Doing it the half-way

Copper half-round gutters are typically considered the province of upscale custom homes — and of the installers who specialize in that market.

“But I have ‘ordinary’ installers who tell me they get 10-12 inquiries a year about half-round gutters and, since they don’t know how to quote those jobs, they try to steer the customers toward standard K-style gutters,” reports Chad Boughton, operations manager for Chicago Suburban Seamless Half-Round Gutter Supply in Elburn, Ill.

When installers forego those half-round gutter jobs, they forfeit the high-dollar amounts and profit margins those projects can bring. “But they’re scared of those high prices and the fact that half-round jobs are more labor-intensive,” continues Boughton. “So they figure it’s easier just to stick with aluminum seamless K-style gutters and the conventional business model of putting up as many linear feet per day as you can.”

Yet copper half-round gutters “are a passion for me,” says Boughton, “and so I work with installers on how to quote and then install half-rounds.” That often means going out to jobsites, climbing ladders and demonstrating proper installation techniques. “I’ve seen installers bust out a caulking gun,” he relates, “but since copper gutters must be soldered, I always keep some solder in my truck.”

Other techniques that installers must master for half-round copper gutters include mitering corners, accounting for the metallic properties of copper when deciding how far to space the brackets and avoiding galvanic reactions by not putting copper in contact with other metals. “You don’t want installers eating up all their profits while they’re trying to learn,” Boughton points out, “because then they can become discouraged and stop trying.”

Then, too, installers who are new to copper gutters must learn how to market themselves to the high-end custom home and historic renovation markets. “It’s true that people don’t have as much equity in their homes right now, because of the economy,” Boughton concedes, “so they’re thinking twice about making improvements. But at the same time, construction activity for new custom homes is still pretty good — and these customers are going to do it right. They’re not going to scrimp on gutters.”

Diversifying into copper half-round gutters, then, can generate another revenue stream that can help installers even out the peaks and valleys in their regular seamless aluminum gutter business. “In addition to custom homes,” Boughton notes, “you can market yourself for institutional gutter projects like churches and colleges. And the historic restoration market also remains pretty good.”

Boughton launched Chicago Suburban Seamless Half-Round Gutter Supply earlier this year after he identified the one “missing link” keeping many installers away from the half-round market.

“My father Bob owns a company called Just Gutters that was into the historic renovation market,” Boughton explains. “On my end, I owned some construction companies up until 1999 and then went into stock trading. Then a couple of years ago I went into my dad’s business so I could spend more time with family.”

As Boughton observed his father’s operations, he saw custom homes were being built to ever-larger dimensions. “Anymore,” he reports, “there aren’t any gutter runs under 50 feet. So we had to install copper half-round gutters in sections. But with all the ice we get here in Chicagoland, the joints could be in danger of failing.”

Boughton then asked a logical question: Why weren’t there any gutter machines that can run seamless half-round gutters? Rather than shrug his shoulders, he contacted a manufacturer. If they would build the machine and make the gutter accessories, Boughton would take care of the distribution. Earlier this year he purchased the first machine — with serial number 0001 — and Chicago Suburban Seamless Half-Round Gutter Supply was in business.

The company does no installation itself but supplies installers in Illinois, Indiana, Iowa and Wisconsin. With son Chad as operations manager and father Bob as president, Chicago Suburban Seamless Half-Round Gutter Supply boasts 35 combined years of gutter industry experience.

Though 16- and 20-ounce copper half-round gutters are their focus, the Boughtons also supply aluminum K-style gutters in 14 colors and steel gutters in 26-gauge Galvalume. “Then we deliver the gutters, associated materials and matching accessories to the jobsite at competitive prices,” Chad relates. Accessories include brackets, medallions, elbows, downspouts and boots, collector boxes, miters, end caps, gutter covers, snow guards and decorative items.

Chicago Seamless Suburban Half-Round Gutter Supply, says Boughton, “could follow a number of different business models in the future — whether it’s our current model of selling gutter supplies to installers who need them or maybe looking at the dealer or distributor model. But we need a couple of years to see how things go — and to meet our own bottom line.”

Whichever direction the company ends up going, Boughton anticipates he will continue supplying installers “who are reputable and have been established for awhile, because those are the installers who tend to get inquiries about half-round jobs and who have the capacity to perform them. Copper half-round gutters are definitely a niche market that requires a different breed of installer” than those who strive only for achieving the most linear feet per day.

Boughton is optimistic about Chicago Suburban Seamless Half-Round Gutter Supply because he is optimistic about the future of copper half-round gutters. “These gutters will always be a status symbol,” he believes, “and today, as more people are opting for homes they can live in for the long term, they’re putting more into their homes. When it comes to gutters, we like to say that installing copper half-rounds are ‘like adding earrings to a fine dress.’”

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