You see the logo designations on letterhead, company vehicles, t-shirts, and more, but why is it important for a contractor to be certified by a manufacturer? Factory-Certified Contractors can typically offer an exclusive extended warranty to homeowners and property owners. That brings a certain amount of peace of mind to the contractors themselves—as well as to their customers. But the benefits don’t just stop there. In this Q&A with Jim Slauson, vice president of certification program & services at GAF, he explains why these certifications are important to your business and how best to explain the options and value proposition to your clients.
Q: What are the benefits of being in a certification program?
There are many benefits of being in a program like the ones GAF offers. First of all, it adds more capabilities to the contractor’s skill set and what they can offer their clients, whether it’s extended warranty coverage or in ways that they can differentiate themselves in the eyes of their clients. We’re continuing to build the program and our strategy is very simple: if GAF can be in the position to help our contractors build their business and their capabilities and be more successful, we’ll do so.
Q: What’s most important for property owners when looking at this program and deciding whom to trust?
Commercial and steep-slope property owners are usually looking for one thing—help in making sure they don’t choose the wrong person to install their roofing system. Homeowners today are conducting research more than ever before and investigating not only the manufacturer, but the contractor, too. The reality is that even though most people are doing their due diligence, they don’t buy a lot of roofs in their lifetime (the average is one). So, they want some real help and guidance to make the right choice. When you see a relationship between a manufacturer and a contractor, it builds confidence that the manufacturer has looked at them. And we don’t just “look at them” at GAF. We have a full vetting process and criteria we go through when we look at whether they are the right contractor to put in our program, like making sure they are licensed, insured, and have a history of outstanding roofing work in the community. We check them out annually, too. The decision of who is accepted and who is not is determined by our Territory Managers. They know their contractors, their workmanship, their capabilities, their performance in the marketplace, and their reliability with their clients better than anyone else.
The other thing property owners look for is what added capabilities a contractor has by being in a certification program that they can take advantage of—like extended protection. We all have to remember that the dwellings and structures we own are very important. That’s where most of our assets sit and we want to make the right choice to have the best and longest protection possible.
Q: What should a contractor discuss about certification with a customer?
Contractor certification certainly should mean trust. It should be plainly said: “I’ve got credentials, I’ve got training, and I’ve got longevity. I will be here if something happens after the fact, and you can listen to me or not, but this type of due diligence has been done by the manufacturer and they chose me for the program.” For GAF in particular, we’re pretty selective. We don’t allow just any contractor in the club. They can’t go online and just register to be in the program—both our low- and steep-slope certification programs hand-pick contractors to join them. That’s really a strong talking point for a contractor to say they’ve been selected by GAF—the largest roofing manufacturer in North America.
All of the contractors that are at our higher levels of certification in our low-slope certification program can promote extended NDL (No Dollar Limit) warranties. If you’re a Master Elite® or Certified™ Contractor (which are steep-slope program certifications), you can offer the GAF Weather Stopper® Integrated System Limited Warranty or Golden Pledge® Limited Warranty. This says: “I’m not just any roofing contractor that can offer you the industry standard coverage. GAF has so much trust in me it is allowing me to promote these other warranties to give you even greater protection and peace of mind.”
Q: How knowledgeable are property owners about contractor programs?
If you go back as little as five years ago, property owners weren’t in much control when it came to choosing a contractor. So, the contractor was in a good position to direct the property owner. Today, more are doing their homework ahead of time, which is a great thing. They’re bringing things up like, “I see that you are certified by GAF at this level or you won this award. Tell me what that means.” I think that’s a great thing for the contractor, because it gives them credibility right away and shows they have an interest in what those things mean. I also think it’s a great thing for the property owner to have these resources available to them because otherwise they wouldn’t be very knowledgeable about who to choose, what kind of coverage they should have, what’s available as far as a look, protection, or types of system technology on a commercial roof. Today, this information is much more readily obtainable, including on the contractor’s own website. On gaf.com for example, anyone can see the Master Elite® Contractor designations and the experience they had with other property owners. Survey results, star ratings, and customer satisfaction surveys (good and bad) are also available. I think it builds a lot more confidence that the person sitting across their table is one they should strongly consider.
Q: All manufacturers offer this type of certification program, so how does GAF differ?
I think our program differs in several ways. Our vendor offerings through Tools4Success are much different and more in-depth than what our competitors have to offer. We focus a lot on building employee capability around the vendors we align ourselves with, which is very different from other manufacturers. One focus of ours is lead generation and we’re taking that to the next level to say, “leads are great, and if you ask a contractor what’s the most important thing a manufacturer can do for them it’s to get them more leads.” We’re now focusing in on what to do once you get those leads, from how to manage and track them to the best way to help you close those leads. Programs like this really help the contractor with more than just having basic business services.
Q: What are the recent changes you have made in the GAF certification program?
For steep slope, one of the big changes we made about two years ago that really had an impact in the program was to come up with a new designation for Master Elite® Contractors. The President’s Club award winners among our Master Elite® Contractors sets them apart from the rest of that group. The interest in attaining the President’s Club award for steep-slope contractors has been tremendous and it’s really another way they can market themselves among our best contractors, to highlight their capabilities, and to build more trust in their clients about who they are, what they’ve done, and how they perform with GAF. With both the steep- and low-slope programs, we are continuing to add new vendor programs in our Tools4Success book and are looking at how we can help these contractors with their business capabilities. There are a multitude of ways to do that through the programs and discounts we’ve negotiated with our vendors.
We just went through all of the tools in order to determine their value to a contractor. We probably didn’t get to them all, but came up with around 55 different initiatives to assist the contractor, put money in their pocket, and help them. We’ll be building on that as we go forward so we can be more visible about the value of the programs.
For our commercial contractor program, we have three levels. One of the issues I hear from a lot of contractors is that in the commercial industry, all the manufacturers will sign any contractor into whatever level to opportunistically chase a job. Over the last couple of years, we’ve taken a hard look at who’s in, who’s active, and who we’re working with; I have to say, we’ve done a really good job pruning the tree. We’ve had tough conversations with contractors who have not been committed to understanding our products and keeping up with training and we have had to deactivate them from the program. We’ve been working really hard with both programs, in particular the commercial program, to make sure we have good business partner relationships established.
Q: How important are designations for a contractor to work toward?
We have excellence awards contractors can earn by completing training and education in three different areas. If they hit all three, it’s called the Triple Excellence Award, and is available for both commercial and steep-slope contractors. In addition, we have our President’s Club designation that I mentioned earlier. It’s amazing to me how important those things are for the contractors to earn. We have an annual conference called Wealth Builder/Partners in Growth and invite our best contractors to attend. One of the things we take real joy in is our awards recognition banquet and contractors strive to make sure that they are recognized. First of all, it’s a little self-serving for them, but it’s a way for us to show our appreciation for their hard work. When they show the property owner the designations they earned and explain to them what they mean, it shows they are a contractor firm that strives to be the very best—whether that means putting down the best roofing system the right way according to the manufacturer or having customers satisfied after they leave the job. All those things build real trust and differentiation, so they take it very seriously and so do we. As we go through the year we make sure our Territory Managers are continuously updating them on where they stand in earning these designations and when we have contractors who come up slightly short at the end of the year, they are unhappy and disappointed when they don’t earn these awards.
These programs should not only be looked at as badges of honor and something they can opportunistically use as they see fit, but it’s also a relationship with GAF. We should feel on both sides that we’re in a consultant role to help each other. If you both view it that way and understand the goal, these programs can be a great thing for them and a great thing for us. We really do look at our contractors in these programs as business partners. If a contractor doesn’t have that similar view about what they want to accomplish with us, it’s ok—they’re not the right fit.
Find out more about becoming a GAF certified contractor.