Being a roofing company in Florida means there is never a shortage of work. Between the heat and the hurricanes, roofs in the semi-tropical peninsula — which, according to 2005 U.S. Census figures, has the fourth fastest–growing population in the nation — take a daily, as well as seasonal, pounding and forever run the risk of being ripped or tipped in the next big storm.
Driving west on Alligator Alley, the section of Interstate 75 linking the state's populous east and west coasts, a glance out the window in either direction reveals blue tarps flapping in the breeze. A year after Hurricane Charlie stormed through the state, many houses in Florida still need new roofs.
But it's also the case that a roofing company can't rely on the occasional disaster to supply it with the weekly and monthly revenue needed to sustain a business. “Seventy to 80% of those whose homes are tarped are uninsured or already spent their insurance money,” says Don Ferguson, owner of Gold Seal Roofing & Construction in Tampa. Growing and sustaining a company takes a strategy for going to market and a reputation for integrity.
Bad News on the Street Ferguson discovered that in the course of his 20-plus year career working for roofing and construction companies in the Tampa Bay area. He's seen it all: hurricanes and their aftermath, shoddy work, and fly-by-night companies.
Then there are the companies that invariably became what Gold Seal's owner describes as “bad news on the street” — those that routinely deceive their customers either by failing to honor warranties or by doing substandard work; cheat on workers' comp; or claim to have insurance when they don't. The worst, he says, are those companies that don't pay their bills and end up getting hounded by suppliers. He's not only seen them, he's worked for them. “You get that certified letter in the mail,” he says. “It's a scary letter.”
Recognizing the lack of quality contractors in the area, Ferguson — who was general manager for another home improvement company at the time — decided to start his own operation, Gold Seal Roofing, in 1998 with three employees, a client list, and a line of credit.
The idea at the time, he says, was to offer residential and light commercial roofing services focused on the neighborhood of Temple Terrace on the northeastern outskirts of Tampa — the area where Ferguson grew up and still lives. The company would build a reputation within that neighborhood (population about 18,000) by providing top-notch installation, full warranty coverage, an annual roof inspection, and a public commitment to customer satisfaction. All of this, Ferguson hoped, would translate to more and better jobs.
The company's target on the residential side was the high-end homeowner: someone who expected a quality job, excellent customer service, and certain guarantees — and who was willing to pay more to get those things.
In due time he found those customers. “They're OK with paying me more,” Ferguson says. “They know where I sleep. They're comfortable hiring me. We have never not collected on a job.”