Rooting for the Storm
Just a little blurb I wrote this morning.
Rooting for the Storm
You canít be too careful in my line of work. It gets to be Big Business if you play it right, and what good is business if it isnít big? If youíre not growing youíre dying, thatís what all the business books taught me, thatís what I believe. And Iím just trying to keep growing, keep food on my table and rings on my ex-wifeís fingers. Weíre all out here just trying to make a Buck, arenít we?
But you have to be careful. Otherwise, youíll find yourself rooting for the storm.
He never saw it as destruction Ė he saw it as opportunity. After all, you canít rebuild what hasnít been torn down or blown away in the first place; you canít make something better if itís not already worse-for-wear. He didnít consider the service he provided noble or charitable, but rather necessary, the way every city needs a garbage collector.
His name was Bill Perkins. People called him a Storm Chaser, but he preferred the term Roofing Specialist.
He had traveled to Texas in the wake of hurricane Harvey. He and his team of contractors were currently laid up in a cheap motel in Hunt, Texas, some hundred miles away from the howling winds and sideway rain of the hurricane. They were waiting for the storm to dissipate, for the homeland of Texas and all its shopping malls and houses to provide enough friction for the storm to peter itself out. Then they could get on the road and get to work.
He was currently seated in some smoky bar a couple miles from their hotel. He was drinking alone, enjoying a cigarette, silently commending the Powers That Be of Kerr County, Texas for their no-nonsense decision to allow patrons of bars to light up inside the establishment. Everywhere else around the country, it seemed, you could only smoke in your own home, under the covers, with the lights off, so long as your closest neighbor was twenty-five yards away or more.
ďAnother,Ē he said, setting his empty glass down in front of the bartender.
She poured yellow-gold whiskey almost to the top of his glass.
If Bill ever had a son Ė and he didnít think that was likely, not with him constantly traveling the country on the heels of the latest natural disaster Ė he would give him a few pieces of sage advice. The first would be to make a habit of flossing your teeth every morning and night, same as brushing your teeth; the second would be to always tip large the first time you order a drink at a bar. His pearly whites would be testament to his first piece of advice, the stiff drink in front of him proof of the effectiveness of the second.
He watched the news while he drank.
Not for the first time, he mused on the Big Business aspect of natural disasters. The news crews got their piece; the people at home got their entertainment. The Red Cross and the National Relief Fund and the mega-churches with their prayer lines, their stocks went way up every time a hurricane or tornado touched down. Even the sanctimonious hashtag warriors were compensated in the form of Likes and Retweets.
And then there were the storm chasers Ė the roofers, remodelers, water damage specialists. At least they were building something, repairing, fixing, making better.
He took a long gulp of his whiskey.
Thereís a marketing element that most people donít understand about Billís line of work. In marketing terms, they call it being first in the door. First in, wins, early bird gets the worm, and all that jazz. Bill used this principle to get booked up before the hurricane even made landfall. Itís not like you can go knocking on doors to pitch your services after the fact.
Most people are smart. They watch the news, the weather channel. They know how big the storm will be, how likely it is that their home will be damaged by the winds and the rain. They plan for these things. They call their insurance company, they search for roofing contractors days or weeks before leaving their home. Those who donít Ė those who decide to wait out the storm, see exactly how bad it will be before devoting any time or resources to mitigating the damage Ė well, Bill didnít want to work with those people anyway.
He was older than most in the game Ė certainly no spring chicken at the ripe age of forty-seven Ė but that didnít mean he couldnít adapt to the current age of technology. Heíd spent thousands of dollars on a professional website for the face of his business. He also spent three-thousand dollars a month on what was called search-engine-optimization for that website, the process by which some websites are ranked higher in search engines like Google than others. It was by far his largest marketing expenditure, but by and large the most effective. His website (and free estimate phone number) showed up first when people in Dallas or Fort Worth searched for roof repairs or roofing contractors in their area.
First in, wins.
The crew he used were honest and hard working. They didnít skimp on materials or labor for a higher job turnover rate, unlike some of the other fly-by-night contractors that seemed to pop up every time a tornado or hurricane touched down. Bill was once one of those contractors and had found that while the money was good, the business model wasnít sustainable Ė the time-cost of registering new companies wasnít worth the hassle of remaining semi-anonymous for fear of bad reviews.
So their prices were a bit higher than industry average. What did that matter? Nine times out of ten it was the insurance companies footing the bill, not the homeowners. And besides: if youíre not growing, youíre dying. Those higher prices allowed Bill to hire on two additional contractors Ė that meant three extra roofs could be repaired each week.
Isnít that what itís all about?
As Bill drove to the first house Ė the one with the front door caved in and half the shingles blown a county or more away Ė he found himself thinking of his grandfather. Harvey was his name, and Bill remembered a time years ago, before he was a Storm Chaser, when the two had been watching the weather channel. Hurricane Katrina had been racking up a substantial body count in New Orleans at the time, and his grandfather said he wished heíd live long enough to see a hurricane named after him. Heíd died two weeks later of a massive heart attack.
Some things canít be rebuilt. Sometimes the only thing you can do is start over.
They gutted the roof, reframed it from the top down. They put on new shingles.
As they drove away, Bill saw the house in his rearview mirror. It looked like a man with a thousand-dollar haircut wearing two-dollar shoes.
Some things just canít be rebuilt, he thought. Sometimes the only thing that will help is starting over.
You go to the Keys during hurricane season, chase tornadoes through South Dakota. You have your website updated weeks in advance of the next calamity (ďNow servicing Oak County residents affected by WhateverĒ). Your team of internet marketers Ė the ones you pay thousands of dollars to get you in the door first Ė work around the clock to manipulate the search results in whatever area youíll be next.
You work, you get paid, you drink.
Rarely do you build anything.
Repairs are all people want. They want it just like it was before.
You do the job as best you can, hire others to do it for you when you get too beaten down.
Youíre building a company, youíre growing. And everyone has to eat, donít they?
But you have to be careful. The moneyís just too damn good, and if you donít watch out, youíll find yourself rooting for the storm.