Marc Onesta, says his crime scene cleanup business is mostly focused on keeping things private.
But you wouldn't know it from its advertisements. Onesta's business has two large billboards — one on Dale Mabry in Tampa, and one on U.S. Highway 19 in St. Petersburg. Both feature big red letters saying “Blood Clean Up” above yellow caution tape warning “Crime Death Trauma.”
The company also has a couple radio spots, 30-second ads featured during Rush Limbaugh's show. It's all part of Onesta's $100,000 marketing budget, an unusual expense for an industry where businesses don't generally advertise.
Onesta opened Bio Scene Clean Up in St. Petersburg in 2012, and has cleaned up more than 1,000 scenes since then. Though he declined to share revenues, Onesta says he expects the four-person company to take on a few more employees and open another office in the next year, doubling revenues from 2014. In the last year, the company moved from a 600-square-foot space to 2,400 square feet to house its vans and cleaning equipment.
Onesta believes his big spend in advertising will result in more jobs. More often than not, people tell him they had no idea a service like his existed, assuming they could hire a carpet cleaner or house cleaner to help in case of crisis. But oftentimes those companies will deny the work because of the biohazard issues and potential for lingering odors.
That's why he's decided to go with attention-grabbing advertising, so people can think of his company's name when an unexpected death occurs. “It does cost money,” Onesta says, “but nobody else advertises like that.”
This kind of advertising used to be seen as too shocking or inappropriate. Now, sensitivity levels have decreased, Onesta says. “It lets the general public know about us, instead of waiting for something bad to happen and not knowing who to call,” he says.
Despite the attention-grabbing advertisements, crime scenes and suicides tend to be the smallest portion of the company's work, according to Onesta. Most cleanups are due to medical emergencies or a person slipping and falling, which may result in unintended death or a need for biohazard cleanup.
Bio Scene Clean Up charges a minimum of $1,500 per job, which covers two people cleaning and special equipment for one to two hours. But many times it's hard to predict how much cleanup is required. Typically most of the cost is covered by property insurance, and Bio Scene Clean Up files the claims and sends pictures directly to claims adjusters.
The most challenging part of the job is not having a steady flow of work, Onesta says. He could work three weeks straight, or he could have jobs just three days a month. The key is living conservatively and reinvesting all money back in the business, he says. It's the nature of working in a capital-intensive business with equipment, vans, licensing, medical waste disposal fees, a website and insurance — all major costs.
“Other owners spend every dime and live job to job,” Onesta says. “They have a couple good jobs and think it's never going to end.”
Realistically, you need $100,000 to start the business and one year of savings to cover your own expenses, he says.
This isn't the first go-around for Onesta. He started his first crime scene cleanup business in 2004 when he was 28 years old. After working for a carpet cleaner throughout college, he discovered a line of business that focused on more specific cases. Onesta attended a training school in Boston, offered by the American Biohazard Recovery Association. The school taught him about the protective equipment and the right cleaners to remove stains and odors. “Almost everybody told me you'll never make money in this type of work,” Onesta says.
It took six months after he had bought all of the equipment for Onesta to get his first call. “It took awhile, but it picked up.” Over five years, he built the company to six employees and worked with various contractors to cover six states. He sold the business in 2010, after he got tired of the cold weather.
This time around, Onesta is doing things a bit differently — he's trying to keep work more concentrated, and not to travel beyond central Florida. In 2015, Onesta expects the company to continue to grow, expanding to Orlando, Ocala, Daytona and Gainesville.
Bio Scene Clean Up may not be the cheapest option, but Onesta says most customers are not price shopping when looking for the service. Rather, they are looking for someone they feel comfortable with. “The last thing we want is a family member to have to clean up as the last memory of that person.”