I just had lunch with Jeff, a friend and neighbor who also happens to be a professor of business at a local university. We did some catching up and he shared his thoughts on my fledgling consulting practice. As I spoke about my work in the remodeling industry, he sat up a little straighter, waiting for me to finish. And then he used me as a lightning rod.

He had recently sought estimates on a new roof for his home, a substantial Colonial with an addition and attached garage. And so the fun began: the first contractor went out to his truck and returned in less than 15 minutes (“Too fast,” Jeff said) with numbers scribbled on a pre-printed form. The second contractor actually told him, “The guy who does the estimating can’t be here, so I’ll take some measurements and we’ll email the estimate to you.” Despite the fact that Jeff followed up with an email reminder, he’s still waiting for that estimate.

The third contractor emailed an estimate done in a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet … after Jeff reminded him a week later.

Jeff was variously told that all, some, and none of his plywood sheathing would need replacing, which is remarkable since only one of the three estimators bothered to peek momentarily into his attic. Two looked at the underside of the garage roof, but the ventilation there (and thus the condition of the sheathing) is likely very different. Speaking of ventilation, not one of them mentioned it, nor ice/water shield, or any other component besides shingles.

Ready for the kicker? Jeff had recently sprung for an Angie’s List membership, figuring the small investment would be worthwhile in helping him find a reliable contractor. That’s right … all three companies were top-rated on Angie’s List.

I’m convinced that if any of the three contractors had bothered to deliver a professional estimate in person and to educate him about the components of a roof system they would have a contract and it would never have come up in our conversation. By the way, during our discussion he never mentioned price.

This column would be right at home here in REMODELING … 20 years ago. So many have worked so hard since then to give the home improvement industry a better reputation, but it seems that as a group we still struggle with the basics. There’s little point in worrying about lead generation if you’re going to handle your leads in a way that involves only 50% of your posterior … if you catch my drift. And you don’t have to be a business professor to see that.

—Jim Rafferty, principal of JMRketing, provides outsourced marketing leadership to companies in the home improvement industry and beyond. jim@JMRketing.com