Shingle styles run the gamut from basic roof coverings to works of art. When it comes to convincing consumers to upgrade their purchase to a higher-end product, contractors employ techniques ranging from the simple act of informing customers that there are other options available to more involved commitments, such as creating a showroom to display the upper-end products.

Kearns Brothers Inc. installed GAF Country Mansion® shingles in Estate Oak finish on this project.

Shingle styles run the gamut from basic roof coverings to works of art. When it comes to convincing consumers to upgrade their purchase to a higher-end product, contractors employ techniques ranging from the simple act of informing customers that there are other options available to more involved commitments, such as creating a showroom to display the upper-end products.

A contractor can be successful even when the economy is ailing. For example, the state of Michigan is currently in the midst of what has been termed "a one-state recession," with the Big Three automakers and several automotive suppliers shedding jobs at an alarming rate. Is it possible to get a consumer to spend more on a roof when he or she may not have a job the next day?

This installation features Dust Grey and Slate Green Lamarite® Slate Composite shingles from TAMKO Building Products Inc.

"We're not naysayers; you can't have a doom-and-gloom philosophy in this kind of market," says Gary Kearns of Kearns Bros., Dearborn, Mich.

Despite Michigan's economic woes, Kearns says the company is very pleased with business; he hopes for a 5 to 7 percent increase over last year.

Kearns Bros. has been in business for 20 years and does roofing, siding, insulation, masonry and windows. The roofing end of the business encompasses all steep slope roofing - including work on condos, banks, churches, etc. The company doesn't limit itself to the Detroit metro area, but covers all of southeastern lower Michigan.

These GAF Grand Sequoia® shingles were installed by Kearns Brothers.

How does one get ahead in a slow market? "We partner with big brand names. Ninety-nine percent of our roofing business is done with GAF," says Kearns. "We are a huge believer and promoter of GAF's integrated roofing systems. Also, in the last five years, we've been in the top five contractors for selling enhanced warranties."

Kearns characterizes GAF's support as "tremendous" and is pleased that GAF is well represented in Detroit. "There isn't just one person for Michigan," he explains. "They understand that sales reps for roofing companies need support. They get back to us right away when we need them."

Elk Premium Building Products' Balsam Forest shingles from the Prestique Gallery Collection™ were installed on this residence.

Moreover, in Kearns' experience, GAF's training program, CARE, has been extremely beneficial. "Chris Mooney does a great job of running it," he says. "All of our guys - crews and sales reps - are trained in the Master Elite program. They have all passed the test. I'm a stickler for that - no cheating. Our guys have to know the system and the products."

So, how does Kearns get people to buy the top-of-the-line shingles? It's quite simple: "We talk to them." As Kearns sees it, there are the standard three-tab shingles, and then, for example, Timberline laminated shingles, which he characterizes as "the new three-tab." The next level is the higher-end Grand Timberline, Grand Sequoia, etc. One recent up-sell for Kearns Bros. resulted in red Slateline shingles on a $2.5 million home in Bloomfield Hills, Mich.

The shingles on this residence are CertainTeed's Centennial Slate in Smoky Quartz.

"We talk about the different kinds of shingles. We don't assume that customers have the knowledge," says Kearns. "We explain through our presentation book and literature from GAF. All of our guys carry a sample of all of the different types of shingles - and we make sure our guys know what they are taking about." As a result, "Often, potential customers are intrigued by the unique look of some of the higher-end products," Kearns continues. "Eighty percent of what we sell is from Timberline on up."

To aid in its sales efforts, Kearns Bros. also has a showroom, one end of which displays all of the upper-end products, with the price per square foot included. Since the company does more than just roofing, it's easier for customers to put shingle prices in perspective by comparing the price to a square foot of granite or Corian. In addition, Kearns notes that on the company's proposals, "We fill in the blanks for the upper-end products, just in case." The company also maintains a database of jobs with more expensive shingles, so potential customers can do a drive-by to see what the products look like in real life.

Though Michigan's current economic situation is somewhat of an anomaly, it was not long ago that everyone was feeling the pinch. Tom Bott of Tom Bott Roofing and Construction Inc., Mount Prospect, Ill., notes that while business in Chicagoland is good and getting progressively better, "After 9/11, we have had slow trends, expensive insurance, and high competition, which has forced me to make significant changes in the way I approach our sales and marketing efforts."

Bott Roofing and Construction Inc. completed this residential installation with shingles from Elk Premium Building Products.

Bott's company offers Elk Roofing Products. "Elk training and support is second to none," states Bott. "They simply have the best warranty for the consumer and their products cover a range of options for different types of buildings. I have never found any problems with any of their products."

Bott attended Elk's training program in the mid 1990s and found it to be "exceptionally helpful" in developing the way Bott Roofing approaches the customer. "We only offer them options," Bott explains. "I found it is very good practice to listen to their request and give them a quote based on that first; then offer them alternative options for upgrades." Finally, Bott offers this advice to other contractors: "Understanding more of the building envelope will broaden your specific skills and make you a better at providing information to your clients. Offer the best products, provide alternatives, stay professional in your field and stay current with the latest information."

Selling in the Hail Belt

Brett Hall, president of Joe Hall Roofing Inc., Arlington, Texas, offers a different perspective on how to sell high-end shingles. "Being in the part of Texas that is the hail belt, we have an extremely knowledgeable consumer," he says.

According to Hall, in Texas, the fact that hail hits so frequently has resulted in a consumer who does not choose upgrades easily. "The primary upgrade shingle we sell is a Class IV impact-rated shingle," he explains. "The shingles we use most in Class IV roofing are Elk Extra, Malarkey Legacy and Owens Corning Weatherguard HP." Hall adds that the most popular architectural shingles in terms of "customer choice" are Elk Capstone, GAF Slateline and CertainTeed Presidential.

"The distinct advantage we have had is the publicity campaign that insurance companies such as State Farm have invested in," says Hall. "Millions of dollars have been spent in consumer awareness campaigns to help members of the buying public understand their options." Hall notes that some of these educational materials explain the differences between impact-rated and non-impact-rated products.

"This awareness, coupled with the state's Impact-Resistant Roof Program (premium discounts), has created an incentive for the consumer. Consumers can easily calculate their savings and amortize their expense to make a financial decision for the future," Hall explains. "Our roof consultants always ask consumers about their knowledge of the Impact Resistant Roof Program and subsequent savings. If it makes sense to the customer, it will end up as a price option on the bid. If it does not make sense to the customer, the value-add [upgrade] can be taken wrong by the consumer and it will not be on the bid."

Another potential way to up-sell, according to Hall, is to stress the aesthetic value of higher-end shingles. "Many customers do not want to have a ‘composition'-looking roof," Hall observes. "We know this might apply to three-tabs, but many times it is true of thinner dimensional shingles with three-tab hip and ridge. What the customer is asking for is a nontraditional-cut shingle - let's say anything that does not have the traditional dragon's tooth cut. Many products can fit this bill, giving the consumer a wide range to select from. Consumers want their home to have a valuable look that is not perceived as composition. The architectural cut is very popular on houses in our market up to a million dollars."

The sales team at Don Kennedy Roofing Co. has the advantage of a 3,200-square-foot showroom displaying more than 150 choices in roofing products, colors and styles. (Photos courtesy of Don Kennedy Roofing Co.)

Nashville, Tenn., has also experienced its share of rain and a few hailstorms in 2006. According to Don Kennedy of Don Kennedy Roofing Co., the roofing market has been very strong in the greater Nashville area and his company has been struggling to keep up. "On the residential side of our business we have accumulated a backlog of over 135 reroofing projects, and the commercial market has been pretty strong as well," he says.

Don Kennedy Roofing Co. has several different departments: residential roofing and repair; commercial roofing, maintenance and repair; sheet metal; and steep-slope roof cleaning. Kennedy notes that the company's residential division uses primarily CertainTeed and TAMKO products.

"CertainTeed ... has provided us with very strong support in our sales and marketing efforts," says Kennedy. "They provide customer-friendly literature that is easy to read and understand, along with some very nice pictures of their product. Customers like pictures! CertainTeed also provides samples, videos, and sales and marketing training for our sales people. We have had their local sales representative, George Tucker, in for sales and product training for our salespeople."

In addition to CertainTeed's support, "Probably our best source of selling our high-end products is our showroom," he says. "We have a roofing showroom of approximately 3,200 square feet, and we can provide our customers with over 150 choices in roofing colors and styles. We aren't really trying to up-sell, we're trying to inform our customers of what is available. The difference in quality is a long-term decision. Higher quality products, although more costly on the front end, can be much less expensive over the life of the roof. By providing our customers with the information necessary for making good decision, our customers develop confidence and trust in our company."

Kennedy contends that the showroom has helped increase the company's closing rate tremendously. "When a potential customer comes into our showroom our closing rate is almost 100 percent," he says. "We had a commercial graphics designer create a nice piece of literature that has pictures of our showroom and a map showing our customers where we are located." When the company gives customers an estimate, a copy of this brochure is included.

Kennedy strongly recommends that other contractors provide showrooms for their customers to see the products they have to offer. "This also gives the contractor the opportunity show their customers who they are," he explains. "Having a convenient location for your customers is critical; they won't go too far out of their way to visit you."

In general, Kennedy attributes his company's success to the fact that it makes quality the top priority. "If we take care of the quality, growth and profits seem to take care of themselves," he says. "We also try to express our professionalism, with nice looking, clean vehicles; professional proposals there are produced by computer in our vehicles and printed; our proposal and product literature are given to our customers in a professional 14-page, tabbed pocket brochure that describes the services of our company with several pictures; and we follow-up with our customers with thank you letters and phones calls to ask if we can help them any further."

StoneCrest Slate shingles from the Metalworks® line of TAMKO Building Products Inc. give this residential roof an upscale appearance.

Selling in a Strong Market

American Roofing & Metal Co. Inc., Louisville, Ky., is a family-owned business, doing both commercial and residential roofs. On the residential side, the company uses CertainTeed and GAF products.

American Roofing's approach to up-selling is simple yet effective. "I show samples of all three and let the owner see the difference for him or herself," says Hart.

He has sold $1 million in the last three years and notes that it is essential to at least offer the higher-end shingles to customers because many are unaware of what is out there. He attributes the company's success to "experienced men and women who love their trade," and notes the key is to know the product you are selling.

Another company experiencing healthy economic times is C. Cougill Roofing Co., Little Rock, Ark. In business since 1994, the company specializes in high-end residential products, including slate, tile and shingles. About 10 to 20 percent of its business is commercial - mostly PVC and modified bitumen. Craig Cougill reports that the market is strong. "Large houses requiring specialty roofing have been more in demand," he says. "Reroofing, our bread and butter, is steady."

The company uses a lot of high-end CertainTeed products. According to Cougill, CertainTeed has effective product literature that shows all of the top-end shingles together. "It also has what I call a ‘blueprint' of the shingles that compares the weight, warranty coverage, wind warranty, etc.," he says. "We also use some Owens Corning - their 50-year shingle looks great."

GAF Slateline® Antique slate shingles were installed on this home by Joe Hall Roofing Inc.

In describing his technique for up-selling, Cougill explains, "Selling high-end shingles on a house that currently has wood shakes or shingles is easier than a house that has asphalt shingles. "When figuring a job, I tend to make the numbers reflect how affordable the upgrade to 30-year architectural shingles is. Rarely do I sell a job because of the longer warranty coverage; I sell the customer on what looks good on their house."

In Cougill's view, the best-case scenario would be: "A customer calls and wants a quote on a metal roof or possibly synthetic slate. We provide them with that quote and offer some options on lifetime shingles such as Grand Manor or Presidential. Most customers are not aware of all the different shingles out there. We also give an option on the 30-year architectural but emphasize the look of the high-end shingle."

Cougill has been very successful getting customers to upgrade to a 30-year and "fairly successful" beyond that (40-plus). His advice to other contractors? "Offer a wide variety of services. Educate the customer on the different products. Have some good references and houses for potential customers to look at. Always help them visualize what the shingle would look like on their house."

Finally, he emphasizes customer service. "When reroofing, go out of your way to protect landscaping, decks, etc. A clean jobsite that looks professional is always our best reference."