In tight economic times roofing contractors can benefit from a well-organized service department. Service departments are typically smaller departments that operate independently from the company’s main roofing operations. The service department usually handles all of the company’s leak repairs and service-related projects, such as installing flashing at new curbs and installing additional vents and drains. These are primarily items that can be completed by two to three workers and do not require a full crew.
Proper management and innovative marketing can turn the service department into a highly profitable sector of the company, which can also generate additional work. This can be accomplished by providing annual maintenance programs.
Most building owners are beginning to realize that proper roof maintenance is beneficial in a number of ways. First, by ensuring that small problems are fixed in a timely manner, the owner eliminates the potential for much larger and more costly repairs. Second, regular maintenance will extend the life of the roof system. In addition to this, all of the manufacturers’ warranties require that the owner perform annual maintenance.
Roofing Contractor recently assembled a panel of five roofing contractors to discuss how their companies handle service and maintenance tasks. The contractors were candid about the benefits and shortcomings of establishing maintenance departments and offered practical advice to other industry members on how to establish and maintain a roof management program. The participating contractors provided insight into commercial and residential roofing sectors.
The panel consisted of the following individuals:
• Ronald Taylor, president of All Star Roofing Inc. in Amity Harbor, N.Y.
• Pat Giugliano, vice president of F & F Roofing Co. in Floral Park, N.Y.
• Eion Kelley, owner of Northeast Contracting in Alexandria, Va.
• Chuck Clark, president of Clark Roofing and Siding in Chesapeake, Va.
• Robert Allen, president of Allen Brothers Inc. in Rochester Hills, Mich.
Getting the Word OutAdding customers to a roof management program can occur in a number of ways. Reroofing clients can be notified of the program and informed about the importance of these procedures in protecting the warranty. When calling on new customers for leaks or other repairs, company representatives can point out that correction of defects during scheduled maintenance inspections could eliminate future callbacks for leaks and extend the service life of the roof system.
In this regard, Clark is often amazed at the refusal of building owners to address roof problems. “Some people just bury their heads in the sand and ignore problems,” he says. “A year or two later, they might need a whole new roof system, when they might have gotten another 10 years out of it with proper upkeep. We run into that a lot - even in residential jobs.”
Taylor informs all his clients about maintenance requirements in the manufacturers’ warranties and urges customers to report any problems promptly and keep the manufacturer apprised of any repairs. “I always tell building owners to call us immediately if they have a problem and report everything in writing to the manufacturer. We tell them to make sure any problems are handled by authorized installers or manufacturer reps - and not their own maintenance workers.”
Giugliano feels that warranty repairs for manufacturers can also be a source of additional work. He states, “If we are called in by the manufacturer to look at a roof, we want the building owners to become our customers. We want them to think, ‘If there’s a problem, call F & F.’ If you do a good job, you’ll keep that customer. There’s a loyalty in this business. I really believe that.”
Roofing contractors have an easily accessible market for their maintenance programs - past and present clients. “Taking care of customers is what it’s all about,” Giugliano says. “We’re driven by our customers. The best customers we have are the ones we have right now. They are also are best source of referrals.”
“The key to the maintenance is the type of service that will make any customer a customer for life,” he continues. “We are especially excited about customers who own more than one building. We know if we do our job right we’ll handle all of their buildings.”
All of the contractors we talked to agreed that maintenance programs not only provide a steady source of income over several years, but they can also be a generator for future remedial roofing projects. If a roofing contractor enters into a long-term maintenance program with a building owner, it provides the contractor an opportunity to be in good standing when remedial work is required. Another advantage is that repair work is typically completed at higher profit margins than remedial or new construction.
Kelley sees some companies shy away from repair work, but he views it as the most promising avenue for new business. “You meet customers through repairs,” says Kelley. “Service is a great deal. It’s very profitable. Ongoing relationships with customers can mean more work down the road. When it comes to doing a reroofing job, you have a great advantage over everyone else.”
Allen adds, “The longer the relationship with a customer goes on, the better odds we have of getting the eventual reroofing job.”
A Breed ApartMost companies find it is preferable to maintain a service department that is distinct from the main roofing operations. Allen maintains it is essential that the service department be separated from the main roofing operations in order to maximize profitability. “Motivating people is the key to making it happen, and incentives are one way to do that,” he states. Allen indicated that at his company, the maintenance department has a burden of overhead it has to meet, and once that number is exceeded, the department head and employees share in the profits by a set formula. Allen explains, “The division is totally separate - they have their own trucks, their own equipment, their own tool crib, they do their own purchasing.”
The skills required to diagnose and solve problems and determine the sources of leaks are different than those required for production roofing, and the roofing mechanics that exhibit aptitude for these skills should be assigned to the service department. This type of work relies on finesse and precision and is not suited for all personnel.
Taylor agrees that it takes a special breed to excel as a maintenance worker, and chasing leaks is not for everyone. “Some guys are great on the big stuff and don’t have the patience for the little stuff,” he says. “On the other hand, some guys who like the little stuff don’t have the patience for the big stuff.”
The contractors all agree that finding the right individuals is the hardest part about the service department. “It’s very tough to find a good repair person,” says Kelley. “They’ve got to excel at communicating with the customer. They have to have experience and self-motivation.”
“Experience is the key component in a maintenance worker,” says Allen. “In order to do that job well - find leaks, make repairs - they have to do it day in and day out. The guys in that department have to be savvy. I personally believe that you have to have guys who specialize. Find out what people like to do and what they excel at, and once you have the right people in place, keep them there.”
Giugliano fills his maintenance division with leak specialists. He remarks that his maintenance division was tested during a recent spring storm that dropped several inches of rain in their area. “We were pretty busy, but almost all of the projects were long out of warranty or work that we did not install, so we did pretty well, and picked up some new customers.”
After the recent storms Giugliano had his repair crews stop by to check on accounts in the area while they were on other calls. “That wins us a lot friends,” he says. “We can’t do it every time, but it helps.” Giugliano sees the value of the maintenance division and the only thing holding him back from expanding it is finding more talented workers.
Program DevelopmentA properly initiated roof management program is a systematic and routine process of preventive inspections and accurate repairs of existing roof systems to ensure that the system reaches its full service life. “When there’s a problem, our maintenance and repair crews go to the site, meet the owner or tenant’s representative, and plot out the repair areas on the drawings,” states Taylor. “In most cases, they can handle it on the spot because that’s how their trucks are set up.”
Taylor believes that educating owners is essential to the roof maintenance process because the roof is always the last thing they think of until there’s a problem. “For example,” Taylor recalls, “recently we were called by a new account to check out a small leak on a large commercial building. When the repair crew got there, they found a scupper was completely clogged, and two-thirds of the roof was covered in water that was nine inches deep. Someone had put a screen in front of the scupper, and it wasn’t properly maintained. It almost collapsed the building.”
Kelley agrees that you have to thoroughly educate the building owner, and sometimes it’s a simple case of doing the math. “Sometimes customers want a quick fix when a roof replacement is required,” he says. “In these cases, repairs are wasted money. You have to explain the best options.”
Giugliano feels that it is necessary to educate the owners after they have completed a roof project. “When we complete the job, we explain how important it is to clear the drains and conduct routine maintenance,” he says. “We also explain that if there is damage from a storm, blowing debris or some other type of incident, it’s much cheaper in the long run to let us know right away, so we can take care of it before it becomes a big problem.”
Clark does his best to educate building owners on the benefits of maintenance and repair, but he often finds that it is a hard sell. “I have a contract with a store chain, and I’m constantly doing repairs for them. I’ve bid on reseaming some roofs or putting down a new coating, and they just won’t bite.” Clark went on to discuss how another owner let a relatively minor problem escalate by not taking proper corrective action. “We were called in by another customer that let a roof leak go on and on for years before they called for service. They thought their own maintenance people could take care of it. By the time we were called in, the insulation had to be removed and the metal deck was rusted.”
Nightmare examples like that are all you need to make the case for a maintenance contract, says Taylor, who notes it is especially important to ensure that the building owner understands that maintenance is a part of the warranty agreement. “We educate the building owner right from the warranty,” he says. “We walk them through it and explain exactly what has to be done to make sure the warranty is in place.”
Once the need for preventive maintenance is identified, a proper management program is required to manage the cost accounting, budgeting and scheduling of the inspections and required repairs. The roof management program generates the necessary information to track and record results as the preventive maintenance work is accomplished.
A roof management program should include:
• Recordkeeping: Drawings and specifications of new roof construction, as well as any repair and maintenance work done at various periods, should be accessible. The intent of the database should be to establish an easy reference point to identify all roof system component materials and attachment methods so that the proper repair tools and materials can be gathered for maintenance inspections and leak repairs. If a computerized system is utilized, it can be combined with a scheduling system that also includes work orders and reporting documentation.
Taylor asserts that maintaining precise and up-to-date records is essential. “We have a lot of accounts, and every account has drawings and mini blueprints on the computer,” he says. “After the last storm, for example, we prepared field folders, which include the customer history and the drawings.” Taylor explains that every service call and invoice is tracked in the system. “We have full drawings of every roof down to the pitch pockets, and we send an updated drawing with every invoice, along with a photo of every job,” he says. “It’s a lot of work, but the customers can see it, feel it, and they like it much better.”
Kelley also sends photographs of each repair with the invoice, and he often e-mails them right after the job is completed. Every visit is followed up by a phone call to let customers know what has been done. “We give them as much information as we can, answer any questions and let the paperwork follow,” says Kelley.
• Inspection: An effective preventive maintenance program should include regular inspections of the roof system. Taylor recommends that a qualified roofing contractor inspect roofs at least once or twice a year, or more often if the building is located in an area where there are lots of trees and potential for debris. He recommends using a checklist when conducting roof inspections. “Don’t just leave it to memory,” Taylor advises. “You should make use of a checklist that includes every item that has to be checked - ponded water, gutters, drains, flashing, seams, wear on coatings, etc. Document that everything was checked and any work that was done at the time and set up any bids for follow-up work as needed.”
• Design, materials and methods of application: The staff responsible for preventive maintenance should understand and be skilled in the design of maintenance work and selection of maintenance materials and their application. All Star maintenance crews focus on scheduled maintenance, small jobs and all types of repairs, but they are trained and experienced in all types of work the company does. “They’re all well versed in all types of roofing, and they will find the source of leaks. They can do it all - EPDM, gravel, any type of repair that’s thrown at us,” says Taylor.
• Budgeting: Adequate preventive maintenance work cannot be performed if the budget is inadequate. The dollars spent on maintenance of a roof system are a wise investment. Through proper roof management, premature roof failures can be eliminated. Taylor works with every customer to develop a budget for future roofing needs. He explains, “As we maintain each building, if the maintenance crew sees something that alarms them, we’ll notify the owner to start budgeting for a reroof, telling them they’ve got X amount of time.”
Allen states, “We’ll help owners squeeze every year out of a roof, and when it’s no longer feasible to repair it, we’ll give them plenty of notice and quote a new roof.”
Establishing ObjectivesThe roof management program must define the process of work that is required on the roof system. This process can be organized in terms of specific objectives to be achieved. One of the fundamental goals of the roof management program is to fully document all of the required information. Once the historical background of the roof system is in place, other objectives of the roof management program include defining the scope of the program, costs, management procedures and the roof maintenance work.
Allen feels that a key objective to measure must be performance. He sums it up this way: “Here’s the thing about maintenance: You have to do it right. If you go out and repair a leak, you’d better make sure that it is fixed, because if they repair the ceiling and repaint the interior and it happens again, you’ll have one upset customer on your hands. It’s the same in residential as well as commercial. If anything, residential leaks are more mysterious and harder to track down.”
The initial step in developing a roof management program is to determine what and how much must be managed. The manpower required to establish this inventory is considerable at first. However, much of the effort is for one-time tasks, and once the process is established, only updating of the information is required in the remaining years of the program. The initial analysis defines the scope of repair work required to update roof systems to maintainable condition.
Once the initial analysis has been completed, the first task is defining the process and scope of work to be performed on the roof systems. An effective program will outline the areas to be maintained in order of importance. This is an essential stage for multi-facility owners. Typically, the most critical areas are completed in the initial phases of the program. The roof areas should be categorized by prioritization in the order that repair work should be accomplished. To develop this list, divide the roof areas into three categories determined by the initial investigation:
• Problem roofs: roofs that are leaking and causing difficulties.
• Suspect roofs: roofs that are believed to have, will soon develop, or have had problems.
• Acceptable roofs: roofs that are not having problems and problems are not foreseen.
Problem roofs should be attended to first, followed by suspect roofs and acceptable roofs.
Customer CareAll of the contractors we spoke with feel that roof maintenance is a key component to running a profitable roofing business. In the end, they acknowledged that while technical know-how may be the most important part of the equation, informing the customer about the work that was completed and what to watch for in the future is essential.
“We know how important repair work is, and we know it’s profitable,” says Giugliano. “But we also realize we are in the service business. You have to take care of the customer.”
“Communication is the key to service,” says Kelley. “You’ve got to let people know what’s being done and when it’s going to be done.”
Taylor agrees that the key to success is excellent customer service, and his company does all it can to ensure that the maintenance crews can solve the problem in one stop. “Our maintenance workers do an excellent job of representing All Star, and they can diagnose the problem, meet with the building owner, explain the options and orchestrate the repair,” he says.
“To be successful in repair and maintenance, you have to pay your dues and have experience,” concludes Allen. “It’s a more mature segment of the industry. It’s no place for rookies, but once you have experienced people in place it’s a great revenue maker. When you have a customer who has a leak, they’ll call you anytime, day or night, and you have to be in a position to handle it. We have an account with a building that houses a movie theatre, and if we get a call saying we have to get out there and fix a leak, we get somebody out there right away. We stop the leak, and the show goes on.”
SIDEBAR: Maintenance Is Their Middle NameGregory P. Hayden, the founder and president of Hayden Building Maintenance Corp., West Nyack, N.Y., makes no bones about the significance of maintenance to a roofing contractor. “One look at the name of our company tells you how much we stress its importance,” he says.
The company was founded in 1973, and last year it topped $24 million in sales. The company has more than 90 employees and does 95 percent of its work in the commercial arena. The lion’s share of the company’s work is in remedial roofing, but Hayden does new construction work for its existing clients.
Hayden started out as a home improvement contractor, but a chance encounter convinced him to concentrate on com mercial roofing. Hayden’s brother was delivering papers to the owner of a retail store who confided that he might have to delay his grand opening due to a roof leak. After his brother recommended him, Hayden stopped the leak, ensuring that the store would open as scheduled. Later, that $388 repair resulted in a $2 million contract to do roofing work for the chain of stores, and Hayden Building Maintenance Corp. was born.
Hayden keeps his maintenance department separate from his roofing department. The maintenance division has 20 people - 16 service technicians and four managers - and currently oversees 169 maintenance contracts. The company offers 24-hour service, and two teams are on call on the weekends and at night. Crews are dispatched in teams of two in white Dodge Sprinter vans with the company’s logo. “They make great billboards,” says Hayden.
Hayden tries to keep the same crews with the same customers whenever possible. “Maintenance is what helps us solidify our relationships with our customers and get the reroof job when the roof has reached the end of its useful life,” he says.
In every manufacturers warranty, maintenance is required, so it just makes sense to trust it to a roofing professional, says Hayden. Through GAF’s Well Roof Advantage Guarantee Extension Program, Hayden, a Master Master Select™ contractor, can offer his customers an additional 25 percent on the life of the warranty if the roof is serviced by a professional roofing contractor over the life of the warranty. “A 10-year warranty becomes a 12.5, and a 20 year warranty becomes a 25,” says Hayden. “It’s been a super deal for us. We have 90 percent retention rates.”
“We send a maintenance agreement out with every job we do,” he says. “An existing roof with a lot of problems is another matter, but with a new roof that we install, we price it very inexpensively because we know nothing will go wrong. Once customers sign up for the program, they see the benefits and stay in.”
The company promotes its maintenance program with mailers and a tri-fold leave-behind brochure. “Having prepared maintenance agreements printed and ready and in hand at the closeout is one of the greatest marketing tools we have,” says Hayden.
Semiannual inspections are conducted with a checklist, and technicians document completed work with photographs. The customer receives a complete written report with the completed service checklist, updated drawings, a copy of the maintenance agreement, and before and after pictures of the work done. Suggestions are included for any preventive or remedial work needed. Hayden Building Maintenance helps its clients prepare for upcoming projects. “We participate in the budget process with our customers,” says Hayden. “We assist them and we provide proposals at no charge that they can use to plan for reroofing. Our customers do a lot of budgeting in the late summer and fall for the following year.”
Hayden has seen the results of improper maintenance, including collapsed roofs, and he realizes it’s his job to educate building owners about the importance of making sure drains are clear and the system is properly designed. “For example, with high parapet walls and a system that uses roof drains, you need overflow scuppers,” he states.
Service technicians receive ongoing training in-house and off site through industry association and manufacturer-sponsored seminars on new products, application methods and safety procedures. All service techs are issued NRCA manuals and manufacturers’ guidelines for proper application and repair. The company is an approved applicator for Johns Manville, CertainTeed, Carlisle, Firestone, and Siplast as well as GAF.
Hayden is in no hurry to replace any viable roofs. “The ability to fix leaks and repair a roof without putting a new roof on is a good reputation to have,” he says. “We don’t mind waiting.”
He pointed to one case in which an up-and-coming company wanted a maintenance contract for a roof that was in terrible condition. The customer didn’t have the money on hand to replace the roof, and they were hoping to buy some time. Hayden nursed them through and ended up with a $780,000 roofing job a few years later. “When the roofing job came in, the owner just negotiated the job with us,” he recalls.
“We try to provide a one-source solution for keeping water out of your building,” concludes Hayden. “We develop long-term relationships with our clients. We have a lot of roofs that are 30 years old. We can prove that we can make a roof last 30 years by simply pointing to our own roofs.”
For more information on Hayden Building Maintenance Corp., visit www.roofline.com.
by Chris King