View from the Top
With recession clouds building and supply-chain issues still affecting industries across the board, area roofers say they’re still maintaining a steady workflow.
That’s partly because, when it comes to a leaky roof, there’s no skipping out on fixing the problem, said Fran Beaulieu, co-owner of Phil Beaulieu & Sons Home Improvement Inc. and PBHI Roofing. “Unfortunately for people, whether they beg, steal, or borrow to get money, when you have water leaking into your home, you have to fix it. So roofing is generally pretty consistent.”
PBHI was started in 1967 by Beaulieu’s father, Phil Beaulieu, and has been family-owned and operated ever since, offering full roof replacement and repair, new roof construction, roof inspections, flat- and low-slope roofing, storm-damage repairs, and skylight installation, as well as vinyl siding, windows, doors, decks, porches, and more.
The roofers at CDA Roofing and Siding agreed with Beaulieu’s take on basic demand for roofing services. Chris Dore, lead estimator and project coordinator, said that as long as the phones are ringing and estimates are going out, business can be considered healthy.
CDA has been family-owned and operated for the past 11 years in Agawam, since Clarke Dore and Jimmy Acerra merged their roofing businesses to strengthen their clientele. Dore owned and operated CDA Roofing, but primarily focused on residential shingle work. When merging the two companies, Acerra brought forth his expertise on commercial roofing; he has earned an A+ rating with Firestone Building Products, a leading roofing-products manufacturer.
“There has never in my adult life been a better time to get into the trades, period.”
A healthy flow of business doesn’t necessarily mean a peak year, however. Dore said he and his team have a theory: during a typical summer, kids are home from school and people are on summer vacations, but as the weather starts to change and people are getting their kids back into school mode, there’s an influx in business.
But this year, the recession has caused some hesitancy among homeowners.
“It was slow in the sense that people were a little gun-shy, I think, to commit. Regardless of the size of your house, roofing is a huge project, whether it’s a million-dollar mansion or a modest cape or even a shed or doghouse,” he said, noting that issues like inflation and the supply chain are disrupting homeowners’ decisions. “There’s a million fingers pointed at the highest level of government down to the local government. Who’s to really blame? Everyone’s got their theories.”
Fixing a Hole
Thomas Morin, owner of Valley Roofing and Restoration, agreed and said that people are being more conscious about what they’re spending their money on and “comparing apples to apples for every estimate.”
Shingles are generally the more affordable option depending on the company, but just like everything else in the world, the roofing industry is driven by petroleum costs. Each of the businesses BusinessWest spoke with said that, when the price of oil is high, all their building products are going to cost more, but roofing shingles, which are made with oil, and other commercial roofing products are especially vulnerable.
Morin launched Valley Roofing and Restoration about a decade ago. He specializes in new roof installations and repairs, and among his products is metal roofing, which he says is a growing trend due to its price.
“We’re just trying to stay busy at this point, but things have been good,” Morin said. “In roofing, it’s hard to expect anything. You have to go with the flow, and if something isn’t working, you change it.”
It doesn’t help, Beaulieu said, that roofing is one of the heaviest materials to transport, and diesel costs are through the roof (no pun intended). “When things are heavy, you need heavy trucks that are capable of moving really heavy materials, and they use a lot of diesel.”
Dore described the rise in prices as a “kick in the head.” In these circumstances, he explained, it’s difficult for businesses to maintain consistent profit margins. While prices seemingly never slow and continue to rise, that cost is relayed to the customer, but the company doesn’t benefit.
“The profit margin is what it is,” he went on. “You try to remain competitive — and there’s a lot of competition in this area. You just have to try to keep your head down, stay the course, and weather the storm; that’s really what it is.”
As the harsh cold of New England starts to settle in, both Beaulieu and Dore stress that homeowners should conduct due diligence and research the company it hires to do a job, but for different reasons.
Ice dams are a homeowner’s enemy in New England; those are ice buildups on the eaves of sloped roofs of heated buildings that result from melting snow under a snow pack reaching the eave and freezing there, especially in the middle of winter. The first inclination is to call a roofer, but Beaulieu advises against that.
“You need an insulator contractor. When you have ice dams on your house, homeowners tend to call roofers, and unfortunately, roofers in this industry aren’t always the most ethical guys,” he said. “They will just sell them a new roof or charge them to shovel snow off the roof, which causes all kinds of problems.”
Winter also brings an influx of storms and storm chasers. For example, after the June 2011 tornado, Dore explained, roofers from out of state were patrolling neighborhoods in hopes of “repairing” roofs.
“A lot of potential future work for myself and other companies in the area evaporated. I don’t want to say it hurt us by any means, but we noticed, ‘OK, there’s that house, that house,’ whole neighborhoods that got roofs that really weren’t ready for them,” he said. “They were done by guys who you can’t even get on the phone if you wanted to. They came in, and a lot of them did the wrong thing; we ran into it multiple times.”
As the roofing season heads into winter and unemployment is still high, Beaulieu, who is also president of the Western Massachusetts Home Builders & Remodelers Assoc., stressed the importance of trades as a career path, saying the writing is on the wall for continued disruption in the industry due to workforce challenges.
“There has never in my adult life been a better time to get into the trades, period,” he told BusinessWest. “Whether you want to be a mason, a carpenter, a vinyl-siding installer, a roofer, you want to do windows and doors, you want to build decks, there’s never been a better time because it’s really hard to find younger people that want to do it.”
And roofing is a place they can start at the top, in a sense — and only move up from there.
Kailey Houle can be reached at [email protected]