No one really knows when and where a hailstorm or tornado might strike next. In the aftermath of a storm, one thing is certain: contractors will be there to bid on the necessary repairs. In the difficult and highly competitive field of residential storm restoration work, it might seem surprising that contractors who are by definition competitors would band together to help one another, but that’s just what is going on.
In order to combat perhaps the industry’s biggest black eye — fly-by-night contractors who perform shoddy work (or no work at all) after a storm event and disappear after they’ve been paid — contractors with proven reputations for superior storm restoration work have teamed up to found the United Association of Storm Restoration Contractors (UASRC).
Roofing Contractor spoke with several of the organization’s founding members to get their perspective on the increasing importance of storm-related work to their businesses, the challenges they face, and the steps they are taking to ensure quality workmanship. These contractors also talked about the importance of the UASRC in helping them meet the needs of homeowners and raise the bar for the roofing industry.
Storm Work Comes With the Territory
Chris Zazo is the owner and CEO of Aspenmark Roofing & Solar, headquartered in Dallas. The company has been in business eight years, installing and maintaining commercial and residential roofs and solar systems in the nation’s hail belt.
Zazo estimates that 80 percent of his work is storm related. “Dallas-Fort Worth is ground zero for hail per capita,” he said. “With no regulation or licensing, most roofing companies are formed when a big storm hits. The diversified and financially sound companies survive without the storms.”
Education is an essential part of the re-roofing process, according to Zazo. “Educating the homeowner on why they should choose a professional storm restoration contractor and what their insurance coverage is paying for is a major challenge,” he said. “Homeowners are neither in the contracting business nor the insurance industry, so they can be out of their knowledge base when they have a storm claim.”
This can make homeowners vulnerable to insurance fraud. “Forgiving homeowner deductibles and other unprofessional business practices make this the Wild Wild West of contracting,” he said. “The lack of contractor licensing in our state, mixed with the lure of sky diamond money, attracts people of all types to work in the industry. This contributes to the generally poor reputation of the industry that affects us all.”
Aspenmark overcomes that perception by emphasizing the company’s core business values and high ethical standards, noted Zazo. “We present ourselves as professionals and sell on value,” he said. “We educate homeowners about what they should look for in a quality contractor.”
On-site management of jobs and a quality control field inspector help keep workmanship up to the company’s standards and its workers safe. “OSHA compliance is not optional,” Zazo said. “Safety meetings with crews and on-site management keep everyone on the same page.”
When a storm hits, the company is ready. Members of the office staff are cross-trained, and everyone pitches in with an “all hands on deck” attitude. “The team is encouraged to act like owners,” Zazo said. “Employees are empowered to make decisions and fix problems before they become larger ones.”
“In our area, roofing is a 365-day-a-year business,” Zazo continued. “We plan without storms; if a storm happens, then storm work takes precedence and the original business plan moves to secondary.”
UASRC: Helping Contractors and Homeowners
The United Association of Storm Restoration Contractors (UASRC) is a nonprofit organization that was formed in 2012. According to Bill Combes, the UASRC’s director of marketing and member services, the founders of the organization had several goals, one of which was to create a way for homeowners to easily identify a quality storm restoration professional.
“The purpose of the UASRC is to serve the common interests of storm restoration contractors in the United States; to cooperate with regulatory authorities and other interested agencies in the development of an understanding of the storm restoration industry; to improve friendly business relationships between members of the association; and to promote the legitimate interests of storm restoration contractors,” Combes said. “Our mission is to promote the highest ethical standards in the catastrophe restoration industry. We adhere to a code of professional conduct, educate property owners about the insurance restoration process and give back to the community through outreach and charitable programs.”
Combes noted that members of the UASRC must strict criteria. Regular members must be referred by a current member, submit a non-disclosure agreement, and be approved by the board of directors. Companies must have been in business for at least three years and under the same legal name and currently operate as an entity other than sole proprietor. They must also pay dues and must complete an annual update to ensure future membership.
Best Business Practices
According to Combes, members of the UASRC are required to conduct business with a high level of integrity. The organization requires members to adopt several best business practices into their day-to-day business activities. A few examples are listed here:
Adapting to a Changing Market
Joe Hoffman is president of Hoffman Weber Construction Inc., headquartered in Minneapolis. Originally formed as John Weber Construction in 1992, the company incorporated and formed Hoffman Weber in 2004.
The lion’s share of the company’s work is in residential remodeling, concentrating on existing homes. In 2012, Hoffman estimates that 94 percent of the company’s work involved an insurance claim of some sort. Branching out into storm work was a matter of survival. “We started as a traditional residential remodeler,” Hoffman said. “Through the years we gained exposure to insurance work to the point that we were proficient in it. When the economic downturn came in 2008 we had the options of dying or adapting. We chose to adapt. It was at this point that we invested fully into insurance restoration work and became experts in this niche.”
Hoffman cites cash flow and the difficulty in planning as the biggest challenges his company faced when they embraced storm restoration work. “Over the years we have added key personnel and know-how to work more efficiently with recovering depreciation from insurance companies and obtaining mortgage companies’ endorsement of insurance drafts,” he said. “Cash flow is no longer a major problem for us.”
Logan Beckman, vice president of sales for Hoffman Weber, said the company is always prepared to handle a natural disaster. “You can’t really plan or forecast too far ahead unless you have Mother Nature on speed dial,” he said. “We always over-prepare and have the key people on our team whether a big storm hits or not. Our back office support is ready to handle up to 20 projects per day at the current time. We don’t need to mobilize per se. When we go to scout a storm, we have a group of our veterans who know what to look for. We use all of the latest and greatest weather technology, so we can know in advance when and where a storm may hit.”
Once the job is in process, quality control is essential. “We have a quality control team that performs inspections on all of our projects,” said Beckman. “Everyone who works on one of our projects is held accountable and knows that we adhere to the highest standards with a zero tolerance policy.”
Hoffman concurred. “Long and short of it: we ensure quality through inspections, inspections and more inspections,” he said. “Keep people accountable and they will perform to their best abilities almost every time. Hoffman Weber Construction is continually successful because of the unbelievable group of people that it is made of. Our mission is to create an exceptional construction experience for our clients and consistent growth for our team members and company.”
Passion for Growth
NMC Exteriors & Remodeling is run by thehusband-and-wife team of Nick and Molly Mortenson, who founded the Plymouth, Minn.-based company in 1999. They are licensed in Minnesota and five neighboring states. Today, 70 percent of their work is storm-related, but they got their start building custom homes. Embracing storm work helped the company grow.
“During 2007-2008 we had a few larger storms come through our area, and our workload grew very fast in the storm restoration field as our home building side started decreasing,” Nick said. “After 2008 came and went we completed an overview on our company. We found that our passion for the industry came from the exterior restoration side of the business, where we help hundreds or thousands of people in one year, versus our new home building side, where we were only working with 15-20 clients per year.”
The result has been beneficial to both the company and the customers they serve. “Our business has grown due to this and we are able to employ more people and help more clients than we could have ever imagined,” said Molly. “We have a very deep passion for what we do and we will continue to grow as a business and educate people along the way on the storm remediation process.”
“We are prepared to mobilize and handle what Mother Nature throws at us because of our processes,” Nick said. “Each of our employees has a role, and everyone follows those roles to a ‘T’. Without a solid process in place that everyone is comfortable with, a company will have ‘unorganized chaos’ and at NMC Exteriors we have ‘organized chaos’ that all are happy to be a part of.”
Once the job has begun, quality execution and safety are constantly in focus. “NMC Exteriors ensures quality workmanship by having very stringent expectations for installers, sales reps, production, billing and executives,” said Molly. “We verify that all homeowners are happy with the final product, and if they have any concerns we take care of them immediately.”
“NMC Exteriors has a rock solid safety plan in place that we stand behind each and every second of our day,” Nick said. “On a jobsite large or small, our main goal for the end of the day is to have everyone arrive home safe and sound to their family. Our employees hold all mandatory meetings on site and within to ensure this happens. Safety is our number one priority.”
Nick and Molly Mortenson pointed to two key problems they encounter: unscrupulous companies offering illegal rebates and insurance companies whose pricing is inaccurate. In both cases, education is the key. “NMC Exteriors has trained our employees to educate the clients on the legalities of rebating or covering the deductibles based on state laws and common business practices,” Molly said. “We always keep clear lines of communication open with both the client and insurance companies to validate our process and what we know the customer deserves for a final outcome. Needless to say this is a constant challenge that we face on a daily basis.”
Born in a Storm
Richard Spanton Jr. is president of Mastercraft Exteriors. Headquartered in Rockton, Ill., the company performs work in 40 states. Founded in 1996, the company focuses on residential steep slope roofing, vinyl and aluminum siding, gutters and windows. Almost all of the company’s work is storm related. According to Spanton, the company was founded specifically to handle that type of work. “Mastercraft’s roots stem from hail and wind restoration after many late 90s storms in Minneapolis,” he said. “Since taking the company national in 2006, it is our core business model.”
It’s a challenging model. “The three main challenges in storm restoration work are increased material cost, insurance companies underestimating scope and price for jobs we perform, and unscrupulous contractors confusing the public,” Spanton said. “To overcome the material cost challenges, we keep a tight eye on our pricing monthly and even per job. Being that there are hundreds of insurance carriers across the country, which all operate in a little different way, we decided to centralize our estimating process at headquarters to be more accurate and consistent.”
The company can mobilize quickly to reach the site of a disaster area and start rebuilding, noted Spanton. “We have a plan of action that has been developed over many years collectively as a company,” he said. “Everyone has duties to perform and knows what is expected of them. We also use modern technologies like Anything Weather and Weather Fusion products to assist us in storm cell mapping. We still also use some old school methods that direct us to the right event. We try to deploy all resources needed to service our customers within the first month after an event. We can be building roofs in a week after a hailstorm.”
Bryan Becker, the company’s vice president, singled out educating homeowners about the storm restoration process as the biggest challenge. “We overcome this hurdle through honesty, integrity, and transparency with our customers,” he said.
Katie Roman, administrations manager for Mastercraft, said the company thrives on the challenges of storm work. “We have loyal crews who have been with us for years and are trained to our standards,” she said. “Our field supervisors monitor the jobsite to ensure that their craftsmanship is second to none. We keep our team up to date on OSHA standards for safety. Our crews abide by these standards on every site and our field supervisors are there to ensure it.”
Becker summed it up this way: “Mastercraft Exteriors remains successful in our ever-changing industry by following our core values and living our mission statement of ‘We serve customers and restore peace of mind.’”
United We Stand
Aspenmark, Hoffman Weber, NMC Exteriors and Mastercraft are all founding members of the UASRC, and representatives of these companies hailed it as an essential tool to ensure the integrity of an increasingly important segment of the market.
UASRC Associate Members
The United Association of Storm Restoration Contractors (UASRC) made up of contractors who specialize in storm restoration work, but the organization has associate members as well. Associate members include businesses or other interested parties that support the UASRC through financial means and/or other methods of contribution. Associate members are designated by the management of the UASRC, and the criteria for being recognized as an Associate Member are determined by the management of the UASRC.
“UASRC helps the entire industry by continually raising the bar for all storm restoration contractors, vendors, insurance carriers and property owners,” said Spanton, who serves as the chairman of the board for the association. “UASRC is dedicated to cleaning up a bad perception of storm restoration contractors by being a leader in construction standards, community outreach and insurance relations, among other goals. UASRC is a place that homeowners can go and trust that they have chosen the right contractor for their project.”
“To be able to say that we are a founding member of the UASRC is an amazingly impactful statement,” Roman said. “It imparts a whole new level of trust with our customers.”
“NMC Exteriors became a founding member of the UASRC to educate people on storm restoration and the proper way to do it, to do our part to make the industry better, and to give back to the communities that we work in,” said Nick Mortenson. “We want to surround ourselves with like-minded individuals and businesses that are operating under the right code of ethics and following through with those values on a daily basis.”
“The storm restoration niche has a bad name because a few unethical companies did things that made headlines,” said Hoffman, who serves as vice chairman of the UASRC. “Before the UASRC there was no organization that was in a place to organize and counteract this narrative and show our country that there are good companies that travel to catastrophic events, and we not only do good work but run good businesses and fill a real need.”
“A main focus of the UASRC is to work with legislators to ensure new and existing legislation protects the best interests of property owners,” said Becker. “Through the efforts of the UASRC we will ensure the storm restoration industry maintains a positive momentum toward improving customer focus.”
According to Zazo, the organization is just getting started. “We want to have a positive impact on change in our industry,” he said. “Ethics, community outreach, and best business practices shared among those who steward the industry are all very important to us.”
“Just like any industry that grows at a rapid pace, it will become more and more competitive,” Beckman said. “Our goal with the UASRC is to keep the industry honest.”
“Storm remediation work will obviously get tougher throughout the years,” said Molly Mortenson, “but if we are all able to join forces to educate, learn from one another and do things the proper way, the future will be bright.”