Customers used to ask if Weather Tight, a Milwaukee siding and window company, did roofs. The answer was no, but the company could recommend someone.

Weather Tight co-owner Todd Shulz says his company wasn't in roofing because he'd heard all the horror stories: crews running off on half-finished jobs, or driving away at the first hint of rain with the roof open and not a tarp in sight. Then, five years ago, Weather Tight launched a substantial canvassing operation and, Shulz says, “every day the canvassers would come back and say: ‘Why aren't we in roofing?'” Six months later, Weather Tight hired its first roofing salesperson. Today reroofing is 18% of the $9 million company's business.

WHERE THERE'S A WILL Many siding/window company owners would like to get a share of the local roofing market but are intimidated by the problems that seem to go with it. Pricing, for instance. The many one-truck operators in the roofing industry make it difficult for a full-service home improvement company to get the margins it needs to stay in business. “Anyone, or any supply house, can do it,” says Jeff Pattison, president of Renaissance Exteriors in Maple Grove, Minn. Then there are the workers' compensation costs if you install with employees. Or, if you don't, the lack of quality control over jobs that can come back to haunt you in the form of service obligations.

Brian Elias, owner of Hansons Home Services, in Detroit, had heard it all, too. But three years ago Hansons took on roofing, and has since made it a major product line. The reason, Elias says, was simple: The Michigan and Ohio window replacement markets were saturated. “You figure out how to get more customers, or you don't grow,” he says.

MANAGEMENT SOLUTIONS Shulz says he solved the roofing problems by hiring a roofer with 27 years experience who got commitment from the best, most reliable roofing subs in Milwaukee in return for Weather Tight's promise of year-round work. Shulz also decided, as a result of low closing rates and above-average cancellations, to sell roofing jobs at a lower gross margin than siding or windows. Net sales went up.

Elias says he found plenty of homeowners willing to pay more if a company could show it provided service, reliability, and longevity. Pattison agrees. Renaissance, which until recently did just 1% or 2% of its volume in roofing, created a separate division in partnership with an installer. The result? More roofing jobs than it's ever had.