By Mark Ward Sr. / Begor’s successfully covers three N.Y. counties
From a business standpoint, success as a gutter contractor is a question of building enough volume to sustain operations and make a profit. And over the years, Gutter Opportunities has profiled installers who prosper through many different models.
Some companies build volume by focusing — to the exclusion of other services — on a core strength, often the ability to maximize how many linear feet of seamless aluminum gutter they install per week. Other contractors build volume by diversifying their products and services, perhaps by offering multiple materials (aluminum, steel, copper, zinc) and profiles (K-style, fascia, half-round) or by handling both residential and commercial jobs.
Still other installers drive up volume by selling a distinctive product or brand — an unusual gutter profile, a superior gutter protection system — for which they have exclusive rights in their markets. Or they may gain volume by specializing in an under-served niche such as sheet metal work for custom homes, installing rainwater harvesting systems or selling rain chains and decorative accessories.
Many gutter companies build volume through business-to-business relationships, regularly supplying gutters to home builders and roofing contractors. And of course, gains in volume can be generated by increasing company size and adding machines, trucks and crews.
Yet these business models don’t exhaust the possibilities. A case in point is Gary Begor, owner and president of Begor’s Seamless Gutters in Rouses Point, N.Y. He has managed to build an impressive volume of business despite being a day’s drive from any major city and, in fact, being based in one of the nation’s most remote and sparsely populated regions. “So we build volume,” he explains, “by being willing to travel.”
Rouses Point, where Begor has his central office, sits on the Canadian border atop Lake Champlain. His three crews and trucks are based further south out of Plattsburgh. The company has phone numbers in the towns of Lake Placid and Malone that forward calls to Rouses Point. These four New York locations — Rouses Point, Plattsburgh, Lake Placid, Malone — circumscribe a vast swath of the Adirondack and Champlain Valley regions.
Altogether, Begor’s Seamless Gutters serves three counties — Clinton, Essex, and Franklin — that form the extreme northeast corner of New York State. The region is renowned for its mountains and lakes, dotted here and there with small towns and picturesque hamlets. “The population may be spread out,” Begor reports, “but they need gutters, too.”
The challenging economics of serving such a remote expanse means that, Begor adds, “There are only two gutter contractors for this entire area. It also means that seamless aluminum gutters haven’t been available here that long — only since the late 1980s and early 90s. Before that, the only thing many people could get was plastic gutters. I’ve been a business a dozen years and I’m still tearing out enough plastic to take a full trailer load to the dump every week.”
It all adds up to two interesting facts. First, Begor’s Seamless Gutters performs between 400 and 500 jobs per year — despite shutting down operations each winter. Second, the company has enjoyed growth every single year of its existence, even during the recent recession.
To achieve that feat, however, requires some savvy scheduling. For one thing, Begor handles all the sales himself, which translates into many hours on the road as well as the phone. “But that’s the biggest plus of all for our company — that customers can talk to the owner,” he says. “It’s the part of the business I enjoy the most. So I’ve gotten away from the installation side in order to build our company through personal contact. We’re local; you can actually meet us. That’s why even the big-box stores tell me they can’t compete with us.”
Even though Begor may be separated from some of his customers by a hundred miles, he has managed to create a viable local presence in the communities his company serves. “We have yellow pages advertising and local phone numbers in Rouses Point, Plattsburgh, Lake Placid, and Malone,” he explains. “But our best advertising is really when people see our trucks and crews working in their areas. In small towns, word really gets around.”
Yet Begor also invests much time in scheduling travel for his three crews, with a goal of putting gutters on two houses per day, per truck. In serving a radius of a hundred miles, the trick is batching jobs to get the most out of a trip and ensuring trucks are stocked to handle all the projects before returning home. “Though we keep product both in Rouses Point and Plattsburgh, bringing the right coil can sometimes be a challenge,” he admits, “because we pride ourselves on offering 15 colors.”
Begor’s Seamless Gutters installs Englert products, gets its hangars and screws from Raytec Manufacturing and owns three IronMan gutter machines. And while the company offers copper gutter systems and half-round profiles, Begor estimates that 95 percent of his volume is in seamless aluminum. With two 5-inch machines and a recently acquired 6-inch machine, he can handle residential projects and the occasional commercial job.
“When you come down to it,” Begor continues, “scheduling is based on the location, when the job was okayed, the color and the calendar. We don’t work in the winter because I learned years ago that our costs go up 25 percent due to increased time and labor. So as the winter season approaches, we try to finish up our projects in the areas west of us which are furthest from our base.”
At the same time, however, winter does not always begin and end at predictable times.
Last year Begor’s three crews worked until January, while the year before they were laid off in early December. And though an early spring last year allowed work to resume in early March, the previous year his crews had to stay off the roads until April.
The added time and cost for traveling up to a hundred miles for a job are reflected in Begor’s pricing. For example, a 5-inch seamless aluminum gutter job priced at $4.50 per linear foot in Rouses Point could be priced at $7 in Lake Placid.
Given the heavy tree cover of pine and maple in the Adirondacks, Begor tries to sell gutter protection as an add-on to every project. The company buys from Raytec up to 35,000 feet of mesh screen, a product that “does a great job up here,” he says.
Yet perhaps Begor’s biggest gutter protection problem is sliding snow. “A lot of homes in our region are switching from shingle roofs to metal roofs, especially since some standing-seam roofers have entered the market,” he observes. “For us, that means installing a wider fascia so we can drop the gutter down a bit. By dropping it down, we can ensure that sliding snow misses the outer lip of the trough and doesn’t take the whole gutter with it.”
Though Begor today is an experienced gutter contractor, he entered the business in 2000 as a newcomer to the industry. Before then his profession was warehouse traffic management, first for a bookbinding plant and then for a Canadian manufacturer of snowmobile aftermarket products. When the Canadian firm shuttered its U.S. operation in 2000, Begor tried his hand at carpentry.
“I also decided to build an addition onto my own house,” he recalls, “and called a guy to come and install the gutters. But gutters were a sideline for him and he was too busy with his main work to help me. We got to talking and he offered to sell me his gutter company. So I went on a few jobs with him, saw he didn’t have much competition for gutter jobs and figured the company could make money if the right effort was put into it.”
Begor and his wife Molly discussed the new venture and plunged in as co-owners. She quit her job in pharmaceuticals and took on the bookkeeping and phones, as she continues to do today. Meanwhile, Begor recounts, “In purchasing the company I acquired exactly one machine, one truck and one employee. Then it took five more years to justify purchasing our second machine and second truck.”
Yet the business grew every year — a trend that continues up to the present. “Before seamless aluminum was available here, getting a new gutter system was a very expensive proposition in our area,” Begor explains. “My company can give homeowners what they need, at a price point they can afford, along with Englert’s 20-year product warranty and our own 15-year installation warranty.”
What Begor’s Seamless Gutters provides is a good fit for its customer base. In these times, Begor believes, “People here aren’t spending money on things like travel and luxuries. For the most part, our customers aren’t high-income people. They’re fixing their homes, protecting their biggest investments for the long term.” Begor has built volume by meeting that need, prospering with a business model tailored to his unique market.