In a tight construction market, the ability to sell quality-roofing solutions is more important than ever. It is the hard times that separate the order takers from the record breakers. If past economic lulls are any indicator, in the current slowdown experience and marketing savvy will prevail over racing competitors to the lowest price.

Ninety percent of Kearns Brothers’ work is on residential homes, like this one featuring GAF-Elk Grand Sequoia® shingles in Sage Green.

In a tight construction market, the ability to sell quality-roofing solutions is more important than ever. It is the hard times that separate the order takers from the record breakers. If past economic lulls are any indicator, in the current slowdown experience and marketing savvy will prevail over racing competitors to the lowest price.

“We run a business. That’s the bottom line,” says Gary Kearns, director of sales and marketing for Kearns Brothers of Dearborn, Mich. “It just so happens that we sell and installing roofing and siding and everything else.”

Founded in 1985 as a masonry and roofing specialist, the company offers services for just about any kind of residential project homeowners can think of. From windows to insulation to kitchens, it’s hard for Kearns to walk away from any kind of job. There’s even a special section on gables on the company’s Web site ( showing how a small investment can greatly increasing curb appeal for homeowners.

With about 90 percent of the company’s business coming from residential construction, the company is heavily invested in homeowners wanting to make repairs and improvements. Even though the mortgage industry is in a nationwide crisis, Kearns says that 2007 was a good year and this year is looking up. The commitment to professionalism and quality service is company-wide, and Kearns Brothers focuses on the company’s employees as well as its customers.

“I have 10 salespeople who are experienced, knowledgeable and customer-oriented,” Kearns says. “They make sure every single crew’s working every single day. That is their calling.”

Diversification of services has always been a hallmark of the company. One example is the lucrative gutter fabrication business Kearns Brothers started about 10 years ago. At that time, the company was waiting on subcontractors to get around to their projects, leading to costly delays because the company couldn’t bill homeowners until the job was complete. There are now two machines working full time, all using Flo-Free leaf guard.

As a Master Elite contractor with GAF Materials Corp., Kearns Brothers offers integrated warranties on the entire roof system, something that savvy homeowners are responding to. More and more consumers are doing research online and come to the bid proposals with a list of appropriate questions.

Gary Kearns loves turning satisfied customers into an extended sales force by offering $100 for referrals that lead to a sold project. A roofing job can often lead to a kitchen remodel or chimney repair on the same house, and it’s not just the $100 incentive that does it.

“We built up our business with trust and value,” says Kearns. “When somebody recommends us, it’s because they trust you.”

Asphalt shingles offer a multitude of options that allow them to achieve the look of competitive products for a lower price. Pictured here are roofs installed by Kearns Brothers in the Detroit area featuring GAF-Elk shingles in Camelot® Aged Oak and Slateline® Victorian Red.

Asphalt Shingles, Quality and Service

Customer service and the art of selling value are surefire ways to weather the upcoming financial storms. According to the Freedonia Group, a market research firm in Cleveland, sales for asphalt shingles will grow at one half of one percent (in square footage) through 2010. The Freedonia Group says that asphalt shingles, which account for more than one-third of all demand for roofing materials by surface area, will continue to face stiff competition from premium products like tile and metal.

It’s an old saw that quality roofing means fewer replacements, but the success of laminated shingles with warranties exceeding 30 years is bound to have an effect. Yet many homeowners include a new roof with home improvements, especially when realtors emphasize curb appeal. There might not be leaks, but maybe there’s an algae problem or sagging gutters that leads to action. Certainly the mortgage companies aren’t throwing money around anymore, but people will still need repairs, and even a small flashing leak still gets their attention.

Malarkey’s Legacy® shingles feature the company’s patented Zone technology, which offers an expanded two-layer nailing area and double rain seals. This photo shows the Legacy shingle on a Texas house. The color is Natural Wood.

Hung Up on Price?

Malarkey Roofing, a super-regional producer based in Portland, Ore., has kept busy without the benefits and burdens of new construction. “We’re not a big player in the new construction market,” says Greg Malarkey, vice president. “As a rule, new construction is hyper price sensitive. They really aren’t looking for performance, even when you get to the higher end housing.”

In the rugged, rainy climate of the Northwest, Malarkey has developed a number of performance attributes for its products. Its trademark design, The Zone, made application easier with larger nailing areas and the products provide increased wind uplift resistance. The company was among the first to embrace algae-resistant granules, and there are choices for hail resistance. The number of options modern asphalt shingles can offer helps the product outpace its competitors for a lower price.

“That’s where we think there’s a real opportunity for value enhancement,” says Malarkey about asphalt shingles. “You’ve got a ton of different options, and it’s a pretty good bang for the consumer.”

Malarkey still sees a lot of sales focusing on price or warranties, but his experience shows that consumers aren’t that hung up on price. Some are being proactive and just making sure the new kitchen isn’t rained upon. Some are concerned about appearance. All of them want to be able to trust the company, which is why Malarkey feels that a roofing contractor should be able to explain his bid in person without apologizing for paying workers’ compensation and permit fees. “Your close ratios will be dramatically higher than the one who offers the lowest price,” he says.

Of all the components in the delivery chain, he thinks that distributors are the most price-sensitive and homeowners are the least. With better access to knowledge through magazines and the Internet, the questions on the customers’ minds usually have more to do with what separates competing bids. Once a roofing contractor shows how he is the best one to address all of their concerns and put together a roofing system that meets their needs, then the hardest part for customers may be picking out the perfect color.

“The people who are in business bring value to the customer,” says Malarkey. “In this market, the guy who survives is the one who recognizes that what he’s selling is his expertise and his service.”

In leaner times, experience and patience can be a contractor’s greatest assets. Kearns Brothers’ relentless attention to the consumer is a formula that can succeed in any climate.

“We’ve been dealing with this for quite a while,” says Kearns. “We’ve found our place in the market where people want great customer service. I agree with the analogy that shaking the industry makes the cream rise to the top.”