The hailstorm that swept through south central Minnesota in June 2009 lasted less than an hour but left homeowners needing hundreds of millions of dollars worth of repairs. The storm lifted sales at Schmidt Siding, in Mankato, from $5 million to more than $8 million. Owner Dale Brenke discovered that storm work has two sides: There's the work, and then there's the stress and aggravation that come with securing and installing jobs, working with adjusters, and waiting for checks.

WEIRD & WILD Hailstorms and hurricanes are regular occurrences on the Gulf Coast and in the South Central states. But other parts of the country have begun to see unpredictable weather events — blizzards, floods, tornados — and a need for storm work. Even if they're reluctant to take it on, contractors who don't normally get involved find themselves besieged by past customers wanting estimates. Suddenly they're competing with operations whose business it is to find storms and quickly respond.

Maro Croff, owner of Construction Masters Roofing, in Fort Smith, Ariz., whose work is 90% insurance-related, advises companies new to storm work that it's much easier if they use an insurance renovation estimating system, such as Xactimate, and know how adjusters work. Otherwise, Croff says, “you end up short-changing the job.”

Scott Siegal, owner of Maggio Roofing, in Takoma Park, Md., increased his business dramatically in 2010 by pursuing storm work. That was his third try, Siegal says. The first time — in 1999 — “it almost put me out of business.” He developed an insurance estimating software program and set up storm work as a separate division of Maggio Roofing.

WHAT YOU NEED Brenke says that if he faced a similar situation today, he'd hire additional admin help to handle the 2,700 calls that came in. The phone never stopped and “salespeople were working 80 hours a week.”

Bill Good, vice president of the National Roofing Contractors Association, in Chicago, says that managing storm work well starts with “getting the message out ahead of the storm.” He suggests that residential roofing companies prepare by securing a line of credit to cover cash flow, talking to suppliers before the event to ensure ready access to materials, and scaling workforce to demand, such as having one- or two-man crews set up to take care of small jobs, like leaks, as opposed to re-roofing. “That can be high-margin work,” he says, “but you have to have people who know how to do it.”