How did YOU get started in the roofing business?

I’ve been selling for a company for a little under a year, bringing in mostly my own leads. Looking to go out on my own. How about some friendly advice about what NOT to do when starting your own company. What is your story?

Stay in sales.

Don’t start a business without preparing a rather detailed business plan including financial analysis with cash flow forecasts. Don’t even think about starting a business without having analyzed the financials and then making sure you’ve saved enough money to make a go of it. Look at best case and worst case scenarios for cash flow. Take the worst case and consider that as most likely. If you can survive through the worst case scenario, you have a chance of making it. Be conservative and realistic when making your analysis. Don’t do the financials with the mindset of “wanting it to work”. Do the financials with the mindset of wanting a realistic view in order that you don’t throw away a lot of money and time on an endeavor doomed to fail.

The old man was a commercial roofing contractor that would get calls from neighbors and friends needing their homes re-roofed. One of his crews knew how to re-roof houses with wood shingles / shakes and composition shingles. I worked summers for Pop and didn’t much care for shoveling gravel onto conveyors and lugging hot asphalt on the roof while doing BURs. So, I soon began lugging bundles up to the the tops of houses. Eventually, they gave me a hammer / hatchet and a nail stripper and I learned how to install at the feet of some real masters.

While I learned how to actually install a roof, the old man sent me to college to become ANYTHING but a roofer. He would have settled for a piano player in a whorehouse. Upon graduation from college I worked for a company that owned a lot of office buildings in Houston. Told myself I would give it five years and if I didn’t like it I would do something else. Five years later, I didn’t like it and wanted to call my own shots while wearing boots and jeans. I knew how to roof, was reasonably well connected with people that had money and were willing to spend it and they seemed to trust me. I already new the technical side of roofing so now I had to start a business and generate business.

The business end was the difficult part (setting up systems, tax laws, compliance, how accounting directly affects by business and my take home). Upon landing my first two large jobs ($400K and $350K back in 1992 was a LOT of money to me and still is) I made the mistake of over-concentrating on running those two jobs with no foreman (doing it myself to save money) and the pipe line of leads / new work was not full and ready to flow upon completing the first 2 jobs.

I went through a “dry” period of a year or so. My mistake. I survived and saw that there was so much new construction starting in Houston that I decided to concentrate on that part of the market (specifically high-end work…“bigger dollars”). I new that sheet metal was a vital part of that market and I committed money and time to staff up with salespeople that were sanely aggressive, get the basic equipment and get the in-house manager that could handle the mechanics, scheduling and pricing.

20 years later I’m still here after the good times and weathering the bad times. We still do re-roofing as most of our leads for that portion of our business is simple “walk over” referral where we get a call, we show up, provide a bid and usually get the work without a fight or competing with other contractors. We have been VERY fortunate on that front. Sure, we could advertise and cold call (and we have) but most of that business is not what we want.

The main thought I have kept in my head and imparted on my sales force is provide a sound bid with all bases covered and options for upgrades (good/better/best), don’t give you away your product, deliver what you promised and don’t be afraid to walk away from prospective jobs that are focused ONLY on low prices as there is no need to acquire a liability for little or no money. In essence, you can charge a fair amount and make good or great money if you deliver top quality product to those willing to pay for it.

Good stuff. Thanks. I’m in the hail core of the country where there is almost always something going on. Probably will start a company on the side using subs and see how it goes. I’ve left a lot of money on the table this year working for someone else I think. Especially since I haven’t received but two leads from them in the last two months. I have minimal overhead, so that should keep me out of trouble. Thankfully they do remodeling work too so I’m able to sell some of those jobs. I ran my own insurance business for 12 years, so I am familiar with planning.

Keep your stories and advice coming!

I personally would not start my own … Sometimes I wish I would have just stayed at a lower commission rather than becoming a General Manager in all honesty. I am not doubting your abilities and knowledge by any means but I still learn something new everyday. The last company I worked for had an owner with the same mindset as you “I can do this on my own and in turn make more money”. I left that company for many reasons but mainly the fact that I had little experience and was being trained by someone who knew nothing about what they were doing. Cash flow was a HUGE issue at that particular company and it almost felt like we were robbing peter to pay paul on each and every one of my jobs.

I run the profit and loss numbers for every single one of Regency Construction’s jobs and in the end I end up making more money than my boss … for the sole factor of I do not have to float the jobs or pay the overhead that he does. He “makes” more money than I do but he has A LOT more at stake than I do, always have to factor in a headache fee.

There are a lot of factors that come into running the company. Are you going to pay for delivery of material, where are you going to get your material. What are you going to say to a customer who asks how long you have been in business, or what is your website address, the list goes on and on and on.

I have been roofing for three years now and not until the last year did I think I could successfully run my own company… however after knowing what all it involves I chose to just hold what I got and where I am and not take that risk.

I would be weary of starting my own company personally. This is just my two cents though.

I needed a job and my buddy had a roofing company. That was that.

" Left alot of money on the table working for someone else I think" If you are good at selling I would keep being a salesperson. From dealing with many different salespeople it seems that most don’t see/understand all the costs that it takes to run a business. Even when you think you have low overhead if you are running everything by the books your overhead will be more than you anticipate. If you are getting paid a pretty good commission you are likely making more on your jobs than the profit your boss is keeping after all the bills have been paid.