Not everyone bounces between being an insurance salesman and an auto mechanic before taking their career in a completely different. But then not everyone is as diversified as Craig Strauss.
Strauss, 61, is the CEO of Skokie based American Hoarders. As Skokie Patch has previously reported on, Strauss’ business is a service where he and his colleagues go into people’s homes and clean out what at times appears to be a hopeless situation; excess amounts of material (some might say junk) pile up to the ceiling, or, in some instances, people collect their own urine in glass containers by the hundreds.
In one extreme example, a recently deceased woman was living in a home so filled with debris that there was not an access point to get to the body. In the end, emergency personnel had to cut a hole through the roof to remove the body.
Strauss and his crew came into the picture to clean what he described as “one of the worst homes I’ve ever seen.”
Before American Hoarders -
Strauss grew up in Skokie and studied at Oakton Community College. Prior to creating American Hoarders; he bounced between jobs as an insurance salesman and an auto mechanic, working on the now defunct Oldsmobile line from General Motors.
Those businesses may not have anything to do with what he is doing today, but he did take away some lesson that he tries to incorporate.
Specifically, he notes that in being a mechanic he learned how to work with his hands which obviously is a key to his current work. At the same time, being in the insurance world taught Strauss some business acumen that he still relies on today.
“It’s being able to put a plan together to resolve a problem,” Strauss said. “I’m a problem solver. I did that for many years in insurance and as a mechanic, that’s all it is now.”
American Hoarders came to life as the Oldsmobile brand was phased out and Strauss needed to find a new line of work. Meanwhile, his father’s home needed to be cleared out and he thought there was money to be made in the hills of papers (and other stuff) that some people can’t get rid of for one reason or another.
Strauss has established a steady line of business that is unlikely to be changed or made obsolete by technology or outsourcing. But there are still the challenges for any small businessman and not just the lackluster economy.
“Small business is battered by the government and everything out there that you have to swim upstream against,” Strauss said.
Non-Monetary Rewards -
But at the same time he does have fringe benefits.
“I give people a fresh start to get things in order so they can live in a healthy and clean environment. Most of the time people are so happy, they keep (their homes) that way,” Strauss said. “We get more hugs than you can ever imagine and that is more rewarding than any monetary value.”
But money is money and most people like to have it, especially when they didn’t know it existed.
Strauss said he has found hundreds of thousands of dollars for people through what was presumed to be lost stocks, bonds or other investments. Or, there was the case of finding six garbage bags filled with cash. The cash was not in the best shape as time had taken its toll on the paper, but it remained genuine currency.
But not everything is fun for Strauss.
He has had jobs where he discovered the occupant of the home who had recently died was living a secret life and unless there are criminal actions involved, he won’t tell the family.
Then there are the people who died in an unnatural way such as a suicide. That forces an emotional toll on his task, but the work still needs to get done.
“That’s very hard,” Strauss related. “You can’t isolate yourself from that. But we are all human and you have to keep it in all perspective.”
Those rough moments aside, Strauss enjoys what he does and takes home a lot of pleasure knowing that he has improved his customer’s way of life.
“People are very appreciative,” he notes. “They are embarrassed that someone had to come in there but it gets to the point they are forced to do it and it is a major weight taken off their shoulders.”