Don Katzenberger, owner of S&K Roofing, Siding & Windows, in Eldersburg, Md., takes pride in his company’s ability to quickly respond to customer inquiries. With eight field sales representatives and a total staff of 35, the company has implemented a series of timing benchmarks: all calls get returned in 24 hours, jobsite visits must happen within 48 hours, and a full proposal must be sent within 72 hours of the customer’s first inquiry. But when a distinguished sounding U.S. Sen. John Glenn recently called, asking for a visit the same day, Katzenberger was able to bend the rules a bit.
“There is a pretty good chance that he had called some of our competitors before he got to us,” says Katzenberger. “So we dropped everything to meet with him. He called us at 10 a.m. and I was sitting in his living room by 1 p.m. By 3 p.m. I had a signed order for a new roof.”
Though the senator’s time constraints are not typical, the reason for his call is becoming much more typical. Glenn’s next door neighbor had recently replaced their roof with a synthetic slate material that has found strong appeal among high-end customers throughout S&K’s, Washington, D.C. service area. Many of the company’s calls for high-end roofing jobs are coming from people who notice new roofs, particularly the synthetic slates and cedar shakes.
“One of the things that really helped us to get into higher-end markets is synthetic roofing,” says Katzenberger, whose company completed 2,500 jobs in 2005 on $15 million in revenue. “We worked hand-in-hand with the sales representatives from our suppliers to get both synthetic slate and synthetic cedar approved in number of high-end communities. Once that happened, we found that a lot of homeowners would pay for its increase durability, that looks the same or better.”
In an extreme example, a suburban Maryland woman replaced a real slate roof with a synthetic one. The reason: her real slate roof had begun to leach iron-ore colors causing massive discoloration in spots. And compared to a new synthetic roof next door, the aesthetics were way off. The new roof cost her $80,000 says Katzenberger. The woman, he says, told him she was able to justify the cost by deferring a new-car purchase for a year — not something that an average homeowner could do.
“We have found that the people who have fatter wallets, so to speak, are very willing to spend their money on this,” says Katzenberger.
Benefits of synthetics
Synthetic slates and synthetic Cedar shakes have also opened doors in other ways, primarily from high safety ratings and ancillary cost-savings. Synthetics from a number of manufacturers have achieved Class A fire ratings for safety. This in turn has freed up many government and commercial buildings as well as schools to consider the new materials while also living up to the demands of their insurance policies. This summer for example, S&K will install 800 squares or 800,000 sq. ft. of synthetic slates from Eco Star Roofing on a seven-story building with a Mansard-style roof near Annapolis, Md. This enormous job was only made possible by the Class A fire rating of the product, (and a strong referral from the manufacturer).
Cost savings have also helped S&K clinch a number of jobs. Synthetic slates weigh about 300 lbs. per 1,000 sq. ft. Real slates weigh 700 lbs. per square and thus require some roofs to incur additional costs from added reinforcement required to support real slate. That weight along with special handling requirements also slows down the efficiency of work crews, says Katzenberger.
With a big crew of 21 people, S&K was recently able to install 88 squares of synthetic slate on a home in one day. “That same amount of men and squares with real slate probably would have taken us six to seven working days.”
The process for handling both synthetic and real slate is daunting, but the analysis on labor cost favors the lighter weight, more flexible synthetic version. First, both types of slates are re-shuffled at the jobsite to ensure that no patterns emerge. “Real slate is heavy and sharp and shuffling them is very time consuming,” says Katzenberger. “With plastic slates, it is like shuffling cards. You can move twice as much material in the same time.”
Finally, there is the installation to consider. Synthetic slate can be gun-nailed, real slate (with holes pre-cut) still require hand nailing to prevent breakage. And when it comes to cutting slates to fit valleys and ridges, synthetics can be cut with a razor knife as opposed to installing a heavy slate cutter on the roof. These installation costs add to the stark differential between the material costs of $1,100 per square for slate and $650 per square for synthetic.
“So if you have an existing roof with either asphalt shingles or cedar shake, you can offer the synthetic slate as alternative,” says Katzenberger. “And we’ve found this to be very effective in selling situations.”
S&K is a 26 year-old company founded when Katzenberger and his partner Smith began doing re-roofing jobs just after finishing high school. Smith left the business to attend college but Katzenberger kept the ‘S’ all the same. The company was doing about $6 million per year in the early ’90s when it expanded into gutters, vinyl siding and windows. More recently the company has expanded into decks, porches, sun rooms and room additions. Last year, the firm completed seven room additions in price points ranging from $40,000 on up to $225,000. The diversification into more traditional remodeling has been in no small measure attributable to the company’s increasing profile at the higher end of the roofing market, says Katzenberger. “There are a lot of remodelers out there, but their high prices and long backlogs are helping us get those jobs.”
This year the company is expanding more of its operations to the Eastern Shore of Maryland and is hoping for gains from its newly opened showroom. The showroom is a house built inside of a warehouse, there they have can display different types of roofing, siding and windows the company offers, as well as the porches, decks and sunrooms it builds.
The showroom just opened this spring and the company is already feeling the positive effect says Katzenberger. “We are generating six or seven walk-in customers per day, and we are getting ready to open it on the weekends. So we are expecting a lot of customers who want to come in and talk about remodeling.”
Fast Facts About the Company:
- S&K Roofing, Siding & Windows, Eldersburg, Md.
- Year Founded: 1980
- 2005 Revenue: $15 million
- 2005 Jobs: 2,500
- 1,200 tear offs
- 300 new construction roofs
- 900 siding, windows and/or gutters
- 100 sunrooms, decks, porches additions
- Employees: 35
- Crews in the field: 17 at any given time
- Owner/Founder: Don Katzenberger
- Key Management: part-owner Maija Kropp; sales director Charlie McCurry; operations director Ray Smallwood; Mickey Abbate and Tom Cianeruschini