Not too long ago, I received a call from Joe, a long-time reader in Philadelphia who needed immediate attention. It’s always good to get a note, tweet or phone call from a reader — but this one nearly took my breath away.

“I need to cancel my subscription!” he said. That was it, no ‘Hello, this is Joe,’ or ‘Good afternoon, is this Rick Damato?’ I thought to myself: How do I respond to this guy? And what happened?

After managing a somewhat awkward introduction, I asked, “Tell me what’s going on, Joe?” Without missing a beat, he said, “I’m quitting the business. Been in it for 61 years and need to cut down on all this mail.” As abruptly as it began, this phone call morphed into something special.

Instead of dealing with a disgruntled reader, I was honored to be on the phone with Joe from Philadelphia — a guy who started in the business when he was 13 and never looked back. Amazing.

Joe and I chatted about the old days. He acknowledged that Philadelphia is a good market and always provided him with a good living — not without challenges. We talked about some of those too.

Joe had simply had enough and quit the industry. No sale of the business to another contractor who might have loved to get his hands on Joe’s customer list; no consolidation into a national roofing consortium; he just closed down the business. Done.

In a way, it’s sad that Joe isn’t taking some equity with him into retirement. Working all those years, building relationships with the thousands of customers for whom he worked, and providing a living for a lot of hard-working roofers. But building up equity in the enterprise wasn’t Joe’s mission.

Exit planning is not part of the mission for many roofing contractors. I think it’s too bad, but understand why some roofing contractors don’t engage in planning to slow down or step aside. It’s just not in their DNA. 

Not to be critical of Joe, or my friends Ray or Bill — who left the business in very much the same fashion, but I always wonder why the enterprise can’t go on without them. I spoke with Ray directly about it when he closed his roofing company after twenty-plus years. It was a successful roofing company with a great reputation and an above-average client list. Long story short, he just didn’t see his company as viable without him at the helm.

I get that, but when I see roofing contractors take the time and effort to plan and execute a succession plan that allows them to take the equity they’ve built up over the years, it just makes me smile. It gives me hope that roof contracting will be widely recognized as a sustainable and resilient business model. One that young folks can see and want to be part of, which is something we need now more than ever.

I hope Joe enjoys his retirement and won’t miss the business too much. I know a lot of folks in Philadelphia will miss him.