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Warner Cruz builds his, parents’ dream in successful company

June 25, 2017
By Ann Marie Kukec

  • warner Cruz es el dueño y presidente de J.C. Restoration con sede en Rolling Meadows.
    Warner Cruz is the owner and president of Rolling Meadows-based J.C. Restoration.
  • Warner Cruz, presidente de J.C. Restoration, supervisa en la sede de su empresa en Rolling Meadows .
    Warner Cruz president of J.C. Restoration, supervises inside his business headquarters in Rolling Meadows.
  • Warner Cruz, dueño y presidente de J.C. Restoration con sede en Rolling Meadows habla a la audiencia en el Circle of Success Awards Recognition Dinner de la Cámara de Comercio de Rolling Meadows.
    Warner Cruz, owner and president of J.C. Restoration in Rolling Meadows speaks at the Rolling Meadows Chamber of Commerce Circle of Success Awards Recognition Dinner.

Warner Cruz had big dreams that were drastically different from those of his Guatemalan parents who worked long, strenuous hours running their small cleanup and restoration business in the suburbs.

As a young man, he decided to strike out on his own, study international business and the Japanese language in college, before taking a job in Japan where he worked for a few years. Yet his weekly calls home revealed that his parents were struggling and he felt he had to help them. He decided it was the right thing to do to return home.

While his parents’ long hours and devotion were the start of Rolling Meadows-based J.C. Restoration, Warner Cruz helped to modernize and expand it, making it a player in an industry that helps companies and homeowners regain their properties after natural disasters or other problems such as floods or fires.

The Cruz parents wanted a better, easier life for their children and pushed them to explore other, less physical careers.

“My parents never wanted us to do what they did and wanted us to become doctors or lawyers and not stick our hand down a toilet to clean it out,” said Warner Cruz, now president of J.C. Restoration.

But when he returned home, he made it his mission to grow and improve the business his parents devoted their lives to running.

J.C. Restoration has gone from $6 million in annual revenues in 2002 to more than $20 million.

J.C. Restoration was started by Warner’s father, Jose Cruz, who came from Guatemala seeking a better life and the American dream. Jose first worked as a janitor and raised four children, who later helped their parents study to become U.S. citizens, Warner Cruz said.

Growing up, Warner remembers Christmas and other holidays just included their immediate family here, because most of their relatives still were in Guatemala. While they stayed in touch with their relatives, they continued to work hard here, hoping to establish themselves.

By 1982, the company where Jose worked closed and he took the plunge in starting his own business. At first, he worked out of his garage with a handful of employees and did board-ups and cleaning jobs, Warner Cruz said.

The company grew and it moved to a warehouse in Itasca.

Warner worked at the family business while he was on breaks from school. But after graduating from Augustana College in Rock Island with a degree in international business and finance and a minor in Japanese, he left for Japan. He worked as an assistant language teacher in the Japan Exchange and Teaching Programme, also known as JET. He worked in Japan for three years but remained very close to his family and talked with them often.

He understood that his father was working hard, long hours and Warner returned home in 1997. “I actually came back home intending to close down the business and get my parents to do something else,” Warner said. “They had no technology, no computers, no marketing plan. They worked all their lives and they had very little value in the business.”

That’s when he and his father attended a program by Disaster Clean Up International and learned more about the recovery business. “We stayed up all night talking,” Warner said. “We realized there is money to be made in this business.”

Warner joined his father in 2000, hired some consultants, computerized the system, bought more trucks and began to grow the business. They bought a building in Bensenville to continue that growth.

But he and his father didn’t always see eye to eye on the advancements and Warner bought out his parents.

In 2002, they worked out a plan where Warner would take over, while his parents could split their time between homes in Carol Stream and Florida.

“My dad had a fifth-grade education. That’s not to say he wasn’t smart. He was. He just did things differently than the new ways,” Warner explained.

Warner wanted to expand on the foundation provided by his parents and make sure the deal they struck for his buyout would benefit his parents, he said.

Cruz, who is raising three children with his wife, watched the industry develop over the past two decades and found it necessary to take part in the changing environment.

J.C. Restoration became a franchise of Wood Dale-based Disaster Kleenup International, or DKI, about 17 years ago. J.C. Restoration pays a franchise fee but is independently owned and operated.

DKI offers partnering companies a chance to work together, network, gain access to cost-savings and purchase opportunities. DKI believes in direct selling to property managers nationwide, educational and training programs and sharing resources of members to help when handling property losses.

“The industry has evolved to include better technology, better contractors and better solutions to mitigating property losses,” said DKI President and CEO Dan Cassara. “Because of this, companies like JC Restoration stand on the forefront of our industry and we are proud to be associated with them.”

The property restoration industry is made up of a passionate group of contractors, who are all in it for one purpose, to restore lives, Cassara said.

Besides expanding the business to 24-hour disaster response, J.C. Restoration works on buildings after fires, floods, storms and other problems.

“Our business is satisfying,” Warner said. “We’re helping people. We help remove the water or the damage from fire and help them to rebuild. We can even clean some heirlooms. It gives us great satisfaction to do that.”

Warner, 40, said he has worked with police from time to time as well. One example is when the Velvet Rope, a bar in Oak Park, suffered a fire in June 2012. The fire department called in J.C. Restoration to help with recovery efforts. When Cruz arrived, he said there were all kinds of slurs on the wall as well as a hand and finger prints. “So we worked with a detective and actually cut off the hand print and they took the whole chunk of the wall.” That piece of evidence helped authorities later charge the bar’s owner with arson and insurance fraud in November 2013, Cruz said.

Warner said his business allows business owners and homeowners to return to their lives. Warner Cruz was recognized as business leader of the year at the Rolling Meadows Chamber of Commerce 2017 Circle of Success Awards Recognition Dinner May 25th in Schaumburg. Cruz has helped restore properties affected by fire, flood or storm damage, including Chicago’s IBM building and Willis Tower.

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