Doing it Right the First Time
But he was destined for neither the classroom nor the automotive industry, in part because his wife’s cousin was doing eavestrough and downspout installation and repair in Grand Rapids. “I liked working outside,” Southwell says, “so I got a job doing gutter and downspouts.” Now, 40 years later? “I’m still stuck in the gutter,” he says with a smile.
Southwell Builders, based in Mason, installs gutters and gutter covers from Charlotte to St. Johns and from Ionia to Brighton. Southwell says that, “At one time, I had a branch in Brighton, and we had … seven gutter machines going; we’d do 25 houses a day. That was a long time ago. Now we have one machine and the economy has tightened up quite a bit.”
The gutter machine is a cold roll former. “You put coil stock in the machine and out comes a gutter. [You] push a button, it makes your eavestrough right on the spot.” Southwell says that all jobs are custom fit and come in 10-foot sections that “don’t leak all over the place. They’re seamless aluminum so they don’t rust. If they’re sealed well, they’ll last 40 to 50 years.” With a performance record like that, it’s no surprise that the technology hasn’t changed much. He said that at one time he owned seven machines, and that “four of them were from 1962.” He explains, “Right around the [early] ’60s is when they started doing aluminum gutters” as a replacement for galvanized steel. “If not installed corrected, [the galvanized gutters] would hold water and rust, [then] get holes in them. Along came seamless aluminum and we straightened out a lot of problems in the industry.”
However, just because aluminum gutters solve most of your problems, it doesn’t mean that everyone opts for using them. “If they want vinyl,” Southwell says, “they can go to big boxes … and put it up themselves. They’ll have connectors all over the place that leak,” not something that most homeowners are happy with. However, “if they want a good job, they put on aluminum gutters and have professionals install it.”
With gutters in place, people with trees nearby need to consider the cost of having their gutters cleaned periodically, or having gutter covers installed. For the latter, Southwell offers Leakproof ® Gutters, an ideal solution for people who don’t like climbing ladders to clean out their gutters, or paying someone $80 to $100 to do so.
The majority of Southwell’s work is in the repair and replacement business, as much to no one’s surprise, “there isn’t much building going on around here.” However, the builder he works with, Mayberry Homes, “is really good,” he says. A lot of other builders he’s used are “just gone.” Therefore, Southwell counts on word of mouth from the 300 or so gutter cleans his company does every year.
While his presence in the Yellow Pages has decreased, his footprint on the Internet continues to widen. “Young people probably up to [age] 40 use a lot more Internet advertising. You punch in ‘gutter cover – Lansing, MI’ and up pops our name.” Of course, “If you’re not on the front page, you don’t get much action.”
Southwell says that the biggest advancement in the past 10 years has been the switch from putting up gutters with spikes and ferrules nailed into the rafter or fascia boards to “putting them in with a hidden hanger and a screw.” The result is a better looking gutter with good curb appeal. “It’s a lot nicer system and hopefully will last a lot longer.” He says that on a typical ranch-style house, a two- to three-person crew can tear off the old gutters and put on a new system within three hours. “Some of the new houses we can do in about one and a half hours. That comes with a lot of experience.”
Southwell’s crews are always on call, and he says that there were only a couple of days in 2011 when they didn’t have anything to do. “Usually there’s a phone call or two in the morning to figure out where we’re going to go.” Then, it’s off to the gutter races, which naturally slow to a stop during the winter, although, since new houses must have their gutters on for the occupancy permit, installing new gutters can continue through the winter.
Asked what draws customers to Southwell, the company’s namesake thinks for a moment, then replies, “I don’t know. They just keep calling. We must do a good job. Our crews are attentive. We always try to do it right the first time. That’s been our motto since day one.”
Randy Southwell, Owner