When Steve Gotschi founded DryHome Roofing & Siding in 1988, he had a hunch he could succeed by excelling in an area his competitors often neglected — customer service. “Twenty-five years ago, the industry was a lot different than it is today,” he said. “The industry has become a lot more professional. Back in the day there was no such thing as customer service. People couldn’t even get a call back. I saw the trend and I thought, ‘I’m just going to start a customer service company that does roofing installations.’ That was my goal, and it seemed to work.”

Twenty-five years later, that laser focus on the customer’s needs continues to pay off for the Sterling, Va.-based company. Under Gotschi’s leadership, DryHome has earned a reputation as a business that embodies the Golden Rule. Employees not only strive to treat customers as they would like to be treated, but to be good neighbors and help the community. The company sponsors its own Free Roof for the Holidays program, which donates a roof to a Virginia homeowner or nonprofit organization in need. Gotschi also spearheads the Loudoun Lyme 5K Run, which has raised more than $140,000 to combat Lyme disease.

The company’s commitment to providing superior service, a rewarding work atmosphere for employees and a legacy of service to the community has helped it build a legion of loyal customers — and earned DryHome the title of Roofing Contractor’s 2014 Residential Roofing Contractor of the Year.

Superior Service

DryHome Roofing & Siding has 21 employees and specializes in residential re-roofing, siding, windows and gutters. The company also handles skylights and daylighting through DryHome Sun Solutions, a separate entity headed up by Jim Baker.

Baker, a former custom builder, also gives the company the expertise to tackle an array of different projects competitors can’t handle. “With Jim on board we are able to do so much more — insurance work when a tree splits a house, new construction and major reconstruction work that a lot of roofing contractors around here can’t do in house,” Gotschi said.

Through the years, the company has grown slowly. Despite changing technology, salespeople at DryHome have always tried to provide that personal touch.

“We’ve seen a lot of transitions over the last 25 years,” Gotschi said. “When I first started selling roofing, I would sit down with a husband and wife at the dining room table or living room table and present our proposal. Now, I’ll probably sound like a real old-timer, but I remember when the fax came around, everyone would say, ‘Just fax it to me.’ It became a cliché. When emails came out, too, it threatened to take away that personal one-on-one meeting. But I’ve seen in the last several years that people are back to wanting to sit down again, and I’d rather do that than just be a number giver.”

Taking care of customers begins with executing the fundamentals, and that includes returning every phone call, no matter what. “In a storm situation, we might get 200-300 calls a day,” Gotschi noted. “Everyone who calls DryHome gets a call back, even if it’s a call saying we can’t make it. I’m very adamant about that.”

Customer service is the focus at every phase of the process, from the initial phone call to the follow-up inspection — and beyond. “When people call, they get a friendly voice from the initial phone call, and that lays the groundwork for how we run things,” Gotschi said. “We follow up with a letter indicating who will come out there that includes the salesperson’s name.”

DryHome representatives explain the re-roofing process to homeowners and prepare them for what’s to come. “Often customers don’t realize it’s a major construction endeavor,” Gotschi said. “When we are tearing off that roof, you have to be careful walking in and out of your house. You have to explain the process and tell people to be aware of their surroundings.”

Educating homeowners about roof systems is another important part of the sales process. “A lot of people don’t realize how important ventilation is to your roof,” Gotschi said. “We do attic inspections, and that helps us stand out. I don’t understand why other contractors who are going to the same training sessions that I’m going to aren’t going up into the attic when they know what a value it is to the customer. I’ll never understand that.”

Gotschi believes the key to satisfying customers is constant communication. “Success comes from building relationships with customers,” he said. “From the initial call, to when they receive the proposal, to scheduling and the inspection by the quality control manager — from start to finish, customers are constantly communicated with every step of the way.”

That includes delivering the bad news if something unexpected occurs. “We will let them know when the material is being delivered, and if a delivery truck breaks down, for example, we will call the customer and let them know,” Gotschi said. “The last thing you want the customer doing is calling you to say their delivery didn’t come today. If they do that, they’ve now taken over the job. So we’re adamant that even if it’s bad news, we’ll tell them. If we have to bump people a day because of rain, we’ll let them know. They appreciate that.”

While the job is in process, a site manager stops by to make sure everything is going according to plan, and the jobsite is neat and orderly. “Sometimes the job might look clean from the roof, but you have to check it from every angle,” Gotschi said. “We clean up the jobsite thoroughly at the end of the day as well, but you have to realize that if the lady across the street comes home for lunch and the jobsite looks like a bomb went off over there, that’s her first impression of DryHome. So that’s one of my pet peeves: keep the site completely clean. It’s also safer. People don’t just get hurt up on the roof. You can get hurt walking around the property.”

Top-notch roofing installations are completed by employee crews, not subcontractors, and inspected to ensure everything is up to snuff. “At the end of every job, whether it’s 10 feet of gutter or one window or a new roof, we have a quality control manager that goes back and looks at it,” Gotschi said.

If there are any necessary repairs or items that were missed, the quality control manager writes up a ticket, and punch list items must be completed on the employees’ own time. “He hasn’t written up a ticket in years,” Gotschi said. “Now everyone is on their ‘A’ game, even on a Monday or a Friday.”

Gotschi knows his customers appreciate his employees’ efforts because he asks for their feedback — both positive and negative. “Once the job is done and the bill is sent out, I send along a letter that I sign and ask them how the job went,” he said. “Thirty to 40 percent of customers send something back. I love constructive criticism, and I try to dig it out of them. I’m one of those people who will beat themselves up if I get one complaint, but I look at why that person was unhappy. You have to learn from your mistakes.”

The company stays in touch with its customer base after the job by sending out a quarterly newsletter with tips for homeowners and articles on topics such as the local real estate market. More than 6,000 people get a copy in the mail. “We want to engage people with informational articles,” Gotschi said. “It’s a soft marketing tool that seems to work.”

The end result of all of that communication is a loyal customer base that generates great referrals. “At least 75 percent of the people that call us already know us,” Gotschi said. “I don’t have to sell the company because the company has already sold itself.”

“People who refer friends, family and neighbors get a gift card and a thank you,” Gotschi noted. “If someone has referred us several times, the gifts get a little better. It’s just a small token of appreciation. People just want recognition. A simple thank you goes a long way.”

Helping Others

DryHome offers employees health care coverage and retirement plans. The company also employs a third-party safety company to improve safety practices and conduct surprise inspections. The company tries to help employees in other ways as well. Traffic is a problem in the area, and the company tries to schedule jobs and sales calls to reduce windshield time and allow people to spend as much time as possible with their families. “We’re a Monday-through-Friday company,” Gotschi said. “We don’t even set appointments for salesmen for weekends and evenings. We could be a bigger company if we worked weekends and evenings, but at the end of the day, would we be any happier?”

The work atmosphere keeps employee retention rates high and keeps everyone focused, but nothing unites and inspires the company like its efforts to help the community. The company’s Free Roof for the Holidays program was started by chance 12 years ago. “The Cub Scouts had an old log cabin in Falls Church that someone had donated, and it needed a new roof,” Gotschi recalled. “We decided to do it for free.”

Everyone who participated found the experience so rewarding an annual ritual was born. “It builds such great morale with the guys,” Gotschi said. “When we saw the excitement level, we said, ‘We should do it next year.’ Sure enough, we did it the next year, and we haven’t stopped since.”

The company asks its customers to nominate deserving homeowners and nonprofit organizations, getting the word out via postcards, its newsletter and local media outlets. “At DryHome, we’re like a big family here,” Gotschi said. “We all help getting the nominations and choosing the winner. We discuss it and lobby for our favorites. It brings us a little closer together, and that extends throughout the whole installation process. Even when we give a roof away, we give the same great customer service as we would if they were paying for the roof.”

The free roof installation is the highlight of the year. “It brings up the excitement a notch,” Gotschi said. “It’s hard to explain. It’s just a good feeling, and people all like sharing that good feeling. Especially if you’re going through a tough time in your life or you’re having a hard day, there are people out there that are going through harder times. It’s nice to be able to help.”

Another way the company helps the community is by hosting the Loudoun Lyme 5K Run. The decision to help battle Lyme disease was born out of a personal struggle. Gotschi’s wife, Reagan, became ill several years ago, and after four years and 10 different doctors, the problem went undiagnosed. After reading about Lyme disease online, she suspected that was the cause. She went in for a test and it came back positive. The question remained: How had so many doctors missed it?

Through their research, they realized that Lyme disease was very common in Virginia, and Loudoun County had the third most cases in the nation. They decided they had to build awareness about the disease, but weren’t sure how to do it. “Somehow a fun run clicked in my head,” said Gotschi. “At that time I had never even walked in a 5K, let alone run in one, and now I was going to put one together.”

Gotschi sought the advice of some friends and then worked along with office manager Brigid Powell to put the first event together. In 2011, more than 320 runners participated. The event also included a program of education and disease prevention that gathered doctors, veterinarians and politicians. “Once the Lyme community heard about it, they wanted to participate, and that portion has grown every year,” Gotschi said. “Last year we had 28 vendors and more than 1,000 runners.”

The major beneficiary is National Capital Lyme Disease Association, an organization dedicated to preventing the disease and finding a cure. “We realize that even $140,000 is just a drop in the bucket, but it is definitely a good start,” Gotschi said. “There is still a lot of educating to do.”

Gotschi looks back at his participation in these events as the most rewarding moments in his career. “When you knock on a door for a recipient that won the free roof, the look on their faces is something you just have to experience,” he said. “The way their face changes from a skeptical look to a happy one — I can’t get that out of my head. I like going myself to knock on the doors because I like seeing that so much. Selfishly, it just feels good. The people are so appreciative, and they are so happy that their neighbor or friend or co-worker nominated them.”

Gotschi must have had a similar experience when he was informed that his company was named the Residential Roofing Contractor of the Year because he was unaware DryHome salesman Ben Burnie had nominated the company for the award. “Ben nominated us without me knowing about it,” he said. “I went from surprised to excited to feeling honored.”

Asked if he had any advice for contractors just starting out, he replied, “It’s not a nine-to-five job. It’s more of a five to nine. You’re going to get out of it as much as you’re going to put into it.”

“The key is hard work and to treat people the way you’d like to be treated,” he concluded. “And one big thing I would say is support your community because your community is supporting you.”