After spending a lifetime in the work force, it’s the prototypical American dream: retire on the strength of scrupulous financial planning, move to Florida, build a beautiful new custom-designed home, and protect it with a gorgeous metal roof. Well, maybe that last part doesn’t exactly sear the ambitions of too many retirees, or new-homeowners in general, but that may change in the very near future. Aluma-Tile Roofers of Tampa is doing its best to challenge and replace the preconceived roofing notions of the average new homeowner and, by so doing, create a new standard within the construction industry. The goal: make residential metal roofing as much a part of Florida society as hurricanes, Disney World and college football.
Aluma-Tile has distinguished itself nationally as one of the very few roofing contractors that has had success selling and installing a specialty residential metal roofing product to retirees and other owners of newly constructed, custom-built homes. There’s no doubt that metal roofing is steadily increasing in popularity with homeowners across the country, but it’s a relative rarity to find the owner of a new, custom-built home interested in the initial, one-time metal roof investment. Generally, specialty residential metal roofing products, such as the aluminum Country Manor Shake product Aluma-Tile primarily uses, are installed as a second or even third roof on a home whose existing roof may no longer practically or aesthetically function. In this regard, Aluma-Tile has enjoyed success in going against the proverbial grain.
According to Tom McGarr, Aluma-Tile’s sales manager and owner, residential new-construction roofs comprise about 30 percent of the company’s overall sales, an unusually large percentage when compared with the majority of other roofing contractors that install similar metal shake roofing products. This uniqueness within Florida’s metal roofing market has helped lead to vast growth of the company, especially in the seven years McGarr has been with company.
Aluma-Tile was incorporated in 1987, but McGarr just completed the transaction of purchasing the company in September of 2001. Originally, the company sold and installed vinyl siding, soffit and fascia in addition to metal roofing products, both shake and standing seam. Aluma-Tile’s first metal roofing product was an aluminum shake system originally manufactured by The Aluminum Company of America (ALCOA). Perfection Building Products, a subsidiary of Classic Products Inc., of Piqua, Ohio, purchased the equipment and tooling for production in 1996, and Aluma-Tile switched over to selling and installing this system, which is now known as the Country Manor Shake aluminum roofing system.
Today, Aluma-Tile focuses exclusively on metal roofing, both standing seam and shake, but according to McGarr, “I’m always pushing the shake because it’s a better product.” McGarr estimated that the company has installed more than 1,000 roofs with the Alcoa and Perfection shake, and the company is still continuing to grow. In the years prior to 1994 — the year McGarr joined the company — Aluma-Tile used only one or two installers at a time. Since then, the company has been averaging about 100 jobs a year, and has, at times, employed as many as 19 installers. Currently, the company employs 12.
The company completes installations over the entire width of Florida and has gone as far south as the Keys. McGarr noted that one of the company’s goals for 2002 is to push heavily into Miami, a region in which they had experienced prior success. “We’re getting our piece,” says McGarr. “But we feel there’s a lot more out there and we’re ready to go after it.”
McGarr attributes a large portion of the company’s success and growth to the quality of the metal roofing product they install. “We’ve found that most competition usually has an inferior product that they’re pushing; archaic types of metals that really are a thing of the past. They feel ‘well, it’s metal so it’s gotta be good.’ Well, that’s not true as we all know.”
Additionally, McGarr credits the ever-growing consumer awareness and education concerning what he believes to be the superiority of metal roofing, an endeavor in which he has played a significant role. He also believes this increase in homeowner knowledge has directly led to Aluma-Tile’s success in landing new-construction jobs.
“I think it’s homeowners themselves that have been on the Internet and are doing their homework on metal roofing,” says McGarr. As proof of that, Aluma-Tile has thrived without advertising in more than two years. The company gets almost all of its business from homeowners contacting them and from other satisfied customers spreading the word of the quality work and superior product they have installed. Aluma-Tile also gets sales from leads provided by Perfection and the Metal Roofing Alliance, a conglomerate of metal roofing manufacturers, of which Perfection is a member.
While at present the new-construction jobs may be a minority of the company’s total business, the recent past suggests that this type of job will provide and ensure the future growth and success of the business. Some skepticism remains, but McGarr has a very clear-cut and, thus far, very effective strategy in selling to in-the-dark Florida homeowners. “We just show them the data and the warranty. The 120-mph wind warranty is very powerful. We’ve had testimonials after Hurricane Georges that (Country Manor Shake roofs) stayed on and every thing around them blew off. That’s a great testimonial to the roof itself.”
One of McGarr’s favorite roofing stories involves a customer’s experience with his aluminum roof during the devastating 1998 Hurricane Georges. “A customer wrote us a letter saying that he had sustained winds of over 115 mph for more than two days and he was happy to report that the only thing he lost was two hip caps — and that was when his neighbor’s 65-foot sailboat landed on the side of the house!” McGarr says that the homeowner went on to explain that all the other roofs of the neighbors around him had been blown off.
While the roof’s ability to withstand hurricane-force winds may be Aluma-Tile’s most effective selling point in Florida, McGarr also mentions several other points he uses to educate and sell, not only to new homebuilders but to re-roof-interested homeowners as well. The longevity and looks of the metal roof are also key issues. “Just about any other kind of roofing material, especially any kind of asphalt shingle or anything like that, it’s only going to last 10 to 12 years,” said McGarr. “With metal, we’re selling a one-time proposition. That’s the bottom line. Plus they look so much nicer!”
McGarr’s little afterthought, that is, the way he believes the roof enhances the outward appearance of the rest of the house, illustrates another convincing selling point to new-construction homeowners. If a person has achieved his or her dream of constructing a new, custom-built home, why wouldn’t he or she want to protect the new investment with a roof that will not only make the home the neighborhood’s centerpiece, but also can withstand hurricane-force winds, and will last 50, 75, maybe even more than 100 years? McGarr mentioned that often times, the owners of new-construction homes are the easiest sales because, for the most part, they have many demographically similar characteristics: they’re affluent, middle-aged, educated, and most importantly, willing to do what is necessary to both enhance and protect their new investment.
The future, then, looks extremely bright for Aluma-Tile Roofers. With the metal roofing market getting “better and better and better,” there’s no doubt that the number of homeowners opting for metal roofing to protect their homes, custom-built or otherwise, will continue to grow at a phenomenal rate, especially in Florida. “There’s more money here than in most parts of the country,” said McGarr. “It’s all retirement money” —retirement money that is more often than ever being invested in metal roofing. So while metal roofing still may not be the first thing on the minds of people hoping to spend their golden years in leisure and comfort, it is slowly but surely taking its place as a brush stroke in the masterpiece that is the prototypical American dream.