’re generally the first group of people they talk to that hasn’t been delivering them news they didn’t want to near,” he said.
“But at the same time, we’re in business. We have to go in there and give them an estimate. … It’s a little difficult to do that sometimes.”
In addition to working for individuals, Elpers markets his company to apartment complexes, hotels and mortuaries. Insurances companies can often be billed for the cleanup.
Biohazard cases — generally involving a death — usually take the Elpers about half a day to complete. Hoarding cleanups can go for days. The cost is based on the number of hours and dumpsters used on the job.
Father and son often don protective suits, masks and respirators before wading in.
“I don’t want to sound creepy,” Elpers said, “but it’s not as hard to get over as you think it is.”