By Mark Ward Sr. /
The question applies not only to kids but to small businesses. “Eight years ago I was a newcomer,” says general manager Chad Yarbrough of Quality Gutter Systems in Boerne, Texas. “But now that I’ve learned the ropes, it’s time to look ahead and make decisions about our company’s future.”
Since 2004, QGS has carved out a niche as a local gutter installer in the Texas Hill Country northwest of San Antonio. With one crew and two KWM Gutterman IronMan gutter machines — the second one added only recently — Yarbrough has for eight years operated at what he calls “the level of a mom-and-pop business.” To expand, however, he must go where the customers are. That will mean competing in the San Antonio metro market against established installers, thus forcing QGS to raise its game.
“We’ll need to add one or two more crews, buy a third gutter machine and hopefully hire another salesperson. On top of that, handling it all will require office systems to track leads, sales, inventory and installations,” says Yarbrough. “And we’ll need something that differentiates our company from the competition.”
While meeting those demands will be a tall order, Yarbrough has already come a long way since entering the business in 2004 as a recent Texas State University graduate. His cousin Jon Yarbrough owned a roofing business and saw an opportunity to launch a gutter company. Lacking the time to run the new venture himself, he invited Chad to take the reins.
Though Chad had just completed a degree in business and marketing, he admits, “Running an actual company is a lot more demanding than hearing about it in a classroom.” So Yarbrough enrolled in the school of experience, learning every aspect of the gutter business — sales, estimating, installation, office management — from the ground up.
Nevertheless, Yarbrough concedes, “It’s difficult to work ‘on’ your business while at the same time working ‘in’ your business.” One helpful resource was a “Senox University” course offered by the gutter products manufacturer in nearby Austin, Texas. Sessions were taught by Bill Frazier, owner of the Austin Gutterman company, who today runs a well-known “Gutter Boot Camp” training series.
Another helpful resource for Yarbrough has been Truss Building Products, which, as it turns out, also is headquartered in Boerne, Texas. “Truss is an innovative company,” he says, “and I’ve learned a lot from them about products and installation.” Their proximity — in fact, Truss is a mile down the road from Yarbrough’s office — has proved to be important for the development of QGS.
Starting out in 2004 as an extension of Jon Yarbrough’s Quality Roofing, QGS at first leveraged its connections with local home builders to supply gutters for new construction. “We rode the coattails of the roofing business and, even today, half of our business comes from referrals.” But as Chad Yarbrough worked on the business, QGS evolved over the years into a diverse operation that serves the retrofit, new construction and custom home markets. Using SnapLock and LeafLock products from Truss has been a key to servicing existing homes.
“I became a believer in the SnapLock installation system because it makes gutters easy to install but eliminates spikes and screws. So you don’t puncture the back of the gutter and don’t put holes in the fascia board that lead to water damage, rot, mold and separation of the gutter from the house,” explains Yarbrough. Later, he field-tested the LeafLock product from Truss and was convinced it offers the best gutter protection available for his customers. “Having a superior protection product,” he continues, “lets us tap into markets we couldn’t serve before.”
As Yarbrough has learned about the gutter business, he has also learned about himself. “I’m glad that I learned the installation side of the business,” he explains, “because I tend to be a perfectionist and, once I mastered the right techniques, I can pass along to our crews. But what I enjoy best is customer relations, the work of educating homeowners about solutions to their gutter needs and then giving them a great experience.”
Leveraging his strengths is guiding Yarbrough through the process of planning for expansion. “For example,” he relates, “we’ve historically relied on referrals. Though we do some magazine, newspaper and direct mail advertising, I don’t have a marketing plan because I’ve been too busy with the rest of the business. So a component of our business plan is to free me up to concentrate more on marketing. The goal is to have a plan for generating and following up on leads, plus a system to track response and decide where our advertising dollars should go.”
Yarbrough is now in the process of preparing to bring on a second crew and, later, to purchase a third gutter machine. The added capacity will permit QGS to handle higher volumes of work as it moves into the San Antonio metro market. “Then, too, we’ve got to be ready when demand cycles upward,” he continues. “Ninety-percent of our jobs for homeowners are driven by weather. Last year, business was down because of the drought. This year, we got more rain and so there’s a pent-up demand for gutters.”
Though demand may vary due to the weather, Yarbrough believes he can keep two crews busy year-round as QGS expands. The SnapLock and LeafLock products differentiate QGS from competitors, while a diverse product mix permits the company to serve a variety of customers. QGS offers K-style, straight-face and half-round profiles; installs aluminum, steel and copper gutters; and sells decorative accessories including rain chains.
“Our dollar volume has increased every since I started in 2004,” Yarbrough relates, “to the point where, with a single crew, we’re doing more than $500,000 a year in business. But we’ll soon reach the limit of what a single crew can do. My goal is to double our sales in the next two years, but that will require another crew. Eventually, I’d like to have three crews so that one can be dedicated to existing home, one to new construction, and one to gutter protection.”
In time, Yarbrough envisions the day when QGS will need to identify its core strengths and take a more concentrated, less diversified approach to the market. “Right now,” he reports, “I’m leaning toward gutter protection as an emphasis for our business. LeafLock is, in my opinion, a best-on-the-market product. As we sell LeafLock, we build relationships with customers so that they turn to us for their other gutter needs.”
That makes sense because, when LeafLock gutter protection and SnapLock gutters are installed together, they afford “great structural integrity for the total system,” states Yarbrough. “That’s vital to consider because the vast majority of gutter protection products rely on the structural integrity of the gutter and the roof for the products to work. But if the system shifts, separates or buckles over time, the leaf protection may no longer work.”
Selling LeafLock also makes sense for QGS because of its connection with Quality Roofing. The latter installs a large volume of metal roofing and, notes Yarbrough, “LeafLock is the one gutter protection product that can best handle the increased velocity of rainwater as it comes off a metal roof.” That becomes doubly important for customers in the Hill Country who depend on rainwater harvesting and must keep out leaves and debris.
With his company now poised for expansion and growth, Yarbrough is starting to see a payoff for the years he has spent to learn the gutter business. “A major reason it’s worked so well,” he explains, “is that my cousin Jon, who owns Quality Roofing of Boerne, Texas, has given me a lot of freedom to run the operation and develop it. He never micromanages, and someday I hope to buy an ownership stake from him. But for now, having made this career since college, the gutter business has been everything I could have hoped.”