Ariel Istueta is the marketing and technology director for Miami-based Metal Master Shop.
My father started our family’s roofing business in 1985, not long after he immigrated to the U.S. from Cuba. I’ve been with the company since 2006. My dad originally chose roofing work because he thought it would require fewer tools. He soon found out that was an incorrect assumption! It’s been a great industry for us though—everyone has a roof.
Our customer base is higher-end households in south Florida; a part of the country with a lot of fraud and incompetent roofers because the barriers to entry are so low. We assure customers that we’re trustworthy by being licensed, bonded, and insured; using certified installers; and by the fact that we have a permanent showroom in Miami, so we have a real presence in the community.
Over the years, one area of the business that we’ve heavily focused on is our relationships with builders. As a result, new construction makes up about 30 percent of our business today. We like working with general contractors and architects. We’ve found people who take real pride in their product and, of course, for us there’s the huge benefit of not having to spend as much on marketing. With homeowners, you’re always looking for the next referral, but with GCs, they feed you the work.
A lot of roofers have a false perception that GCs do shoddy construction, look for the lowest bid, and treat subcontractors badly. That’s not necessarily true. It’s just a question of finding the right people. Much of our success with builders and architects comes from the way we handle the bidding process. Our company gets more than 60 RFPs every month from GCs who blast them out, wait for bids, and—if there’s not much difference between the options—a lot of them just take the lowest bid. We, on the other hand, never email our bids.
First, we look over the plans that come with the RFP and we make a list of questions. Then we call the GC and ask to set up an appointment to talk about the job. If they say no and just want the bid without talking with us, we know that’s a bad sign. Our goal is to meet in person, and we won’t take a job unless that happens first.
I won’t say this process is easy, but it’s definitely worth it. Everyone’s afraid of losing work, but if you’re going to be a leader in your market, you have to be different. Say “roofer,” and what comes to mind? A sweaty guy in dirty clothes who won’t return your calls. How are we going to change that? For starters, as an industry, we have to care about our projects. If you care, you’ll have questions, and the client will have questions, too.
Over time, we’ve gotten a lot of repeat business from builders, and we work pretty consistently with a handful of great GCs. If a builder does bad work, you’ll be associated with that. We only team up with people who have values that are similar to ours.