Weatherguard Gutters thrives on being part of the community

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By Mark Ward Sr.

In January when Sam Kuris died in a forklift accident, he left behind a wife, three children and a distressed property the British Columbia family had purchased with the hope of renovating into their dream home.

Weatherguard GuttersHearing of the family’s straits, a Vancouver community outreach program called the Home Team swung into action. In September the group, a ministry of the local Cornerstone Seventh Day Adventist Church, pulled together more than 150 area contractors and suppliers to complete the renovation and make the Kuris family dream come true.

One participant was Weatherguard Gutters Inc., whose president Russell McCann has so far helped the Home Team with nine makeover projects for needy families.

“Over the years I’ve worked with community outreaches like the Home Team and the soup kitchen,” McCann recounts, “and I’ve helped build churches and schools in Malaysia and Africa.” And though McCann jokes he had planned a very different career before “ending up in the gutter” nearly 25 years ago, he has come to appreciate how the business has afforded him the opportunity and flexibility to find personal and professional satisfaction.

Considering how Weatherguard Gutters operates a dozen trucks that cover an area of nearly 2 million people and some 1,400 square miles — and that McCann also owns two sister companies, Weatherguard Exteriors and Weatherguard Renovations — it may seem surprising that, as he admits, “I’ve always taken a casual approach to the business.”

Weatherguard GuttersYet his take-things-as-they-come outlook is rooted in two aspects of McCann’s character.

First is his conviction that “I’ve put the business in God’s hands,” he explains, “which takes a load off my mind because God’s in charge. My job is to build relationships in our community, help customers and others where I can, and keep things going according to a larger purpose.”

Second is McCann’s inner peace about hiring good people and then empowering them.

“Truth be told,” he concedes, “I would probably have been satisfied to run a couple of trucks and keep the business at what I thought was a manageable size. But the key to growth is recognizing your strengths and weaknesses — and while I’m strong in sales, I’m not as strong with management.”

So as McCann readily acknowledges, “I was lucky to hire people who covered my weaknesses — and who, quite frankly, had a larger vision than me for the growth potential of our company. Our size still seems overwhelming to me at times. What’s made it work is recruiting and retaining the right people and crews.”

McCann “ended up in the gutter,” in the first place, by accepting the opportunities that came along rather than bending the world to his will. “I’d planned to be a doctor and was getting a medical degree,” he remembers, “but in the 1980s the cost of a medical education was rising. So I took a year off from school to earn money after a friend in Edmonton, who was a gutter subcontractor, invited me to work for him.”

Weatherguard GuttersWhen a recession hit in the mid-1980s and the gutter business slowed down, his friend moved to Vancouver. But McCann was off to Toronto with plans to install gutters until school started up again in the fall. His new employer, however, was swamped with projects and begged McCann to stay on through the end of year.

Later, McCann rejoined his friend in Vancouver and then in 1988 decided to launch out on his own with Weatherguard Gutters. “It was a tough decision because I still liked the idea of becoming a doctor,” he recalls, “but I also liked the gutter business because the work is different every day, you meet new people all the time, jobs are over quickly rather than taking weeks or months to finish, and you get a sense of accomplishment when the work is done.”

McCann also was fortunate to be in the right place at the right time. After Vancouver hosted a world’s fair in 1986, the city attracted an influx of Asian businesses and immigrants. The housing market boomed and Weatherguard Gutters quickly became a favorite with local builders who appreciated McCann’s emphases on quality and service at a fair price.

“But through dips in the economy over the years,” he continues, “we decided to diversify. About half of our business is still new home construction, while 40 percent is retrofit jobs for existing homes and 10 percent is gutter work for high-end homes. Happily, construction activity in Vancouver is still phenomenal.”

With 13 gutter machines in operation, Weatherguard Gutters offers a diverse range of products and services. Seamless 5- and 6-inch gutters are sold in either a Colonial or a Crown profile whose classic looks set the Weatherguard apart from competitors. And two years ago the company was the first Vancouver installer to offer seamless half-round gutters in copper, zinc or aluminum.

How the company got into half-round gutters is another example of McCann taking advantage of the opportunities that come his way. A local Olive Garden restaurant contacted him after its copper gutters were stolen. Since copper theft is an ongoing problem, the restaurant spurned a copper replacement system but still wanted a half-round European look.

Rather than send the customer elsewhere, McCann invested in a new seamless half-round gutter machine. “We justified it as another way to differentiate us from competitors,” he states, “and in hopes of building up a market for more high-end gutter jobs. It’s been a struggle. But homes in Vancouver are so expensive, anyway, that gutters are only a small part of the overall construction cost.”

Like McCann’s original restaurant customer, high-end homeowners are afraid of copper theft but appreciate the look of half-round gutters. “So when we show they have some options in half-round gutters, in addition to copper, they get excited,” he says.
Weatherguard also gets marketing mileage from being around longer than its competitors.

McCann has made his share of sales calls and affirms that homeowners and builders pay attention when he points out, “Not all machines are identical, so that not all similarly-named profiles are compatible or interchangeable. It’s almost impossible to repair gutter damage if the original machine is no longer around. That’s why it’s important to deal with a well-established company.”

Such arguments are crucial these days, McCann believes, as “the price of gutter machines has dropped by half since 2007, so that competitors are ramping up. In only two or three months, somebody can go into business and have a machine, a nice truck, a spiffy logo and website, and look legitimate.” Weatherguard’s answer is to offer good wages and retain top crews so that, he adds, “We can sell value, charge prices that turn fair profits, and still keep busy with work.”

Nevertheless, McCann acknowledges his company must keep up with competitors when it comes to customer perceptions. “One area where I’ve been lucky to hire people who are strong in areas where I’m weak,” he notes, “is branding and imaging. They’ve gotten us high-end trucks and equipment and found ways to optimize our website. Word-of-mouth is still the best advertising. But I appreciate how our key executives often dream bigger than I do.”

Not that McCann is short on innovation, however. A few years ago, after failing to find a gutter protection product that worked to his satisfaction in Vancouver’s unique environment, he simply developed his own. Today the Gutter Guard Pro design is licensed to a Florida manufacturer and sold across North America.

“Vancouver is in a rain forest,” McCann explains. “Our wind and snow loads aren’t huge, but we do get lots of rain. On top of that, Vancouver is the most heavily treed city in the world — and most of those trees are pines and cedars that drop needles.” The forward-sloping screen of Gutter Guard Pro prevents trapped debris from building up, while a drip edge prevents the tiger striping that often plagues Vancouver gutter systems.

Despite others’ claims to the contrary, McCann asserts no product can provide 100-percent gutter protection. “Gutter Guard Pro doesn’t claim to be ‘maintenance-free,’” he notes, “but instead is what we call ‘maintenance-friendly.’ It keeps out the majority of the small stuff and lengthens the time between cleanings.”

Though gutters have always been his central focus, McCann took on some siding and soffit work about 20 years ago as a way to diversify. By 1995 he spun off that work to create Weatherguard Exteriors as a separate company. Then four years ago, after noting the rise of home restoration projects in Vancouver, he and a partner formed Weatherguard Restorations.

Both companies benefit from the locally prominent Weatherguard brand and image but are operated as standalone enterprises.

“We’ve had growth,” McCann says of his interests, “but the growth isn’t something that I ever set out according to a plan. I’ve put it in God’s hands and left the rest up to his direction. For me, it’s enough that I enjoy the work, see how it has a larger purpose, and can be used to help people in ways that I couldn’t have imagined or planned in advance.”  

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