It’s been a tough economy for a few years now, so when someone is hiring it makes big news. Jasper Contractors Inc. has made big news recently by opening offices in Phoenix and New Orleans and bringing hundreds of jobs to those markets. It’s all part of a business model geared to excel at storm restoration work but not depend on it. It’s also about one man’s quest to do 100 million square feet of roofing a year by 2015.
That’s the goal of Brian Wedding, owner and CEO of Jasper Contractors Inc. The privately held company is headquartered in Baton Rouge, La., with multiple offices throughout the country including Atlanta, Denver, Chicago, New Orleans, Cincinnati, Phoenix, Colorado Springs, Colo., and Evansville, Ind.
The company has been doing business since 2004. Jasper is a member of the National Roofing Contractors Association (NRCA) and the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) and is a Platinum Contractor with Owens Corning. Last year’s sales exceeded $20 million, but Wedding believes they are on track to do about $60 million worth of business this year.
Jasper serves both residential and commercial clients, but more than 90 percent of its work is residential, with the biggest chunk of its revenue coming from residential re-roofing. “When the bottom fell out of the new construction market, the company put more of a focus on insurance work,” Wedding said.
With an active storm season in early 2011, business is booming. “What have kept us busy this year are the crazy storms,” said Wedding. “We do a lot of insurance work, and right now we just can’t keep up.”
Getting StartedWedding got his start as a sub for a roofing and framing contractor, but it wasn’t long before he branched out on his own.
“I started small, like everyone else, with just a few guys,” he said. “I wanted to be my own boss.”
He originally focused on the new construction market, but Hurricane Ivan, which struck Florida and the Southeast in 2004, changed all that.
“I was all new construction my whole life,” Wedding said. “The company was founded to build houses, and luckily I ended up in this line of work. I was called in to work after Hurricane Ivan. I was from the Midwest, and I thought I could keep everyone busy for the winter and move back.”
He never did move back.
“I lucked out by taking on this part of the business,” he said. “It doesn’t depend on the economy, the stock market. You have to do it right, but if you do it right there’s more work than you can handle. If you have crews you can move around from hot spot to hot spot, you can take advantage of it. And I’m excited for when new construction comes back because that’s where I started.”
The Nature of Storm WorkWedding notes that storm work is inevitable - but unpredictable. “There are a lot of roofing contractors that chase these storms - a lot of good ones, and unfortunately, some bad ones,” he said.
Fly-by-night contractors with no insurance have given the industry a black eye, but Wedding fights that reputation by emphasizing the company’s strength - its employees. Wedding points out that Jasper’s employees are just that - company employees. They aren’t independent reps or 1099 workers.
“While we do use subcontracted crews for overflow, our crews and all salespeople are in their own Jasper trucks. They are Jasper employees,” Wedding said. “We’ve found we can control them better and train them better that way. There are a handful of companies that do this right, and we are the biggest and best.”
Plans are in place for continued growth, and the company is investing in expansion. “We’ve just scratched the surface,” said Wedding. “We’ve got so much room to grow. Revenue really hasn’t expanded that much yet, but we’re building the infrastructure to be prepared. You’ve got to be prepared. You can count on the weather - but then again you can’t. If there is a big hurricane, we’ll be ready for it. But you never know when or where that’s going to be.”
The Business ModelThe company is expanding, setting up their locations based on demographics. They are looking to set up permanent locations in major metropolitan areas. Wedding’s rule of thumb is “If you have a National Football League team, we want to be there.”
“Our strategy right now is we want to set up permanent businesses,” he continued. “We have our own semis. We have our own material yard, trucks, employees, CDL drivers - so we control everything. When there’s a big influx of work in their markets, we have more control.”
The plan is to be in position to make the most of storm remediation work while still having a solid base of residential re-roofing.
“Roofing is more resilient than other trades,” said Wedding. “We’re gearing up for the economy to come back. When the economy does come back and new construction starts, we’ll be in a position to really take advantage of that market.”
“The weather is something that makes a lot of press, but these weather events are happening and they are huge,” he continued. “Our product does depreciate. There’s been so much building in the last 30 years that a lot of these roofs are paying the rent; when there’s a storm event, they have to be replaced. There is a huge investment on the front end, but as soon as you begin work you can quickly make it back.”
Wedding estimates the last hailstorm in Phoenix damaged an about 200,000 homes and did $1.5 billion in roof damage.
“Maybe 20 percent will get done in this claims period,” he said. “That’s what’s exciting about the business - we have so much work and no one’s doing it like we do it. Our business model is truly unique.”
Expansion and Job Creation“We have room to grow, grow, grow,” Wedding said. “We just need the people. When there are big events happening in these big cities, it just takes an army to take care of them.”
Hiring is a key component of the company’s growth strategy, but it takes a huge investment, according to Wedding.
“It takes time to hire all those people - H.R., drug screens, background checks,” he said. “We only want to expand to major metropolitan areas because there will be enough work to justify a permanent material yard, etc. Phoenix, Vegas - areas where the bubble burst fast and burst hard, and we can find skilled, experienced people available. When it does come back, we’ll have the resources to get production up quick.”
A company this big must be well organized to succeed, and Jasper is no exception. Everything is linked through the centralized call center in Baton Rouge.
“They’re not out on an island in Denver, Phoenix or wherever,” Wedding said. “I’m not the most organized person in the world, but I’m smart enough to hire people who are. It’s because of these people that we’re so successful. When we deal with insurance adjusters, they say, ‘Jasper is the most organized company we’ve ever dealt with.’ That’s not to say we don’t make mistakes - we do, but we fix them right away. Everything is interconnected and transparent, and everyone knows what’s going on.”
Jasper aims to provide its employees with challenging work, good benefits and room for advancement.
“The main thing right now is we have jobs, we have opportunities and we pay higher than the industry average,” Wedding said. “It’s a ground-floor situation - we also have a lot of room to move up. We pay 100 percent of employees’ health insurance.”
Once they are hired, Jasper employees receive thorough training. “During the initial part of the training in all aspects, safety is the big one,” he said. “Ongoing we have weekly safety meetings with all field and sales staffers. We also retain an outside safety company that reviews us and audits us monthly, visiting jobsites.”
The company also demands a lot of its workers.
“We’re demanding because we want to be the best,” Wedding said. “You have to be able to do what we’re doing. We’re up front about it, we train you, we give you the tools to do it, and you have to perform.”
Getting the Word OutThe company uses traditional marketing methods, but its website is the key focus right now.
“We have a big marketing budget- TV, newspaper,” he said. “A lot of it is going to the Internet - Jasperroof.com - where we get an astronomical amount of unique visitors. Our job signs don’t even have our phone number on them. It just has Japerroof.com.”
Advertising is geared to drive people to the website. “Our website is really where we are focusing our attention over the rest of the year,” Wedding said. “You need billboards, etc., but we have our own IT people and they continually update our website. It helps educate the homeowner. There are dramatic situations that happen for homeowners. When these catastrophic events happen, the insurance company will pay you, but the homeowner almost has to go into contractor mode. We know what it takes to work with insurance companies and what constitutes insurance-related damage.”
The key to insurance work is helping homeowners understand the process, which can be overwhelming. “Our team educates them and tells them what they need to hear,” Wedding said. “Just the paperwork in dealing with insurance companies can be confusing. When they come to our website, they can see which ways we’re headed.”
Jasper is used to handling these challenges.
“We deal with so many dramatic situations in our line of work,” Wedding said. “What’s unique about us is we are built to move quickly and do the job right. Nothing rattles us because this is what our division is geared to do. We can fix problems quickly, before more destruction is done to the property.”
Growth is exponential right now, but Wedding has even bigger plans.
“Our mission right now is to install 1 million square, which is 100 million square feet, per year,” he said. “We want to do that by 2015. I think we will be installing that much per year. That’s the goal we’re looking at. That’s our mission.”