There’s a lot of reasons for Jeff Sawyer and Matthew Powers to sit on the sidelines. Though their successful residential construction company is located in the Northeast — which bared the brunt of the COVID-19 crisis during the spring — the United States is still mired in a battle against surges of positive infections.
The resulting economic freefall has created a great deal of uncertainty even for TruNORTH Construction, a thriving home-remodeling business buoyed during the shutdown due to a wide array of building capabilities deemed essential. Add to that the political strife and demonstrations against social injustice evident in just about every major city coast-to-coast, and less-daring entrepreneurs may press the pause button.
But Sawyer and Powers say stack up the reasons as high as you want, they aren’t backing down from a challenge, or opportunity in the roofing industry. Instead, they’re running into it.
“Our motto has always been that in business and in life, you just have to take a chance,” said Powers, who started TruNORTH with Sawyer in South Windsor, Conn., in 2017. “There’s never going to be a perfect time and when we realized that this pandemic wasn’t going anywhere any time soon, we worked diligently to take control of the things we could.”
Confident in their brand and ability to manage projects after years of working together, they’re now getting back to their construction-trade roots by launching a special roofing division to drive their business to the next level. While the COVID-19 crisis has had far-reaching effects on the economy, business opportunities in their market remain steady.
Economically speaking, one benefit of the pandemic is that people are sticking close to home, if not inside all together. All the time. And they’re taking stock of problems in and around their properties. Within a few weeks of the pandemic’s onset, it was clear that those homeowners not feeling the financial hardship of the economic downturn in the greater Hartford area were suddenly ready and willing to invest in projects with funds initially earmarked for vacations, road trips, family gatherings and other social events that just couldn’t take place safely.
Sawyer and Powers believe they’re taking on a market at the right time, and that they’ve positioned themselves for growth with realistic short-term and long-term goals.
“We saw a need for a different level of customer service and quality in that section of our industry,” Powers said. “We wanted to help others set the standard while also meeting the needs of our clients.”
The job can also be safe in this environment of social distancing and avoiding enclosed spaces.
“Roofing also puts you outdoors, which I think coincides nicely with the concerns out there right now,” Sawyer explained. “Requests for outdoor projects tend to start closer to spring. This year, those asks came rolling in earlier than expected.”
Though relatively small, TruNORTH has grown between 15-20% each year since 2017, officials said. Each year, crews would average about 15 specific roofing jobs they earned by reputation for quality craftsmanship. That meant there was a lot more opportunity with the right messaging. Recognizing a soft spot or business opportunity in a given market is one thing; doing something about it is another. Both Sawyer and Powers said they felt some urgency by tracing back their entrepreneurship and love for construction work to roofing.
Powers got his start roofing in high school, working part-time during the school year and full-time over the summers. That experience carried over and led to a broader career in building and remodeling.
Sawyer began his working life with a small roofing and siding company that’s no longer in business. He said he learned first-hand about the hard work involved not only in installing roofs at a high standard, but also the importance of elevating the customer experience.
“I learned the about the ins and outs of the industry,” he said. “I think the biggest thing that stood out to me was the company’s ability to generate a strong reputation through grass-root resources.”
TruNORTH has always taken on various roofing projects, but it was just recently that the co-founders recognized the opportunity to organize that aspect of the business. They created a separate roofing division with three crews and have a project manager onsite every day making sure the job is going smoothly. Part of that job description is providing quality customer service while managing volume.
To help with the transition to roofing, Powers said they hired a client coordinator who manages all sales, customer relations, roof estimates and proposals.
“It’s expanding on an area that we’ve been passionate about for some time and helping us to grow in a way that feels sustainable,” Sawyer explained. “We knew that we wanted to expand but all things considered, we also knew that we had to be smart and assert ourselves in a sector that we were already well acquainted with.”
Establishing an open line of communication from the early stages of a project and then maintaining it through completion is key. Customers can tap into a digital portal that is customized to their needs and the scope of the work.
“There are no surprises and we make it a point to go the extra mile when it comes to ensuring that they are satisfied, every step of the way,” Powers said.
That carries over into their most effective marketing strategy — word-of-mouth. Both Sawyer and Powers pride themselves on creating connections in the community through charitable giving, sponsorships and volunteer efforts. One in particular that continues to be a source of passion and inspiration is Open Doors Outdoors. The local nonprofit helps military veterans, their families and young people experience the outdoors as a means to reconnect and heal emotionally and physically.
The duo has always had a deep-rooted respect for veterans and first responders. While neither have military experience, they said they believe that service members deserve support and the work has been meaningful.
“The best experiences are the ones that have been rooted in building relationships and broadening our expertise,” Powers said. “It’s part of an ongoing mission to help them heal and find peace through the outdoors and connection.”
TruNORTH is also visible digitally and proactive about optimizing a prospect’s online experience with a recently-updated website, targeted digital ad campaign, and social media.
It’s also a place to share some personality and their close-knit bond, which also resonates with customers who feel comforted by a certain degree of likeability and trust.
“We feel like there will always be a market for remodeling, and social media is the best way to get the word out about your business,” Sawyer said. “You get so many referrals just from social media, of course you need to do quality work to get those referrals, but that platform is the most cost effective.”
They know better than to expect overnight success or limited growing pains along the way. They’re doing this keenly focused with the future in mind. Powers said over the next 12 months they plan to increase roofing-specific projects to 50. The longer-term goal is to average between 75 and 100 annually, which they believe is attainable by 2022, if all goes well.
Staying entrenched as an essential business, regardless of how long the pandemic lasts, will be key. Being able to expand a project portfolio and enhance their expertise will also dictate their success. But Sawyer and Powers say their approach to being a relationship-based company is simple: day-to-day.
“I think every day is interesting,” Sawyer explained. “There haven’t been any challenges that we haven’t been able to plan for or respond to as needed. We’re very grateful for that.”