Alt’s Seamless Spouting explores growth opportunities
By Mark Ward Sr. /
Ross Alt is a self-described fanatic. “I’m constantly doing Internet research,” says the vice president and co-owner of Alt’s Seamless Spouting, LLC, in Ottawa, Ohio. “Every day I’ve got a FedEx truck coming by our office to drop off new products for us to review and test. My dad smiles and shakes his head when I’m online so much. But we both pride ourselves on giving our customers the best products available, ones we’ve tested ourselves.”
That research has been a key to the 30-year-old company’s development since the onset of the recession in 2008. To generate new revenue streams, that year Ross Alt and his father Steve decided to diversify. Now in addition to installing aluminum gutters, Alt’s Seamless Spouting not only offers copper and steel systems, along with gutter protection options and rainwater harvesting tanks, but has become a specialty contractor for outdoor living products from awnings and arbors.
“Outdoor living is becoming a big trend,” Ross Alt reports, “so that there’s an opening for contractors who can become specialists in certain products that target certain customers.”
The newest offering from Alt’s Seamless Spouting is the innovative Equinox Louvered Roof. The product takes the traditional arbor a step further and allows homeowners to adjust the amount of light and shade that comes into a covered outdoor space.
Even if seamless aluminum gutters still account for 95 percent of the Alts’ business, every installer knows that — especially in tough times when profit margins are slim — even an extra five percent added to the bottom line can make a big difference.
That lesson was learned early on, soon after Steve Alt founded his company in 1982 during the midst of a recession. At the time, he was employed by a cement contractor that installed gutters as a sideline. He then bought its gutter machine to launch out on his own.
Few gutter specialists were active then, but he worked steadily to convince homebuilders across Northwest Ohio about the value of his services. Once the good times returned in the 1990s and the region’s housing market boomed, Alt’s Seamless Spouting was performing new construction projects for nearly 100 contractors.
About that time Ross Alt finished school and, like his father, had a desire to start a business of his own. “I was taking business courses at night and figured that working in Dad’s company would give me a chance to supplement learning with doing,” he recalls. Soon, though, he got excited about the potentials of the gutter business and, by 2005, bought into Alt’s Seamless Spouting as a part owner.
The company has continued to evolve and today its focus is on retrofit projects for homeowners. With three gutter machines and two installation crews, Alt’s Seamless Spouting covers a radius of about 60 miles from its home base in Ottawa. Its service territory covers seven counties and the metro areas around Toledo and Findlay, Ohio.
Father and son have proven to be a complementary team. “Dad is more into the hands-on work of scheduling and installation,” explains Ross Alt, “while I’m more into marketing and sales. Though Dad makes me work for every dollar I earn, we work well together. He’s a common-sense guy, while I’m eager to try new things. But he’s always open to ideas.”
That penchant for marketing has added an important dimension to the company.
Compared to the early days when his father had little competition, affirms Ross Alt, “today there are a lot of lowball gutter installers. So we must do a lot of consumer education about the value we offer. Sales calls are about listening to the customers, finding out their needs and wants, and then tailoring a solution.”
What differentiates Alt’s Seamless Spouting from the competition, says Ross Alt, “is how we build value by combining our experience with constant improvement in our products and installation techniques.” As an example, he relates how the company has moved over the years from traditional spike-and-ferrule installation to hidden hangers, and now to Truss DuraTrac system in which gutters are mounted without nails, screws, or spikes.
“That means there aren’t any holes in the gutters, which preserves a watertight seal,” explains Alt. “Gutters are allowed to move freely, which is critical when you affix any type of metal to a structure. And the Truss DuraTrac system allows for ventilation behind the gutter, which eliminates condensation so that the fascia stays dry.”
Another example of improvement is the gutter protection that the Alts offer to their customers. After testing numerous products on the market they settled on The Leaf Terminator from Gutter Covers International as a gutter-cover option, and the Altimate XL for those who want a gutter screen. The former is distinguished by a design that eliminates unsightly hangers and brackets, along with an efficient perforated water handling design. And the Altimate XL provides a low profile that is invisible from the street and works well for the tree cover in Northwest Ohio since its small holes repel maple seeds.
To help homeowners maintain their investments in a gutter system, Alt’s Seamless Spouting offers two products designed to prevent unsightly tiger-striping. Gutter Edge is a small “add-on” that prevents streaking as it snaps onto the trough to deflect water, mud and debris. And for gutters that are already streaked, the makers of Gutter Edge also offer a Gutter Cleaner product that easily sprays on and wipes off.
Perhaps the Alts’ first major foray into a diversified product line was spurred not by the 2008 recession but by a series of floods that devastated Ottawa and Findlay in 2007. “In an ironic way,” admits Ross Alt, “I felt that our gutters, by doing such a good job in getting rain away from houses, contributed in some small way to the floods. So we started selling Bushman rainwater harvesting tanks. The concept isn’t yet a big seller in Ohio. But utility rates for water are rising and so I think a market will eventually develop.”
The company’s subsequent decision to diversify in response to the 2008 recession has, in turn, created a greater need to advertise and market its service — which now range from gutter products and rain barrels to the Equinox Louvered Roof and the Durasol and Sunsetter brands of outdoor awnings. “Home shows are expensive, but they’re a huge marketing tool for us,” states Alt. “We also write a blog to show people that we’re experts, and we have company Facebook page. We’re planning to put more dollars into social media with a Google AdWords campaign, while minimizing our presence in the yellow pages.”
Looking further into the future, Alt is encouraged that his father Steve remains as excited as ever about the business and has no plans yet to retire. Nevertheless, Ross Alt readily admits that his own limitations are driving another new development. “My bent is toward sales and marketing,” he explains, “and since I’m not as good at operations, I can’t by myself replace what my father does,” he concedes. “We’re creating management systems so that, when the time comes, Dad can step away and the company can run itself. For example, if we hire a new installer than I can hand him a manual and a training video.”
Then, too, more sophisticated management systems will be needed to handle the growth that Alt anticipates in the future. To get ready, he recently acquired a cloud-computing program designed to organize sales leads. When Alt’s plans for increased marketing are combined with a burgeoning list of products and services, the need for organization is clear.
“Around here,” he says, “there’s always something new in the pipeline and in the works. We’re never satisfied.”