Thirty-one years ago when Robert Contraguerro Sr. started his own business, Panhandle Cleaning & Restoration, he did it the hard way: by himself, with very little capital, but with a strong commitment to customer service. “It was him and a truck,” his son, Bob Contraguerro Jr., said. “He didn’t buy the business; he truly started it on his own.” It was a gamble, but it paid off. Today, the Wheeling-based company has roughly 70 employees, about four dozen trucks and a $3.5 million, 40,000 square-foot-plus building expansion in the works. “That’s major growth,” Bob Contraguerro Jr. said. “It’s because of his drive — his commitment to customer service. “He’s very high on service. We think that’s what sets us apart and has allowed us to grow the way we have. We’re committed to quality workmanship; we don’t take shortcuts. We do it right — the way it should be done.” Panhandle typically handles more than 1,500 claims in a year’s time, though there have been times when the workload has been even tougher. In 2004, for instance, when flooding wreaked havoc in the Ohio Valley, it logged more than 1,900 calls in one weekend. The company offers cleaning services — everything from crime scenes, pet odors and mold to new construction — as well as post-disaster restoration services. Its service base encompasses all of West Virginia, eastern Ohio and western Pennsylvania. Panhandle will dispatch crews and equipment to anywhere in the country in the event of a major disaster. The company’s credentials include being a certified restorer, certified mold professional and a member of the Association of Specialists in Cleaning & Restoration and Disaster Kleenup International. Panhandle’s new building, located next to their existing facility, includes 10,000 square feet of office space as well as a 26,000-square-foot contents processing center, where crews will be able to process items salvaged from disaster scenes and safely store them in a climate-controlled setting until the owner’s building is habitable again. State-of-the-art equipment allows them to salvage items that in the past would have been deemed unsalvageable, thereby preserving items of incalculable sentimental value and saving insurance companies the replacement costs. Panhandle Cleaning, in fact, has more than 300 pieces of high-tech equipment on site, including things like infrared moisture detection cameras and large loss dehumidifiers that can dry water-damaged homes and businesses. The existing warehousing space will be used for the reconstruction side of the business. “We spend a lot of money and time on small details that transmit down to our work in the field,” he said. “I think a lot of those details contribute to our success as a company. Details count.” Space also has been allocated for a training center with a roughly 55-person capacity. “When we go out and do a job, we can guarantee you will be getting the most technologically advanced service in the country — if we can’t save it, there’s nobody in the country who can,” he said. “We know every one of the latest techniques out there.” Bob Contraguerro Jr. said the company made a conscious decision to keep Wheeling at the hub of its operation. While it easily could have located smaller plants at strategic points throughout the state, the company chose to build one state-of-the-art processing center in Ohio County “so all the jobs are kept here in Wheeling.” “We are very proud of that,” he said. “It’s great to be able to do that in this area. What helps us, honestly, is that we are a mobile company. Just like anybody else who is surviving (in this economy), we have to travel to do our work. “On the other hand, we’re bringing a lot of good jobs to this area, and they are needed. We’re committed to this area.” Bob Contraguerro Sr. remains president of the company while his wife, Jody, works in accounts receivable/payable and is secretary-treasurer of the corporation. Bob Contraguerro Jr. is its vice president, and the newest member of the Panhandle team is another Contraguerro son, Tom. After graduating from West Virginia University in December with a business management degree, he joined the staff as internal operations manager.