When the time came for L.C. Nussbeck to name his roofing company, he wanted a name that evoked strength and resilience in the face of natural disasters. “I was born in Colorado, and I was fascinated by the aspen tree, which can survive forest fires, anything Mother Nature could throw at it,” Nussbeck said. He remembered seeing aspens thriving in the wake of forest fires and storms and thought the tree would be the perfect symbol for a company specializing in storm remediation work. “It says, ‘We will persevere through tough times and prevail,’” he said.
Nussbeck is the president and CEO of Aspen Contracting Inc., headquartered in Lee’s Summit, Mo., with locations throughout the country. Specializing in residential re-roofing and repairs in the aftermath of storms, the company operates in 37 states in which it is licensed and insured. Aspen amassed $63.6 million in revenue in 2009, making it No. 6 on Roofing Contractor’s Top 100 List.
Nussbeck was first introduced to the construction industry as young teen in the late 1980s, when he swept floors for his uncle, a rep for a construction materials company. Nussbeck rode along with his uncle as he visited jobsites and called on contractors, distributors, and homeowners. His uncle got him a job as a roof loader for a distributor in 1994. Nussbeck later went to work for a contractor specializing in storm restoration work and immediately saw the opportunities storm work represented.
“It was a market with a lot of potential,” Nussbeck said. He thought storm work was basically recession-proof, as there might be peaks and valleys in any given market, but somewhere in the country there was bound to be severe weather popping up. Nussbeck figured that since most homeowners have insurance and he was willing to travel, it would be a good fit for him.
“The doctor who delivered me was Dr. Storm, and I was named after St. Christopher, the traveling saint, so I tell people I was born to do this work,” Nussbeck said.
In 2006 he decided to open his own company and operate under his own banner, not teaming up with a local contractor at each location. “I didn’t want to change the name,” he said. “I thought, ‘If we can’t do it right, I don’t want to do it.’ I wanted to do business under my own name, tell people who we are. I wanted to do it right. People told me it couldn’t be done, but I think if you do right, you will prevail. And I wanted to do things with integrity - do justice to the industry.”
Nussbeck found that customers were receptive to his business model. “We found that in storms outside the Kansas City market - one of the first was in Columbus, Ohio - people really appreciated a contractor that was telling the truth,” he said. “We weren’t collecting deposits; customers paid when the job was completed to their satisfaction. After we said what we were going to do and we did it, our reputation soared. Since then we’ve done about $30 million in the state of Ohio.”
Nussbeck estimates the company has more that 30,000 projects under warranty.
“What makes us different is we tell people who we are, where we’re from,” he said. “We’ve been able to establish ourselves in every region we serve and we expect our service to grow exponentially.”
The key to continued growth, according to Nussbeck, is excellent customer service. “It’s important that our customers, past and future, have good things to say about Aspen,” he said.
Mobilizing to do storm work is tremendously demanding. “It’s an amazing task, one you never really complete,” Nussbeck said. “Storms are unpredictable, but it’s certain they will hit somewhere. Be prepared - that’s the key.”
Aspen’s employees have to know local soliciting laws, building codes, permit processes, etc. The company warehouses $1 million worth of marketing materials, including postcards, yard signs, door hangers, as well as office equipment that can be staged for jobs of different sizes. “Within 24 hours we can have a functioning office up and running, with or without electricity,” he said.
Being prepared is difficult, but Aspen has it down to a science. The company rates the scale of storms in its “Re-Leaf” program, which determines the size and scale of the service in a given area depending on the severity of the storm. The right number of estimators and crews can make all the difference, said Nussbeck, and they need the right materials to do the job at hand.
“Proper deployment is crucial in our business,” said Nussbeck, who acknowledges that the logistics of storm work are tough for manufacturers and distributors as well as contractors. “We spend a lot of time working with our partners to ensure we can best serve our homeowner customer,” he said.
The company uses Owens Corning as its primary shingle supplier. In March of this year, Aspen was named Owens Corning’s 2009 “Partner of the Year.” The company also won the “Customer Peace of Mind” award.
“On about 70 percent of the jobs we sell we give customers an extended warranty up to 20 years that covers 100 percent of materials and labor, backed by Owens Corning,” he said. “We have a game plan for the back end as well as the front.”
“You have to calm the customers’ fears of an out-of-state contractor,” he said. “Part of the way you do that is to have a great track record. With more than 30,000 projects under warranty, we have a big service department. We also tap into Owens Corning’s 4,000 preferred contractors across the country to help service these accounts.”
“Owens Corning and ABC Supply have been phenomenal partners,” he said. “Without their strength and support, we wouldn’t have been able to grow as quickly as we have and sustain it.”
Nussbeck cited two companies that have helped his company refine its mobilization procedures: HailWatch, which provides storm alerts and reports, and EagleView Technologies, which provides aerial measurement services.
“Bill Combes and the rest of the people at HailWatch are central to the success of Aspen Contracting,” Nussbeck said, calling their StormSWATH reports a critical component in the company’s job preparation.
“Text messages give us a heads up on storms.” Nussbeck explained. “Then they send a SWATH report that confirms the area. That lets us know where to go to assess the damage. Before that, we’d watch the Weather Channel. We used to drive 10 hours to an area, and we didn’t know where we were going or if there was significant damage. Now when we get the report, we make a determination as to whether we’re going to open an office at that location. Our estimators are in the damage zone within 24 hours and they’re ordering the EagleView reports as soon as they hit the ground.”
EagleView reports provide aerial photos and line drawings of the roof detailing the length, pitch and the area of each section. Nussbeck cited the several reasons for using EagleView reports, including:
• Safety: “Fewer people up on storm-damaged roofs mean fewer opportunities for injury.”
• Efficiency: No lost manpower spent measuring a job.
• Accuracy: “They are phenomenally accurate, and it makes estimating jobs easy,” he said.
• Speed: “The speed at which orders are delivered makes a tremendous impact - and allows us to see more customers.”
He added that the report itself makes a great sales tool. “It brings a level of professionalism to the table,” Nussbeck said. “It’s a clear diagram, an accurate diagram. An independent measurement of the roof builds confidence in homeowners. Adjusters like it, too.
Aspen’s $63.6 million in revenue was up from $48.8 million in 2008. 2010 got off to a slow start, said Nussbeck, but business picked up in the spring. “After May 1, we took off,” he said. “We expect similar numbers to 2009, even with the first four months being relatively idle.”
Aspen took advantage of the slow start this year to restructure itself, revising its occupational safety and health policy and revising employment practices. “Earlier this year, we transformed our company from a 1099 model to a W-2 model,” Nussbeck said.
“When our employees are paid, the taxes are properly allotted to each state. It also allowed us to offer benefits including health, dental, and short- and long-term disability, and a 401(k) plan with substantial matching.”
The company also improved its cash flow. “In an era where credit has been very hard to get, Aspen has had very disciplined cash management, and we remain debt free,” said Nussbeck.
Dealing with insurance companies and mortgage companies used to mean the average time to collect receivables was 45 days, but Nussbeck and his employees were determined to cut it down. “Improving customer service support dropped the time from 45 days to less than 20,” he said. “We deal with the homeowner, the mortgage company, the insurance company - there area lot of moving parts. We put the microscope on it, figured out ways to streamline the process and cut our average AR time in less than half.”
Nussbeck had this advice about working with insurance companies: “Let the adjuster do his or her job without interference. Some of the best training I’ve received in the industry on how to identify hail damage I’ve learned from adjusters. You get further listening to adjusters rather than trying to outfox adjusters.”
Storm work can be hectic, notes Nussbeck, but it’s crucial to that everyone centers on meeting the needs of the end customer - the homeowner. “Our mission is doing the right thing, through higher standards and integrity,” he said. “Talk is cheap. You have to walk the walk. In the roofing industry, you’re guilty until proven innocent.”
Asked what makes Aspen successful, Nussbeck replied, “It’s definitely our employees. Our employees and our partners/suppliers have enabled us to improve and become the best storm remediation company in the country.”
For more information about Aspen Contracting, visit www.aspencontractinginc.com.