First, there is a wide range of commercial clients that you could choose to pursue. You could work with government agencies, like school boards, police forces or any governmental organization that owns a building. Other roofers will prefer to work with commercial builders, architectural firms, engineering firms or roofing consultants. Each may work on new construction or on roof replacements for existing industrial facilities, large retail buildings or large residential buildings, such as condominiums.
Many of these commercial roofing clients advertise when they need roofing work, often publicly on what are called bid lists or tenders. Or they may have a private list of roofers they call to ask for quotes. Many of your clients will have a short list of regular roofers they call for quotes. Getting access to as many of these lists, or making as many connections as possible with those who keep them, is how you get commercial roofing work.
You may find websites online dedicated to hosting the bid lists in your city, province or state. You may need to subscribe to some to get access to the actual jobs, but we recommend you start out with the free sites whenever possible. Frequently, these government or large private organizations run these websites. For example, California’s Department of General Services (DGS) runs a website to advertise their open bids. In Canada, Ontario Construction News is a popular option for provincial bids in Ontario.
You can also seek to introduce yourself to local organizations that may offer commercial roofing projects. You can attend construction industry events and try to make connections there. Or you can reach out directly to specific individuals in the business and ask them to consider a business relationship with you. Mention that you are just looking for the opportunity to offer your bid for jobs.
It is also possible to get some rewarding leads from your local roofer’s organization. Other members may have more work than they can handle. Skujins says it is not uncommon for commercial roofers to give each other work when they have more than their schedule can accommodate. The referring roofer needs to connect their client with a quality roofer even when they are too busy for the work. This same client may have many other roofs for them down the road.
At the least, members of your roofers’ organization should be able to tell you where they get their work from and which sites and client lists are most fruitful.
Skujins advises that you should start by bidding on smaller jobs. As an inexperienced commercial roofer, you’re more likely to win these jobs than the larger ones. It is also safer from a liability perspective. Of course, you will end up making mistakes as you grow, but it is much easier to financially handle a mistake you make on a smaller, less valuable building than a larger one with tens of millions at stake. You may also find that in the beginning, you need to adjust your estimates and margins to be both profitable and to win jobs. If you end up taking a loss on some early jobs, smaller amounts will be easier to recover from.
For those roofers who do not enjoy the process of selling roofs, commercial roofing may be a relief. Projects are larger and take longer, so you need to sell fewer per year to make the same amount of money. The sales tactics that you use will also be very different. You and your sales team won’t go door to door or use typical residential lead generation strategies to convince property owners and sell them on your roofing services. Strategies like social media marketing and direct mail may not be useful at all. Instead, it is more about establishing a strong connection with the client as many clients manage multiple buildings and will need roofing services regularly.
Even connection may not trump cost. “For tenders, it’s almost entirely about price,” Skujins says. He gives the example of the school board releasing a tender for one of their roofs. They ask for all quotes to be from companies with the same credentials, offering roofing systems with the exact same materials, specifications and warranty. In this case, when you’re available, how quickly you can do the job and where you get your materials from may be the key factors that help you win over other companies. In these circumstances, the lowest bid will usually win unless one roofer is available earlier than the others.
That said, the commercial world also has somewhat higher standards for professionalism than the residential roofing world. As you transition to commercial roofing, it will be more important than ever to present your company as professional, successful and reliable. Many different aspects of your marketing can contribute to a professional brand image, including your website, vehicle, business card and employee uniforms.
Will you have to change how you manage your clients when you move from residential to commercial roofing? Yes, but it may be easier. Skujins finds that residential clients are more demanding than commercial clients. Commercial clients trust that warranties will protect them and spend less time on small aesthetic details. Often, the more removed a client is from the property, the fewer concerns they will have about your work on the roof. Dealing with a property owner is more challenging than dealing with a property manager or a roof consultant. In part, it may be because these professionals understand more about roofing and therefore ask fewer questions and require less advice.
While they may demand less, nurturing your relationship with your commercial clients should be your top priority. One client will often have multiple buildings or get you access to many bidding opportunities. Word will quickly spread among property managers if they are unsatisfied with the quality of your work. Finishing work on spec and on time is essential to nurturing this relationship.
There are benefits to well-established relationships too. Even though many clients have a process where they call multiple commercial roofers for any project, they want you to be the contractor they choose for the job. If they do, they may let you know if your bid was not competitive and was even third most expensive. “If you’re third on a quote, but you have a strong enough relationship with the client, they’ll call you back,” Skujins says. You can then negotiate with the client and end up getting the job even though your bid was not the most competitive.
Keeping that strong relationship may depend on how well you can learn about the specific needs of commercial clients. For example, you may need to work around tenants when doing commercial work.
Managing your clients is also easier when you have one point of contact. Skujins suggests that you avoid projects where there are multiple points of contact. If you do take them, it is important to try to manage the relationship carefully.
“For example, when reroofing a high rise, it’s common that the property manager will give out your number to many different stakeholders,” he says.
Skujins will stop the property manager from handing out his number when he can. Having just one contact makes communication easier and clearer.
“I’ll deal with the engineer or project manager. They should deal with the tenants and everyone else.” He will tell his point of contact this directly. By setting this expectation, he saves time and makes sure that he doesn’t have to work with competing instructions.
You may find that many aspects of your current business need to change once you’re doing commercial work, or you’ll run into financial and organizational headaches quickly. You may find yourself unable to meet deadlines or without the cash flow to buy materials for your next job.
Your organizational skills
“You have to be very organized and service-oriented to be a commercial roofer,” Skujins advises.
Large commercial jobs can be an organizational challenge. Picking up materials, organizing bins, transporting equipment and getting more team members on board can all be more time-consuming than in residential roofing. Any snag will put the project back, and your clients may be working on tight deadlines. For example, if you’re doing a school’s roof in late August, you need to finish it before the school reopens in September. If you can’t meet deadlines, you may find you’ll stop winning bids.
Your contract and payment terms
When you start working on commercial roofs, your contract and payment terms should change to reflect the different risks you face and the larger amount on your contracts. First, change your contract to include a contingency clause that covers material price increases. If your manufacturer increases prices between when you quoted the project and when you buy the materials, then you may take a hit to your profit margin. Commercial clients will cover this gap only if you have the clause in your contract. This is a good opportunity to reach out to your lawyer and see what else should change about your contract to protect your business.
Your payment terms will likely need to change to match the industry standard. You’ll be paid more money than in residential roofing, but you’ll also wait longer to receive those payments. Add that to the fact that you’ll need more money to invest in your next project, and you see how you may run into cash flow problems. Keep an eye on your cash flow projections, carefully note your profitability and have backup options for financing in case you need it.
Many roofers who delve into commercial roofing work never stop doing some residential jobs. For example, Skujins uses residential roofing to fill up gaps in his schedule between the larger commercial jobs. Your margins may be the same in commercial as they are in residential, so balancing the two kinds of work may be perfectly reasonable from a business standpoint.
When you first start commercial roofing, it is especially important to keep your overhead down. You can achieve this by renting instead of purchasing equipment and offering only specific commercial roofing systems at first so that you don’t need to make as many investments. Also, consider training only the staff you need to take on your first few jobs.
Transitioning from residential to commercial roofing can be a huge challenge, but it is also a great opportunity to grow your business. The most important things are to plan out your transition carefully and focus on building strong business relationships that will increase your odds of success.
Original article source: IKO
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