Roof-and-gutter service finds the silver lining in Snowmageddon

Chris Pauly, with employees Ann McGavin and Sara Megonical, pounced on the surge of roof and gutter repair work after February's heavy snowfalls, and sales went up about 25 percent.
Chris Pauly, with employees Ann McGavin and Sara Megonical, pounced on the surge of roof and gutter repair work after February's heavy snowfalls, and sales went up about 25 percent. (Gerald Martineau For The Washington Post)
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By Thomas Heath
Monday, July 5, 2010

Part of running a business is knowing when opportunity hits and grabbing it. Better to be lucky than smart, right?

Roofer-gutter repairman Chris Pauly saw the opportunity of a lifetime in February when the first reports emerged of a gigantic snowstorm approaching Washington. Pauly's quick response to the storm, which became known as Snowmageddon, could be a case study in how to make the most of a weather disaster.

As soon as the snow stopped and the sun came out, Pauly put up his 40-member staff in a hotel across the street from Sterling-based Gutterman Services, feeding them and working them 16 hours a day.

Internet-savvy staffers immediately hit the road, videotaping clogged and icy gutters and snow-laden roofs. Every six to 10 hours, they posted the videos -- which they called "weather alerts" -- on YouTube and then sent the link to Pauly's database of 1,000 clients.

"We went viral," Pauly said. "We knew it would be important to stay in touch with the client base and keep them up to date about ice situations. It was a step-by-step instruction on what to do when your house was leaking real bad."

Gutterman produced 20 to 30 videos in all, keeping the company in front of its customers. Pauly's Web staff built a page on the company Web site to manage the videos and update them.

It has paid off.

Five months later, Pauly's business has, pardon the pun, gone through the roof.

"We're crushing it," said Pauly, whose first fiscal quarter ended June 30. "I'm up 25 percent. We went from a $4.3 million year last year [in revenue] and expect to go over $5.1 million this year. In a regular June, we do $470,000. Last month, we did $650,000."

Growing up in McLean, Pauly showed entrepreneurial skill early on: He climbed his first ladder when he was 12. He delivered newspapers, cut grass for neighbors and spent afternoons and weekends helping his handyman stepfather.

Pauly studied psychology and business at the University of Illinois and George Mason University. But he dropped out and in 1986 launched his own handyman company in his mother's basement.

He had a core of several hundred customers from his days delivering newspapers and mowing lawns, when he also cleaned their gutters. Instead of pursuing a business degree at Illinois, he borrowed money from his mother around 1989 and bought a truck for his ladders and gutter-cleaning equipment. Mom also cosigned the $7,000 loan for the truck.


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