Jonathan Abramson of Metro City Roofing: “Start small and become the expert”

Start small and become the expert. Set realistic goals — and not just to be the market leader in 12 months. There are so many processes and procedures you will need to learn and master, including managing cashflow, payroll, licenses and insurance, and SEO. You will need time to understand how to run a business well before […]

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Start small and become the expert. Set realistic goals — and not just to be the market leader in 12 months. There are so many processes and procedures you will need to learn and master, including managing cashflow, payroll, licenses and insurance, and SEO. You will need time to understand how to run a business well before scaling the business.

As part of my series about the “How To Take Your Company From Good To Great”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Jonathan Abramson, General Manager of Metro City Roofing. Originally from New York, Colorado is the place he’s called home for the last 13 years. Jonathan earned his Bachelor of Arts (BA) degree from the University of Florida and a Master of Business Administration (MBA) from Arizona State University. After spending many years in the corporate world, including Apple and Crocs, Jonathan had the opportunity to explore the roofing industry and spent several years building his roofing industry experience before launching his own company.

Jonathan shares his home with his wife of 19 years, his two teenage children, and dog named Ozzy. In his spare time, Jonathan enjoys golfing, spending time with his family, and cheering on his beloved Florida Gators.

Jonathan loves the roofing industry as his company helps individual customers to navigate the insurance claim process and get them a new roof after a hailstorm. He has earned numerous roofing certifications and licenses, including the distinguished All Lines Adjuster License.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?

Well, I am definitely not your traditional roofer. After graduating from university, I spent five years in advertising with a large ad agency. I left to earn an MBA with a concentration in Supply Chain Management and worked for Apple and Crocs in Operations roles. I apply my Operations background and discipline to my own roofing company. I learned a lot from past leaders, and Steve Jobs made an impact on me and how he ran his company. Even as CEO, Steve Jobs was known to sweat the small details. As I run my own company, I often ask myself, what would Steve Jobs do if he owned a local roofing company?

Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?

I worked for another roofing company before starting my own. As a salesperson and project manager, I did not focus on the cash flow of running a company. As an owner, cash flow management is critical. With insurance claim roofing work, there can be several months from the time we buy materials and complete the roof replacement to the time we collect. Delays are driven by insurance companies releasing all funds and compounded by mortgage companies needing to co-endorse a check or wanting to complete their own inspection of the scope of work.

My wife and I were floating tens of thousands of dollars and it was scary to look in our bank account and see our savings greatly diminished. While I never considered giving up, I knew something had to change. If our company grew and we did not have a better process to managing cash, we could be living credit card to credit card. As a business professional, we improved our operations and increased our cash reserves to manage daily operations. We now take profits per job instead of leaving everything in one account.

I am driven by the challenge of making it work. Anyone who knows me, knows I love a good challenge. I know that we have a strong value proposition with our company, and that at the same time, we’re helping people improve their homes.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?

Since my roofing company was focused on local insurance agent referrals, I thought I needed to have a basic website only if a prospective customer would take the initiative to research us before calling. I did not seriously consider how much goes into building and maintaining a high-quality website. I don’t know how funny this is — but I also thought I’d create a website that was different from competitors and focus on people hiking, biking, camping, and living their lives while we take care of your roof. It was confusing to the customer. Here was a great example of trying to think differently but it backfired. Lesson learned… do not underestimate the amount of time you will invest to write and curate high-quality, engaging content.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

There are several factors we believe make Metro City Roofing stand out from our competitors. We put the customer first and treat their home like our own. That is the cornerstone of our mission statement and everything follows from there. At the end of a roof replacement or the next morning, I can often be found on hands and knees picking up any remaining nails and roofing debris from a customer’s driveway and yard. It’s the little details that make a huge difference. It’s not just something we say. A homeowner (and our crew) can see we are focused on even the smallest details — like finding a needle in a haystack, or in this case a roofing nail in a yard. We have had numerous customers remark how impressed they were that the company owner would be so involved to ensure the house was left as clean as before we arrived.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

You cannot do everything well at once as a startup. Set reasonable and realistic goals. Like mobile apps, develop a minimum viable product before an entire project. You will likely pivot to some extent and while you will no doubt invest time and money in something before discarding it and changing direction, if you take bite-size steps with a larger goal in mind, you will save time and money — and can spend more effort to complete these.

My other piece of advice would be to make sure to celebrate the small wins. While a start-up can feel all-consuming and often daunting, if you have a win, or have accomplished a goal you’ve been working toward, take the time to acknowledge it, and reward yourself or your team. I have in the past taken the team golfing or out for lunch to celebrate the completion of a difficult project. It sets a tone of accomplishment, as well as serving as a break from work.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

I worked at Apple and had the privilege of directly learning from Tim Cook (current CEO) and indirectly from Steve Jobs. At Apple, I used to meet with Tim several times each week and present product operational updates. Tim expected everyone in the company to have mastery of whatever they were responsible for. Once in a meeting the boardroom, Tim challenged me on a fact I had reported out. I told him I had the information back at my desk across campus. He stopped the meeting and said simply, “We’ll wait.” I ran in the rain across campus to get the single piece of paper to bring it back to our meeting. When I returned, I handed the paper to Tim and he replied, “It’s wet.” It’s not really what he said that influenced my future but the intent behind it that preparedness for anything is expected. I have tried to emulate this approach to preparedness in all future business.

Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. The title of this series is “How to take your company from good to great”. Let’s start with defining our terms. How would you define a “good” company, what does that look like? How would you define a “great” company, what does that look like?

A good company is one that delivers a good product or service and does what it intends to do, but nothing more. It does not strive to build community relationships or put the customer in front of the company.

By contrast a great company is one that really cares about the customer and values its people. The company is never satisfied with the status quo and constantly looks for ways to improve. Whenever you read about top companies to work for, it often is because of the way it respects and treats its employees. As a business owner, I empower my team and value the diverse opinions that drive the business forward. For example, we donate 100 dollars to a local food bank with each roof replacement to give back to our community. This stemmed from a brainstorming session with our team and a great idea surfaced to the top and is now part of our DNA.

Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things one should know in order to lead a company from Good to Great? Please share a story or an example for each.

  1. It’s all about the customer. Find out what is important to your customers and deliver. At Metro City Roofing, we understand that roofing is a commodity but the way to differentiate from competitors is through an excellent customer experience. We strive to deliver a hassle-free experience and present ourselves professionally and as knowledgeable resources. Even our business cards are square with thick cardstock to make a differentiated impression to our customers compared to everyone else. While it’s hard to believe customer experience can include a business card, we believe that every detail matters and every interaction can make a difference.
  2. Start small and become the expert. Set realistic goals — and not just to be the market leader in 12 months. There are so many processes and procedures you will need to learn and master, including managing cashflow, payroll, licenses and insurance, and SEO. You will need time to understand how to run a business well before scaling the business.
  3. Expect to pivot. As a salesperson at another roofing company, I managed residential and commercial projects. When starting my own company, I believed I should be in both residential and commercial as well, as are essentially all roofing companies. After someone challenged me on this, I realized that our company needed to specialize in residential roof replacements first, and not spread too thinly to include commercial business quite yet. We pivoted and now that’s our primary focus.
  4. Manage cash and your time. Don’t chase every opportunity that is presented. Your time is a precious commodity. We joined several local Chambers of Commerce but were selective to join the ones where we do business and where we could participate. We were careful not to overextend our time.
  5. Not every dollar is a good dollar. A company can believe that every customer is a great opportunity for revenue. It’s not. We evaluate the opportunity first and ensure there is good ROI. While we may want to work on everything, with limited resources and time, we need to focus on profitable work.

Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven businesses” are more successful in many areas. Can you help articulate for our readers a few reasons why a business should consider becoming a purpose driven business, or consider having a social impact angle?

Google’s motto was, “Don’t be evil.” While it is a stretch to compare Google to a local roofing company, we believe that giving back to our local community is an important value. We are a local company, and therefore want to pay it forward for the community that supports us. We donate 100 dollars to a local food bank, Food Bank of the Rockies, with every roof replacement. It’s our way to not only help a homeowner when they need us (taking care of the stress and need of replacing their roof) but also to do good in our local community.

What would you advise to a business leader who initially went through years of successive growth, but has now reached a standstill. From your experience do you have any general advice about how to boost growth and “restart their engines”?

Explore if there are any fundamental shifts in your industry to drive the plateau in growth. Look at what your competitors are doing too. Are they experiencing similar standstill? Find a mentor who you trust and respect to seek advice — you cannot always do everything alone. At Metro City Roofing, we wanted to try to new ways to drive growth. For example, we joined several local Chambers of Commerce and got involved in community leader discussions. We explored ways to drive traffic and increase conversion. It was not one or the other, it was both. As a roofing company, we are no longer shy about asking a homeowner who had a great experience with us to refer us to their friends, family, and coworkers. We used to assume that this would happen but now we ask and don’t just hope.

Generating new business, increasing your profits, or at least maintaining your financial stability can be challenging during good times, even more so during turbulent times. Can you share some of the strategies you use to keep forging ahead and not lose growth traction during a difficult economy?

As a roofer in Colorado, we survive and thrive based on hailstorms. Colorado homeowners typically replace their roofs only through insurance claims. We are extremely dependent upon Mother Nature who, as you know, can be very unpredictable.

We focus on managing our fixed and variable costs and avoid expensive and long-term expenses. When we invest, we evaluate the cost / benefit and think long-term. We are in the process of updating our website with the goal of providing a more engaging customer experience that will, in turn, drive more traffic and revenue. We completed exhaustive competitive research on website structure, content, and more — and key tenets to deliver a great user experience.

When the tech bubble burst in late 2000, Apple increased R&D so it could emerge stronger. As a roofing company with extremely limited hail in metro Denver in 2020, we are investing in key areas that will pay dividends in 2021 when new hailstorms hit and homeowners need to find a roofing contractor.

In your experience, which aspect of running a company tends to be most underestimated? Can you explain or give an example?

Putting the customer at the forefront of everything you do. As a business owner, it’s easy to think about building the best marketing materials and website, driving traffic and growth, training and overall processes. When we think about anything, we try to think about it from the customer perspective. At Metro City Roofing, we recently invested in a canopy to place in customers front yards when replacing a roof. It is intended for our crew to have a place to store food and drinks during the project and have a shaded spot to eat lunch. From a customer perspective, a canopy limits the locations our crew may leave drinks and also creates a cleaner workspace. Even though roofing is incredibly messy, no customer wants to see soda bottles and cans all over their yard.

As you know, “conversion” means to convert a visit into a sale. In your experience what are the best strategies a business should use to increase conversion rates?

Roofing is really a commodity. As a roofing contractor, at Metro City Roofing, we are constantly seeking ways to differentiate customer experience from competitors, knowing that we’re really selling the same product and service, such as asphalt shingles and install labor. We aim to present ourselves in the most professional way, from our attire to the company folders we provide to customers, offering a detailed explanation of our inspection results and next steps. Our goal is to deliver a hassle-free, professional experience, and once you file a hail damage roof insurance claim, we take over from there as the experts you can trust to get your claim approved and settled successfully and install your quality new roof. We recognize that for many homeowners, replacing a roof is unfamiliar but we strive to deliver the assurance we will take care of you.

Of course, the main way to increase conversion rates is to create a trusted and beloved brand. Can you share a few ways that a business can earn a reputation as a trusted and beloved brand?

Do what you say you are going to do. Earn trust and respect one customer at a time. Pay attention to the details. Doing the little things (with a focus on the big things, too) will hopefully gain momentum towards your larger goal. Roofing is a referral-based business. The more we can please our customers, the better positioned we will be to help their friends and neighbors.

Great customer service and great customer experience are essential to build a beloved brand and essential to be successful in general. In your experience what are a few of the most important things a business leader should know in order to create a Wow! Customer Experience?

Approach every experience and customer interaction from the customer’s perspective and use every customer interaction as a learning experience. About a year ago, I had a great initial meeting with a prospective customer. After 15 minutes of casual discussion following my roof inspection, I left with the customer saying, ‘you’re my guy.’ A week later he called to say he hired another roofer. The reason shared was that the competitor mentioned something that I did not. I replied that of course we do that too but it was too late. I was disappointed but realized I had an opportunity and created a one-page document of why to choose Metro City Roofing that listed a few key points. Never again would I fail to mention important services that we offer. I review this document with each customer and they keep it. This flyer has created a real “wow” where other competitors don’t go that extra mile.

What are your thoughts about how a company should be engaged on Social Media? For example, the advisory firm EisnerAmper conducted 6 yearly surveys of United States corporate boards, and directors reported that one of their most pressing concerns was reputational risk as a result of social media. Do you share this concern? We’d love to hear your thoughts about this.

At Metro City Roofing, we recognize the importance of social media and at the same time, the risk of the wrong post or how one bad customer experience can hurt our business. Jeff Bezos at Amazon created Leadership Principles, with the first being customer obsession. We sweat the small details and always put the customer at the forefront of our actions. With social media, we try not to post anything that can be divisive such as political or social issues.

We post on social media several times per week, offering relevant information to sell our company and services, whether it be showing the care we take in protecting customers’ homes, or advertising the new shingle that our manufacturer has introduced. We keep it neutral and focused on how to engage an audience to drive traction and increase traffic to our website. We also try not to simply post the same thing every time. How many times would someone really want to see another house with our roofing company’s yard sign?

What are the most common mistakes you have seen CEOs & founders make when they start a business? What can be done to avoid those errors?

Many founders and CEOs want to become a market leader in a short timeframe. While it is good to set goals, these should be realistic goals like complete 50 roof replacements in a year with 50 satisfied customers. Investing in growth through SEO is great when the company can afford the investment and the company can deliver satisfactory results. Failing to deliver can hurt a business’ reputation both short- and long-term. I recommend not aiming to be the city’s or nation’s largest or best company but set reasonable short- and long-term objectives.

Thank you for all of that. We are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Be kind and good to one another. Being kind doesn’t have anything to do with a product, service, revenue and profits. Wake up each day and with every human interaction, treat everyone the way you would like to be treated and the way you would like someone to treat your children.

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This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!

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