Jen Silver is the CEO & President of Roofing Utah, a roofing company in Salt Lake City that helps homeowners with roof replacements and storm damage restoration.
In addition to being the owner of a roofing company, Silver is also an industry consultant, helping contractors learn how to have more control over their businesses by knowing their numbers.
Born in Germany but raised in the United States, the worldly Silver mentions that due to her mobile childhood, it’s difficult to say just where exactly she is from.
“That is a really hard question for me because I went to three different elementary schools and three different high schools,” Silver reveals.
“From the time I was born until the time I moved out, I lived in ten or twelve different houses, five different states, and two different countries.”
That being said, Silver’s most formative years took place in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and despite spending ample time as a teenager embroiled in Tar Heel Nation, Silver never had dreamt of graduating from UNC, or any university for that matter.
“When I went to college, I didn’t know what I wanted to be. I didn’t want to be a doctor, attorney, engineer, architect, or teacher, so it didn’t make sense for me to go to college when I didn’t even know if I was going to need a degree and then be in debt when I got out,” Silver says, adding that when she was eighteen years old she was making upwards of $1,000 per week waiting tables, which had spurred ambitions of what could one day be.
Later out of college but making a nice living, Silver’s work ethic quickly earned her a promotion to restaurant manager just before she was legally allowed to buy alcohol, and she spent the next several years ascending the proverbial corporate ladder and providing immense value to whatever company employed her.
In fact, Silver’s life would likely look drastically different these days had she not made the decision to focus on her marriage and children, a decision that eventually took her to Okinawa, Japan for several years.
And while Silver enjoyed raising her children and immersing herself in a foreign culture, over time her marriage began to falter, and by 2016 she was divorced and living in, of all places, Utah.
Having been out of the workforce for a number of years, Silver was stuck in the precarious position of knowing the value she could bring to a company, but at the same not having the recent track record of employment to prove it.
Seeking a challenge that extended beyond the restaurant industry, Silver began looking for an outside sales position with a company that would grant her the flexibility she needed in order to properly look after her children.
“If you have kids, then you know that they get sick a lot, especially during their first year of school. I knew it would fall on me to deal with that, and if I didn’t have a job that was flexible, then I would look unreliable,” Silver says in further describing her motivations to pursue sales.
After researching the various industries in the Salt Lake City market, Silver focused her search on landing a position with a company in the construction business, citing the seemingly never-ending building cycle and the potential for earning a nice living.
“I wasn’t necessarily looking to get into roofing. I was open to any trade within the industry. I needed to find a way to meet people so they could see that I had the ability to learn and the skills to be successful. I just needed the knowledge,” Silver recalls.
In order to ingratiate herself to the big players in the Salt Lake City construction market, Silver accepted a temporary position at a renowned country club in Ogden.
“My whole purpose there was to meet a contractor that would hire me and get me into construction,” Silver explains.
Initially, many contractors were reticent to hire Silver because of her lack of industry experience, but as they began to notice just how capable she was, their attitudes changed.
“They accepted me because I had so many management skills, and it was very easy to integrate me into their system without having to train me too much,” Silver gives as the reason why she ultimately ended up at SRS Distribution, a nationwide supply company for roofers and construction companies.
Silver started with SRS Distribution under the assumption that she would be promoted to outside sales after twelve months, but before her first year was complete the company underwent some managerial changes and downsizing.
As a result, Silver was let go.
While Silver was heartbroken over the misfortune, SRS Distribution’s decision ended up being a massive boon to her career.
Within a few days of being let go, Silver had already begun receiving job offers from local roofing companies and suppliers in the Salt Lake City area.
From there, Silver agreed to terms with a roofing company that hired her to become their sales manager.
When she started in July of 2018, the company was grossing $1.9 million in revenue, a figure that Silver promised to raise to north of $4 million.
A few of the company’s execs bristled at that notion, but much to the amazement of the disbelieving throng of decision makers, by the end of the season Silver had delivered on her promise.
More impressively, the next year Silver raised the gross revenue to $7 million, a feat that earned her a promotion to general manager.
It seemed as though the company would continue its upward trajectory under Silver’s leadership, but before the next year, the company began having issues with licensing.
To combat any potential disruptions to the company’s workflow, Silver went out and applied for her general contractor’s license, but because her current company’s license was no longer valid, trying to become licensed with that company had the potential to get her application denied.
Unsure what to do next, a Utah Licensing Representative suggested she start her own roofing company.
“I laughed because it had never been a goal of mine to own a business or be an entrepreneur, but I had a great team already in place and we had almost $1 million in sold business that needed to be produced,” says Silver, who despite being confronted with uncertainty, ultimately decided to bet on herself, thus resulting in the inception of Roofing Utah.
“As general manager [at the former roofing company], I felt obligated to see those jobs through. Sure, that responsibility didn’t fall on me from a liability perspective, but from an integrity standpoint, I felt that it did.”
Suddenly tasked with a mountain of paperwork steeper than Kings Peak, Silver and her team worked tirelessly to sort out agreements with insurance companies and past customers, a strenuous affair that left Silver questioning whether Roofing Utah would even make it out of their first year alive.
Dealing with pending payments from insurance companies threatened the foundation of her roofing company, but within that experience Silver also recognized that her company’s business model couldn’t be predicated solely on insurance restoration work.
That’s why ever since her first year Silver has been a staunch proponent of roofing companies building their business to cater to homeowners beyond just insurance restoration.
In other words, Silver believes that roofing companies would be wise to learn how to sell roofs at retail price, without the benefit of a major insurance carrier covering 95% of the cost for homeowners.
“In my opinion, retail is the basis of business,” Silver states.
“If you look at most other businesses, they are founded upon one model, but in the roofing industry we have gotten to the place where we have two different models: insurance and retail.”
For the record, Silver is not vehemently opposed to the insurance restoration business.
She just doesn’t believe it’s a wise strategy for long-term success.
“There is a huge misconception on the effectiveness of the insurance model,” says Silver, who claims that the way some roofing contractors have tried to “stick it to the man” has caused a massive breakdown in the industry, which ultimately negatively affects customers.
“Insurance companies, whether we like it or not, are businesses as well, and we as an industry, both sides, have lost sight of what matters most, the consumer. Both insurance companies and contractors are in a war over who is right, and not working toward finding a fair and equitable balance that would work for all.”
Unfortunately, this has created a disconnect that could have massive long-term ramifications.
“When roofing contractors started trying to maximize as much as they could on line items [in a homeowner’s insurance report], they created a division between them and the insurance companies, and they didn’t focus on being reasonable and the numbers they need to stay in business.”
To be fair, Silver acknowledges that insurance companies haven’t always operated on good faith either, but no matter which party is held culpable, the end result is that insurance companies have gradually begun to alter their approach to the way they write homeowner insurance policies.
Consequently, Silver set up Roofing Utah so that their revenue stream is not dependent on the pocketbooks of insurance companies, among other things.
“The biggest reason that I prefer the retail model is because it doesn’t make sense to me as a business owner why another entity gets to dictate the way I run my business, and how much money I’m allowed to make,” Silver says.
“The whole point of being a business owner is to have autonomy and control over those types of things, and when you do the insurance proceeds model, you really make it so that you don’t have control.”
For reference, when a roofing contractor agrees to do work for insurance proceeds, homeowners typically pay a deposit of up to 50% to the contractor so they can order materials and hire a crew.
But the potential for cashflow issues arrives after the job is done, when the contractor could be left waiting months as they fight for supplemental items with the insurance carrier, who still has to pay the homeowner, who will then pay the contractor the remaining balance.
For well-run businesses who have planned accordingly, their viability isn’t compromised, but for roofers who quite literally make a living off “robbing Peter to pay Paul,” staying afloat is often impossible.
“Think about this: the insurance company gets to control the claim and all of the cashflow, but in reality, the consumer should be controlling their claim, and the contractor should control the cashflow,” Silver says.
“And with insurance companies, you have zero power to collect because you’re not in contract with them, and they’re not obligated to do anything that you want them to do.”
Silver calls the current insurance restoration paradigm a broken model, which is why she is touring around the country educating roofing contractors on the importance of bringing value to homeowners that extends beyond the company’s ability to work for proceeds allocated by the insurance company.
“As a roofing company, you need to have a value proposition, something that makes you different. For example, you have to learn how to do a sales presentation,” emphasizes Silver, who is concerned that recent events in the American economy will lead to the demise of a vast array of roofers.
“The market is going to see a cleanse during this recession. The good roofers will stay, and the bad ones will not.”
In the coming years, Silver also predicts that insurance companies will start exercising their right to repair roofs instead of fully replacing them, a tactic that will save them money.
Moreover, when these repairs take place, it’s likely that insurance carriers will hire their own contractors, or someone from their managed repair program to perform the work, which will also reduce opportunities for roofers.
“In anything, you have three major variables that matter to people: time, quality, and price, and so when all you’re doing is volume as quick and as cheap as you can, the quality is not going to be there,” Silver notes.
“For roofing companies that operate under this model, I don’t understand how they’ll be able to sustain themselves.”
Further complicating matters, insurance companies have already begun increasing deductibles on policies, as well as inserting clauses that only hold them liable to pay a percentage on older roofs that are damaged.
Still, these unilateral decisions don’t have to be frightening for roofing contractors, provided they adequately adapt their business model, as Silver and Roofing Utah have done.
“I heard a statistic that 90% of roofs are financed, and the majority of Americans do not have $20,000, or even $10,000 to pay for a new roof,” says Silver, who has configured financing options for customers of Roofing Utah.
“So why not help them with that financing and give them the freedom to do what they want with the proceeds they get from their carriers?”
But there is more to her concerns.
“My biggest fear is that more homeowners will purchase policies that won’t give them the money to replace their roofs when the time comes, and then their insurance companies will drop their coverage because people will file claims and not get the work done. The biggest disservice we have done as an industry is enabling the homeowners to know little to nothing about their homeowner’s policies. We need knowledgeable, empowered consumers, AKA voters, if we have any hope of reform in the Homeowners Insurance Industry.” QS
For more information on Jen Silver or her tour, visit her website!
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