Reinventing The Roofing Business
“Why are you a roofer?”
“I must have heard that question a thousand times,” says Chan Cornett, founder and CEO of Cornett Roofing in Indianapolis. “I guess people just don’t expect a roofing company to act professional, treat them with respect, and exceed their expectations.”
Spend a few minutes with Chan Cornett and you’ll quickly see why he gets the question so often. You get the feeling that he’s more like a neighbor who’s eager to help you fix a problem than a roofer trying to twist your arm for a dollar. His company runs more like a business school case study for customer service than, well, a roofing company.
Cornett got his start in roofing while he was in college trying to find ways to earn money in the summers. He took a job with a local roofing company and quickly discovered that roofers weren’t exactly the crumpets and caviar crowd. In fact, for the most part, they were barely the hot dogs and beer crowd. “I remember some of those crews that summer,” recalls Cornett. “Let’s just say they were not too concerned about the customer. Shoddy workmanship and non-existent customer service were the norm.”
Cornett knew an opportunity when he saw one. He quit his job and started his own roofing company. Even though he was still in college, he began running one of the most professional roofing companies in the area. Says Cornett, “I didn’t really know how to run a business at all, but the business was easy entry, that is why so many can pass themselves off as legitimate companies. I knew how to work hard, treat customers right, and make sure people were happy with us. We weren’t perfect; we definitely made our fair share of mistakes. But we were always open and honest with our customers, and always made things right.”
Apparently his “customer first” attitude was exceptionally rare, and people showed their appreciation by referring lots of business to the company. “That was when I first started to hear people ask me why I was a roofer. Some people almost seemed embarrassed for me? As if being a roofer was something to be ashamed of.”
It was then that Cornett decided to not only make a business out of roofing, but to also make it his life’s work. He became certified by every major manufacturer of roofing materials. He joined professional organizations. He studied best practices of other roofers in other parts of the country.
“I wanted to build a company that I could be proud of, and that my employees could be proud to work for. I wanted to offer health insurance and retirement benefits for employees. I wanted a roofing company that offered paid vacations. I wanted my people to feel like they had a career, not just a job.” 95 out of 100 roofing companies offer no benefits.
In other words, not exactly your typical roofing company.
Over the next 10 years Cornett was able to build the company of his dreams… not that it came without bumps and bruises along the way. Compound fractures might more accurately describe some of the hardships.
Says Cornett, “We were growing very quickly and experiencing a lot of the typical growing pains that companies encounter. We got behind on our taxes. We made mistakes on jobs. Our quality started to slip a little bit. We even found ourselves without the ability to pay all our bills, one day I looked up and thought, “we’re starting to become like all the other roofing companies out there.’ I started to get the ‘why are you a roofer’ question less frequently.”
One of the things that upset Cornett the most was customers that he’d replaced roofs for 10 years prior were now coming back to him because their roof had failed. He remembered telling them a decade before that their roof carried a 25 or 30 year warranty, and here they were only 10 short years later needing another new roof.
Time to reinvent the business one more time.
Cornett began to investigate alternative roofing solutions. Asphalt shingle roofs were inexpensive to install, but if they didn’t last long, Cornett reasoned, they were a disservice to the customer. Metal roofing was just starting to become popular at that time, and Cornett quickly became an advocate. These products carried minimum 50 year warranties, and in many cases, lifetime warranties. They also began installing slate and tile roofs which also have extremely long life spans, set up a metal shop to custom fabricate lifetime flashings instead of using the terribly thin metal that 90% of the companies use.
Cornett also began to bring in outside consultants to help him bring his business practices to the next level. “I figured if I had the best product on the market and the best company in the marketplace, then we would have a successful business for a long, long time,” says Cornett.
In 2007, the company adopted a policy called the “Code of Ethics & Competency” for contractors, which is a set of standards that homeowners can use to accurately judge the character and competency of any roofer before they decide to hire them. “We’ve put so much effort into building the best roofing company in the Tri-State area, I just hate to see anyone get ‘taken’ by a less-than-reputable contractor,” Cornett explains. “Since most people rarely hire a roofing company, they don’t even know what to look for or what questions to ask. The purpose of the “code” is to educate consumers so they can be assured they are working with a professional company with a good reputation that is financially stable and has great workmanship.”
Just call it the icing on the cake for this good-guy roofer. Cornett sounds evangelical when he says that he hopes his business practices and “code of ethics” raise the bar across the board for roofing contractors. “It’s not about monopolizing the marketplace in roofing, its about getting rid of the negative stigma attached to roofers by making ALL roofers adhere to a higher set of standards. We’re not worried about getting our pieces of the pie. We’ve got a fantastic customer base that we hope will continue to refer us to their friends, and to their friends, and so on.”
The company now employs 25 full time field employees, 7 office employees, and 3 full time sales associates. And yes, they have benefits and paid vacations. They company has 15 trucks, a full metal shop, and an 13,000 square foot facility. The company Cornett dreamed of building nearly 20 years ago is now a reality.
Any chance we could now get you to open an auto repair shop, Chan!?