Ron Bickel spends about $1,000 a month on Bickel Roofing ads that run in the Yellow Pages in three separate areas in and around Temple, Texas, where his company is located. Bickel calls the handful of jobs that result from these ads in any typical year “a breakeven.” The profit he makes on the jobs he gets from those ads more or less pays for them.

Then, let the hail come, which it does every 6 years, says Bickel, who's been in business 32 years. When hail as big as quarters or golf balls starts falling or tornados slam into the area, Bickel Roofing could easily sell $2 million or $3 million dollars worth of reproofing work. The last big storm saw Bickel Roofing repairing 3,000 houses in Harper Heights, Texas. It took 2 years. Since most of that is insurance work — and insurance companies require three bids — homeowners go to the Yellow Pages, where Bickel figures it is smart to be. “Over the long haul, it's more than paid for itself,” he says.

Still a Bargain These days, consumers in search of a roofing contractor may well visit Web sites — both company sites and contractor referral services — before reaching for the Yellow Pages. But specialty phone books remain a potent advertising tool for roofing companies. Goff-Waller Roofing in Lakeland, Fla., gets 40% of its business from its Yellow Pages ad, because “it's a single trade under one heading, and people normally do not have a roofing contact ready,” says vice president Jimmy Waller. Larry Small, director of research for the Yellow Pages, says that last year 70.4 million people referenced the Yellow Pages for roofing. (That compares with 35.5 million Yellow Pages calls for windows and 5.6 million for siding.) That number is up from 2003, when 62.8 million people looked up a roofing company. Small also says that based on 75,000 metered ad studies, the rate of return for the average roofing company advertising in the Yellow Pages is $36 in sales for every dollar spent.

Not Coupon Clippers A common perception in the home improvement industry is that Yellow Pages prospects are price shoppers. Although Small acknowledges that it's usually true that such prospects are seeking multiple estimates, it's also true that they're driven by the sense of emergency that results from a leaking roof. “When a roofing or siding contractor offers a deal in a Val-Pak, it's a discount, and they're cutting into margin,” he says. “When prospects call using the Yellow Pages, they don't want a discount, they want to know what the price is.”