David Deschaine, creator of the Roofing Business Start-Up Kit, shares his advice about how to start a roofing business. He reveals insider tips about start-up costs, which roofing shingles to use, estimating roofing jobs, promoting your roofing business, avoiding critical mistakes, and much more. [11 min.]

To learn more about his Roofing Business Start-Up Kit, click here.

 
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Start off by talking about the roofing business, and telling us what it is that a roofing contractor does.

Well, a roofing contractor gets a lot of calls from homeowners that are having problems with leakage into their home, and they’re looking for someone they can trust to come in and do a quality job, and to do it at a reasonable price.

Walk us through the process of actually replacing a roof.

When we get the call, there’s already something going on, there’s some leakage or some type of damage coming through the roof. We get the call, we go over, we inspect the property, we go through what we call our full roofing installation sales presentation. We estimate the property, measure everything out, we give the homeowner different product knowledge from the 30 or 50 year shingles. We start by tearing everything off the roof deck, stripping it clean, inspecting the roof deck to make sure it’s in good condition. We sweep it all down, we take the nail guns, we nail all the sheathing back down if it’s loose. Typically, over the years, the nail tends to pull out from the contraction, expansion, the heat and cold from the attic, so it really works to nails free. We nail everything down, we put some ice and water shield along the eaves and overhangs, under the chimney flashing, any protrusions through the roof, you want to make sure to have a type of underlayment on top of the roof deck. And then we put a tar paper on the roof deck. You always want to have some type of vapor barrier between the shingles and the sheathing, because the hot and cold, the condensation builds up, you don’t want that penetration. And then we go back on with the 30/50 year shingles that the homeowner chooses. We use extra nails — we put six, sometimes eight nails into the shingle. Then of course, one of the most important parts of the roof is the ventilation, so we make sure to add a ridge around the peak, we cut out an inch and a half from both sides of the roof deck, to make sure you get that air flow up in the attic. It will make the home more comfortable and also save you money in the heating and cooling costs.

What do you need to start a roofing company and how much does it start to get started?

In some states, the requirements are a little bit different. Like here in the state of Maine, you don’t need a license to be a contractor. In other parts of the country, you need a license, liability insurance and workers’ comp, and the ranges can differ. I know in the metropolitan areas, the cost of insurance is more than it is in the rural areas, but certainly, you need somewhere between $15,000 to $20,000 to really set yourself up with the truck you need, get the insurance, get the phones set up and the computers and basic pieces that you’re going to need to make your business run smoothly.

Is this the kind of business you should operate all by yourself, or is it more efficient going around doing roofing estimates and hire crews to do the roofing jobs? What works best?

Initially, when you first start a business, it’s going to be that you’re involved in all aspects of the business. You’re going to need to do the sales, do the office work, getting your sub-contractors and hiring some employees. We recommend, at first, if you haven’t done the work yourself, at least hire one or two key guys that you can go back with to install the roof but also, if you hire sub-contractors, you can use them as the production manager or quality control specialist. Depending upon what type of volume you’re going to be doing, and how far you want to get into it. If you want to do it part-time, you can do most of it on your own and then sub out the work as it comes in. If you plan on setting up a business and really going full-tilt on this, we recommend at least having one in house crew that you can use for cross-training, to do roofing, to do siding and to do windows.


What’s the most economical way to get your roofing materials? I’m guessing you don’t just walk into the local hardware store if you want to get the best price.

No, what you want to do is you want to try to work with one of the largest distributors in the area. You know, there are a lot of different companies that buy high volume. You’ll have a meeting with the sales people from these places, you’ll go in, you’ll discuss volume pricing, if there’s any co-op money for advertising, if there’s any type of discounts if you buy a certain amount of product each year, and they’ll work with you. You’ll want to buy from a supplier that can keep up with you, and make sure that they’re going to be there for the long-term. You just don’t want to go in and try to buy for price — you want to get a quality product and a place that can handle your volume.

What about when the weather is too severe to do roofing installation. Do you recommend that people offer other services like roof shoveling and that sort of thing to supplement their incomes?

During the winter months, things do tend to slow down and you will need to be there for homeowners, because they will get ice dams, you will need to be shoveling roofs — a good way to substitute the income during the winter is to have at least one or two guys around that can handle roof shoveling, because you can bring in anywhere from $25,000 to $100,000 a year just from roof shoveling alone.

There are so many different kinds of roofing products available. There’s asphalt, metal, wood, slate, fiberglass, rubber roofs — I’m sure there are more. What kind of roofing products offer the most profit for a roof installer?

It depends on what you specialize in, because no matter what product you put on a roof, there’s always a certain amount of labor, a certain amount of profit, and a certain amount of disposal and all the other expenses. But it depends on what you specialize in. We specialize in asphalt and metal roofing. Either one of those can really turn a good profit, but you need to be specialized in that product. If you try to go out and do slate when you’re used to asphalt, you’re going to have a tough time with some of the learning curves. Stick to one product. That’s how you can allow you to maximize your profits.

Name some roofing shingle brands that you think are the best.

We use the CertainTeed brand, which is a high quality shingle. They’ve been around for over 100 years. We’ve been to the plants, we visit where they’re made, and we stick with the CertainTeed. IKO makes a good shingle, Owens Corning, they’re one of the biggest. Those three are probably the primary brands that we would recommend.

What is the process of doing a roof estimate? When someone calls you up and says, “I want a new roof,” tell us how you go about deciding what you’re going to be charging for that job, and what things go through your head.

The homeowner gives us a call, says we’d like to set up an estimate. We go over, we measure the property, we look at different factors, like the height of the roof, the layers of the roof, the pitch of the roof, any obstacles that might be in the way, if there’s any additional work that needs to be done, a skylight or additional dormers or something. People think it’s just by the square, but it’s not like that. The way we price things, we go in, we find out what the homeowner wants, we sit down with them, we’ll go over the product, find out exactly what they want done, whether they just want to flip the house as a rental property, or they’re going to resell the property quickly and they are just looking for a builder’s grade product, or they’re looking for long-term durability. We go in and we sell quality service, quality products. We’re there if they need us down the road. Whatever the homeowner wants, we’ll work with them and find out what kind of budget they have to work with, and see if we can offer any financing through some of our sources we use.

How do you have your quote stand out so that the customer will pick your bid?

When we do the estimate, once again, we’re not always selling just the lower price. We’re always out there to sell quality products, quality service, and we give an extended workmanship guarantee that really supersedes anything that I know of in the industry. If somebody calls, we give our 20-year workmanship guarantee, so if there’s ever a problem from anything related to our workmanship, its covered 100%. You have got to believe in yourself, and people can tell. If you’re honest with people, you give them a good quality product, that’s how we try to stand out from the competition. On-time delivery, quality products and quality service.

Dave, do you recommend specializing in residential versus commercial roofing, or do any job that comes your way?

That goes back to what you specialize in. We’re a residential roofing company. That’s what we deal with, we deal with a homeowner. We go in, we try to find out what they’re problem is and fix it for them. The commercial — that’s a whole different animal. Like I said before, you want to stick with one brand, with one specialized product, and that’s where you can maximize your profit.

So you’ve bought your truck, you have your nail guns, you’ve got your crews set up, you’ve got a computer and a telephone number and a magnetic sign on the side of your vehicle and you’re ready to go. What have you found are the best ways to generate business?

Once again, it’s a referral. The best compliment I ever get is a referral from one of my past customers. You know, when you first arrive onto the job, the homeowner’s, they’re terrified. They’ve heard all the contractor horror stories, they’re concerned they’re going to be taking the roof off of the largest investment they ever made, and when you hold their hand through the whole project, and you make sure that you deliver everything, whether you sold it or your salesman sold it, when the jobs done, and you drive away and they are waving and they’re so happy when they hand deliver that check to you, that’s the only way you’re going to grow your business. It doesn’t matter what you do for advertising, marketing — if you’re not delivering a quality product, quality service, your business will never grow. There are a lot of different avenues to get leads and appointments. You can put an ad in the Yellow Pages, that will help generate some leads, you can put a radio spot on, you can put a television commercial on. Depending on what type of budget you have to get started with. Like I said, the $15,000 to $20,000 will get you set up, get you a couple of small local ads in the paper, that’s a good way to start. There’s a lot of different avenues, and we talk about that with the Roofing Business Start-up Kit. Everything is in there — there are some templates in there for you to go ahead and look at, there are trade shows. Depending on what type of budget and how fast you want to grow your business, it’s like anything else — if you don’t put any money in, you’re not going to get anything out.

In your opinion, what is the biggest mistake that you see new roofers make when getting into this business?

They come in, they’re throwing the lowest price around If you want somebody that’s going to do a good job, you’re going to pay some money for it. You just can’t look at price alone. If you want somebody that’s going to do a good job, it’s just a mechanic or a roofer. You get a good mechanic, it’s going to cost some money. You get a good roofer, it’s going to cost some money. The lowest price is what I see with the new guys coming in, they think they’re going to conquer the marketplace by going low price, and they’re just shooting themselves in the foot, is what happens.

David Deschaine is the creator of the Roofing Business Start-Up Kit. He has over 25 years of home improvement experience and is the president of David Deschaine Installations, Inc., a roofing company in S. Portland, Maine.