As he was growing up, J. P. Hunter was inspired by his father’s unrelenting work ethic and love of aviation. He embraced both, and today they are the driving forces behind the success of his business, J.P. Hunter Co. Inc.

Headquartered in Riverhead, Long Island, the company performs all types of residential and commercial roofing work, as well as siding, insulation, custom metal fabricating and gutters. With 70 employees, the company covers the eastern end of Long Island, specializing in one-of-a-kind, high-end projects in places like the Hamptons, Montauk, Orient Point and Shelter Island.

The business was originally founded after World War II by his father, John P. Hunter, who flew B-17s during the war and spent a year in a German prison camp. “He was shot down on his 31st mission,” Hunter recalled. “He was a highly decorated war hero. He decided to start his own business, and then we came along — the three sons — and we all eventually became a big part of the business with him.”

Hunter studied aviation at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Fla. He graduated in 1974, right after the Vietnam War, and the number of returning pilots made finding a job flying almost impossible. “I came back to New York and picked up on dad’s construction business and never left,” Hunter said. “We’ve just been building ever since then. We’re the king out here on the east end of Long Island.”

A licensed pilot since 1980, Hunter still manages to make his plane a vital part of his business plan. He does his own aerial photography in his four-seat Piper Archer II, and says it’s a huge plus when he can show up at pre-construction meetings with 8-by-12 photos of the jobsite in hand. “I’ve always stayed in aviation, which really to this day has been the mainstay of me getting new work,” he said. “I’ve been doing aerial photography for years and years. It’s such a door opener. Everybody knows that I do it, so they call me for that, and of course we get our foot in the door for the roofing and the siding and the insulation and whatever else they need.     It’s been a really great asset.”

Quality Workmanship

Aerial photos might help the company get its foot in the door, but quality workmanship is the key to repeat work, noted Hunter. “We run a tight ship,” he said. “It’s well run, well put together. We have an excellent reputation. We really worked hard to establish ourselves.”

Hunter pointed to one lesson his father taught him that the company still lives by: “When you have a problem on a job, whether it’s commercial or residential, you address the problem immediately, and you don’t leave until that problem is corrected 100 percent. That’s one thing that has really stuck, and we’re really on top of that with all the employees. Any kind of a problem gets addressed immediately, right then and there. You never leave it.”

Each project has a crew chief and a foreman. “One reports to the other, and they run the show,” he said. “We have a great group of guys. The work ethic that these men have is second to none. We are real fortunate. They are wonderful.”

Hunter and two other representatives float from job to job each day. “There might be as many as 12 or 13 projects going on each day, and we do what’s called the loop,” he said. “We start in Riverhead, and we go to the south shore of Long Island, all the way out to East Hampton. From East Hampton we take the ferry to Shelter Island — we do a lot of high-end work over there. And then from Shelter Island we take the next ferry over to Greenport, which is on the north shore of Long Island, and we work our way back to Riverhead. So that’s basically our domain.”

The company has monthly training sessions in its warehouse to stay up to speed on new products and technology, as well as annual certification with key manufacturer partners. “Every single employee is factory trained with GAF and Owens Corning,” Hunter said. “So being factory trained and becoming a Master Elite Contractor with GAF and a Certified Energy Contractor with Owens Corning, we know what we’re doing because we have to go back to school once a year.”

According to Hunter, the goal on every job is flawless work on the jobsite and a good value for the client. “We’re very competitive, so the phone is always ringing,” he said. “I believe volume breeds profits, so instead of being greedy on one job, we do a lot of jobs. I can beat the pants off of the competitors in that situation as well.”

Safety is always the top priority on every project, noted Hunter. “Every single project, every man has what we call the bucket, and each bucket contains his own hard hat and harness,” he said. “No matter what roof we’re on, we are OHSA compliant, and we have the right scaffolding, harnesses, right down to the hard hats. Anyone that doesn’t want to conform to that is off the job. We’re real strict about that, because a lot of these projects are so high and so steep that if you fall down, you’re not coming back up.”

One-of-a-Kind Projects

High-profile clients with one-of-a-kind, ultra-high-end projects can pose their share of challenges. “They are really unique, and the products they choose are unique,” Hunter said. “The variety is incredible. A lot of the mansions out here have flat roofs with a lot of lead-coated copper fabricating in the gutter systems. It’s amazing, some of the plans that come through here. It’s a little bit tough to bid, but usually we do get the project and it comes out great. That’s another reason we are in demand — they know we can produce the right job.”

The company handles a lot of condominiums, churches and large residential projects with slate, tile and cedar shake roofs. “It’s mostly wood in the Hamptons — cedar. It’s so gorgeous you wouldn’t believe it,” he said. A recent project in Bridgehampton was an 18,000-square-foot mansion that serves as an upscale rental property for celebrities on vacation. The roof chosen was an ACQ-treated wood roof system. “It’s amazing, and it’s like a 12 pitch, so it’s very pronounced,” he said. “It yells at you.”

The company also restored the roof on the Whitefield Condominiums in Southampton. “The roof on that one was an interesting wood roof — 34-inch cedar that was imported from the state of Washington,” Hunter said. “You should see the detail on this thing. Some of the copper was so thick I had to buy a special brake machine. I was concerned about that one, but we came through with flying colors. That one was intense. The restoration architect was on the site every single day.”

Wooden roof systems take expert craftsmanship and keen preparation, noted Hunter. “It’s a slow process,” he said. “It’s got to be really, really well planned out according to the weather. You take one section at a time and watch the weather. If it’s a restoration, you only remove what you can install that day, because you can never trust the weather overnight around here. Storms come in off the ocean and Long Island Sound real quick. The supervision has to be incredible. You don’t have a minute. We eat, sleep and live this business to keep it intact. But you have to. If you’re going to be number one in the game, that’s just the way it is.”

Above the Fray

More than a year after Hurricane Sandy hit the East Coast, the region is still feeling its effects. The storm’s aftermath made a busy summer season even busier than normal. Wind and flood damage kept four crews busy with Sandy victims all through the summer. “To this day, we are inundated with small-end and high-end stuff all along the south end of Long Island,” he said. “It hit the worst in the New York City area, but all the way out to Montauk Point, which is at the eastern end of Long Island, there was water damage. So what we’re getting is roofing and insulation, because the water was flooding the homes and the insulation was ruined. Only now are they finally getting their insurance money, so it just keeps coming.”

Hunter’s plane came in handy after the storm. “I’d fly up and down the coast, and it’s like a turkey shoot,” he recalled. “I show my salespeople the photos in the area we’re going to hit, and they’d come back with six or eight sales in one day.”

Asked what makes his company successful, Hunter credits hard work and cutting-edge knowledge. He makes sure his crews keep up with the newest products and systems available, because architects and engineers in his market are among the first to specify them. “We are always here, working and coming up with the latest and greatest materials that are available,” he said. “We’re keeping up with new products. And then, of course, there’s quality control. Quality control is paramount on every single project.”