Have you been considering breaking into commercial roofing in 2021?
The effects of the pandemic continue to ripple through the roofing industry in 2021. However, it’s actually the ideal time to consider looking beyond residential roofs and tapping into the lucrative low-slope market. Roofing Contractor’s 2021 State of the Industry Report revealed that nearly three-fourths of commercial contractors expect sales to increase this year. More than half of residential contractors anticipate single-ply jobs to have the largest growth.
Moving into commercial roofing offers more value to your customers, while further differentiating your business from the competition. Yet many contractors have reservations about taking such a leap. So, we’ve broken it down into six simple yet highly effective steps that will ease the transition. It's important to keep your pipeline flowing while you grow your business.
1. Do Your Research
While it is completely doable, it’s not advisable to jump into the commercial side of the business without taking a good look around first. Commercial roofing differs from residential in a variety of ways, from products and installation techniques to the sales process and insurance. “Residential is more transactional; you get there, show the price and get it closed,” said Dave Chapman, sales director at The Estimating Edge, to RoofersCoffeeShop.com. “In commercial, it’s much more about relationship building with general contractors and being invited to the bidding process.”
No doubt you’ll spend some time mining the host of available online roofing resources. But what’s even better is speaking directly to commercial contractors in your network about their experiences — the more, the better. Getting firsthand advice on both the opportunities and challenges of low-slope roofing is one of the best ways to prepare both yourself and your business. It’s also well worth your time to attend some commercial industry events if possible. Also, reach out to local roofing contractor associations to discover the resources and connections that they have to offer.
2. Invest In Training
From YouTube to your local roofer’s website, you’ll find plenty of instructional videos online. They cover a host of techniques for roofers looking for an introduction to commercial concepts. However, there’s no substitute for learning from and talking directly to the experts. Give yourself and your crew a competitive edge right out of the gate by taking advantage of trade show educational sessions. Also, research training and certification programs offered by commercial roofing product manufacturers.
Castagra, the manufacturer of VOC-free, waterproof, and sustainable Ecodur roof coating, offers training through free online webinars. The program is light on the “fluff” and heavy on the fundamentals. Your crew will learn everything they need to know about proper tools and preparation, roof details, navigating the field, finishing, and more. Plus, if you become a Castagra Certified Applicator, your business receives additional value-added benefits. Benefits include access to job leads in your area, marketing support, and the ability to offer NDLs.
3. Know Your Audience
This common marketing refrain holds tremendous value when navigating the commercial roofing landscape. In residential, contractors typically work directly with the homeowner or building owner (who is often also the tenant). In commercial, your customer will most often be a property manager — a fairly disinterested third party who usually doesn’t live on site and whose concerns vary greatly from those of a homeowner:
- Property managers are typically not tenants nor owners of their building, and therefore have no stake in its long-term health
- Issues such as roof leaks don’t directly affect them
- They tend to focus on initial savings rather than long-term benefits
- They often value price over actual value or quality
Understanding the property manager mindset and cultivating good relationships based on your knowledge is crucial to setting yourself up for success. In fact, one good PM can even represent a significant portion of your business! Commercial PMs often manage multiple properties. The good ones value not only their tenants but also their relationships with reliable contractors, especially those who limit disruptions during a project. Put time and effort into building rapport with PMs (and keeping their tenants happy) and watch your close rate surge.
4. Walk, Don't Run
While you’re no doubt excited about getting your commercial business up and running (and you should be!), a gradual rollout is usually the most successful route to take. Commercial roofing moves at a different pace than residential. Contracts are slower to close and the sales cycle can take months (in certain cases, even years). A few important things to keep in mind before taking on that first low-slope project:
- Commercial is definitely where the big contracts are, but residential is quicker and more consistent. Don’t try to “switch” too fast. Instead, move forward with a combination model. Build the commercial side of your business step by step, job by job, while your residential side keeps the lights on and levels out the valleys.
- Concerned about upfront costs? Start small. Take on those residential re-roofs with porch or garage transitions that you skipped in the past. As you start closing larger low-slope jobs, those lucrative peaks will allow you to buy additional equipment and make other necessary business improvements at a manageable pace that’s in keeping with your business plan.
5. Don’t Just Repair; Maintain
Property managers and owners have full plates. While scheduling regular roof inspections is vital to protecting their building while keeping their long-term costs low, it’s one more task in the hundreds they regularly juggle. Selling maintenance contracts with as many projects as possible is key for a successful commercial roofing business. By offering a selection of contracts for various budgets — everything from minor repairs to yearly full inspections — you’ll make your services more valuable to your customers. You'll also lay the foundation for building an ongoing, long-term relationship with them.
6. Pick Up The Phone
COVID-19 may have put the roofing tradition of canvassing and door knocking on pause, but that doesn’t mean cold-calling has to stop completely. In fact, it’s often better received in the commercial landscape. “People generally don’t mind their workday being interrupted as much as they do their dinner,” says Jef McCurdy, National Training Manager for Castagra. Set aside time each day devoted to picking up the phone and contacting prospective customers. Let them know about your reputation in the community as an established roofer, and how your services will help make their professional responsibilities easier. It’s yet another way to set yourself apart from the competition now that you’ve given your business the tremendous boost of becoming a commercial roofing contractor.
Interested in learning more? Read Part 2 of this blog series for more tips to help you break into commercial roofing in 2021!