Les Toitures Hogue might be the only roofing company in Quebec that looks for management advice from celebrity chefs. “I gave up our company’s corporate box at the Bell Centre four years after talking to Martin Picard,” says president Jocelyn Hogue, referring to the owner of Montreal’s famous Au Pied de Cochon restaurant. Following the example of Picard’s famous cabane à sucre, the company built its own gourmet sugar shack with a private chef to serve seven-course meals exclusively to clients. “It’s less expensive than the box, and we can invite more of our clients’ employees. It’s a much better way to connect to people,” says Hogue, who notes that the timing of the operation is also perfect: “In the spring, when the maple sap stops flowing, the roofing season is getting started, so we just shut the shack and go back to the office.”
Hogue’s sugar shack is part of an intense focus on customers and their needs that has propelled Les Toitures Hogue’s sales from $20 million to $35 million since he and his older sister bought the family business from their father in 2011. The Hogue siblings took advantage of the moment to make a radical departure from the way things are done in the roofing world. “Roofing is a business of lowest price. Companies bid for whatever comes up and sometimes lose money on projects,” he says. “We wanted to be profitable, so we looked at what we were good at and where we were profitable. And that was service.”
Hogue immediately launched a new service department with the idea of focusing on repairing as well as replacing roofs. “I got the idea from a plumbing company. Very few roofing companies do this, but if it works for plumbing, why not roofing?”
Hogue backed this service promise by investing in cutting-edge roof “diagnostics” techniques, such as thermography tests, which use infrared cameras, tracer gas, smoke and air pressure to detect leaks and humidity in roofs and insulation. In 2018, the company was called to examine a leaking roof at the 50,000-sq.-foot distribution centre of Quebec hardware business Quincaillerie Richelieu. “We showed the owner that only 3,232 sq. feet of the roof insulation was affected by humidity,” Hogue explains. “The new roof cost $300,000 less because they didn’t have to replace all the insulation.”
This might mean a smaller bill in the short term, but it yields big things in the end, says Hogue, who views every contract as an opportunity to build a relationship. “Clients know we aren’t ripping them off,” he says. “Eighty per cent of the time we bid for a contract, we are more expensive than the competition, but clients choose us anyway.” Les Toitures Hogue offers clients custom packages that include installation, maintenance and repair, as well as stand-alone deals for emergency and maintenance work.
Transitioning from straight roof sales to sales and service came with challenges, says Hogue: “The roofing business doesn’t attract workers with strong customer service skills, so we couldn’t rely on vocational schools alone to recruit employees.” So Hogue put his own expertise to work, creating an in-house training program that teaches service and technical skills, now recognized by Quebec’s Master Roofers Association. “We look for the people who have potential, then we train them ourselves,” he says. Problem solved.