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Feb 26

Gutter Opportunities: Buying a machine

Gutter Opportunities: Buying a machine

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SEAMLESS GUTTER MACHINE…

Buying a seamless gutter machine is the biggest investment most installers will make in launching or expanding a gutter business.
Should you buy a machine to make 5-inch or 6-inch gutters, or one that makes both? If prices for machines are comparable across the industry, how do you choose between one manufacturer and another? Are used machines a viable alternative? When does it pay for an installer to add a machine for making half-round gutters or other specialty high-end products?
To find some answers, Gutter Opportunities spoke to some of the nation’s leading gutter machine manufacturers to hear their advice for installers, as well as learn what considerations they face in bringing their machines to market.

Keeping Control KWM Gutterman, Inc.
At Englert Inc., a manufacturer based in Perth Amboy, N.J., guttering sales specialist Fred Gutowski recalls how the company sold its first seamless gutter machine in 1967 for less than $4,000. Ever since then, he says, “The number-one reason people buy machines is control. The gutter is the last thing that goes on a house. So you don’t finish the house — and you don’t get paid — until the gutter is hung.”
Contractors who buy machines from Englert, Gutowski explains, are usually fed up with waiting to get paid after the roofing and siding have been installed. “You can run your business with the most experienced applicators, the newest and best trucks, and all the great new tools available to the trades,” he points out, “and even then, the one thing that holds you back from completing the job is getting the gutter installed.”
After these contractors experience repeated instances of waiting for gutter sections to be delivered to their jobsite, Gutowski says, “They’re ready to buy a machine and produce their own gutters in the field.” Companies can make their own gutters at a lower cost-per-foot than by purchasing materials from a cut-and-drop subcontractor. So he says the purchase price of an Englert 5-inch gutter machine can be paid off in less than 40 days and yield annual savings of around $50,000 in material costs.
“By having your own gutter machine,” Gutowski advises, “you get quality control, destiny control — and diversification. With a machine of your own, you can take on retrofitting jobs for existing homes. And you get the other contractors to pay you for cutting their gutters and dropping the material at their jobsites.”
In deciding what machine to buy, Gutowski suggests installers check out the manufacturers’ service and support. “Most manufacturers are in the Midwest,” he points out, “so you may have to wait for service if you buy direct from the manufacturer, or from a manufacturer who doesn’t have an experienced distributor in your area. You want to be sure that you can get good service from experienced people, so that you avoid downtime.”
Intense competition among gutter machine manufacturers means prices vary by only a few hundred dollars across the industry, Gutowski observes.
Since machine prices do not vary widely, Gutowski adds, “You can get a new machine for only a few thousand dollars more than a used machine. Used machines generally cost about $3,000 to $3,500. So you might save a little bit up front. But is it worth it, when you have to sacrifice the better technology and the warranty that comes with a new machine?” One viable option, he says, is to buy a reconditioned machine from Englert or another manufacturer.
“Gutter machines today have had a lot of improvements,” Gutowski says. “There are swivel spools so that you don’t have to pick up and turn the coil when you run it. And now we’ve got neoprene rollers so that you can roll-form any gauge of any metal without adjusting the machine. Rack-and-pinion guillotines improve the cutting. So in comparing a new machine to a used model, don’t forget that the newer machine might make you more productive.” SEAMLESS GUTTER MACHINE

Here’s to a Long Life
Another problem with used machines “is the wear and tear they’ve had, because they’ve often been abused in the field,” suggests Mitch Nelson, vice president of sales and marketing for Pacific Rollformer of Eugene, Ore., a manufacturer of fascia- and ogee-style gutter machines. “You also have to consider the age of a used machine. If it’s got the old herringbone gears, for example, they don’t even make those anymore.” SEAMLESS GUTTER MACHINE
Nelson prefers to explain the benefits of purchasing a new machine. He admits his company’s models “are the most expensive on the market … but our selling point is that we have machines that run for 20 to 25 years, and they require little if any adjustment so that you can run any kind of metal — aluminum, steel, copper, or zinc.”
Making a dependable gutter machine brings with it an inherent challenge, explains Pacific Rollformer president Jerry Pengra. “The most common service issue is caused by the ‘edge-to-edge’ nature of running coil. You’re feeding flat stock into a machine, which is like going downhill on a sled without runners. So it’s the drive system of a gutter machine that determines — in a hurry — whether things are going to go good or bad.”
Pacific Rollformer’s machines employ a “direct-drive” system in a design the company created in 1959. Other manufacturers use “gap-and-camber” drives, Pengra says, or “rubber-drive” systems that have been introduced over the past decade. “The drive system with the least contact gives you the best product,” he advises. SEAMLESS GUTTER MACHINE sheet metal machinery new and used sheet metal equipment
According to Pengra, there are perhaps “six or seven major manufacturers” of gutter machines in the United States. Though Pacific’s machines have twice the weight of other models, he continues, “We market our products as ‘the only machine you’ll every buy.’” While competing machines have an industry-average service life of seven to 10 years, he contends, Pacific machines last an average of 17 to 22 years and run an average of seven to nine years between service calls.
The future development of gutter machine technology presents a yes-and-no scenario, Pengra believes. “On the one hand, with the growth of metal roofing we’re getting technological advances that could be applied to gutters,” he suggests. “Also, metal roof panels have started to be architectural pieces. Gutters haven’t even begun to realize themselves architecturally; they’re just a design afterthought. Ogee-style gutters are based on old Victorian woodcarving patterns. Maybe someday, somebody will get innovative with gutter designs — and then we’ll need the machines to make them.” SEAMLESS GUTTER MACHINE
But other developments in the gutter industry are retarding technological development. “The gutter business is becoming less ‘corporate’ and more ‘mom-and-pop,’” Pengra points out, “because gutter installation is an easy business to get into. You just buy a machine, and many installers are only willing to pay so much.”

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