Disaster recovery leader finds success in the details
Jaime Novinger-Toigo knocks down walls every day.
For starters, she is president of Lower Swatara Township-based Service1st Restoration & Remodeling, a construction company she founded in 2005 that specializes in disaster recovery.
Being the owner of a company in a male-dominated industry, she also is breaking through remaining stereotypes and creating greater gender diversity.
Just 3.5 percent of U.S. women-owned firms in 2007 — the latest data available — were from the construction sector, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. That was up from about 3.1 percent in the 2002 Economic Census.
"It is more important to understand how the industry works and to not be afraid to do things that you haven't done before," said Novinger-Toigo, who grew up around the construction industry.
Her father, Jim, is president of commercial construction firm Novinger Group Inc. The companies share a Lower Swatara Township facility in the Stoneridge Commerce Park.
Novinger-Toigo said she recognizes the fact she is in the minority in her field. It's also something she doesn't dwell on.
"I just don't think it's that glamorous that most women would be inspired to get involved," she said.
Diversity is important, she said. Having people from different backgrounds adds value to a team and sparks business growth.
"It helped us grow this business," she said, citing a mix of men and women on her team with various backgrounds in construction, cleaning and restoration.
Service1st has female estimators and production managers, as well as field staff. It doesn't recruit based on gender. Ultimately, it still comes down to the best person for the position, Novinger-Toigo said.
"Whether male or female, it's knowing you have made a commitment to succeed, whether that's in restoration or a salon," she said.
The success of her business is largely based on quick response to customers. About 70 percent of that business is disaster recovery; the rest is general construction. And about 40 percent of Service1st's customers — most within a 90-mile radius — come from the commercial side.
"Response time is invaluable, especially in a situation where it's chaos," she said.
She said she learned from her father that it takes persistence and a willingness to do well in order to be successful.
"I have learned that I will continue to make mistakes and, as long as I recognize them and I don't repeat them, then they are only part of the journey toward success," Novinger-Toigo said.
Her sense of urgency is a valuable trait in business, said Greg Rothman, president and CEO of Lemoyne-based RSR Realtors, who worked with Novinger-Toigo on the creation of an honorary alumni program at Harrisburg University of Science and Technology.
"I don't think a position makes a person. A person rises because of the personality they have," Rothman said.
Cece Serino, Service1st's marketing and business development representative, said Novinger-Toigo is very personable and she wants to do all she can to help customers through a disaster.
She also is "take charge" and detail-oriented when it comes to her nonprofit, the "Hottest Of" Disaster Recovery Charity, Serino said. The charity focuses on recognizing the heroic work of volunteer firefighters and giving back to local victims of property disaster.
"I think it gives us the confidence to be 'yes' people. If a project comes along, we can execute it," she said. "Early on, not knowing much about this industry, there was a lot I came to learn. I feel comfortable (now) selling services because of what I learned from her."
Novinger-Toigo said she hopes to grow the business through continued community outreach, stressing the importance of emergency planning and designating points of contact if disaster strikes. She also said she intends to focus more energy on commercial fit-outs and other remodeling work.
About Jaime Novinger-Toigo
Position: President and owner of Service1st Restoration & Remodeling, Lower Swatara Township
Education: Associate degree in business and travel. Her related certifications include fire, water, applied microbial remediation, psychrometry, evaporation and dehumidification.
Previous job: Owner of Perfection Cleaning Services Inc.
Service1st has its Women Business Enterprise, or WBE, certification. The company also has its Institute of Inspection, Cleaning and Restoration Certification and is part of the Restoration Industry Association.