How to Get into Commercial Roofing

By Karen L. Edwards 08-18-2020
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If you're a residential roofing contractor thinking about expanding into the commercial sector, you're not alone. Plenty of roofing contractors start their companies with a focus on the residential market and then make the decision to expand into commercial roofing. Adding a commercial division can seem like a daunting task, but it doesn't have to be if you take it one step at a time.

The first step is to listen to what people in the industry have to say about what makes commercial roofing different. Consider talking to commercial contractors in your network or browsing resources online, such as these interviews with GAF Master Select Contractors who share their experiences in this space, to get an idea of what to expect.

For example, Bo Byers of the Oklahoma-based Byers Company explains that commercial roofing differs "not just in shape and size, but also in how the whole business cycle works." This can create changes in cash flow that a potential commercial roofer should be prepared for.

Similarly, Ty Smith of Smith & Ramirez Roofing in El Paso, Texas, adds that "one commercial job could be the equivalent to 20 residential roofs or more." Knowing about these types of differences upfront can help you create a business plan that accounts for them.

Do Your Homework

Along with researching the industry, you'll, of course, want to learn about the techniques behind commercial roofing. As with any new endeavor, you can begin with online research.

For starters, GAF has a playlist of Roofing it Right videos that cover a range of roofing techniques, which can be especially useful for professionals looking for an introduction to commercial concepts.

Start with an Easy-to-Learn System

You might also want to consider narrowing your focus to a specific area of commercial roofing. For instance, roof coatings are gaining popularity as a way to extend the life of a structurally sound roofing system without tearing off the existing roof.

Installing roof coatings is relatively easy and doesn't require expensive equipment such as robotic welders or roofing kettles, making it a great specialty for starting out as a commercial contractor. In fact, most systems can be spray-applied or installed using a roller. Michelle Carlin, GAF Senior Product Manager for coatings, recommends water-based acrylic coatings as a great way to get started because they "require minimal investment in personal protective equipment, and [are] really easy to use and clean up."

Take Advantage of Free Hands-On Training

There's nothing like watching someone perform an installation and then having the chance to do it yourself before getting on your customers' roofs. Training programs like those offered by the GAF Center for the Advancement of Roofing Excellence (CARE) let you do just that. Practical training gives you hands-on opportunities to learn both time-tested and innovative installation techniques from industry veterans.

If it's just not feasible for you to attend an in-person training, you can turn those rainy days into learning days and watch the recorded training webinars online.

Attend Industry Trade Shows

Roofing industry trade shows are an excellent place to learn more about commercial roofing techniques, products, and equipment. The largest industry show with the most learning opportunities is the International Roofing Expo, which takes place in February of each year.

If attending the international show is out of reach, seek out your local roofing contractor association. They often host smaller regional trade shows that feature educational classes as well as an expo hall where you can talk to vendors and see roofing products firsthand. You'll be able to meet and talk to other contractors, which can help you learn about the challenges and opportunities of the commercial side of the business.

Expanding into a new business can be a daunting endeavor, but taking the time to learn as much as you can about your industry is one of the best ways to set yourself up for success.


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Letitia Hanke is a one-of-a-kind business owner. In a male-dominated industry, she's run a successful roofing company for the last 17 years. Hanke, named "2020 Residential Contractor of the Year" by Roofing Contractor magazine, is the CEO of ARS Roofing. Her unique professional journey has been filled with lessons on how to transform adversity into opportunities to grow, learn, and build a bridge to success.
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