Metal Roof Innovations Open Niche for Wisconsin Contractor

Roofing projects can be so expensive or such poor value for the price that many Wisconsin homeowners have to decide to either sell their homes and move to avoid the expense or take out a second mortgage to stay in a home they love. Some sell their home at a steep discount to afford the next homeowner a chance to pass inspection.

To help solve this problem, one local roofing contractor began to search for solutions years ago, and finally found one that balanced across cost, value, beauty and longevity with a unique go to market strategy. The product is stamped, kynar-coated metal panels and the marketing strategy is factory direct-to-consumer. 

Metal Roofs Direct started in 2010, in the aftermath of the housing crash that began in 2008. They have installed hundreds of roofs during that span, from the Minnesota border to Stevens Point, Wausau, Wautoma, Madison, Fond du Lac, Milwaukee, Beloit and points between.

Minnema noticed a troubling trend while managing the statewide offices for another company. He met with companies he represented and many companies that wanted to be represented. Usually, when a manufacturer introduced a new product, it was to meet market demands for lower prices. 

“Roofing Product Manufacturers used to have 20-year lifespans on their products. Then, to save money, they began to lighten the composite asphalt materials and add fillers. It lowered the costs, but now a standard asphalt shingle – even the expensive ones – have a warranted life of only 10 years – some are only 5 years.I didn’t like that trend, and didn’t think it was good for the consumer,” Minnema said.

Minnema met Chan Cornett of Cornett Metal Products in 2010 while entertaining new product showings. Cornett showed him a unique product, something he had never seen in 10 years in the industry. The previous company was not interested in taking on the product line, and Minnema decided to take his experience and make a run with a value based, permanent roofing product and never looked back. Since then, his crews have over 200 permanent roofs installed, and only had 2 service calls – both from satisfied customers looking for a little extra work. The key is the factory direct relationship he has. 

“Cornett doesn’t want a mass-marketed,cheaply made product competing on price alone. By keeping overhead and marketing costs low, they can produce a Kynar-coated, stamped product that looks beautiful and lasts forever at competitive prices. It’s really smart and sustainable,” said Minnema with a toothy smile.

About Metal Roofs Direct:

In Business since?  2010. Over 200 roofs in the state of Wisconsin. Eau Claire to Minnesota , Stevens Point to Port Washington, Wautoma to Wasua to Beloit. 

Keys to your success?  I’m a straight shooter –  I can’t speak for others – I built my career and reputation on it – I tell many folks that I don’t want to work for you because everything else is in order. I want to offer something that really is the best. Chan Cotter’s product is the best.

What was it that made you want to start this business? I got my first roofing job at 18. I liked the work. The problem I ran into was the quality of the asphalt products reduced over time while the metal products kept improving in style anc color and quality. I met Cotter and it seemed like we just hit all the right circumstances at the right time. 10 years later, we’re not looking back. 

Where is the future of this business? For my business, it’s a little different. This business is for real – one time installation and done – I explain to people that 2 asphalt roofs is more expensive than one metal roof. Not many companies buy direct, put a small markup on product, don’t mark up installation, and we end up at 30-50% less than competition. So my difficulty is finding the long-term customer who understands the value and is willing to invest in their home. For most other guys in the industry, however, it’s about the lowest cost roof at the lowest price to stay competitive. A few guys try to split the middle, but it’s getting harder for them as the higher quality products become more affordable and the low quality products become more expensive.

What was the toughest thing you went through when opening? Nothing extremely difficult. Working hard to educate customers on doing things a better way. Many products are still mediocre, but cheaper, and that appeals to the price-oriented consumer. Education is the right way, but it’s a tough way because it takes time and care. With the Internet now, many folks are educating themselves and that’s a positive. Some folks think metal looks bad and or even plain, because they are thinking of 30 year old styles. Some HOAs still won’t consider metal roofs based on covenants written in the 60’s and 70’s, so they miss out on the modern possibilities. But there are plenty of homeowners smart enough to see their options and I enjoy going through the education process with them.

If you had to start over from day one,  what would you have done differently? I should have been more committed and spent more money quicker. Maybe brought in a partner to build bigger and quicker. I built the business from my own pocket. You gotta grab onto with everything and really go for it. A partner would make it go faster. Other successful guys said I’m doing it the right way, 200 roofs is only 20 per year. 2010-2013 was over 40 per year. I got ahead of myself and had a disagreement with the manufacturer in 2013. As a result, he took a break away from the business, but he regretted it immediately. Then Cornett came back and asked me to get after it and promised to pay more attention. Most of that stemmed from Cornetts capital investments into equipment and knowledge that was tough to drive through the sputtering economy at that time frame. I guess I’m lucky though, since a lot of guys never made through to the better times in the last few years. 

What is the toughest part about having a business in 2020? Well, for me it was Installation and finding good help. There are a lot of talented guys, but unemployment was low and finding good help was harder than, say, 5 years ago. I had a good man, and he ran great crews, but personal problems put him in a hard spot and I lost him. It was hard to find people with a passion for the business and the skills to do the work needed. Many companies solve that by using illegal labor – and we don’t want to do that. We are developing our workforce with all the proper credentials and still want to work. The guy that solves that labor problem and does it well has a leg up and we feel we get that advantage to build great company.