Roof Insight Show: Bill Baley of CI Services – Ep. 5

roof-insight-show-titleBill Baley of CI Services

A self-described “association junky” and “cat herder” shares his thoughts on running a business and making an impact.

Have a listen to our most recent show. There are a lot of great ideas — and a lot of food for thought here!

Bill Baley started his company, CI Services, in 1992. He has achieved a lot with the company since then.
bill-baley
Bill combines a real friendly, open attitude with a dedication to professional and high standards. The combination has helped Bill get some pretty impressive results.

In this show, Bill shares his thoughts on the current state of the roofing industry — and how to best make your way forward in it. He also touches on solar and on the benefits of showing the roof to an owner or property manager.

He also talks about managing people — and about managing yourself.

Bill admits to being an “association junky” — somebody who joins a lot of industry groups — and he talks about how that has helped him.

He also shares the story of how he saved another contractor’s business. It wasn’t a matter of being a superhero or anything, but Bill was able to give some advice to a struggling roofer . . . and that advice made all the difference for the business.

Check out this show! It’s a good one…

Read the interview — or read along with the audio.

ROD:
Hey, everybody, and welcome back to the Roof Insight Show.

STEVE:
Hey there.

ROD:
My name is Rod Menzel. I’m a roofing contractor here in Southern California.

STEVE
And I’m Steve Wein. I’m a computer guy also from Southern California.

ROD:
We are back with another episode of the Roof Insight show.

STEVE:
It’s been a while since our last episode, and we have to apologize for that. To be honest, we’ve had a busy summer working on our some projects, but we’re still committed to delivering high quality and helpful shows here. And we’ve got another couple great episodes in the works.

ROD:
And we’re leading off with today’s interview. It’s a fantastic one, I’ve got to tell you.

STEVE:
Yep. Today we’re talking to Bill Baley of CI Services, based in Mission Viejo, California. Bill started up CI Services in 1992, and he has met with a lot of success over the years.

ROD:
Bill has been a friend to many folks in the roofing industry over the years. He is somebody who you might call a “joiner” — he likes to join groups and associations related to the business. He also served as president of the Western States Roofing Contractors Association.

STEVE:
We had a great conversation will Bill here. So much good stuff to hear in today’s episode.

ROD:
Yes. For example, Bill talks about the importance of having a service department. In fact, if you only take just one thing away from this show, that should be it. A well-run service department is going to be a big help to your business. Very worthwhile.

STEVE:
But Bill has more to say than just that. He talks about his sales philosophy — and it’s both powerful and simple. To him, he says that sales just boils down to getting out there and asking people questions. If you can ask questions, you can be successful in sales. I love that.

ROD:
Yeah, me too. Another thing Bill talks about is having high standards and being professional. It’s really good for business, obviously, and it helps his company stand out when they’re in a group submitting a bid.

STEVE:
And we could go on and on here. Another powerful thing Bill has to say here is about the importance of showing a roof to his customer. Bill — and you, too, Rod — have some great ideas on that front.

ROD:
Yeah, thanks, Steve. So let’s get into the interview, but before we do, of course, we have to remind everybody that this episode is brought to you by the software Steve and I developed, and that is Roof Chief.

STEVE:
We like to say that Roof Chief isn’t just software, but a complete system to help your entire business. It is meant to make a positive impact from the customer’s first call, through estimating and producing the job, all the way through close-out.

ROD:
Right. We’ve been setting people up on Roof Chief, and we’d love to show how it can help you as well. Check out our website to learn more and to set up an appointment. That’s at Roof Chief dot com.

STEVE:
Great. And now, here’s our interview with Bill Baley of CI Services.

ROD:
Hi Bill, and thank you so much for joining us and welcome to the Roof Insight show.

BILL:
Hi Rod. Glad to be here.

STEVE:
Bill, can you tell us how you got into this fine industry of ours?

BILL:
Haha, sure. Well, you know, going through college, I actually started out wanting to become a commercial airline pilot. That’s what I went to school for. I actually got all my ratings, flight instructor, all that. I was flying twins and all that. The only thing I was missing was jet time. I was interviewing for pilot jobs, and that was back in ’81 when the first real energy crisis hit this country and it was so bad I couldn’t get a job so I decided to stay in school and finish up my marketing degree. When that finished, that was about another year it took to finish that, I came out of school and started interviewing and the first person to offer me a decent job was Owens Corning fiberglass.

ROD:
Oh wow.

BILL:
And they said you’re going to sell roofing, and I said, “oookay.” Had no clue about it, certainly wasn’t my life direction, and ended up selling it and stayed with it. Never left the industry.

STEVE:
Do you still fly ever?

BILL:
No, you know, flying’s a touchy thing. You get to the point that you’re very good at it, and like anything that you get good at, if you don’t stick with it, you get bad at it.

STEVE:
Yeah.

BILL:
Unfortunately, when you’re not just parked on a road, you make mistakes, they cost lives. So no, haha, I don’t do that right now.

ROD:
That’s awesome.

STEVE:
So very cool. So how did you transition from selling Owens Corning to having your own business?

BILL:
Well, as a manufacturer’s rep, and you guys know this, it’s a different thing than being a contractor. There’s a whole lot of transition you’ve gotta go through. So the good thing about Owens Corning is they had a division called the supply division, which if you were in, it was basically like working as a distributor and you could sell any product that Owens Corning didn’t make in addition to their whole line of products.

STEVE:
Ah.

BILL:
So we were pretty involved with selling everything from EPDM rubber to all kinds of mastics, and you name it, just like a typical supply yard you find anywhere. And when that job ended because Owens Corning closed the division, I got a phone call from Mike Johannes, who most of you guys know, and Mike Johannes at that time was working for Firestone and he was looking for a rep in California. He had heard that my whole division got laid off, and somehow he got my name, called me up, said how’d you like to get up to California and sell Firestone? So I did and my first big customer happened to be Bryant Roofing, which was a pretty big contractor at the time, and I was out here for maybe a year and a half or so, and they offered me a job to actually sell for them. So they pulled me into the contracting side, but I think if hadn’t had that background of understanding all of the different products I don’t know that that transition would’ve gone so well.

STEVE:
Right.

BILL:
But as it turns out it went okay, so that’s actually how I got to the contracting side.

ROD:
So where was your territory when you were with Owens Corning?

BILL:
Oh let’s see, the entire state of Nebraska, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Kansas.

ROD:
Got it, alright, so that’s a big territory.

BILL:
Yeah, lot of driving.

STEVE:
And so you got your start, I mean, selling can be hard for a lot of people, but you got your start, that’s how you got your feet wet, by calling people.

BILL:
Yeah, that was it.

STEVE:
Yup. And was it easy? Hard?

BILL:
Well, for me, it’s never been tough to just walk up to somebody and ask them a question. So I guess, you’re not gonna really be a great salesman if you don’t get past that, I suppose. I never had that hindrance. So, you know, like my brother and I always say, we could talk to chairs and have no problems.

STEVE:
Yeah.

BILL:
But, you know, so I think just get in there and asking questions was probably the biggest thing that helped me to get started. People, you know, in this industry, I think if you’ve been in here long enough, you find out that most people, especially contractors, are really willing to help people who are trying to learn the industry and trying to better themselves. And you meet the right people, they’re going to give you so many legs up, it’s great.

ROD:
That’s so true.

BILL:
I would say that that’s probably the best thing that ever happened to me, was just asking a lot of questions and people willing to give you the right answers.

ROD:
So how long were you with Bryant Roofing?

BILL:
About three, three-and-a-half years, I believe.

ROD:
Got it. And then from there you started up CIS right away or…

BILL:
Well, it was kind of interesting. I went from that to Evans Roofing, here in southern California as well, and met some incredibly good people there. Got a lot of help learning there as well. At that point, I also decided, well, you know, I’d like to try and do some more of this on my own. And kind of left there hoping to get CI Services going. At that time, I started out with a couple partners, and then that didn’t work out so well, but I ended up with just my business, and that started doing pretty well. But you know, it’s tough in the early years, when you’re by yourself.

STEVE:
Yeah.

BILL:
And I actually got a call from one of my managers at Bryant Roofing, who was starting his own company, and he asked me to help him with that and we started doing that. But that was more of a national-based company, and we did a lot of repair work and maintenance work around the country. So I got a lot of good feel for that. And we kind of used CI Services a little bit to help with some re-roof work that we did because mostly we focused on the repair and maintenance. But after that, I decided to just make it full time at CI Services and been doing it ever since.

ROD:
That’s great.

STEVE:
Yeah. And when in those early days, how did you go from zero customers to a customer, you know, to revenue that could pay your bills?

BILL:
Yeah, that is the tough part. You know, it’s a lot of door knocking, it’s a lot of involvement, and by involvement, I mean, you gotta get out there and decide to just volunteer for everything you can. And you guys know me, I’m quite an association junky because I believe in what they do for you.

STEVE:
Yeah.

ROD:
Uh-huh.

BILL:
And I seriously believe had I not, you know, joined like Western States Roofing Contractors Association or the local contractors associations, had I not done that, I don’t think I ever would have got along as fast as I did, because that really was the key. Just meeting people and using that information that you get to find customers and to pull the customers into your side of the business, you had to do that, you had to have some way of getting people to recognize you.

STEVE:
Yeah.

BILL:
Worked for me.

ROD:
Absolutely.

STEVE:
Well, it’s interesting because you definitely have that aspect of your personality I think, where, like you said, you can talk to chairs, you’re an association junky, you talk to people, but then also looking at your company today, I can tell you guys have a very professional personality for the company, you have high standards.

BILL:
We do.

STEVE:
I mean, if you look at you website, it’s very professional.

BILL:
Thank you.

STEVE:
Or, you and I talked before the interview. When someone calls your company, your pledge is that that phone call is answered on the first ring every time, and I told you before we talked in this interview that was my experience when I called you.

BILL:
Good.

STEVE:
So you have this, I suppose it’s a combination of you have an easygoing attitude where you talk to people, but then you also have high standards.

BILL:
I do, and obviously that’s all me on the standards side. What I learned, I think, a long time ago back when I was pounding the pavement with Owens Corning or the same with Firestone, I think one of the things I saw that affected me the most were the professional companies versus the — I don’t know what else to call them, non-professional type companies.

STEVE:
Yeah.

BILL:
And, you know, the difference was staggering. You’d walk into one office, and you’d see how they treat their people, you’d see the things that they do, how their trucks look, and you’d say, wow, that’s impressive. And you’d walk into another company, and it’d be a mess, no organization in the office, people walking around the office in torn t-shirts. To me, it was like, I don’t want to be that guy, I want to be that other guy.

STEVE:
Right.

BILL:
So that stuff stayed with me. I’ve always thought, how do people buy? And I always thought, well, how do I want to buy from someone? If someone says they’re a professional, how do I judge that that person is a professional? You really get fifteen seconds to convince somebody that you’re a professional. They’re going to look at you, and they’re going to look at your company, and in that fast they’re going to make a judgment call. They might not be right, but they’re gonna do it.

STEVE:
Yeah.

BILL:
And the more you can do to give yourself that edge, I truly believe that that’s a huge door opener. I’ve always pushed that, that’s been a big thing for me. Keep the professional look.

STEVE:
Yeah, and it shows.

BILL:
Thank you.

ROD:
So what kind of leads do you guys gets? I mean, it looks like you’re mostly commercial, or almost 100% commercial? Would that be fair?

BILL:
Yeah, 95, 96%, we do some residential, but we certainly don’t go mining for it.

ROD:
Got it. And so is it mostly property managers, a lot of people of that already know you, do you guys get just phone calls, the yellow pages are gone. You probably never really were big on them anyway.

BILL:
No, never used them.

ROD:
Where’s your business come from then?

BILL:
Yeah, it is. There’s a lot of reputation type leads that come in, so word of mouth. I get a call from someone that says so-and-so at this property management company recommended you and then we work with a lot of retailers. Some of them are larger national accounts, but they use us here locally on a regional level which is nice.

ROD:
Yeah.

BILL:
Yeah, if you do something right for someone the first time, they’re going to remember that, and they tend to want to repeat that experience. That’s the best thing you can do to keep business coming in the door. For us, that’s always been the route we took. I think the last couple years have been tough because the economy’s been down and not as many people are spending money so were doing a little bit more public works than I would like, but that’s generally the formula we’ve always used.

ROD:
So yeah, not only has the economy been down, but California in particular has had 3 years of a drought, basically.

BILL:
Oh yeah. I call it 5, but I guess officially its 3. But it’s been tough for 5.

ROD:
So we’re hoping for El Nino this year, right?

BILL:
Oh I’m on my knees praying all the time for that one. Well, it’s a game changer for everyone in our industry out here. It’s a game changer. The roofs out here are so baked right now, people really don’t have a clue how bad they’re probably going to leak, some of these older roofs, when the rains hit. There’s going to be huge opportunities, I just don’t think the owners have any clue right now how bad they’re going to need us, and that’s a huge thing for all us contractors, I think it’s a great thing, and it’s overdue.

ROD:
It is, it really is. It’s funny to see the way people think. I consider a doctor a pretty bright person. We had one good storm back in April. It was a residential house. This guy calls up saying, “I need somebody out here now. The rain’s coming tonight. I spent all this money on the inside.” And I said, “Well, did you know your roof leaked?” “Yeah, I knew it leaked, but I didn’t think it was gonna rain again.” Well…

BILL:
Yup.

ROD:
I kind of joke about it, but truthfully I think the sun has made people dumb. You don’t really think about, the roof, hey whatever. But even the talk of El Nino I think is a good thing, cause I think people are saying oh wait, weather is an issue down here still every once and a while.

BILL:
Yeah, and you’re right. There are some companies, thank God, there are some companies that we work with that haven’t changed their method for the last ten years, so when time comes to put their budgets together and they know they gotta do maintenance and repairs, they set the same budget and they go. They realize that that has to get done. And then there’s other companies that are looking at it saying, “Hey, I’d rather spend that money on carpeting and paint than put something on the roof you don’t see. I want my business looking better, I don’t want to waste money on a roof.” And that short sightedness is going to hurt them because they’re not maintaining those problems and those problems will bite them. Luckily, there are still some people out there that do get it and are spending the money and still keep their buildings on a re-roof program that make sense.

ROD:
Yeah, absolutely.

BILL:
I bought them. We need that.

ROD:
What about repair work? Have you guys seen more repair work requests come in now compared to, at least in the last few months with the talk of El Nino, or over the last couple years, has it been a lot of repair work, have you seen much of that?

BILL:
Well, yeah, we push that a lot so the accounts that we have, and we have accounts that have been with us fifteen, twenty years, so we’ve got people that use us all the time no matter what so they’re constantly on that type of program that I just described. They’re going to call us up every year and say, “Hey, let’s get this done.” But yes, recently, we are seeing more people calling us and surprisingly so because some of these people we know notoriously will put it off for a year, they’ll skip a year, an every other year project. And this year, we’re getting that call, and I’m thinking, “Ah, they’re listening to the news.” So yes, it is better on that end and we love the repair maintenance. To us, that’s phenomenal. Every contractor I ever meet when I talk to them about business, that’s the question I always ask them, do you have a service department, because if you don’t, you’re missing a huge boat there.

ROD:
Sure. So I see that other than the service department and re-roofs that you do for commercial, looks like you got into solar as well?

BILL:
Yeah, we did. To me, it just seems like a natural. You’ve got people putting things up on a roof, why is that not being done by a roofer?

STEVE:
Exactly.

BILL:
I think the solar industry is a good industry, just right now it’s in a “disruptive phase,” I would call it, where you’ve got just way too many contractors involved and only half of them really understand what they’re doing, and of that half that understand, only half of that half understand what they’re doing to the roof. So on one hand, I thank God for the bad solar contractors out there, because we get work from that, but the industry needs to be a little bit more educated. They’re almost slamming those things down and walking away so fast, nobody’s thinking long term on how it’s going to effect the interior of the building. But for us, we looked at it as one more opportunity, and while I’m not a huge solar contractor, it’s a heck of a door opener for us. We go in and talk to people about what they want solar-wise, and we get an opportunity to look at their roof for them, and tell them, “Well, you know, solar is great, but you really gotta do something with the roof, because you’re not going to put a 25 year solar system on a roof that’s got 3 years left of it.”

ROD:
Gotta use some common sense.

BILL:
Opportunities there if you do it right.

ROD:
And how long have you been doing the solar, by the way?

BILL:
Ah, let’s see, I think this is about our fourth year at it, third or fourth year. Yeah.

ROD:
That’s great. Any big lunges with that transition? I mean, did you hire separate guys, was it easy to train, obviously putting pipe stanchions down and laying it out, I’m sure your guys were just as good about that. And connecting, it doesn’t seem too difficult to me.

BILL:
Right, and on the connecting side, you really have to have your electrical contractor’s license which we don’t so we do sub that portion of it. As far as the rest of it, yeah, it’s really not that hard to install the systems, it’s just getting the connections made properly. I’m not an electrician, I don’t try to be, those guys are really good at it, so I’d rather use them than have to try and learn a new trade, so it works out really well actually.

STEVE:
I’m curious, Bill, just hearing you talk. You guys obviously offer a lot of services, you’ve had a lot of customers over the years, I know you have a lot of employees, but what do you describe your role as in the company, what do you do to make sure the company is headed in the right direction on a day-to-day business, and in the big picture as well?

BILL:
Yeah, I guess I’m the cat herder, would be the best way to put it. But you know, one thing I think I learned, the best lesson I learned early on in business, and this is my advice to anyone starting out in business or young in business, and that’s, “Don’t think that you’re this magical guy that can make anything happen because it’s your company.” I think that’s the biggest mistake anybody can make. I think the best thing you can do is say to yourself is, “Listen, I’m limited at what I’m good at. I’m good at this, this and this, and the other things, I’m not good at.” So you surround yourself with people that are really good at those things. And don’t have an ego that says, “I’m better than that guy, he works for me, there’s no way I’m going to listen to him.” You gotta throw that out the door. You gotta say, “I’m hiring this guy, or this woman, because they’re better than I me.” I did that early on. I found people that are extremely good at what they do. My vice president, she’s a part partner in the business, as well. She’s just phenomenal. If it wasn’t for what she does on the admin side and the financial side, we would’ve been sunk a long time ago. On my operations side, I’ve just got good people that fully understand what they’re doing. You know, I’m not a guy who gets up there and knows how to lay down felt. I can tell you that it’s wrong, but I’m not the guy that’s gonna mop it in, I can’t do that well. You get people that can.

STEVE:
Yeah.

BILL:
And the other thing is you make sure you get people that understand the need to educate those below them. If your operations team needs to get better, than the head guy of operations should be training those guys below him. And that’s the only way you’re going to get your company better.

STEVE:
Yes. So it sounds like a big part of the reason you’ve been successful is you’ve managed to hire good people, and you’ve created an environment where they can contribute, and you’re not getting in their way and vice a versa.

BILL:
Absolutely, yeah, you summed it up pretty well. To me, that’s just the way I think it works and I know other people run their businesses differently or have different philosophies and that’s fine. I’m just saying for me, that’s been something that has worked really, really well. You can’t a hundred percent trust everybody, but like Reagan said, right, “trust but verify.”

ROD:
Yes.

STEVE:
Exactly.

BILL:
So I’m kind of the guy that runs around verifying. But, you know, it’s a crazy business, because there are so many aspects to it that you gotta look at and watch and kind of coordinate. You’re crazy thinking you can do it all on your own. You just can’t.

STEVE:
Yeah.

ROD:
That’s impossible. I always hear the quote that “nothing worthwhile was ever accomplished in a state of chaos.”

BILL:
I like that.

ROD:
So, avoid the chaos at all costs. And you reminded me with what you were saying, I don’t know if you’ve read the book, but “Good to Great”, you sound like you apply a lot of those principles of what can you really be the best at, what do you have a passion for, and what can you make money at. And that’s kind of knowing what you don’t want to do and what you’re not good at, obviously, as well. So as you’ve gotten into solar, just using that as an example, I think that’s a neat, bold move, but it probably matches up with those three questions still, that you’d still have a passion for it cause it’s connected to the roof. You’re not saying, “I’m going to go out into the fields and do the solar. I’d rather, it’s touching the roof, I want to be involved.”

BILL:
And our goal was never to be the best solar contractor out there, our goal was really to say to our customer, “Look if you’re considering this, you already trust us, give us a chance to tell you what’s right. If my price is wrong, you want to go with someone else, that’s fine, but you know that I’m here to help you and if you’re gonna use someone that can’t help you on the roof side, I’m here for that.” So you try to keep it in the win-win column, and that’s a good thing.

ROD:
That’s great.

STEVE:
I was going to ask about the size of your company today. How big is your staff?

BILL:
Are you talking field staff, or office staff?

STEVE:
I was thinking both.

BILL:
Okay, well, the office staff, we’re running kind of lean right now, because we actually had a few other offices as well and when the economy kind of started going sideways, I starting pulling our horns in on those. I actually cut us back pretty good, but that was needed at the time. Right now, we’re probably running, let’s see, nine people in the office. And in the field, it’s just gonna vary depending on the jobs. Right now, we’ve got a number of large public works jobs going, so we’ve probably got 25 or 30 guys out there working for us. But that will change as the jobs change. I think that the interior core people are really what matters most, because that’s what keeps the funnel filled. You gotta make sure that’s happening.

STEVE:
Yeah, absolutely.

ROD:
Have you found it difficult to find, cause you know you want to add staff, especially in the field, have you found it difficult to get new guys or good quality guys?

BILL:
Yeah, lately it’s been really tough. I think what’s happened out here, and you could probably verify it with other contractors as well, but I think what’s happened out here the people who have good people are really hanging onto them tight, which I don’t blame them, I’m trying to do the same with mine. But as your workload is diminishing, some of these guys are going around looking for places to work and either they find someone who’s got a bunch of work and they go to work for them, and you don’t get them back, or they figure out works booming in Texas or work is booming in Illinois, and they’re gone. And I don’t know that when we do have this El Nino that there’s gonna be enough labor for us here for everyone to get done what they need to get done. I think that there’s probably going to be a pretty big labor shortage when that occurs.

ROD:
I think you’re right.

BILL:
So we’ll see. Yeah.

ROD:
Which always concerns me, because I always feel like that’s the low bid or the fly by night, or whatever you want to call, they start to invade the territory and eat up some of the good work, because you won’t have it, and roofs are going to be leaking in another three or four years.

BILL:
True. And you guys know this, some of the projects you go to, pre-bid meetings and such, how many contractors stand there hoping to land that job, and the numbers just get spit out so low and it’s kind of scary.

ROD:
Yeah, it is..

STEVE:
I guess that’s back, that’s where professionalism comes back into play. It certainly helps standing out in that crowd.

BILL:
Yeah, and for us, we’ve always been a negotiated type company. We negotiate all our work. And like I said lately, that it’s flip-flopped completely to chasing the public works sector. I’ve always felt that’s the way to keep business, prove to your customer why you’re worth a little bit more money than the other guy. If they know they can count on you, if they know the quality of work is there, if they know that their people like working with your people, that’s a home run. You can get that repeat business. On the public side, it matters a little, but certainly not that much, because it still comes down to just low-bid takes it. I kind of don’t like that arena because of that obviously. And obviously other people are better at it than we are. I’d like to see my arena come back a little stronger, kind of hoping it will.

ROD:
Yeah, for sure. Well, Bill, the other point to that is, as you recognize something with a job and you have a customer that you know that maybe gets a lower price from somebody else, the beauty is that when you treated that customer well, you’ve always taken care of the, you get to a point and say well there’s some differences between what we have because you can’t afford to shortchange your customers, it would just kill your reputation. At some point you would hope that that scope of work, there’s gotta be a difference in the scope, it can’t be anything else, so hopefully they still buy it all.

BILL:
Yeah, and the other thing is, and I think it’s worth working hard for. When you’re in a downed economy like this and you’ve done all the right things and you’ve presented yourself as a professional to your customers and you’ve serviced them and all of those good things, when the economy goes down you gotta remember that they’re still stuck by somebody up the ladder that says “You’re spending this much and no dollars more, this is your ending point.” So what you’re hoping all that other stuff did for you, is that you just get that chance for that guy to say to you, “You know, Bill, I know your bid was at $50,000, I got a lower bid at 45, and I gotta take it cause the boss will kill me if I don’t. Can you match the number?” Now, to me, that’s golden. Yeah, I’m making less money, but man, I got a job that I would’ve been down the street looking for another one instead because I would’ve lost it. So, to me, that’s golden in a down economy.

ROD:
But at the same time, Bill, wouldn’t you agree that a lot of times these guys go into that and there’s something different in the scope, I mean, there’s something missing. At least you could pull that out of the scope, say “I’d be happy to do it.” Or, I’d like to say, “Hey I’m gonna pull it out, but here’s my concern.”

BILL:
Yup. And I’ve done that too and sometimes in this type of economy you just walk from the job because they’re not gonna do it. It’s sad to see, but when it gets tough, people are still driven by the bottom line dollar. You can either stamp your feet about it, or figure out some way to make it work.

ROD:
And speaking about the economy, you’ve said it a couple of times, I’m in complete agreement. Do you see a light at the end of the tunnel? Do you see what maybe would happen to make it just the economy in general improve?
Bill; Yeah, you know, I guess I’m a bit of a pessimist when it comes to projecting business goals because every time I say, “Yeah, this is gonna be the quarter that just changes everything,” it’s not there. So I tend to hold back, I’m one of those guys that when people say you’ve got the job, I’ll say, let me see the contract, then I’ll feel like I’ve got the job. Do I feel like the economy’s getting better? Man, I really do, I really feel like people are gonna make a change, but have I seen it enough to really say it’s definitely happening, I haven’t yet. I still see people stuck in the same routines. I think part of that is owners of these properties have settled into a place where they realize they kind of have the contractors over a barrel right now. They hold off long enough, someone will give them the low number because they’ve seen it. You do that for one year, everyone forgets. Do that for five years, that becomes habit. And I’m just worried about the habit with the owners. We’ll see what happens. I don’t know. I’m just kind of hoping that they do decide to get back to quality roofing and using quality contractors.

ROD:
And it goes hand in hand, you’re right, the economy is part of it and you can argue, like, hey vacancy rates have a lot to do with this if you’re a property manager or a owner, but weather is still part of it, where it’s all a sudden that needs not there and I heard it once in a sales example. “I don’t want to spend the money, I don’t want to spend the money, I don’t want to spend the money.” And he gives the example of someone saying, okay, so you just went to the doctor, you don’t want to spend the money, you’re wife’s been telling you to get to the doctor, he goes to the doctor finally, you gotta do it, and the doctor says, “Hey, it doesn’t look good. You’ve got cancer.” All a sudden, your paradigm shift goes from I don’t want to spend the money to what’s it gonna take to make this go away? I don’t want this to happen.

BILL:
At any cost. Right.

ROD:
Yeah, you know what I mean. It’s like, once water is coming in, once roofs cave in, once damage occurs, it’s quickly they remember. I think you’re right, I think a couple of seasons with some rain will definitely help the economy.

BILL:
Right. It will. It will because I go out as a quality control guy sometimes, just show up at jobs to see what we did, how did, or just walk it with the customer when we’re done, and I’m talking on the maintenance repair side. And I’ll see what our guys did, and I’ll say, ok, that’s good, we missed a spot, we’re gonna come back and take care of that. And then I’ll go to another building that he’s got that we didn’t do, someone else did, and I’m like, whoa, really, this is all that was done and this is what they charged them, it’s amazing. We don’t operate that way, but it’s amazing what I see what other people doing to take advantage of an owner, because most owners don’t get up on top of the roof and look.

ROD:
I think that’s great.

BILL:
When I talk to owners, they always ask me what’s the one thing that my people should be doing? I tell them, get them to climb the ladder and get up on that roof. They need to look at it once and a while and understand, because they’ll never understand whether you’re being taken advantage of or not unless you get up there and look at it.

ROD:
Yeah. Yeah, good for you. You know what I like about you saying that, though, is you’re not just going on there with the big re-roof job, the big contract, you’re saying, “I’m going to take this down to the smaller job and making sure we’re doing that right.” That’s awesome.

BILL:
Yeah, when people have a little bit of money versus a lot of money, the best thing you can do for them is do the most appropriate thing with the little bit amount of money they have. If you can make something happen for them on the budget they set, man, you’ve got a customer, no doubt.

STEVE:
Something I know Rod has done is take an iPhone up on top of a roof and make a video. It’s not quite the same as getting the owner up there and showing him in person, but, using a little technology has helped you, Rod.

ROD:
Yeah, you know, one of the things that I’ve done is I remember a job for Patagonia, I wasn’t going to get any of these guys up on the roof, and I just took a video and I kind of walked through and said, “Okay, this is an overall evaluation of the roof, these are my top concerns for the roof, this is my recommendation.” It was kind of a real simple approach, and maybe I even recapped what I just did, but I just did it real quick and I merged it together in iMovie and uploaded it to YouTube and sent it off to them. Helped me get the job, because I took them to the roof.

BILL:
That’s a great idea and you know what, the old saying a picture is worth a thousand words is so true. If they can see it like that, Rod, you’re gonna score every time.

ROD:
Well, you know what I did, I had a job, I had somebody down in southern California, I think, I don’t know how far down he was. He finds us on Google, he calls us up. I go look at the roof, I created a video of the roof, saying okay he’s what’s going on with the roof, here’s what I recommend. He emailed me back, signed the proposal, and it was a $50,000 roof and I never met the guy.

BILL:
How nice was that?

ROD:
But I took him to the roof, he got to see the roof, he got to hear my thoughts about the roof and what I thought he should do, and he got to see, Ooh, that is ugly, that drain is bad, there’s some bad ponding there. You can really see the stuff, and it’s like, oh, wow. I don’t think if I would’ve went and a did a face-to-face presentation with the guy if I could’ve done as good of a job, because I still couldn’t get him to visually think of and be on the roof. But doing that, it was like wow, he’s right there.

BILL:
Yeah. Absolutely. That’s why I always tell people who work for me, think like the customer. This guy doesn’t know roofs. You can talk all the gobbledygook that you want about roof specs and such, he doesn’t know that. What he knows is you show a picture of a good drain and show him a picture of a bad drain, he’s smart enough to look at that and go, “I don’t like the bad one!”

STEVE:
Right.

BILL:
You know, and those are the kinds of the things you have to show owners. They can’t get it otherwise. The way you’re doing it, absolutely fantastic.

ROD:
Love to share with you guys at any time. It’s really easy. That’s the beauty of it. I’ve always looked at things and gone, “Hey that’s a great idea.” There’s a lot of good ideas out there, but if there’s too big of a barrier there, then you’re not going to do the good idea. I mean, I have the greatest re-roof that I can make a great margin on, and it’s a big job and its two months’ worth of work, but it happens to be in Nebraska. I’m not going. It’s just too big of a barrier. It’s the same thing with an iPhone. It’s like, the barrier’s there, it’s kind of hard to do it, but if you can break down the barriers turn a big task into a ten minute task, it’s pretty cool.

BILL:
Absolutely.

ROD:
Hey, so I’ve got another question and I don’t know if were shifting topics here too much so Steve bring us back at any time. I’m just impressed, and I know Steve is passionate about this, is we’re building multiple businesses as well. We’re doing, we’ve got a company, we’ve got the roof insight show, we want to share thoughts and ideas with guys, we’re working on a software program that we thinks going to be great, it’s really going to help the smaller guy out, which I think will hopefully bring the prices where I think they should be a lot of times, but my question for you is, how do you do it all? You’re, you know, like you said, you’re a junky for wanting to be on different associations, you’ve been a president, someone comes to you and you’ve got these high standards, and by the way, high standards can really get you, I don’t want to say get you in trouble, high standards can make you very busy. It’s like, okay, it doesn’t meet the standard so keep working. And you do that to yourself, so, how do you manage it all?

BILL:
Wow, good question, actually. I wish I had a simple answer for it all, but I don’t, but I’ll circle that one back around again to the people that work for me. Again, if my VP, her name is Shirley Lidtke, if Shirley were not here when I am off doing presidential duties at an association or sitting at another board meeting or attending a convention, if I didn’t have her here to take that control and run things, I might be in trouble. You can’t even consider spending that kind of time unless you know you’ve got some way to back up the business when you’re not involved. I guess that would be my easiest answer. And then the second answer would be:
yeah, sometimes it can be a detriment to the business. If you talk to any president of any association, they’re going to tell you the same thing:
“the year I was president was one of the worst years I had in my business.”

ROD:
Wow.

STEVE:
Wow, yeah.

BILL:
Unfortunately, it’s probably true. It was tough for me, and it’s tough for everyone I’ve ever known who has done it. Because it takes you away from the business. Now, having said that, I wouldn’t trade it and to me it was worth it because what you gain, as I said earlier from the association, you have to give back. I think doing that is kind of payment for all I’ve taken and gained from those associations in the past, so to me it was worth it to give back, but it is tough.

ROD:
And your picture ends up on Roofing Contractor magazine. That just doesn’t come to everybody.

BILL:
Yeah, that’s true. That’s a pretty nice side piece of that.

ROD:
So then my next question is, and Steve and I talk about this pretty often too, is priorities. Do you have any trick that you say, I have all of these priorities, I’ve got all these things, these competing interests, how do you settle that in and make sure that you’re making progress on getting stuff done?

BILL:
Yeah, another good question because it’s a tough answer. For us, it’s always:
you gotta know which customers matter the most. You can say that every customer matters, but some are more important. Any business is that way. And you know that certain customers rely on you guys solely, and if you’ve got a customer like that, you do not let that customer go to someone else. You just can’t. So when you set your priorities, you take care of the people that have always taken care of you, and you do that religiously. You just have to. And then after that, you prioritize based on potential. If I got three customers walk in the door, and I can only take care of two of them, I have to take the two that are the biggest potential for more business for me. And I know that sounds kind of mean, but that’s reality, that’s business.

ROD:
That actually sounds more like Bill Parcells, because the reason I say that is because he says, “No, I don’t treat every player the same. My quarterback I’m gonna treat differently.” It’s like, we’d like to hear the offensive linemen are taken care of just as well as the quarterback. Well, they’re not. I get what you’re saying.

BILL:
And you know, there are people you send out your email blasts, and you do some phone calling, you send out flyers and things and you’re hoping for responses from the masses out there, the people you haven’t met yet. And some call you and some don’t. And as soon as it starts raining, the people you followed up with three, four times and said “No, No, No”, they’re the first ones calling you up saying they need you here tomorrow. Well it’s nice, but when I was really hurting for business and asked you if I could even come just give you a free inspection, you had no interest in my company. I got a lot of customers that were interested, and I have to take care of them now. I’m sorry, but you’re just down on the list. And that’s just business reality.

ROD:
I like that. And you know what happens I think a lot of times, and I find myself in this situation from time to time, but it sounds like you’re not really going to feel sorry for anything in the situation, it’s just that a decision needs to be made, these are the facts, these are the priorities, and a lot of time people can waste so much time and energy on, “Oh no, what do I do? What do I do?” It sounds like you’ve got your priorities straight and you do what’s right.

BILL:
Well, we try. And I think we’re always fair to everyone who calls. It’s our goal to never tell somebody, “Can’t help you”, that’s our goal. So what we’ll do is, we’ll tell them, “We can be there, but we’re not going to be able to be there for three weeks.” And then some people are like, “What? But I need you here today.” “Well I can’t, we’re booked up solid. If you’ll wait the three weeks, we’ll be there, we’ll take care of you.” And some people say, “Okay,” because they can’t find somebody anyway. Others hang up on you and go looking for someone else. I’ll always do my best to help someone, I just can’t always slot them in before somebody who’s already taken care of me.

ROD:
Makes sense for sure.

STEVE:
So you’ve told us how you rely on your staff to help you with all of your priorities, and you’ve also, you definitely have a philosophy, I mean, you’ve told us about for instance prioritizing customers. How do you make sure that your staff is on that same page as you, that they share your philosophy?

BILL:
Yeah, they know, we review our customer list all the time. Here’s our top 50. And we go through the list. And every year you look at who’s buying from you, and when all of a sudden you see a guy who was number one last year and now he’s number 27, what happened? We must have ticked that guy off, we must done something or something changed in their business. What is it? It’s time to get out there and find out. People here know who our top customers are. I don’t really have to tell them, they could probably rattle it off. So we watch that pretty close, you’re protective of those accounts.

ROD:
That makes sense though. I never really stop to think about ranking my customers by volume and say “Okay, what happened over here?” That’s a good point.

BILL:
Yeah, it says a lot, it really tells a story. You’ve got to find out what the details of the story are, but it something is happening. It just doesn’t go like that normally.

ROD:
So obviously you love this roofing industry of ours…

BILL:
I do.

ROD:
I don’t know if we asked this question exactly like this, but what do you really like most about it and what are some of the rewards you’ve gained from it?

BILL:
I guess what I like most about it is that the opportunities are huge. There are so many different aspects of it that people don’t realize. Like we’ve got a spray foam division, we’ve got solar, we’ve got maintenance repairs. We’re doing all kinds of things. Waterproofing exterior buildings, low-grade stuff, walk decks. There’s so many aspects of it. You know, I always say about electricians, you guys are always just cutting wire. And we’re doing so many different things. And it’s fun to learn new things, it’s fun to get the training, go take the classes and learn about something and then get up on a roof with a manufacturer’s rep and talk about how to improve the things you’re doing, maybe the method you’ve got is wrong, you get to learn all kinds of things. So that, for me, that makes the business interesting. It always stays interesting. There’s new projects, new opportunities all the time. So I like that side of it. And then the personal rewards have been really pretty big too. It’s an industry you can make a lot of money in, if that’s your goal. If you just want to have a nice living, it’s always possible. I tell people that all the time. It’s a shame that there’s a lot of kids coming out of college now, they have no clue what they’re going to do. They don’t have the direction or anything. And they’ve never even considered trades, they’ve never considered becoming a plumber or roofer or carpenter or any of that stuff. I think they view it as “Oh, that’s below me, that’s blue collar, that’s whatever.” And they have no clue what a huge payoff it could be for them if they got started early and worked that industry properly and progressed through it. They’re missing a huge opportunity. So that always bothers me. Take a look at this, because it wasn’t something that I planned on going into and it turned out to be pretty good for me, so I think the rewards are pretty big.

STEVE:
Absolutely.

ROD:
No, that’s some great advice. It’s funny, I don’t know what you think, but I look at the next generation, and I look at where the competition is, and when you get into an overly competitive environment, it’s just harder. It’s harder to deliver on service, it’s harder to offer value, it becomes a commodity. I look to the future, and I’ve got two young boys, and I say, you know, you’re not going to be competing against somebody from another country in a virtual environment because they aren’t here to do the roof. Somebody has to physically be here to do roofing. You’re not going to fix the plumbing by remote location, at least not yet. And it’ll never happen for roofing.

BILL:
Nope, you can’t put a roof up over the internet.

ROD:
[Laughs]

BILL:
I agree with you.

ROD:
I look at it and say you are absolutely right. And then the other thing is it’s kind of funny how it’s perceived. I remember when I first started out, “Hey, the roofer’s here”, and I’m like, just yesterday I was a banker, now I’m a roofer. No respect whatsoever. I’m estimating this re-roof, and I’m like, my goodness, they have no idea what I did.

BILL:
Haha, exactly. Yes, you’re right.

ROD:
Anyway, I love the industry. I know Steve does as well. It’s so neat, and I guess in some ways it’s like the little restaurant, the best kept secret. We’ve got a good thing going here, and it’s got like any industry does, it’s got its share of challenges, but there is tremendous upside, like you said.

BILL:
There is, and if people would just decide to be a professional in it, we could make this industry even stronger. I look at the numbers, and I know I don’t have the numbers exact, but I think there’s something like twenty-three, twenty-five thousand roofing contractors in the country, yet there’s only about five thousand that belong to an association of any type. That’s kind of sad.

STEVE:
That’s a good point.

BILL:
I wish people would pick up on that and start saying “Hey, maybe I should attend a seminar or a meeting once and a while.” They’d be surprised what they can gain from it.

ROD:
You’re right, and in fact I remember I had the opportunity to speak at Western States couple years back, and wasn’t sure I already belonged to NRCA, and I was going to speak at Western States, you were going, “Hey, by the way, if you’re going to speak, I need your dues back.” And by the way, what you did worked because I wanted to be in and I didn’t see all the, okay, did I really need both, and I get out there again, and I go, you know what, I love this, and another year later, I’m going I really want to be involved in here. And now I’m on the executive board, and it all started with you Bill by calling me up and saying hey, if you’re going to come up here I want your money. Not your money, but your leadership.

BILL:
Well, it’s true.

ROD:
There’s absolutely nothing wrong it, but I see the benefits and that’s kind of the kick of it. I think we live in a very busy world and people get very busy and they get drawn into all of the little minute details, and it’s tough for them to peak up, they can’t see the forest for the trees. I think that’s a big part of it, but I think part of it is as people do change towards that and they see the values and benefits of it and how it can benefit their business, I think it’s great.

BILL:
Absolutely.

STEVE:
So, you’ve been in the business for some time. Is there some story from your time in the business that stands out? Something that’s unique to your experience.

BILL:
Hmm, when I think about, since we talked so much about associations and about where my time is spent and all that, and the satisfaction that brings me, I guess the one story I would throw out is I was at a Western States convention once, and I was giving a seminar. It was a seminar on how to start your own maintenance and repair division in your company. Afterwards, after I got done, I had a lot of people come up and ask for my business card. Some of them emailed me afterwards and asked a few more questions, which is typical when you give a seminar and I didn’t think anything more of it. A year later, at the next convention, a gentleman came up to me with his wife, and he said “I want you to meet my wife and I want to tell you that you saved our business.” And I said, “I saved your business?” And he said, “Yeah, we were about to go under. They’re just a small shop. He said, we were about to go under and my wife talked me into attending the seminar at the convention and we took your advice, went home, started a service department, and it completely turned our business around, and I just wanted to tell you thanks.” How do you beat that?

STEVE:
Wow.

ROD:
That’s great, that’s awesome.

BILL:
Yeah. To me, that wraps the whole idea up. That’s what it’s about. If we help each other succeed, we’ve got a great industry.

STEVE:
And have you stayed in touch with that guy at all? Have you heard from him lately?

BILL:
Little bit. No, I run into him every so often at the convention, he’s doing fine. I was just so happy for him. What do you say to that? Man, I’m glad you made it.

STEVE:
Cool. Well, my other question, my harder question… I guess it’s not that hard. Sometimes, newer contractors listen to our show and guys just starting out, so we like to offer value for them as well. I think a lot of what we’ve touched on definitely can benefit them. A question I would have is, in your experience in the business, what would you have done differently? Looking back on it, is there something that you said, “You know, I wish I hadn’t done it that way?”

BILL:
Ooh, boy, that’s tough, because there’s probably a hundred examples of things I wish I hadn’t done.

STEVE:
Gotcha.

BILL:
This is a business that is going to take you school every time. You just can’t stop learning. Unfortunately, most of the lessons are fairly expensive. That’s the downside. The school of hard knocks is very rough. I guess for anyone who’s just getting into the business, my biggest piece of advice would be:
Don’t start out as a small business. Even though you are, think of yourself as a big business and everything you do, do it as a big business would do. When you get into it, I don’t care if you just started last week, you better have an accountant lined up, you better have an attorney lined up, you better have someone who can help you on the bookkeeping side lined up, you better have all these people lined up. Now, how much you spend on them will be determined by how much budget you actually start your business with, but if you start with a professional team around you, you will think like a professional, because they’ll make you think like professional. An accountant won’t have time to look through your crayon receipts, he’s not going to. It’s going to force you to get a better system. Your attorney isn’t going to waste time listening to you cry about something. That’s going to cost you money, you’re not going to spend it doing that. So you’re going to learn how to be more professional right out of the gate and if you say to yourself, I’m as good and able to do things as that $10 million contractor, if you think that way, you’ll eventually get to that $10 million contractor size, because you won’t have to keep recreating yourself. You’ll start out as a professional in the beginning, and you’ll just continue those professional habits. And that would be my advice. Don’t start out acting like a little pickup driver. That’s just not who you should be. Be the professional.

STEVE:
That’s great.

ROD:
Great advice.

ROD:
This is great, Bill. I don’t know when I’m going to be down that way, but if ever I am, I’d love to stop in and say hi, just love to chat some more with you. Truthfully, you gave us some great ideas. I picked up a couple things myself just now and there’s something happens when people start talking like this. The energy is, you just feel a little better, there’s a little more pep in your step as you go through the day. I know just this conversation gave me a lot today to move along a little faster.

BILL:
Well come on down any time, I’m here.

STEVE:
Bill, thank you so much for your time. You really had a lot of great things to say here. I know Rod and I both enjoyed it and we look forward to talking to you soon.

BILL:
Steve, it was a real pleasure. Thanks for having me on, and I just really enjoyed talking to you guys. Thanks so much.

ROD:
And we’ll talk to you soon.

BILL:
Okay guys, thanks a lot.

STEVE:
Thank you, Bill.

ROD:
Bye.

ROD:
Boy, great interview there, right, Steve?

STEVE:
Yes. I’m sure we could have talked to Bill for a few more hours. A lot of terrific insights.

ROD:
Agreed. I think we may need to have Bill back on a future show. And you know what, I think that everybody listening should take action. Choose at least one of the ideas or suggestions that Bill talked about — and take action on it. I know I am going to.

STEVE:
And now would be a great time to say that one tool that can help with success in the business is Roof Chief, that’s the system and the software that Rod and I developed specifically to help roofing contractors.

ROD:
Roof Chief will help you fix your “profit leaks.” It will help you avoid wasting time — and it will put you in a place to make better business decisions.

STEVE:
Right on. So get in touch with us so we can tell you more. And you can check out Roof Chief at roofchief.com

ROD:
We’ve got another episode of the Roof Insight Show coming soon. Keep looking for it.

STEVE:
Until then, thank you again, Bill Baley. And thank you everybody for listening.

ROD:
Thanks again, and everybody have a great week.

 

Roof Insight Show: Tracey Prociw of Rainier View Construction and Roofing – Ep. 4

roof-insight-show-titleTracey Prociw of Rainier View Construction and Roofing

A focus on customer service — and strength of character — add up to big success in the roofing industry.

Don and Tracey Prociw own and run Rainier View Construction and Roofing in the state of Washington. Don focuses on producing the projects, and Tracey runs the business. In this episode of the Roof Insight Show, Tracey talks about some of the systems she and Don have put in place that work well for their company. Tracey says a big part of the company’s success comes from its focus on service — as she says, service within the company to each employee, and service outside the company to its customers.

Don and Tracey Prociw - Rainier View Construction & Roofing

Don and Tracey Prociw – Rainier View Construction & Roofing


In this interview, Tracey shares how she, her husband, and the company came through a huge — and life-threatening — challenge. She also shares her thoughts on being accountable, dealing with distractions, and going the extra mile for customers.

Check out this great and fun episode below!

Read the interview — or read along with the audio.

ROD:

Hey, everybody, and welcome back to the Roof Insight Show. My name is Rod Menzel. I’m a roofing contractor here in Southern California.

STEVE:
And I’m Steve Wein. I’m a computer guy also from Southern California.

ROD:
We’ve got another terrific episode of the Roof Insight show for you. Today we’re talking to Tracey Prociw — she’s the managing member of Rainier View Construction and Roofing in Washington State.

STEVE:
You know, I think our show is getting better and better — and that’s because our guests are sharing so much great, actionable advice with us. In today’s interview, Tracey talks about how she keeps the business coordinated. Specifically she talks about keeping marketing and sales efforts on the same page. She also discusses how the staff at Rainier View keeps each other accountable.

ROD:
That’s right. Tracey also has a strong background in customer service. She talks about some big and somewhat surprising things her company has done to keep customers happy. I was impressed.

STEVE:
Yep. And don’t let Tracey’s warm and friendly voice fool you. She is an incredibly strong person. On today’s show, she talks about how a life-threatening medical condition caused her and her husband Don to stop operations at their business for two years. Then they built it all back up again.

ROD:
It’s an inspiring story for sure. And when you listen to this interview, keep an ear out for the word “make your business grow.” Tracey says that a couple times today — and it shows where her mind is at. It sounds like she’s often evaluating things in terms of how they contribute to growing the business.

STEVE:
It’s a really great interview. And speaking of growing a business, we should mention that this show is brought to you by Roof Chief, the software that Rod and I developed to help roofing contractors succeed. It helps you run your business in an extremely efficient manner — and it is focused on making a profit.

ROD:
You know, we’ve been getting calls from people who have heard the show and want to learn more about Roof Chief. That’s really exciting for us — it’s our mission to turn the roofing industry upside down, and to help roofing contractors get to the top.

STEVE:
Very true. So we hope you’ll join us on the mission. You can learn more at RoofChief.com.

ROD:
Excellent. And now, let’s talk to Tracey Prociw of Rainier View Construction and Roofing.

STEVE:
Today we have a special guest with us, Tracey Prociw, and she is out of Washington State – Rainier View Construction and Roofing — where she is the managing member. Hi, Tracey.

TRACEY:
Hello! How are you today?

STEVE:
We’re doing great. We’re excited to have you on the show.

TRACEY:
I’m excited to be here.

STEVE:
Excellent. And could you tell us a little about your business today, Tracey?

TRACEY:
Our business today consists of about 75% residential roofing, about 25% other exterior home improvement needs. We have been in business in one form or another for 23 years, and we’re Master Elite GAF roofers — as well as we hold the exclusive for Classic Aluminum Roofing Systems in Washington State and Kassel & Irons in Washington State. We also do PVC and other types of metal and solar, windows, decks, siding, some select remodels and garage builds.

ROD:
Wow. Quite a bit.

TRACEY:
Yeah, we have two different divisions that handle one side of the home improvement envelope – exterior envelope – and then we have one side that handles roofing.

ROD:
Got it.

TRACEY:
But being we’re in Washington State, you have to have something else to do when it rains a lot.

STEVE:
And how did you get into the business in a nutshell, Tracey?

TRACEY:
I joined the business in 2002. My husband, Don Prociw, had his business started in 1993. And I had a medical transcription company and a couple other businesses that I had run. And I sold my business in 2002. And I was, you know, doing a little eBay and taking a little time off, and I kept poking into his business saying, “You know, you’re not doing this right. The state says you should do that right, this differently. Oh, you can’t do that, you need to do this.”
And pretty soon then I was running the business. So, I should probably have kept my mouth shut, and I could have stayed the “lady of leisure,” but that’s just not in my temperament. I took over the whole operations side of the business and let him do what he does best which is sell and build wonderful things for people. That’s how this all came to be.

ROD:
Wow, that’s very cool. So operations, do you do any of the marketing stuff as well or is it just you’re focused mostly on the operations?

TRACEY:
No, I run the marketing department. We have a social media marketing director — he has two assistants. We have a really, pretty well thought out marketing approach that consists of not only social media, but television advertising, print media, trade shows – we do 37 to 42 trade shows a year. And they work together with our marketing department that’s in house that is our telemarketing department that sets all of our appointments and with our canvassers that go out and canvass, and leads them. All of that works together under one roof and sets all of our appointments for our sales department to go out and make wonderful sales. It’s evolved over the last several years so we just keep building on that.

ROD:
That’s awesome. And how many guys do you have out there selling roofs?

TRACEY:
We have seven sales people in our sales force right at the moment. They are all well-honed people that have been in the business for a long time, and we’re very lucky to have them. They’re all great producers and very knowledgeable. We have a couple that focus more on the remodels and decks and other exterior envelope packages for residential and the rest of the guys are just straight roofing.

STEVE:
I’ve seen a lot of your marketing Tracey and it seems well thought out. It seems that you must be talking to both entities – the sales people and the marketing, because it seems it’s cohesive.

TRACEY:
Well, we have a lot of meetings. Let’s back up the train. Monday is my marketing meeting where we sit down and hash out everything that we’re doing, everything that maybe we’re doing wrong, things that we haven’t caught up on, things that we’re not aware of. I hear things in the office and I wonder to myself, “Why doesn’t that person know when that iPad giveaway is?” And things like that.
Then on Tuesday we have a manager’s meeting where we talk to all the managers of the departments, make sure that everybody’s on the same page. Friday is our sales meeting where our marketing department goes in and at least has 45 minutes in our sales meeting and goes over everything that we’re doing, every tradeshow that were entering, where we’re canvassing, how we’re making appointments, “are your appointments good and solid, are we getting VHOs, are you getting one-legged, how is this working for you?”
And so we can feed all of that back. We have a huge board in our office that has everything that’s going on, every different promotion and everything. We try to make sure that everybody is promoting everything all across the board. So when I’m talking to someone on the phone, and they’re asking me a question about No Roof Left Behind for instance, I’m not going, “Umm, hmm, I don’t know what that is…” because we have a lot of different things going on. That is a big promotion that we’re running right now, we’re giving away three roofs in three counties for a less fortunate person and there’s nominations going on, and it’s really a wonderful program that is sponsored by GAF and Allied, so we’re working on that right now. We have a lot of other things going on, different trade show promotions and everything. It takes a lot of people to keep everybody informed and all on the same page, because if you’re going to run a solid promotion, and it’s going to be effective, everybody’s got to be on board with it.

STEVE:
Got it, ya, well it shows.

ROD:
Yeah, definitely, I would definitely say it shows. Can you tell us a little bit more about the No Roof Let Behind?

TRACEY:
No Roof Left Behind is a program that GAF and Allied sponsor. We do the labor, GAF and Allied provide the materials. How it works is you sponsor a certain county. Basically, the promotion, we go out and we let the community know that, do you have a friend who needs a roof, or a neighbor who needs a roof, and you know they can’t afford it? Nominate these people. There’s several weeks that are open for nominations. They go to a microsite that has been set up on the No Roof Left Behind, and they nominate the person that they’re interested in. When nominations close, then we go to all of these folks, and we interview them, make sure that they qualify for the program. Then, at that point in time, those folks go out and market themselves to get votes. Basically, the person in each county with the most votes for themselves, they will win a new roof. And so then it’s a big party, we go out and we do the roof. Allied and GAF are there, we’re there, hopefully the press is there. We bring out the hotdog cart, everything else, the bouncy house for the kids. It basically gives you the opportunity to show you what you can do to a lot of neighbors, but it also gives you the opportunity to fulfill something that someone really needs. Perhaps they’re older people, or they’re just down on their luck or this or that, but they need that roof, and it gives us an opportunity to give back to the community, too.

STEVE:
That’s really nice.

TRACEY:
Yeah, it’s a cool program. It’s the first time we’ve done it.

STEVE:
Ah.

TRACEY:
We’re about halfway into the nomination process right now, and we’ve got people being nominated. And the word’s out, people are getting excited about it. It’s just something, I think it’s really fun.

ROD:
That’s awesome.

STEVE:
Yeah.

ROD:
It’s nice to be able to give back like that. There’s the feel good side of it, there’s the promotional side of it, that’s not why you do it, but just to be able to go out there and take somebody and do it. What I find interesting, though, is the approach, because you’re not just picking somebody. There’s a little more to it, I think that’s kind of cool.

TRACEY:
Well, yeah, because it would be easy to – I mean, human nature – if I was picking someone, “Oh well, there’s a twelve square roof, we’ll go do that one.” But, no, these people have to get involved, they’ve gotta get behind it. They have to put some work into it, too, which I think is exciting. They’re calling their friends, their neighbors, “Vote for me! Vote for me!”
So by the time that it’s all said and done, they’ve collected their votes, they’ve gotten people behind them, they’ve gotten invested in the process, too, which I think is super important, because it just makes it so much more fun for everybody, and all those people who’ve voted for them are going to come out the day that we’re putting the roof on, and they’re going to be excited and everybody’s going to be involved. I just think it makes it just that much more special.

STEVE:
Yeah.

ROD:
Absolutely. I wanted to go back to something, hearing you talk about your meetings. You have your Monday meetings. You’ve got your Tuesday, sounds like management meetings, and I think Friday, sales meetings. There is no place to hide within you organization. You better be producing or else, it sounds like.

TRACEY:
Yeah, we have boards everything, there is no place to hide. You’re right.

ROD:
It reminds me of an old sales quote. It says, “You’re born on Monday, you die on Friday, and you’re reborn again on Monday.” It’s what have you done this week? It sounds like you definitely got a culture of accountability. Is there anything else you do in addition to the meetings to keep that accountability, because truthfully the culture sounds great and exciting when everyone is making strides and moving forward to a common goal. Is there anything else you guys do?

TRACEY:
We do a lot of fun things as a group. When we started, it was just Don and I, and then we started to add people, and now we’ve got 40, 50 employees. One of the things I try to do is, our Friday sales meetings, we try to make sure that we funnel everybody back into the office about 11:30 on Fridays, and we bring food, and lots of food. Everybody eats, then we have the meeting and new people are introduced. People maybe that are having birthdays, we have one Friday a month that we celebrate all the birthdays for one particular month. Everybody gets their birthday card. The salesmen of the month for the previous month gets announced, the employee of the quarter — those kinds of things, because we try to keep people excited.
If we’ve got spiffs that are internal for the person who sets the most appointments, or this or that, or somebody needs to be patted on the back, we try to do it very publicly, because we want to encourage everybody to rise to that level. It’s kind of “don’t dress for the job you have, dress for the job that you want.” Well, don’t aspire just for the job you have, aspire for the job that you want. Because as we grow, all of those opportunities are going to be there, and I would rather move people up from internally than just go out and find more people.
It is a family operation. Really, truly it is. We try to treat everybody like family. Obviously, it’s still a business, but we really try to create a unit where I don’t believe anyone should ever look at someone and say, “It’s not my job.” It is your job. This is our job. Whether it’s customer service to our customers or customer service to each other, it’s our job. That might mean I’m in the bathroom changing the toilet paper rolls and the hand towels one morning because nobody else did it, or unloading the dishwasher or what have you. If we all support each other, we can be that much more successful.

ROD:
No, I agree.

TRACEY:
And that’s the culture we’ve tried to build.

ROD:
And that didn’t just come out of thin air. It sounds like you’ve had this, maybe you were born that way, but it sounds like you brought a lot to the table with your prior experience as well.

TRACEY:
Yeah, I think a lot of that came from Nordstrom. When I was fifteen, I went to work at Nordstrom for two weeks for the half yearly sale, and I was there like 6 or 7 years later. I was a manager, I was a buyer there, and one of the things that was really important and still is — and that’s why Nordstrom is such a successful company — is because the owners came last. It was the customers, and the employees, and then managers and then owners. Kind of flipped the pyramid upside down. If you treat the people that are on the front line as well as you can, you get a lot better response, which trickles down obviously to run the business. This is a sales organization, the customer has to come first. You can’t just sit in your ivory tower and think, “Ooh, I’m so wonderful. Look at what I’ve built.” No, you’ve got to get right back in there because it’s a sales organization. And if you want to produce sales, you have to remember what produces sales, and that’s how you treat people. Whether it’s your employees or your customers, it’s how you treat each other.

ROD:
Yeah, that’s true. And it sounds like you’re really consistent with this all the way throughout because I’ve seen companies say, “Hey, this is what we stand for, we treat our customers well, we treat our employees well: until the economy went sideways and all that stuff went out the door. How did you guys deal with that? You know, ’08 was a tough year for everybody, and ’09. How did you guys handle that?

TRACEY:
Actually, well… actually… ’08 and ’09 were even tougher than for us than they probably were for other people, because in ’08 and ’09, I was diagnosed with a very strange heart condition that no one could figure out how to fix. And so we actually shut down our operations for a year and half, because I was so sick — no one knew if I was going to live or die. It that was a really hard thing for us to do, but I was very blessed after doing a lot of research and with my medical transcription background, that was very helpful. I did a lot of research and came back around to the Cleveland Clinic which pointed me back out to actually a Swedish hospital here in Washington state in Seattle, to a heart surgeon name David Gartman. I was the thirteenth person to have the surgery that I had on November 6th of 2009.
By 2011, I was healthy and perfect and back in shape and we moved forward confidently at that point in time with Rainier View Construction and Roofing. You know, we were very blessed. A lot of people said, “You’re crazy, I can’t believe that you’re even thinking about jump starting this.” It’s like, I’ve already faced my worst fear. I’ve got through the worst possible things that I could possibly go through. And we did it. We came back with barrels a-blazin’, and it was really exciting to rebuild everything. Sometimes you have to stop and think what’s important and what was important for us in 2009 was to get me well. I was very blessed to be well. And I’ve had no problems since then.

ROD:
So, I’m going to keep peeling back the onion here, because it blows my mind that you actually went through that, it was a tough economy, you had to shut the business down, and now you’re out doing research. I mean, it doesn’t sound like it even knocked you down. It hit you hard, I’m sure, but where did you get the strength to keep doing that?

TRACEY:
God. Seriously. You go through things like that, and you kind of reevaluate what’s important in your life. And what’s really important is your faith and the people around you and your family. After we went through that whole thing, we really reevaluated our priorities and what was important. And what was important to us was to start everything back up again when I was healthy, but it was also important that we made sure that we gave back, and that’s where the culture in our company of giving back really comes from because so many people were there and supported us and helped us through all of that and didn’t turn their back. It’s important. Your faith really plays a huge importance to that. People can say that’s schmaltzy, but no, not really, not really, because there were people that I barely knew from our church that were coming and cleaning my house, and cooking food for my seven children and stuff when I was bedridden. It was like, wow, those are the kind of people and that’s the kind of person that I want to be. You learn a lot from things. Everyone always says, “Oh, you went through this horrible time,” but gosh when you get a little bit further past it, and you’re up on the hill and you’re not down in the valley and you’re looking back over it, bad times give you a lot of really great learning experiences.

ROD:
Oh yes. I really love your great analogy too.

TRACEY:
If you pitch your tent in the valley and you stay down there, you’re never going to get further. You just have to keep climbing back up the hill and once you get to the top you go, “Wow, that was kind of a cool detour. It was kind of sucky, but hey, I’m back!” If you remember that lesson, you can take that with you, no matter how bad it gets.

ROD:
Yeah, my dad says, you know, he says “Walk through the valley of the shadow of darkness, don’t set camp.” Keep walking.

TRACEY:
Yeah, absolutely.

ROD:
Sounds exactly like what you just said. Well, that’s great. I just love it so much because then you started talking about priorities, and I think in today’s world we’re moving at such a fast pace that we don’t know what to do. It’s just, it’s not that anything’s overly difficult, but there’s just so much, and you can only do so much. It sounds like this is obviously, you just said we’re going to focus on what matters most, and you selected some of those things

TRACEY:
Oh, absolutely. I mean, in the world that we have today with all of our technology, like how we’re talking right now, and your cell phone, and you’ve got your instant email, sometimes you forget, sometimes you have to tune off. We just got back from Disneyland with our kids for Spring Break, and it was — people are calling from the office. Finally, it was just I need to turn off my phone because every time I get on the phone, I look at my son or my daughter, and they were being very tolerant, because they understand that we own a business and that we have to do what we do, but I’d look at their face and it was like, ah, there they go again. So finally, you know what, I said, “I’m turning off my phone, I’m putting it in the backpack. We’re gonna have fun, that’s what we came here for. Nothing is going to happen that I can’t fix in the next four hours. Let’s just go on these rides and have a good time.” And sometimes you have to do that, and that’s not being irresponsible or unresponsive to your staff or your customers, but sometimes you just have to stop and say, “You know what? I need a day that I just spend with my family.” Most people can respect that.

ROD:
I sure hope so.

STEVE:
And maybe the staff grows a little bit, too. Maybe they start taking more initiative without you there as well.

TRACEY:
Well, absolutely. My husband and I were talking about that, and I said this is why everyone’s calling us, is because we’re both really strong leaders and we do things a certain way, and we want our staff to do things a certain way, but they don’t want to disappoint us. And I said, part of pulling back, like when we hired our accounting manager, Lynn, I was having a really hard time with that, because I had to let go of that, I had to let go of the money, and that scared me. But she was a perfect hire, perfect fit, she does a great job. You have to start to let go of things as your business grows and trust people to do them and empower them. If they make a mistake, don’t rip them to shreds, because then they’re going to be afraid. It’s kind of a lesson to us. We need to empower people more, tell them step out. We have to stop micromanaging, we need to pull back a little bit if we want people to grow. It’s a lesson that’s hard to learn as business owner because your business is kind of like your child, you want your child to flourish. The only person that can make that child flourish is the parent? No, not really. Because you’ve got all the outside people – the teachers, their friends – that are part of their life. You have to keep your finger on the pulse of your business — or your children, or what have you — but at the same time, you have to let people step out and do things because that’s how they learn and that’s how your business grows. So, we both had no one to blame but ourselves for being disturbed.

ROD:
You learned from it though. That’s what’s impressive.

STEVE:
Exactly.

ROD:
I think that would be a great topic at Western States for you to get up there and talk about, because I think that we think that it’s so obvious, but I think we all need to be reminded of it. That’s great.

TRACEY:
Yeah, you try to take a little bit out of everything that — I always try to find some lesson in everything, because my deal is if I’m not figuring something new out every day or I’m not growing, then I probably am doing something wrong. Whether it’s the book that I’m reading on my nightstand, or the articles that I’m reading online, or the fifty-seven magazines that I get every month that I sit down and try to read at least an hour’s worth of each one every night or what have you. It’s about learning and you can learn nuggets from the strangest places if you’re just paying attention. Whether it’s your children or your employees or the state coming in and doing their audit, you pick up nuggets and these are nuggets that can make your business grow. You don’t have to look at it as being a negative thing. If something opens your eyes to something, you should say, “Oh, that’s cool, let me put this in my little deck of cards,” because you’re going to use it at some point.

ROD:
I like that.

STEVE:
Yeah, it’s inspiring. So much of it boils down to attitude. When you were going through your travails of 2008, it sounds like you were able to maintain your attitude and it sounds like your attitude helps your business day-to-day thrive and be successful.

TRACEY:
Yeah, but I had to have an attitude adjustment. When we first started going through all of it when I got the diagnosis, and I was told I had to basically sit down and not do anything, I was pretty depressed there for a while. Then I really started to think about how that was affecting the rest of my family, and my marriage, and the people around me. You can face this with strength, or you can face this and be snarly and nasty and feel sorry for yourself. What are you going to do? I chose to take the high road and figure it out and put a smile on my face. Not to say every day was rosy, but you know what, we found a way to stay together, keep our family together, and that’s the most important thing. Get healthy and get back on the right track. It’s all about your attitude, you’re absolutely right.

ROD:
So you’ve gone through this challenge, and I think that you came out a better person because of that, you talked about that. You also talked about priorities, and changing priorities and reprioritizing. Just based on your experience, what would you say is the biggest waste of time for business owners to deal with on a daily basis? What are the bigger distractions that you say, hey those really aren’t worth it, and how did you learn from that?

TRACEY:
Well, there’s distractions in everything in life, and I think that you just have to — I sit down every morning — I usually wake up about 4:30 in the morning, I read all my email, I pull out a yellow pad because I’m old school. In fact, I’m going to be 50 in another week and a half. I’m old school. I pull out my yellow pad and I prioritize what I need to get done. A lot of times I don’t get done, I don’t even get close to getting done everything, but then I roll it over to the next day. But I think that the distractions… I try to take at least two hours of my day, I close the door and focus on the things that I need to do, the things that I need to do to make the business grow, the things that I need to do to better what we have for our employees or our customers, correspondence, what have you. Then I try to be available to our employees, and I think what probably can really derail a lot of people is not having just a good plan of action. You have to have a plan because there’s 97,000 fires that crop up every day. You have to take the time to work on your things because otherwise you’re just running around with your hair on fire all day long. And the day — it’s 7 o’clock and it’s ugh, I haven’t even gotten to anything on my list today. So what I try to do is take scheduled time, get through the things that I need to get through that are the most important, and then get myself back to the business. If it’s a quiet day, I can get even more stuff done, so it’s all good. You just have to stay on track because there’s just so many ridiculous distractions. The other thing is setting meetings. People tend to wander in all the time, whether it’s vendors, manufacturers, people trying to sell you things for the business, or this or that. Really, you don’t need to talk to everybody. There are certain people you want to take time out for if they just drop by, but for the most part, I ask people, make appointments. “I’d love to talk to you, but can we make an appointment to do this? Because my time is really valuable, and right now I’m in the middle of something.” And most people understand that and if you can take the time to make the appointments, it tends to work out a lot better.

STEVE:
Absolutely, and there’s a power… it’s a benefit to everyone in you saying, “No, not right now.” I think everyone gains from that.

TRACEY:
Well, I do too. If someone comes in and they’ve got something they really want to show you, I’d rather say, “You know what, now’s not a good time, but if you can make an appointment next week I’ll give you 45 minutes of my undivided attention.” That’s better for the person who’s presenting and a lot better for you.

ROD:
Oh yeah, that’s a great answer right there.

STEVE:
And it’s a great way to phrase it, too. You’re not just saying “no”, you’re saying, “Well, let’s really focus at this later date”.

TRACEY:
Right, exactly. Because sometimes I’ll have my phone ring and I’ll have someone sitting in front of me and I’m trying to type an email, and I’m not giving anybody really my undivided attention. I’m half listening to the person on the phone, I’m typing an email, and the other person that’s sitting in front of me has been interrupted trying to tell me something important. Sometimes I’ll catch myself doing that and I’ll go, “Okay, I’m going to call you back. I’m going to stop the email. I’m going to turn to this person, I’m going to finish my conversation, then I’m going to finish the other two things.” Because they talk about multitasking, and yes, you can multitask to a point, but you need to give people your undivided attention, even if it’s five minutes, because otherwise you’re going to spend 25 minutes being interrupted trying to hear the same thing you could’ve heard in 5 minutes and moved to the next focus.

STEVE:
Right – yeah. So to shift gears a little, Tracey, I know from talking to you that you and Don take a lot of pride in all your projects. Are there any recent jobs that are interesting or that you care to mention?

TRACEY:
We have a lot of really wonderful customers that we do business with that actually we become friends with too. We spend so much time with them, it’s so nice to have. We’ve done some pretty awesome work with churches. We did the St. Peter and Paul Parish that is on Portland Avenue in Tacoma. We did a beautiful Zappone Copper steeple on that and that was a really interesting job because we had to do it all on a boom. We have some beautiful pictures from that particular job. Then we went back and did a standing seam steel on their actual parish hall. But we just did a really neat job over on Decatur Island, which is an island you can only get to by boat. It’s all cabins that are owned by different owners that just come at different times. All of our roofing materials, we had to have picked up by a boat, and load them all in and make several trips back and forth to do the metal roofing over there on this island. We had to transport our crew over there, and they stayed in one of the cabins while they were working on it. It turned out just beautifully. We’re going to be doing several different cabins over there over time. That was a pretty interesting job, because there was a lot of logistics going into, how are we going to get all of this material over there, and how are we going to get the break over there and how are we going to do this and that, because this is all personal water craft — they’re not a ferry or anything like that. There’s nothing like that that goes to the island. And there’s several islands out here that, of course, there’s the San Juans that you can get to by different means, but there’s a lot of these smaller islands in the Puget Sound that have their challenges to actually get the materials out to.

ROD:
Sure. So how about this one then? How about a customer service story? You being involved with Nordstrom’s, I’m sure you’ve got some great ones there, but what about with the roofing company? Can you think of just one story where you guys just did something that was unbelievable?

TRACEY:
Well, we do a lot of things. We bend over backwards a lot for customers, whether it’s somebody, we actually had one person who — we put the whole roof on, and they didn’t like the color, and they were just sick about it, and we actually reroofed the house for them to make them happy.

ROD:
That’s pretty good!

TRACEY:
Even though that wasn’t in the contract. It made them happy, we re-did the whole roof. And that was kind of a nightmare, but we took care of it. We try to really, whenever someone is displeased, we really do bend over backwards, whether it’s doing something extra for them, or going out and talking to them, doing something that they want. It just kind of goes on and on. We really do try. Sometimes it’s impossible, so there are a few people that it’s impossible to make happy, I have found that out in life. But for the most part, I would say 98% of our customer surveys are positive, and our people are very happy with what we do. We did have a gentleman just recently that we had done some French doors for with the windows job, and he had wanted screens on his French doors which was something that really, obviously, that’s a difficult situation because there’s not screens particularly for French doors. He’s an older guy, and he was very upset, because what he had chosen to do was the little hanging screens with the Velcro down the middle — and that wasn’t working out well for him.
Then he had taken the French doors that we had installed off, because he had decided he wanted them a different color, and reinstalled them and was having some problems, they weren’t balanced correctly. None of this was really a warranty issue, but I told our project manager for the exterior side to just go out and make him happy. So it was kind of interesting. Jerry went out, he rehung the doors, and then he was really trying hard to figure out what to do about this screen situation.
So we had another customer that we were working with that is very high up in a window manufacturing company, so he was talking to him about it while we were remodeling his bathroom, and he said, “I know what to do!” He hooked Jerry up with exactly, this really cool screen idea. Jerry was able to purchase it and go out and install this for the gentleman in Enumclaw. We didn’t charge him a dime, we just did it, and it made him happy. It took us a couple weeks to rehang doors, reinstall this whole thing, and none of this was our deal, but it made him happy, and that’s what it’s all about.

ROD:
It’s nice to be in a position to do that, too.

TRACEY:
Yeah. Hopefully, he’ll tell somebody something nice. Unfortunately, the way that the world works is usually negativity propagates. You do one thing wrong and they’ll tell 50 people. You go out of your way to do something nice — meh, they may mention it to one or two, so you have to do a lot of nice things in this world.

ROD:
Well, the roofing business is so very tough and to hear stories like that, it’s nice. It makes me feel good. So what is it you really love about this industry of ours?

TRACEY:
Oh, I just love making people happy. I mean, there’s commercial, which I’m really not that interested in. I like doing the residential, and residential is hard, because you’re dealing with people who — whether they are rich or poor or what have you — your home generally speaking is your biggest investment that you’ll make in your life. And whether you’ve got a $150,000 home or a $1.5 million home, it’s your home, it’s your castle.
You want to make it as nice as possible for them and I love that. I love being able to go in, and someone’s got a really ugly bathroom, and we turn it into something that’s really pretty. Or their roof is falling apart, their trusses are sagging, and it looks nasty, and you get done and take the pictures, the before and after, and there is a quantifiable difference. And they’re happy. You get comments like, “Oh my yard looks better after you roofed my house than it did before, they raked out all my flower beds,” or “did this or that,” those are things that make me happy. Obviously, you’re going to have issues. You’re going to have issues everyday with this, that or the other thing, but we get to the final product, and the project is done and the people are happy, and you meet with them and their house looks great, I mean, there’s a sense of satisfaction there and that’s what keeps you going every day.

ROD:
I love it, because what you’re saying is you still come back to it, even down to the flower beds, even down to the smallest things, you’re finding joy in satisfying somebody and doing a good job. And it sounds like you’ve taken that approach to your whole life. That’s great.

TRACEY:
Yeah, well, why be negative, why be sad?

ROD:
I agree!

TRACEY:
There’s too much time wasted on that. Life gives you lemons, make lemonade, add some vodka, you’re all good.

ROD:
I like your last step there, that’s great.

STEVE:
Absolutely.

TRACEY:
Life is what you make of it.

STEVE:
One last quick question before we wrap up and that is I wanted to ask about your involvement with Western States. Can we talk about that for a moment?

TRACEY:
Oh, absolutely. I am a board member for the Western States Roofing Contractors Association, which is a complete honor. I’m on both the Steep Slope Committee and the Membership Committee. Meeting all of these other people from across the Western states that are on the board that give so selflessly of their time and energy to build this great program for all of the other contractors, it’s just a wonderful thing to do. It was something that kind of came out of left field, and — this has been really fun because not only have I met so many cool people like you guys, but I’ve also been able to just network and learn so many things that I didn’t know. All of the things, like the young contractor program that they’re putting together to help younger people that are coming into the industry and develop them, and all of the wonderful engineering things and bulletins, technical bulletins that they put out, it’s just really wonderful for our industry.

ROD:
Absolutely, I think that’s great.

STEVE:
Yeah. Well, excellent. Well, Tracey, thank you so much for being a guest on the show today. I think you had a lot of great stuff to say. Your story is inspiring. The person you are — who lived through this story — is inspiring. And I appreciate you taking the time to be with us today.

TRACEY:
Well, thank you for thinking about me. I’m very honored that you thought about me and thought that I was an interesting enough person for your podcast. I really was excited about doing this.

ROD:
That’s great. You’re truly an inspiration and put a little more pep in my step today.

TRACEY:
Good, good. And I’m looking forward to seeing you both here in another month at the expo, which is in Las Vegas. All you people who are listening, check it out. Go to the WSRCA website and check out the expo. It starts June 8th in Las Vegas, and it is a phenomenal time. Speakers, all of the manufacturers that are at the trade show, it really is a phenomenal time.

ROD:
Well, thank you again and we look forward to seeing you in Vegas.

TRACEY:
Okay, take care, thank you.

ROD:
That was a lot of fun. There was a ton of great stuff there.

STEVE:
I totally agree. Tracey has really accomplished a lot — and yet she’s totally down to Earth, too. That was very cool.

ROD:
And by the way, Steve and I will be attending WSRCA in Las Vegas this June. It’s always a great time. I feel like you can learn a lot there, you can meet a lot of great people, and you can have plenty of fun.

STEVE:
Very true. We’ll be at the Expo showing off Roof Chief, that’s the software that Rod and I developed specifically to help roofing contractors. We think it’s easy and fast to use — and it contains a lot of ways to help you run your jobs and maximize your profit.

ROD:
It tracks your leads, your costs, and your margin. You can easily send professional contracts, material lists — you name it. We’re very proud of what this does for you and how it can make your life better.

STEVE:
So get in touch with us so we can tell you more. And you can check out Roof Chief at roofchief.com

ROD:
Until then, thank you again to Tracey Prociw. And thank you everybody for listening.

STEVE:
We’ve got another episode of the Roof Insight Show on the way soon. Keep looking out for it.

ROD:
Thanks again.

STEVE:
Thank you.

 

Roof Insight Show: Chris Zazo of Aspenmark Roofing & Solar – Ep. 3

roof-insight-show-titleChris Zazo of Aspenmark Roofing and Solar

Ethics — and fun — make for a great ride in the roofing industry.

Chris Zazo- CEO Aspenmark Roofing & Solar(2) 2013 (1)
You can hear it in his voice: Chris Zazo is clearly having fun at his company, Aspenmark Roofing and Solar. What’s more, he and his staff have achieved a great deal of of success, through hard work, honesty, passion, and a solid background in sales.

This interview contains a ton of actionable advice and suggestions you can use. For instance, Chris talks about how he uses hardcore honesty as a sales tool. Telling the complete, honest-to-goodness truth is something that helps him land sales, not lose them. He describes how having a professional-looking email signature and logo helped him get a big sale (as in, millions of dollars from one customer.) And he discusses how we all need to start work on our next big projects — and how we can think about “haters” we’ll encounter along the way.

Chris also tells some great stories from his experience in the business. We hear about a four-alarm fire that almost put him out of business — as well as how he went door-to-door to get his very first customer.

Finally, for sports fans, this episode contains some wisdom from a few top college coaches: Lou Holtz, John Wooden, and Ohio State’s Jim Tressel.

Check out this entertaining — and very informative — episode below!

To see the talk Chris gave at Best of Success, click here. To learn more about the annual conference, click here.

Read the interview — or read along with the audio.

STEVE:
Hey, everybody, and welcome to the Roof Insight Show. We’re back with another episode.

ROD:
My name is Rod Menzel. I’m a roofing contractor here in Southern California.

STEVE
And I’m Steve Wein. I’m a computer guy down in Southern California as well.

ROD:
Real excited about this episode. We’re talking to Chris Zazo, contractor out of Dallas-Fort Worth. His company is Aspenmark Roofing and Solar.

STEVE:
Chris cashed in his 401k from a corporate job to start Aspenmark. He’s had a lot of success since then.

ROD:
You know, Steve and I heard Chris speak back at the Best of Success in Phoenix. And I’ll tell you, it was great, he did a great job, and we’re real excited to have him on the show here.

STEVE:
Today you’ll hear about how a four-alarm fire almost put Chris out of business. He had to make some hard choices to survive.

ROD:
Absolutely crazy. And you know, Chris has very strong sales background. He has a lot of great ideas when it comes to sales, and he’s going to teach us ton. His advice about saying “no” to customers — a lot of people just want to say yes, yes, yes — and he comes out how we can handle that.

ROD:
He also gives a great suggestion for customers who — we’ve all heard it before — want the lowest price possible.

STEVE:
He talks about how he deals with competitors and competition in general. He talkes about how to deal with a customer who is upset show about the way the job went down. And you got to listen to the whole show, because t the end, Chris gives advice to a guy just starting out in the industry — but his suggestion is so good, anyone can benefit from it no matter, what stage of the game they’re at.

ROD:
As always, this show is brought to you buy Roof Chief, the software that Steve and I developed to help roofing contractors succeed. It helps you from the first phone call to the close-out of the job.

STEVE:
We really believe in it. We think it can make a real difference. Check it out at RoofChief.com.

ROD:
Excellent. And now, our conversation with Chris Zazo of Aspenmark Roofing and Solar.

STEVE:
Okay, Chris, to start us off, can you tell us about your company? What does Aspenmark look like today?

CHRIS:
Well, today we have forty employees — and that doesn’t count our crew. We are Aspenmark Roofing and Solar, here serving the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex. We do have a service, residential, commercial, and multifamily markets, as well as industrial. So we have the whole gamut. Basically if you have a roof, we can do something — whether it is repair, maintenance, or replacement — to that roof. And then also, we have a full solar offering — I guess it is called “Solar Elite” with GAF. GAF is our flagship company that we participate with, in commercial and residential roofing as well as solar. We eat and breathe their brand. They do the same for us.

We’re under a very nice facility here in Dallas, North Dallas. A 22,000 square foot building…

STEVE:
Very cool. And how did you start in roofing?

CHRIS:
I grew up in Akron, Ohio. A little south of Cleveland, so my heart’s in Cleveland sports — and everything northeastern Ohio. Soon as soon as I found out I was free to go, I found my way to Dallas, Texas.

Came down in the steel business. Moved to Texas and started selling steel. From there, I kind of covered five states, and did my sales gig and then moved over to a platform in the gypsum business, the drywall business. From there I moved onto a supply chain management company called Truckload USA. I was a sales manager for those folks, ran a sales team. And the company ultimately failed.

But that led me into the roofing industry. A gentleman worked for me there, and he had quit prior to the folding of that company. But he was in the roofing business, and he said that I should look into the roofing business. And I could probably pretty well in that business. And he would be over in Florida, and I needed to look them up if anything ever changed. I simply thought that there is no way I would ever get in the roofing business, because I looked at roofing as probably the lowest form of construction next to drywall, and I had already been there, so I didn’t want anything to do with it.

As a joke in my exit interview, once I decided I’d had enough — before the company completely imploded, the guys asked me, “What are you going to do, Chris? What are you going to go do after this?”

I just kind of came back with a smart remark, and that was, “I’m going to sell roofs in Florida,” and I didn’t mean it – but I just said it because I didn’t have a better answer — and they laughed it off. I thought to myself like, “Well, maybe I will look this guy up and just see what he’s talking about.”

So that’s exactly what I did, ended up looking him up. He ended up giving me some leads, and I went out and ran them, and sold four the five leads that first day he had given to me. I had no tools of the trade — really not much of anything except the gift of gab and sold four of the five deals.

ROD:
I’m impressed with that — four out of five — your eighty percent close ratio. You said the gift of gab was part of it, but it had to be more than that. What did you do?

CHRIS:
Yeah, I’ll tell you, what was interesting when I sold those roofs, when I didn’t have a ladder or anything, you know, they asked me, and they said, “Well, where’s your drawing?”

I said, “You guys didn’t tell me I needed a drawing. You guys just told me to sell it.”

They go, “How did you come up with measurements?”

I go, “Well, I walked it off.”

And they go, “I have never heard of such a thing in my life!”

ROD:
You didn’t come short did you?

CHRIS:
Ah, well. That is for another interview.

ROD:
So you didn’t know the fundamentals, I guess. But you still managed to do a good job selling those roofs. How did you pull that off?

CHRIS:
Well, you’ve got to ask for the sale. I quickly realized — in any sales opportunity, the answer one hundred percent of the time is “No” if you don’t ask for the sale. You’ve got to show people, demonstrate the value of how you’re going to treat them, find out what their needs are, and fulfill those needs and get them to sign on the dotted line.

STEVE:
Yeah, that’s all very true — and I’d also say establishing trust is very important. I know you guys deal with a lot of storm situations.

CHRIS:
In storm situations, people don’t know who to trust. They don’t know where to turn, especially in hurricane situations, where your shingles are missing or half your roof is missing in a commercial application. They need results very quickly so they have to size you up — and they do size you up very quickly on whether they trust you or not. And you’ve got to be convincing, and you got be able to bring your A game and that is, I think if you do care and you believe in your product, it will show immensely, and people do trust, then when you perform, that word-of-mouth quickly spreads and you become the go-to guy in a certain arena.

It’s funny, because there’s a lot of unethical contractors but there’s also a lot of unethical people, and what I found is unethical contractors tend to run with unethical contractors and unethical people run with unethical people, so if you’re finding the right customer — meaning an ethical customer — the people that they surround themselves by or with are other ethical people, and so you get to the right customer by finding a few and then that mushroom effect from word-of-mouth and doing a good job quickly takes hold.

ROD:
Well, this may be more of a philosophical question, but you said a lot there that I love what you said. And one big word you said is “trust.” Is there something that you do or think about — because I feel the same way sometimes — it’s like you get this gut instinct about a person, right? And why do people get that gut instinct? What are they really looking at? I mean, is there something you’re saying or doing that can give them that feeling?

CHRIS:
Well, I think you just tell them the truth. Salesmen don’t want to tell anybody “no.” They really don’t. They’re “Yes, I can do that, yes, I can do that, yes I can do that.” And that is. by nature – people want to please and they want to get the sale. Ultimately, that tends to boil down to price, and guys that really don’t know how to sell, that just go right down to the price because they say they can do everything under the sun, and then they gotta drop the price to meet some competitive price that’s not offering all of the same things.

They really failed their customer and they failed themselves by not telling them no — or at least setting the parameters upfront that, “This is what I can do for this, but if you want this – it’s not going to be apples to apples, it’s apples to oranges,” and so you have to take things away in order to get there. People respect that.

ROD:
Absolutely.

CHRIS:
So you can get them to understand the value of what you’re selling, the service comes at a price. I mean, I always say that if we bought everything on price, we’d buy everything at Walmart.

And you know, I question people. I say, “What don’t you buy Walmart? There’s a value of some sort of things that you don’t buy at Walmart.” They can identify with that and say, you know, when you explain to them that the roof of the most important component of the largest asset that most people own in the whole scheme of things. If they don’t have a solid roof over their head, you can have a lot of problems — and you know, that goes down to mold, and buckled floors, and drywall, and everything else that can happen with a roof that’s installed improperly or has inferior products on it — or they’ve already been through it once if were dealing with the cat loss, so you know let’s make sure it doesn’t happen again.

STEVE:
We’ve been talking about ethics – and your ability to talk to people. Where in life did you learn those two things?

CHRIS:
Well, the ethics came from my childhood. I was basically raised on a farm. You know, I was the guy that had to work. Even as a kid, I had to work for my grandparents or my father or whomever it was before I could do anything fun. And unfortunately on a farm, the list never ends. I would always try to commandeer my friends into helping me to get that list done, so I could go do stuff. But I was compensated — they paid me to do the work that I did, I mean, I had the standard chores that I didn’t get paid for, but when I was actually working, I had money. So I would get my friends to help me, but then in return, I would pay for whatever we were doing. They would get a little something out of it on the backend. And I think you had to have a strong gift of gab to talk them into doing some of the stuff that I had to do. And then the ethical part was to the take care of them on the backside.

STEVE:
Very cool. So once you started your business, how did you get going? How did you get your first customers and get going in the business?

CHRIS:
Well, I will tell you, that is a funny story. You will take about anything to have your first customer. I mean, you’re looking like the Maytag repairman, waiting for the phone to ring. It’s not going to happen. Nobody knows who you are.

You are like, “I’m open for business.” So I went out and started canvassing. I stumbled into a neighborhood that had some recent storm damage. But it wasn’t the best neighborhood, to say the least. There were some smaller homes and trailers and things. But you know, at that point, you’re just trying to get anybody.

So I stumbled across a home that was very small, probably about a thousand square foot home. And family living there, they had no less than ten kids. I kid you not. So they are running around going crazy, out in the yard. It was a summer day, and I asked the lady. I said, “You don’t know who I am and you don’t know my company, but I am telling you this, I am trying to live the American dream. I’ve started this company this week, and I need someone to believe in me and give me a chance.”

The deal was probably – I think it was around $2,900, it was less than three grand at the time. She said, “I will talk it over with my husband when I get home.”

And so I waited on bated breath for that call after 5 o’clock. She called me, and said, “You know what, Chris, I believe in you. I believe you said everything to be true. My husband said if I agree that we were good to go, so let’s do it.”

And I never had so much pride in myself, because it wasn’t anybody else’s brand that already had recognition or could carry liability if I screwed up – everything was on me. I remember doing that job, and doing it with such pride. Then trying to get some referrals from her and whatnot, but that was nine years ago and every year at Christmas, I have sent her an American Express gift card thanking her for what I have today. And the irony of it is that she has never once thanked me or called me or picked up the phone or done anything, but we have never heard from her. But we are still going to keep mailing them, because I know that she still lives there.

STEVE:
Wow!

ROD:
It is such a refreshing story, because that could being honest and ethical again, because how cool is that to say, “Hey, I need you, because you are my first customer here?” That’s just – that’s awesome.

CHRIS:
Yeah. What else have you got? You probably could have said, “I have been doing tons of work in the neighborhood” or whatever. But I mean, if they ask for references, you’re done. Why even go there? Hey, you shoot straight, and so now you have one and then you go, “Well, I worked for them.” You got one and then you had two and you had three and then you had ten and then you had a hundred.

Then, as you grow the business, it becomes thousands. And the commercial arena — you gotta to bust into that. At least, we migrated towards that. Then you start looking at your size of sales. You think back when you were doing homes that are $10 to $15,000 — $20,000. You got one for $40,000 and you are like, “Oh man, that’s the jackpot.”

That ticket size just continues to increase. Last year we did a job for over $6 million. It’s insane. You would never think that you would ever get to that point, but the hard work has paid off.

ROD:
Very cool. What type of system was that six million dollar job?

CHRIS:
That was an industrial metal, R-panel system. Whole industrial campus.

ROD:
Wow, real cool.

STEVE:
And as you got started, did you struggle to get a foot hold? Was it hard to stand out you’re your competitors?

CHRIS:
I mean, obviously being in Dallas, Texas, we pray on weather more than anything. I mean, roofing happens three-sixty-five, but weather drives it in a frenzy when it comes. We call the hail down here “sky diamonds,” because these folks come from all over, prospecting which are the storm chasers that come in from out of town or guys just locally that — since we don’t have any type of licensing or governing body, so to speak, over the roofing industry – it’s the wild, wild West.

One day a guy is a painter, and the next day he already has the ladder, so he grabs a hammer and now he’s a roofer. Those are the folks that we combat constantly down here if you look at the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex and the per capita of people and the amount of storms that happen. This is a roofer’s Super Bowl, so that makes it the most competitive place on earth and probably the lowest-priced market in the country and everybody is in here to fight it out.

So branding was a huge part of getting this thing established quickly and getting people to trust your brand.

STEVE:
So how do you deal with other companies? How do you think about the competition?

CHRIS:
I didn’t look that hard to find them, personally. I put my pants on every day and go to work. That is one of the things that I tell everybody. I say, “The competition is one thing, and you will bump into people along the way,” but people ask us, “Who are your biggest competitors?”

And I tell them, “You know, I can’t really answer that today, because when we go out, we believe we are the best and we usually get the sale. So it’s like, we shut it down pretty quick. We do that by the pursuit of excellence, by the way we see ourselves and how everybody here sees the company and the brand. We go out and really try to do the best job we can. We tell people “no” and set the rules, and if they choose to engage then they are going to get a great experience.

ROD:
Awesome. I love it. That reminds me little bit in John Wooden, they would ask him, “What do you do to prepare for your competition?”

He goes, “We don’t really focus on the competition, we focus on ourselves.”

And I just love the way you were thinking about it, because really it’s like they are going to do what they are going to do, and you are going to come out and just do what you do best and constantly improve that.

CHRIS:
That is it. That is really it. And I tell that to our team daily. I’m like, “Guys, if you believe in yourself, you believe in the product, you believe in this company, and eighty percent of this thing showing up and the following up. This is actually a pretty easy game, but you got to do what you say you are going to do. You got to follow up and got to perform, you got to have a system.”

And we do not care what most are doing. Sure, there are some techniques you can pick up along the way from folks. We certainly are all about that, best business practices, changing technologies, etc., but as far as what the guy down the street is doing or across town, we don’t care. We go out we really run hard and focus on every sale that we get — why we got it, in our sales meetings, but more importantly the ones we don’t get as well. We try and get real feedback from our customers on why we missed the mark, and they are honest with us and I appreciate that. It only helps to make us better the next time

ROD:
That is great.

STEVE:
And so in the early days at your company, what were some of the big obstacles that you faced?

CHRIS:
Well, you know, I can point to several. There are a lot of highs and lows in this business. I mean, I had things from a death on a job, to a fire, and I could speak to a fire. A large commercial project, one of the first ones we got that was over $1 million in size. We got the call due to the secretary that worked for the CEO was instructed to get a roofer out to look at some roof leaks. She went to the Better Business Bureau and liked our logo. That’s how we got the call. She liked our logo.

STEVE:
That is great.

CHRIS:
I went out and impressed them with knowledge and actually found that their whole system was hailed out. We went out on a repair. That turned into an insurance claim, and we got going on the project.

We were probably about halfway done, and I got a call on my cell phone in the morning, and it was out of my project managers screaming at me like Beavis and Butthead. He was actually like Beavis. He kept saying: “Fire! Fire! Fire!”

I’m going, “Slow down, dude. You gotta tell me where’s the fire?”

He’s like “There is a fire!”

I’m like, “Well, do they have the fire or we have the fire? Because there is a big difference. We didn’t have any open flames on this job — I don’t think we have a fire.”

He is like, “I don’t know — you just have to get out here.”

So I got out to the job site, and we had a full four-alarm fire raging through this place, and the helicopters from the news are circling above it I’m just thinking to myself, “My life is over. My life is completely over.”

Just walking up to this thing – or running up to it — and seeing it fully engulfed in flames was just most sickening feeling that I have ever had in my life. All of the successes of everything that we had done up until then just went completely through my body and I was just — I thought, “This is it. This is where – this is how it ends.”

I look out front and see all of these employees out in the parking lot. They are all looking at you with a scowl face, because of course, you are the contractor working on the roof. So you had to be the guy that started the fire. One of the business owners came up to me and make sure I had — I better have a lot of insurance and, “You’re responsible for this. And you ought to be ashamed of yourself. We are going to get to the bottom of this.”

And I just said, “Let’s just please time out. We don’t know the cause of this fire.”

I said, “We are going to stand by you, and I’ve got 60 guys sitting underneath this shade tree, and we’re all not leaving until we find out exactly what the cause is and how we can all work together to get some type of recovery boarded up or something down the road here.” I said, “Let’s sit tight.”

I mean, I sat there and watched this fire chief walk in and out of that building for about seven hours out in the blazing sun. And everything from A to Z, and I don’t think I drank but two sips of water, I mean, I was just sick.

And finally I caught the chief and I said, “Hey man, what is the cause of this fire?”

He said, “Well, who are you?”

I said, “Well, I am the roofing contractor.”

He goes, “Oh, no, no. You guys are good.” He goes, “This thing is an electrical fire that started from an AC.”

And I felt like – bad analogy – but I kind of felt like OJ, you know, on trial day. The crime don’t fit, you must acquit, so I said, “You know, hey, man, oh man.” I about fell to my knees and was thinking to myself, “Thank you, Lord.” Went from the worst day to probably the best day of my life. But I feel I am in a real bad situation. I’ve got a project that we’re halfway done and just now went up in flames.

So anyway, I went over and started talking to the ownership group. And the guy that came out and accused me – he was crying. He was like, “I don’t know what to do. I don’t know where to begin.”

And I said, “Well, look, we’re partners. We went into this thing, we are going finish it. We are not leaving yet. The sixty guys are still here, so let’s get a plan. Let’s get a restoration company involved – we can help you choose them — and let’s take some of this steel that’s over here that we had taken off the building, that’s weathered. We can still use that to board up the side. Board up the holes up on the roof. And at least get you dried in to a point where we can at least eliminate theft for the night. And then tomorrow’s another day.”

So our crew worked through the night and got them boarded up with all the old panels.

And the guy was like, “I don’t know how I can ever thank you.”

And I said, “You don’t owe me anything. You don’t owe me an apology. I mean, I understand emotions run high.”

You know, I didn’t realize at the time, but it was a blessing that we weren’t the responsible party, but it ended up being a huge curse, which I don’t think that anyone would ever think of it this way, but when I originally got the job, I was looking for the best, economic way to buy my materials.

And so I bought all my materials up front at one price from the mill on a one time buy, and had them all shipped to the parking lot. They sat on the ground until we used them, and we figured we could blow through this job pretty quick – we had a pretty a sizable crew. Well, now, I had a huge problem with all that inventory sitting on the ground, and I had no way to pay for it, because the job had been stopped due to the fire.

So, they had structural problems – they had all kinds of things. And we could no longer continue to roof, because those things had to be rectified and satisfied and settled with insurance company before we could go on any further, plus we had an additional roof going with the roof that had burned up.

So, you know, I sat on that for I don’t know how long and figured that surely the insurance company will settle this thing quickly and get back on track. I was sadly mistaken, because it drug on and on and on. You are talking about all the interiors of all the offices — all the things that had to go with that. I finally reached the point where I was in dire straits. I was in desperate need of getting my bills paid. I had no income coming in from this large job that had ate up all my capital.

I had to go basically to the ownership and tell them, “Look, you know, I need a huge favor. I need you guys to front me some of the money for those materials that are on the ground–take care of this bill with my supplier.”

That was really hard conversation for me to get myself to have that with them because you would never want to appear weak or – a contractor coming in, you know, we had high aspirations and hopes for this job to get it done.

But you know, you are only as good as your last job. You know, trying to make a little bit of extra margin by making a buy like that in theory was great, but what are the odds of you having a fire?

ROD:
Sure.

CHRIS:
We went in there and talked to them. The thing of it is, and they said, “Why didn’t you come to us sooner? Why did you put your people through this? And why do you put yourself through this?”

“You know, you guys have stuck with us through thick and thin on this thing, from our accusations of accusing you of the fire. Then you guys boarding us up and choosing the restoration company with us and being out here working with the insurance company. And all of the things you have done.”

You know, they said, “It’s the least we could do.”

And again, I got a stay. They helped me out with that bill, and we lived for another day. It ended up being a profitable job, but it just took a little longer to plan for that.

ROD:
Yeah, obviously you learned a lot from that and — as a business owner myself – you know, we have our highs and lows. But have you kind of learned how to manage those highs and lows as the years have gone on? Do you have any recommendations on how to handle it?

CHRIS:
Yeah, well. We really dissect our lows. You don’t plan for the lows, but I mean, they are going to happen. We’re all human, and errors are going to take place, whether it’s system errors or people errors, or whatever it may be. I mean — the customer doesn’t care — it just needs to be made right. I can tell you: we make it right one hundred percent of the time now. It might be not always what someone else may be thinking, because I think there are a percentage of the population is absolutely just nuts. We happen to satisfy those folks pretty well most of the time, anyway.

But I think we give more than we should, but in the modern technology of the internet and reviews of Google, and all the things that are out there – and reputation management. What can hurt you costs you way more than it costs you to do a little extra for somebody to see to it that they’re happy — or they’re at least satisfied to some degree. They may not be a hundred percent happy all the time, but if they are satisfied and said that you did the right thing, at least it stops there.

When we do have those issues, though, when it gets to me, you know, my rule here — there is a layer of management below me now, and all our sales guys out on the street, operations people, internal folks. I tell them, I said, “If it gets to me, I’d be giving everything away. So you better hope that it doesn’t get to me, because then after the fact, we are going to have a hell of a meeting, and it’s going to be dissected, and there’s going to be some accountability, and then you going to have to work extra hard to figure out what exactly went wrong. So it’s basically a case study.”

So they try hard to squash it before it gets to me, but sometimes it does get to me. And it’s going to be some long meetings.

STEVE:
That is great.

CHRIS:
You know, If you can attract the right customer to your company, the people you want to do business with — not everybody’s a fit. I mean, it’s very empowering to tell somebody that, you know, “We are not the right company for you,” and you avoid a total landmine. I couldn’t tell you how many times your gut tells you, “I should probably walk,” but you don’t anyways and it ends up being a mess for everybody.

ROD:
Now you’re sounding like Lou Holtz. He once said that, “Do what’s right and avoid what’s wrong.” Real simple, right?

CHRIS:
That is awesome. I have not heard that one. But, ah, geez.

ROD:
Narrow it down to that, right?

CHRIS:
Yeah. That’s a easy way to say it.

STEVE:
You know, we’ve mentioned John Wooden, and we’ve mentioned Lou Holtz. I think it’s only fair, Chris. I know that you have a connection with the Ohio State University. And I thought I wouldn’t let this interview go all the way through without letting you speak a little to – let’s say — the love you have for that school. And I know also it’s been helpful in your business as well.

CHRIS:
You know, Ohio State. You’re born in northeastern Ohio to bleed Scarlet and Gray. Hate Maize and Blue. “That team up north,” as Woody Hays referred to them. He would never say the word “Michigan.” It was just an incredible era in which to be raised on football. When you had Browns-Steelers, and Ohio State-Michigan, and just Big Ten football. I was fortunate enough to be an Ohio State alum, and then continue to interact with some of the alumni down here in Dallas.

But one interesting aspect down here in Dallas, a childhood friend that lives here, too, that went to school with me – and we get around that time of beginning of November, mid-November, when the jokes start flying, I forwarded on to Ohio State-Michigan email that was, of course, slandering the “team up north.” And I pass it along to one of my buddies, and then he forwarded it on to somebody, and you know, just did the email chain thing, but I got a call one day from a purchasing agent out – a large corporation here in the Metroplex.

And he said, “And we need a roof. We need you to come out, blah, blah, blah”

And I’m thinking to myself, “How did this guy get my name?”

And I asked him. He said, “I don’t know. It came through upper management.”

So I did that, and I prepared a proposal and then went to the corporate office in downtown Fort Worth. I went up on the 28th floor. And, very nice offices. I was shown around. I made my way into the boardroom and gave my proposal to the purchasing department, and the CFO and the money and everything else.

They said, “Okay, we’ll get back in touch with you, but the CEO would like to meet you.”

And I said, “Okay, well, who is he?”

And they said, “Well, apparently, he knows you or knows some people that you know.”

And I said, “I don’t know anybody here. But yeah, I would love to meet him. ”

I walked into his office, and it was a shrine to Ohio State football. He quickly jumped up from behind his desk and said, “How are you doing, Buckeye? Sit down.”

I mean, never met the guy my life.

We sat there and talked Ohio State football and a little basketball, for probably a good half hour before we talked anything about a roof. And so, a purchasing manager was in the office, and he had to listen to it. He had heard it million times, I guess, from his boss, and he had to hear about all Ohio State bragging and that.

But he kind, you know, of went through all the bases, and he asked the manager, “Does everything check out?”

“Yeah,” he says, “His references, his prices are in the ballpark. Everything looks good.”

And he said, “Well, hopefully you can help my friend out. And award him the job.”

And that job was a very nice job to start with. We finished that job and got paid on it. A couple months later that particular building got hailed out. We ended up doing it again. And so we got to – the first time I think we were somewhere around $500,000 and the second time we were around a million bucks.

That same exact company, that campus was completely hailed out this year, and we had a $6 million claim.

So talk about, “You never know where your customers are coming from.” That in total was about $7.5 million worth of business from one customer, based on an email that was sent out hating Michigan.

So the moral of that story isn’t the hating Michigan — or the love of Ohio State. It’s the fact that I had my logo, my contact information, and my email signature that looked very professional and wasn’t crackerjacked. So the image that stood out to him that we were a sizable company that could handle the job. You never know where it’s going come from.

ROD:
Absolutely.

CHRIS:
And tell them every day, we have a standing policy here at Aspenmark if you ever catch me without a logoed shirt, it’s a hundred dollars on the spot. But I can bet you a hundred dollars that you would never catch me without a logoed shirt, because I would have to pay the hundred dollars just, because I don’t have the logoed shirt on.

That starts from the top, you know, whether it is a golf shirt or a buttoned down shirt. Even the days I wear a suit or a blazer, I always I have an Aspenmark logo underneath there, because I am going to remove that jacket sometime, somewhere. You never know who is going to walk through that front door. Or you never know who is going to be on the other side of a phone call that you have to go out immediately and meet. When you get up in the morning, you dress that part. And you are always ready for what the day may bring. That’s the policy here, and they all wear their company colors with pride.

STEVE:
Great. I love that.

ROD:
While you were talking about that you talk. You were talking about Ohio State, and I stumbled on to Jim Tressel quote here. And he says, “If you think about it we all have lots of diagrams and equations in our world. He said from hit to football coaches to accountants. All of us have different technical endeavors with the chief interest is a concern for one another.” So what do you think about that and how that applies to your roofing business?

CHRIS:
I couldn’t say it any better at it all. I mean, everybody here has a job to do. You think about it, we all live in our homes. And we all get into our car every morning, and we drive to this place called “work.” We all come here to do one thing, and that is to make money so that we can afford to do the things we want to do in our lives. Whether that’s to take care of your family and children or loved ones, or you want to take trips, or you have hobbies, or the things you are inspired to do, or education, or whatever that may be. But we all come to the little place called work, W-O-R-K. And we try to earn as much money as we possibly can, and be able to run back to our homes, and then spend it wisely.

And there’s no other reason for us to be here. You know, that’s the common bond.

There’s nothing along the way that says we can’t have some fun, can’t grow as a team.

I have a saying back from my fraternity at Ohio State. It is, “One man is no man.” And that was teaching you the eternal bond of fraternity brothers and whatnot, but it’s so true. I mean, as a team, you could get so much more done and be proud. Instead of being on an island.

That’s what this whole thing has been about. That pretty much speaks to Jim Tressel and his quote. He’s right.

ROD:
Well, how impressed would you be if I knew the one man as known in the Latin translation is [foreign words]?

CHRIS:
I’d be really impressed . . . if you didn’t pull that up on the internet.

ROD:
The only other way to know is: you must be a Phi Delt from Ohio State.

CHRIS:
That’s exactly right

ROD:
So, we have this other bond here – I was a Phi Delt at Cal State Northridge, so…

CHRIS:
You were! There you go. That’s awesome. I was shocked that you would know than other than if you were a Phi Delt. So . . .

STEVE:
Wait.

CHRIS:
So, you see I was speaking the truth.

ROD:
Yes.

STEVE:
Wait, Rod. How did you pick up that he was a Phi Delt? I – I missed that.

ROD:
He said — you missed it? He said, “One man is no man?” I mean, that is – that’s it.

STEVE:
Oh, that’s the thing. I got you.

CHRIS:
That is a Phi Delta Theta pledgeship thing.

STEVE:
Ah. Gotcha.

ROD:
Yeah. And we also know what [foreign words] means: In heaven, there is rest.

CHRIS:
That is right.

ROD:
The stuff that’s still rattling around back…

CHRIS:
You can sleep when you’re dead.

ROD:
So did you hold any office as there as a Phil Delt?

CHRIS:
I was the social chairman. So we had some parties.

ROD:
By the way, that could go a long ways. I can see why you’re good at what you do, because that office…

CHRIS:
Yeah, we had too much fun.

ROD:
Yeah. Well, the only last thing I wanted to talk about really is, I got a chance to hear you speak at Best at Success and thought that you did a great job. What was impressive was a very entertaining story. Jill Bloom probably had to come out there and have a great story to share. I remember a lot of it as well. Great job.

CHRIS:
Thank you. Jill Bloom is a dear friend of mine, and when she approached me, she had asked me for the last couple of years, “Are you ready to speak yet? Are you ready to speak yet? I would like to get you to speak.”

And I said, “Oh, you know. Get up with me,” and it kind of never happened, but she finally got a hold of me last year and said, “Hey, look, let’s get you out and in front of everybody, and let’s tell your story.”

I said, “My story is the same as everybody’s. I really don’t have anything of value to share.”

And she was like, “You got a lot of things to share. We just haven’t got below the surface – there’s a lot of things there.”

So I told her the story about the fire, and she said, “That’s it. That is your story.”

And she goes, “Well, it’s about customers for life.”

And I’m like “Oh.” We went on this theme of customers for life and how you attract customers for life. You know, I took that and ran with that.

Jill is awesome. Roofing Contractor Magazine is completely just the best group to work with. Very supportive of the small guy in the industry – and that bigger isn’t always better. They recognize that by having, I think, a well-rounded group in their articles, and then of course, Best of Success of getting the best that they can out there for all of us to continue learning and expanding our business. And they keep outdoing themselves every year. Jill and Mar and her team just do a great job.

STEVE:
Yeah. It was a great conference, and your speech was definitely a highlight.

CHRIS:
Well, thank you. I appreciate that very much.

ROD:
Well, hey — I just want to share one more Tressel quote, just because I found this one, and after hearing you speak, I got such a kick out of it. Here he says, “Here’s the future: the rest of our lives, all of our lives is going to be a mixture things you really hoped for, really worked for – and a mixture of things that didn’t go your way, the way you wanted. But the good news is the proportion of good things and bad things will be most impacted by you.” So, sounds like you live that one as well.

CHRIS:
Yeah. You know, it’s the truth. It’s just how you deal with it. Thank God for Jim Tressel backing me up here. That’s how you deal with it, man. You’re going to get lemons and sometimes you got to turn it into lemonade. Sometimes you’re going to suck those lemons.

STEVE:
What words of advice would you give to a guy just starting out or a guy struggling? Or the guy who just opened his doors today>? What thoughts would you have for him about becoming a success?

CHRIS:
Well, I can tell you this: that as I pondered starting the company, I kept going back to — do you remember Famous Amos? He was the guy that made cookies. Famous Amos Cookies.

Famous Amos was a guy that was in L.A., who was basically homeless. He got a little bit of money together, and he finally got a little assistance. He had a little efficiency apartment. And I mean, this place was a dump. He had a toaster oven, and he started making cookies out of this toaster oven and putting them in lunch bags and selling them on the corner. People thought he was crazy and didn’t understand where the cookies came from, you know, what’s the deal — but his cookies were good. So, you know, he became “Famous Amos” – the cookie guy. His brand became very well-known, and I think eventually it was bought out by one of the big food companies. He made his money and etc., etc. But he told his story, and his story was, you know, what advice would you give? That starting their own business regardless of what it is, but starting their own business, what is the best advice you would give?

He said, “The advice is S-T-A-R-T. Start.”

He said, “If you do not start, you have nothing, and you will continue to have nothing. And you got to believe in yourself, and believe in what you are doing. And no matter how many times people will tell you you’re nuts and you’re crazy, and it will never work. The haters out there are the guys who are just jealous of the fact that they haven’t had the guts to go out and do it on their own.”

So, I had heard that from him — and a guy coming from really a lot lower social economic background than I was raised. I’ve worked for everything I had, and I thought to myself for what little money I did have, and I said, “You know, I have to take a risk,” and that’s one thing I kept thinking about was S-T-A-R-T. Start. And you know, that day that we started was the scariest day, but I look back and I think about it going, “Why did I not S-T-A-R-T earlier?”

You have to get to the point where you have the gumption and the drive and the ability to take risks. That comes early in life for some – or it comes later in life. For some people, it never comes at all, but I think that’s the best advice I can give.

And once you do start, the one thing that we always say, and that was: “I’m just going to outwork and outsmart my competition.” That meant that I didn’t know what they were doing nor did I care, but I was going to be the guy that was going to just continue to work, until I had something that was tangible…

STEVE:
That’s great.

ROD:
That’s great. Great story.

STEVE:
Yeah.

ROD:
Hey, Chris, thank you so much, honestly, the information you shared with us. The good stories, the tough stories, and how it all makes a difference. We really appreciate it.

CHRIS:
You are very welcome, and I thank you for the opportunity to get my story out. Hopefully somebody can take a little something from it, and apply it to their business, and prosper, the same as at Aspenmark.

STEVE:
Great. Thanks so much.

ROD:
Okay, well, in case you didn’t notice, we had a lot of fun talking with Chris. Hope it was fun for you to hear as well.

STEVE:
Chris had a lot of great stories and suggestions there — we definitely could have talked to him for another hour.

ROD:
Chris is successful and having a great time in the industry. It shows. And you know, we should all be doing the exact same thing.

STEVE:
And now’s a great time to say that one tool that can help with success in the business is Roof Chief, that’s the software that Rod and I developed specifically to help roofing contractors. We think it’s easy and fast to use — and it contains a lot of ways to help you run your jobs and maximize your profit.

ROD:
It tracks your leads, your costs, and your margin. You can easily send professional contracts, material list — you name it. We’re very proud of what this does for you and how it makes your life better.

STEVE:
So get in touch with us so we can tell you more. And you can check out Roof Chief at roofchief.com.

ROD:
Until then, thank you again to Chris Zazo. And thank you everybody for listening.

STEVE:
We’ve got another episode of the Roof Insight Show coming soon. Keep looking for it.

ROD:
Thanks again, and everybody have a great week.

STEVE:
Thank you.

 

Roof Insight Show: Chris Tulp of Premier Roofing – Episode 2

roof-insight-show-titleChris Tulp of Premier Roofing Company

Door-to-door sales lead a broke surfer
to business success.

chris-tulp-premierChris Tulp, co-founder of Premier Roofing Company tells how he partnered with a friend from college to create a thriving roofing company based in Denver, Colorado. Chris — and his partner, Ben — broke into the business via door-to-door sales. The guys found that they didn’t just sell roofs — they also became advocates for their customers. Chris and Ben made sure that all their customers were treated well and were satisfied. The two took their skills — and their dedication to people — and started their own company in 2005. The guys haven’t let up — and they now have four offices in two states. They have managed to ensure high standards for all their customers through creating systems for every aspect of the roofing process. On this episode of the Roof Insight Show, Chris shares his thoughts on selling, systems, dealing with insurance companies, and becoming a success.

(To watch the video mentioned in this episode, click here.)

Read the interview — or read along with the audio.

ROD:
Hey there, and welcome to the Roof Insight Show. My name is Rod Menzel. I’m a roofing contractor, based in Southern California.

STEVE:
I’m Steve Wein. I’m a computer and web guy here in Southern California as well. I work specifically with the roofing industry.

ROD:
The point of this show is simple: it’s to help roofing contractors get ahead in their businesses. That is our focus and our passion here — to help roofing contractors succeed.

STEVE:
Right. And we happen to believe that when roofing contractors do well, the whole roofing industry does well: the contractors, the customers, the manufacturers, everybody.

ROD:
Yeah. We kind of feel like the Blues Brothers a bit. We’re on a mission here.

STEVE:
Exactly. And the Roof Insight show is part of that mission. We aren’t just “talking shop” here, we’re also looking to share real helpful advice that roofing contractors can put into action in their businesses.

ROD:
And the key there is real helpful advice and tips. And I think today’s show is going to deliver that in a big way. Our guest is Chris Tulp. Chris is the co-founder of Premier Roofing, based out of Denver Colorado.

STEVE:
Chris and his business partner Ben McFerron started Premier in 2005 and they’ve had a tremendous amount of success since then. They now have four offices in two states.

ROD:
It’s very impressive. Chris says a lot of good stuff on today’s show. For one, he and his partner Ben have really been able to grow their business by putting systems into place.

STEVE:
We’ll also talk to Chris about door-to-door selling. As you’ll hear, I get pretty excited about that. I think it’s a great way to learn sales — and it’s really sink or swim. We’ll also hear from Chris about dealing with insurance companies effectively. A lot of roofing contractors do insurance claim work, obviously, so I think that there’s some good information there.

ROD:
We also we talk to Chris about a big commercial job he did that had a lot of challenges. It could have gone very bad, but you’ll have to listen to hear all about it…

STEVE:
There’s also a video about that project. If you want to watch the video, I’ve put a link to it online. Just go to: roofinsight.com/02 and it will be there.

STEVE:
Today’s show is sponsored by Roof Chief, the software that Rod and I developed to help roofing contractors. Roof Chief is a big part of our mission, you might say. It’s designed to help you run your business from a customer’s first call to the job close-out. Or, as we like to say, from “ring ring to cha-ching.”

ROD:
Exactly right. We’re really proud of Roof Chief. We think that it contains a lot of cool things that can make a big difference in your business.

STEVE:
Yep. And we believe that Roof Chief is actually easy and possibly even fun to use.

ROD:
You can learn more about how it can help you and your business by going to roofchief.com. You can also get in touch with Steve and myself, and we’ll be happy to show you how it works.

STEVE:
That’s right. And now, here’s our conversation with Chris Tulp, co-founder of Premier Roofing.

——

STEVE:
Chris, if you could start us off by telling us a little about where you grew up.

CHRIS:
Originally, I grew up on the East Coast, I actually went to school here in Colorado, and never made it back. Surprise, surprise.

ROD:
And what college did you go to?

CHRIS:
I went to Colorado College, and Premier isn’t only my company. It’s me and a partner who’s a longtime friend. A friend from college, a classmate of mine — actually the first person I met when I went to Colorado College, which is a small school in Colorado Springs. You know, ten years working together later, we’re still going strong.

STEVE:
You guys met up in college, and how did it turn out that you guys went into business together?

CHRIS:
That’s a funny story. After I graduated from school, I moved to South America to teach English to Brazilian business people, because I had a gift with languages. I studied a bit abroad in school, and spoke Spanish and Portuguese, and I got a job to live in Rio de Janeiro and teach English to business people. And didn’t really make any money doing it, spent most of my time either on a commuting bus or surfing. I ran out of money pretty quickly, and I called back to the U.S. to see what all my friends were doing. I had to get a job, get some money together and half my friends were working on Wall Street for banks, half of them were trying to make in LA. I had this one friend, Ben, the first guy I met in college who was selling roofing for roofing company in Denver, Colorado. And he was doing really well, and “I said that sounds awesome.” I want to get back to Colorado anyway, because my girlfriend is still in college — and she’s my wife now. And that’s how I got into the roofing industry.

STEVE:
So you flew back from Brazil. I take it Ben helped you get a job where he was working?

CHRIS:
Correct. It was a commission only job, so it wasn’t hard to get it. And we were selling roofing door-to-door for a company that sold roofing and property restorations to people who had experienced either wind or hail claims on their insurance policies.

STEVE:
You know, I have to say. I am fascinated by door-to-door selling, and it requires a certain personality to do it and a certain outlook to be successful. How did you feel about it while you were doing it?

CHRIS:
It was horrifying. The first door you knock on, you feel like you are going to throw up. That’s how most people experience selling something door-to-door for the first time.

STEVE:
Yeah.

CHRIS:
But I will say that selling roofing — or anything door-to-door for that matter — teaches you a lot about yourself and what you’re capable of doing. And I’ve hired a lot of people since to do the same exact role I had. And a very small percentage of people are very capable at it. It takes a tremendous amount of courage to knock on somebody’s door and have the conviction and the confidence to tell them that you’re going to take care of them. And know that you mean it.

ROD:
It was a very solid foundation for how you got started obviously.

CHRIS:
Yeah. I have to give all credit to my partner. He was doing it for about a year before I did, and he showed me the ropes, taught how to keep my pace up. Don’t walk door-to-door, run door-to-door. The more people you meet, the better your odds are of making money. And the first time I sold a deal, I was on Cloud Nine. I was addicted. And I haven’t looked back since.

ROD:
A couple of college graduates ending up as a door-to-door salesmen. Was that something you expected as well?

CHRIS:
Right. You know, it’s funny because I feel as though a lot of college graduates — a lot of people that I’ve interviewed to work at our company who have college degrees want get paid for their education, and I don’t believe in that. I don’t think that you can just follow the game plan where you go and you get a degree or maybe you go and get a Masters degree — or you pile on your education and then employers are just going to lay down for you. I personally believe that the way to do business and the way to figure out a career is to get out there and get your hands dirty and give a shot at something. You may end up back in grad school later on if you want to sharpen your axe a little bit, but I never needed it — and the things I’ve learned in the roofing industry are incredibly rewarding for me. And I feel that I’ve got a PHD in people and sales and construction from it.

STEVE:
That’s cool. So as I said, I’m fascinated by door-to-door selling and probably one of the few regrets I have in my life is that I never did it. So I have some questions about that. Here you are, it’s kind of your first real job, and I imagine you had a fair share of doors slammed in your face. After you’ve had five doors, ten doors closed to you, what did you say to yourself to keep yourself going?

CHRIS:
That’s a great question. I tell a lot of the salespeople that work for me this very thing, which is you’re going to reach a point in time where you’ve just had your fifth person slam a door in your face. Maybe it was a little old lady who said something just outrageous to you, and you want to cry because she looks like your grandmother. You’re going to walk back to your truck, you’re going to get in your truck. You’re probably going to scream. You may cry a little bit. You’re going to punch your steering wheel, you’re going to be really upset about what just happened. And the difference between the guys that are going to make it and — not just in this business, but in my personal opinion — the people that you really successful in their lives are the ones that are going to grab the clipboard, wipe their eyes, get out of their truck, and go knock on the next door. And forget about it. And I think that we have a lot of people who have that exact experience, and the ones who transcend that are the ones who do really well at Premier.

STEVE:
Yeah. Did you learn over time that there were things that you were saying that went over like a lead balloon and would get the door closed? And things that you would say that people tended to gravitate to and continue the conversation?

CHRIS:
I think that the number one rule is to say less. Do less. A lot of people get ahead of themselves in the sale, and they do a data dump or a feature dump on their homeowners or their prospective customers. They show up and they say, “Yeah, I’m with Premier Roofing, and we do this, this, and this. And we’re going to do this or we’re going to do that,” before the customer’s even had a chance to hit them with an objection, because they’re afraid of the objections.

STEVE:
Right.

CHRIS:
And the reality is that you get two ears and one mouth. You should use them in that proportion.

STEVE:
Yeah.

ROD:
I had a door-to-door job as well, when I first started out in college. And the one trick was: you needed to, it was selling auto services, and you had to get it in their hands. You’d knock in the door and you’d say, “Hi, I’m Rod from down the street from Chevron or whatever. Here take a look at we have.” You had to put in their hand.

CHRIS:
I don’t know. I’m not sure about what you’re talking about specifically, but as far as our business goes, there’s no tricks to what we do. The reality is that the only way to assist a homeowner in this type of situation is to get on the roof, inspect it, let them know whether they’ve got the type damage that would be covered for repairs. Let them know if they’ve got a problem. If they don’t have a problem, be honest and move on. The name of the game is covering a lot of real estate, and if you’re not hustling it, if you’re not getting to a lot of people, then you’re not make it. We do a lot, too, in terms of referral mining, too. You know, once we get a customer in a neighborhood, we focus really hard on the experience for the customer, so that they’re just raving lunatic fans about us so that we get all their neighbors, relatives, anybody, who hasn’t used our services.

STEVE:
I’ve just been wondering, and again this goes back to how excited I am by the idea of door-to-door selling, thinking back on that time in your life, Chris, can you think of a story, maybe an awful experience you had selling door-to-door, or an amazing — where you just felt so pumped?

CHRIS:
Every sale. Every time the customer that you meet for the first time by introducing yourself knocking on their door, showing up in a neighborhood where you’ve done no business before, you got no relationships there, people don’t know anything about you — maybe they’ve never even heard about Premier Roofing. And to walk into an area and to walk out with somebody putting their faith in you, based off of your company’s reputation, based off of how trustworthy you came across as an individual. How well honed you are at this craft at this sales. It’s always exhilarating.

As far as awful experiences, I’ve had many. I’ve had everything from cops called on me for literally nothing — because people just don’t like people that knock on doors sometimes. And I wish I could convince everybody that I’m a good guy, but some people just aren’t going to believe that at face value.

STEVE:
Right.

CHRIS:
But speak of funny things that have happened in the field selling, I’ve had everything happen from where I really had to use the restroom, and I knew that if I didn’t get inside this first door, I was going to not make it to the gas station down the block. To literally having a little old ladies shout me off their porch and call the cops on me just for introducing myself.

STEVE:
And did you make a successful sale to the person whose restroom you used?

CHRIS:
I did. I did, and they were very gracious. I knew I was going to sell them a roof because they were nice enough that in thirty seconds of meeting me, they were willing to let me use the restroom.

ROD:
You made a connection. That’s awesome.

CHRIS:
And we did a great job for them and they wrote a great review about us, and they were really satisfied with our services.

STEVE:
That’s great.

ROD:
Hey Chris, I got a question for you. You talked earlier about referral mining and about lunatic raving fans. I’ve always believed that you got on the surface level, you got Chris here who meets the customer maybe and he shares what the company’s all about and talks about the experiences to come. And then it actually happens. And if there is not a match — right? — you’re going to have issues. They’re not going to be the lunatic raving fans, and so what you do to make sure that happens on the delivery side, on the execution side of the business?

CHRIS:
Well, I’m very blessed to have a partner who understands his value to the company as well as I understand my value the company. And I think that our division of responsibilities has done a lot for our business. I’m more on the sales and insurance side — he’s more on the operations, production side. And the division of responsibilities has done a lot for our organization because we both used to just sell, we both used to do some production stuff, and we used to wear a lot of hats. We’d get our lines crossed quite a bit, and we eventually recognized that I had a talent for sales and marketing and working with insurance adjusters, and he had a talent for organization, technology, HR, and — though he also has a talent for sales and marketing — we just recognized many years ago that we were never going to really keep our heads on straight without having a separation of responsibilities.

ROD:
Absolutely, and it seems like once again though that — maybe on the hand-off — so if you’re doing the sales and marketing side and he’s got the production side, there’s got to be a handoff, right? At some point sales hands off to production, and it’s got a be executed. Are there any good systems you have in place for that? Or is it just kind of a natural flow?

CHRIS:
We’re all about systems and really, the sales and marketing side is the fun part. If I have a piece of advice for a roofing contractor — or any contractor for that matter — who is trying to enhance or grow his business over time and have fewer headaches, it’s write down everything that you do. It really is: if you have a position in your company, you need to write down exactly what that person is supposed be doing step-by-step. You need to have a checklist for every aspect of your organization. You need to have a way of scoring everything that you do. Not just for salespeople, it’s for all the people in your organization. And if you don’t have a system for measuring everything that you do, then you never know what the score is. You never know whether you’re growing as a business or you’re falling behind.

And I talk to a lot of contractors — I’m part of some trade groups out here in Colorado, and one of things that struggling contractors say to me all the time — or hear say to me all the time is, “Yeah, we’re going to try, we’re going to get plows for the trucks, we’re going to plow driveways in the winter and, you know, I’m going to get into sheetrock this year. And we’re going to grow our business that way.”

And we’ve always been of the mindset that you should focus on doing one thing really well. And it’s not sexy all the time, you know, nailing shingles on roofs, selling door-to-door. This isn’t maybe the most exciting aspect of what we do, and I think a lot of contractors get distracted by new revenue sources versus maximizing the ones they’re already in.

ROD:
Absolutely. And you know, you talk about good systems and — how long have you been business, by the way? Because those systems don’t just happen overnight.

CHRIS:
Nine years.

ROD:
Nine years. And it sounds like you kind of had a system with your partner, Ben there has got more of a production mind as well. So is it — have you seen the systems evolve over time? Or was there a point where you said, “Oh, this keeps happening to us, and we need to write a system to fix that?”

CHRIS:
It’s probably more of the latter. You know, I wish I could say that nine years ago we sat down and drew out our entire business plan and it all worked.

ROD:
Don’t we all?

CHRIS:
It didn’t go that way. It was quite the opposite. You know, I think that I like to tell people that I’m lazy. I can’t stand hassles. I can’t stand when I have to go out and deal with a customer because we set the wrong expectation and they’re unhappy with us and something’s wrong with the roof because some balls dropped. I can’t stand that stuff. And I’d rather spend 20 hours figuring out a process to avoid that ever happening again than two hours going out and dealing with that homeowner. And we’ve always had a attitude towards things, and every single year, we sit down, we spend our entire winter adjusting our business model, adjusting our processes, our playbooks for every position to make sure that they’re improving that customer experience, improving the way we hand off from sales to production. And having a very laser-focused approach to developing a business in a box, so that he and I don’t have to be running everything as general managers of every single position in our company, because there are many.

ROD:
I find that a lot of guys in business get running and gunning, and they’re driving a hundred, and it’s kind of hard to change the wheel at the same time while you’re going a hundred. Do you guys do anything, like, is there something set like, “Hey, this is the fourth quarter and we’re doing a system review?” Or a monthly system review or is it more of the trigger’s more of a “Hey, when it happens we fix it.” How do you guys do that? Do you have anything special where you’re finding that constant improvement?

CHRIS:
Constant improvement is important. I think also not being too reactive is important, too. You know, we have kind of a mantra around here, my partner uses it: “If it happens once, ignore it. If it happens twice, ask about it. And if it happens three times, do something about it.”

ROD:
I like that.

CHRIS:
Because there’s lots of things that can go wrong in the construction business, you guys know that better than anybody. I don’t know what a good example would be of something going wrong on a project that we just did nothing about it — you hate to talk about that, but sometimes you can put so many processes and checklists and things in place that it actually becomes counterproductive.

ROD:
That’s true.

CHRIS:
Your customer is now signing four hundred checklists before construction so that you’re warning him about everything, but eventually what will happen is you become less productive. You become too process driven and not enough accountability driven or customer relation driven. So I think a good rule of thumb is something of a constant problem — if it happens three times in a short period of time, you definitely need to enact some kind of change in your business. If it happens once, you don’t need to lose sleep about it. You know, worry about it if you hear about it a second time.

ROD:
Great point.

ROD:
I like that. It sounds like once again there’s a healthy balance. You know, you can overdo it, you can under do it, but I like your one-two-three. Your third time is a good indicator that something needs to be changed.

CHRIS:
Right.

STEVE:
So to go back to your story, Chris, I’m curious: you and Ben were working for a company. You were going door-to-door, and you were having some success, it sounds like, selling roofs. So how did you decide to transition from being employees of that company into running your own?

CHRIS:
Well, Ben had been there longer than I had, but we knew really early on, there was a lot that they were doing that wasn’t working for them. Our customers loved us. They loved me and my partner because no matter what went wrong and — believe me — a lot went wrong on a lot of projects, we were always the ones there, fixing them. It wasn’t really necessarily our responsibility to take care of those things, but every time something went wrong, we would be there, we’d be holding hands with our customers, making sure that we were maintaining our relationships, our reputation and just by the nature of the type of sales that we were doing, if you have one unhappy homeowner in a neighborhood where you’re trying to sell twenty roofs, you’re not going to sell a single one if you made one of them unhappy. So we were pretty fierce in defending our customers and making sure that the company, if something went wrong on a project, got stuff fixed. We were out there taking care of every single build. If there was a leak, we were out there running the bucket and fixing the ceiling. We were doing a lot more than just selling.

So we realized that we could do things a little bit better.

ROD:
In some ways, you learn what not to do, right? By the–

CHRIS:
Well, the company that we worked for, it didn’t really have any culture there. There was a production manager who wasn’t particularly nice to either of us, and we’d ask him for help on something or help our customer, and he’d tell us to go fly a kite. We didn’t really have a ton of support from a trainings perspective. We didn’t really have any training. We kind of made everything up as we went along, so a lot of what we did was pretty self-taught.

STEVE:
And so, how did it go down? I imagine you guys decided to start your own company, and I imagine you guys gave notice and started selling for yourself as opposed to the first company. How did that all go down?

CHRIS:
You know, the company that we worked for had several crews, and we were doing, well, I was probably about by the time our tenure there ended, I was doing probably 99% of sales for the entire organization. So the sales weren’t the hard part, and we didn’t really have a relationship with the owners of the company. I’d never personally met any of the owners or any of the upper-level managers in the company. I just was kind of a sales grunt, and we took our commissions, we went out, we put together our own business structure, we came up with our own advertising, we came up with our own contracts and went out and stopped working for that other company and started working for our own. That was 2005.

ROD:
You guys have done very well since then.

CHRIS:
Thank you.

STEVE:
How were the first few years of business and how did you guys grow?

CHRIS:
The first few years of business were tough. It became really hard for us both to run a business, manage our finances and sell. We always were great salespeople and we always had that going for us, but when you are limited in the amount of time you can spend doing it, if you’re not spending 100% of your time doing it, then you can obviously fall behind on the most important aspect of your business which is your cash flow. Well, I shouldn’t say that’s the most important aspect of your business, but it is the lifeblood of your business.

ROD:
Sure.

CHRIS:
So, those were tough years, and for a while there, we also lost sight of what our most effective aspects of our business were. We got into some new construction, we got into some commercial work, and this is all right around the time the economy is getting ready to tank. Nobody told me or my partner.

ROD:
Don’t you wish they would have, right?

CHRIS:
We probably in 2007-2008, had $200,000 or $300,000 worth of contracts that we already fulfilled not pay. And this is on new construction, commercial projects, and a lot of general contractors going out of business because — roofers know this one, especially guys who do bid work and contract work — is you’re the last ones to get paid.

ROD:
Yeah.

CHRIS:
Because the roof is the last thing that goes on the building. And that results in us getting stiffed on a lot of projects, and we resolved that if we survived that, we would never get into that bid process again. We had a really rough couple years there.

ROD:
Yeah, no kidding. That is tough.

STEVE:
And so what did you do to get through it? I mean, not getting paid on jobs, I mean, that’s obviously death. How did you guys figure out your way forward?

CHRIS:
Well, we sued some people and got paid back on a couple of them, but not all of them. And we got back to our roots. We got back to doing what we did best, which is selling directly to consumers. You definitely defray a lot of your risk there. You’re not selling a hundred units to one customer, you’re selling a hundred units to a hundred customers. And by selling directly to consumers, it’s okay to have one out of a hundred go bad. You’re not going to put yourself out of business that way. So we moved away from larger projects for a long time until probably two or three years ago — then we started doing larger projects again. But direct to consumer, not through a general contractor.

ROD:
You just said a real important word there and it’s “deferring” risk. I can see exactly you’re talking about: deferring the risk and not dealing with the one with one hundred versus the hundred with a one. Is there anything else you do to avoid risk?

CHRIS:
Well, risk is the big word in a roofing business. You know, it’s one of those things that keeps us all up at night. It’s inherently dangerous work that we’re doing. We’ve got roofs installed all over the place and a lot of those roofs are installed over expensive stuff. The idea of a roof leak often can keep a lot of roofers up at night. In order to defer risk, I think that your processes are probably the biggest way to prevent taking risks. You’re not installing roofs the wrong way, you’re not leaving ice and water shield off where it needs to be installed. You’re not hiring somebody without doing a ton of background checks on him and making sure that he’s not a crackhead.

These are the things that can really damage your business and damage your future, and I think having processes for things, checklists for things is the number one way to mitigate risk in your career and in your business.

ROD:
I can see that. I was looking at your website, and I was taking a look at some of your videos. And I see this job here for the Parklane Towers. And there’s some good-sized risk. That was a challenging job there. I mean, I was looking at that, I was like, “Oh my goodness, that would keep a lot of guys up at night.”

CHRIS:
Yes. That was a challenging project, for sure.

ROD:
So I got a quick question, if you’re cool with answering it, and that is I was watching the video and I always thought, with dealing with a single-ply roof, TPO PVC, that once those fasteners go down what a nightmare pulling that back out, and I see how you guys kind of did that, and how did you figure the labor on this job? Did you just kind of guess it? Did you test it? Did you have experience before with it? Because that wasn’t — that was quite impressive.

CHRIS:
That’s a good question. You know, that’s a difficult thing to quantify on a really difficult project. There’s two segments of the roof — there are two towers. The first one was really the more challenging of the two. And it had a lot of stuff going on in it that we didn’t even know about until we had started to tear-off. We thought that there was a structural wood taper on the one on the north tower. It was actually resting in the original tar and gravel roof, so we couldn’t save it. We had to tear the whole thing off and do a new iso-taper on the entire north tower. Clearly these weren’t expenses that we had predicted we would run into. So there’s no real great way to explain it except your contracting process. How are you setting the right expectations for your consumer? Or if you’re working on an insurance claim, how are you properly acquiring the supplemental items to be covered so that you’re not losing your tail every time you tear off a roof and find something that you hadn’t planned on tearing off or replacing?

ROD:
Absolutely. That job could go sideways real quick, and that is what I was impressed with. The other thing I was really impressed with is you, after the job is said and done, obviously had a very happy customer, and you did this nice video on it, so it was real impressive.

CHIRS:
Yeah, we won the project of the year from the Colorado Roofing Association for that one.

ROD:
Very cool. It’s impressive, honestly. I was looking at that and just to figure the estimate, figure the cost. Then to deal with the changes and keep the customers happy and keep it safe and deal with possible weather issues, I mean the “ands” keep going and going and going, right?

CHRIS:
Yeah. Well, believe me, we had our weather issues on that one. We had half that roof done when we got about a foot of water.

ROD:
Oh, and what did you do?

CHRIS:
Well, you know, we were putting vapor retarder down throughout the project, so that was a helpful . . . vapor retarder is like a nice water shield type thing. It adheres right to the concrete deck, so that was good. It was a fully adhered system, that prevented a lot more damage from occurring, that would’ve had if we were going back with, say, a mechanically attached system, which we just couldn’t do because the nature and the strength of the concrete deck.

ROD:
Got it. Yeah, like I said, that was definitely riskier side, but you obviously mitigated the risk through some good systems, and get a happy, satisfied customer in the end is definitely real impressive.

CHRIS:
Thank you.

ROD:
One of the other things that they said inside the video was that you really demonstrated to the client that you care. That you really wanted the business, and are you willing to share with us maybe some of those things you did to demonstrate how bad you want their business?

CHRIS:
I know the gentleman in the video, and I’ve worked with him, and he’s really good guy. As far as culturally how we approach sales in general is we make it clear to our customers is that we want the business we want to do a better job than anybody else is offering. And we’re willing to go the extra mile for our clients. And our track record has shown that.

ROD:
Absolutely.

STEVE:
So after your first couple years of business, when you got through the rough times of not having people pay on the new construction projects, how were you able to open more locations in other states?

CHRIS:
You know, that’s a great question. And there wasn’t really a game plan there which was a huge mistake that we made. We’re very pleased with how we’ve been able to turn things around in each of our branches and improve our systems over the years. But we started opening new branches about four years ago, four and a half years ago, because more than anything we just wanted to see if this is something that we can do, because as a goal, my partner and I do envision the business being more than just a local, one office, Chuck-in-the-Truck-type roofing operation. We want to be a regional business that can mitigate the losses from poor years in one branch with great years other branches, because so much of the work that we do is storm-related. A lot of contractors do storm work, and they don’t really have a permanent base of operations. They’ll get a storm in Wichita, and they’ll move the company down there and they’ll service those customers. And that’s fine — they do good work for the most part, or at least the companies I know. They’ve always done pretty good about getting down there servicing customers, and taking care of things after they’ve gone by contracting with local contractors to run leaks and things like that. But we’ve always felt that we wanted to something different, and we wanted to be able to service the markets in the storm belt that have that residual work, that have a consistent work, kind of tailored towards our strengths and be able to ensure that if we had dry years for storm restoration work in each one of our branches, we’d be able to offset that in the long run with brick and mortar locations in other parts of the country.

STEVE:
So I know you started Premier in 2005. When did you open your second location?

CHRIS:
Ah, 2010.

STEVE:
It sounds like you had a good, solid five years with one location and now you have four. So in the last couple years, you’ve really expanded.

CHRIS:
Yes, we opened Colorado Springs — and let me correct myself — I believe it was 2009 that we opened Colorado Springs, and then in 2011 we opened Kansas City, and then 2012, early — late-2011, we opened Fort Collins. Until recently we had each of our branches operating slightly differently, different size markets, different number of employees needed in each branch, which led to management difficulties for me and my partner. But what we figured out was a way to make more systematic how we do things in each of the branches so that the chain of command is the same. We have a general manager in each branch and each one of those guys is in charge of the whole show, which I think is crucial for running a business with multiple locations like that. We used to not have that. We used to manage everything as kind of a hub and spoke type model with the Denver office handling a lot of the managerial stuff for the outside branches, and now it’s more of a “four hub” type approach versus a hub-and-spoke type approach.

ROD:
Very impressive. Yeah, I like that. And to me, that’s mind-boggling because to keep the same quality that you guys and what Premier stands for to get that to spread that out. I guess that would be the biggest challenge, so what did you do to make sure the culture was the same whether it’s in Wichita, whether it’s in Denver, whether it’s Colorado Springs, I mean, how did you keep that level across the board?

CHRIS:
Culturally, it’s a commitment to people and who you hire. We’ve done a lot of good hiring and unfortunately some bad hiring. And we have a great staff here that helps us with our hiring decisions. We take our time on every single hire that we do. And if you don’t hire the right person for the job, you’re creating heck of a lot more work for yourself down the road. So what we try to do is put every interview, every hire we have in the company through the ringer. And make sure they still want to be here after we’ve interviewed them four or five times and do a lot of background checks, drug tests, things like that, to make sure the people that you’re hiring are not going to grenade your organization. That’s really something that, I guess, apart from the process, who you hire is, for us it is certainly the most important aspect of what we do as a business to grow.

ROD:
So, hey, to give your prospective candidate one head’s up before they were to interview with Premier Roofing Company, what’s your favorite interview question to ask?

CHRIS:
Well, it depends on the position–

ROD:
The one that stumps them maybe–

CHRIS:
It depends on the position.

ROD:
Okay, how about sales then? What do you do to hire a sales guy? What’s a tough question you might ask them?

CHRIS:
You know, I wish I had a “gotcha” question that I hire every sales rep with. I don’t do a lot of hiring for the sales side of the business anymore. We have a hiring manager for that, and she’s phenomenal. She knows all the right questions to ask. What I usually do is I like to sit down — I’m not looking for sales experience. In fact, I’d rather you not have any, because I didn’t have any when I started selling. I just I looked more in terms of character, competitiveness, what your grades were in school, how serious of an individual are you. Did you show up in a suit or did you show up in jeans and a T-shirt even though you know that I’m looking to hire you for a potentially six-figure job? So I take those things into consideration, and I’m really looking for somebody who can speak well, I’m looking for somebody who can think quickly on their feet because that’s what it takes to sell roofing.

As far as sales go, we have a really set system for how we sell. Everything that we do is pretty micromanaged in what we allow you to do and say and act. I don’t really know that I’m looking for a ton of creativity. I’m looking mostly for whether you’re a hard worker and you’re serious person.

STEVE:
When you and I were setting up this interview, one thing that you mentioned to me was how important it is to be honest with yourself about your margins. And how that is critical for the success of a firm, and I wondered if you could talk a little about that.

CHRIS:
Yeah. You know, I think that business people in general but contractors — roofing contractors — in particular because I have the most experience with them is they’re not particularly honest with themselves about how much money they’re making. I think that the biggest thing that occurred to me when I was in my mid- to late-20′s is I realized, looking at the numbers in our business that I wasn’t making much money. And things weren’t going as amazingly as I had maybe been telling people or I had been convincing myself to believe. And I think that the people that are dishonest with themselves about their numbers hold themselves back, and they focus maybe too much on selling the next project regardless of the margin. “Get the business in the door” — you know, “Go, go, go!”

Did you sell $30,000,000 in roofs? Did you sell $5,000,000 in roofs? At the end of the day, that number doesn’t matter at all. What matters is whether your business is healthy or not. That’s your bottom line, and if you don’t know what you’re making every year, you don’t know your time is worth, you don’t know how to be spending your time. The thing that me and my partner have been good at in the last few years in our business is really focusing on what our projects cost us. We project cost every single job — I don’t care if it’s a $500 repair — we’re going to put together a job cost on it, and we’re going to close it out. And if something is not right, if the margins are not correct, we’re going to talk to everybody involved in the project, because over time what tends to happen in my opinion to a lot of companies is they really don’t have an understanding for where they’re losing money, where the big mistakes are occurring and that’s causing a lot of small contractors to suffer, I think.

ROD:
Absolutely. I agree with you. My only question then in regard that would be: when you estimate a job, do you go in and figure the top line? Or do you go in and try to figure the bottom line? How much do your employees know? How much do your sales people know?

CHRIS:
Our sales people know on every single job that we do how much money they made, how much money the company made, how much our material costs were, what our labor costs were, what our overhead is. We try to be transparent about that, and I think that it is important for people to know those things. If you don’t have people with skin in the game — and all our salespeople are paid based off a percentage of profit, they’re not paid off of the top line, because I think that that’s a mistake also. Because any time there’s a mistake on a job that’s result of your salesperson mismeasuring a roof or for setting a wrong expectation with a homeowner, he doesn’t suffer for it, you do. And I think that most contractors — at least most of the ones that I know — do that as well. They want to make everybody in their organization, especially their salespeople, focused on what the bottom line is, so they’re not giving too much away, so that they’re not ordering two extra bundles of shingles just make to sure that they don’t have to do a drive out there, you know? I mean, we have a good idea of what our costs are but we’re also doing a lot of insurance work, and we’re not necessarily setting a price on every single project we do. Insurance companies are.

STEVE:
How does it go working with insurance companies? What tacts do you take to make sure that you have good relations with them, how do you make sure that those go successfully?

CHRIS:
That’s a great question. And maybe to illustrate the slightly different take on how things go with insurance companies, insurance companies are run by people. And the adjusters are people that are paid by the insurance company to assess the value of the loss in a way that may not be as favorable to roofers as we would like it to be. You know, we would like to think that just through the sheer value of selling of an insurer’s customer, working with a company like Premier that they’d be willing to pay us a little bit more than Chuck in a Truck. But it’s not really how adjusters look at it. They don’t care about the fact that we have probably triple the overhead that another contractor in the region has. And essentially we’re constantly faced with the battle of showing the insurance company: “Yes, I know that Chuck in the Truck may be a couple bucks less than us, but he’s not doing this, this, and this. His overheads aren’t this. His customer approval ratings are nowhere near ours. That’s an added value to your insured.” A lot of insurers don’t care about that, they don’t care about the added value to the insured, they care about their bottom line, so it is a tough thing. I could go on and on about this, but the long and short, it’s a lot of paperwork, it’s a lot of documenting what we do. It’s a lot of showing damaged accessories on the roof to the adjuster to make sure that we’re getting reimbursed for them and we’re not just settling for the bottom dollar that is being offered on the front end.

ROD:
Absolutely. I always have a desire for additional information, and I want to make myself better. And if I were to ask you, if I were a brand new guy starting out, what’s a simple thing you’d recommend to me to the make my business better?

CHRIS:
If there’s one thing, it’s probably — I think Abraham Lincoln said, “If I had four hours to chop down a tree, I’d spend three sharpening my axe and one hour working on the tree,” which I think holds true today. Which is before you implement a process, before you go out and start doing something, come up with processes for what you’re about to do. Now, if you have a harebrained idea that you’re going to sell this product and, “We’re going to go out to market with it in twenty-four hours, and this is how we’re going to do it, and we’re going to slap together some marketing for it and we’re going to go out and try it,” it’s just not going to work. I know this because it’s happened to me many times over. I think that what you really need to do is pay attention to your numbers, sharpen your axe, and don’t just go out chopping at wood and hoping for better outcomes by taking a shotgun approach to things and trying a bunch of different things and failing at them all. Find the thing that you’re really good at, focus on that, and sharpen your axe.

ROD:
That’s some great advice. I love it.

STEVE:
Yeah, that’s really good.

CHRIS:
You know, I am excited by growth, I’m excited by having lots of happy customers. I’m excited when I see a nice review written about the company. I’m excited when I have a sales rep come to my office jumping around because he got a great commission check. I like a lot about the business. A great thing about the roofing business, you know, we get to sell a tangible product. We’re not out there — no offense to my banker friends, but were not selling stocks, we’re not selling something that is keeping people dry. We’re selling something that you can touch, feel, smell. I think that being able to succeed and grow and provide for your family while doing something tangible for your client and makes them really happy is a win-win. And that’s the great thing about the roofing business.

ROD:
Yeah. I agree.

STEVE:
Chris, thank you so much for spending time with us. You have a unique perspective than any been able to really share from that and we appreciate that.

CHRIS:
I could talk for hours and hours on end, as you probably can tell about the roofing industry and our business. I appreciate you guys taking an interest in my company, and I appreciate what you guys are doing. I appreciate the love for roofers. I feel like sometimes there isn’t as much out there as there should be. And I think we’re all brothers in the struggle together — and I’m happy to help out my fellow roofers.

ROD:
Hey, I love that. That’s awesome.

STEVE:
Thanks a lot, Chris.

——

ROD:
Really cool stuff there. I like how Chris kind of closed by talking about the “brotherhood” of the roofing industry — and how he wants to help out his fellow roofer.

STEVE:
Yeah.

ROD:
And you know, I have to say: that’s not uncommon at all. I’ve heard it from a lot of guys out there. It’s another real positive aspect of the roofing business.

STEVE:
Agreed. So again, we are in this to help roofing contractors. If you’re listening to this, and you have any questions or ideas for us, please get in touch. Email us at info@roofinsight.com.

ROD:
And check out our software to help roofers over at RoofChief.com.

STEVE:
You know, I think a lot of people get turned off by the word “software” — and I get it. But for us, Roof Chief is a really helpful tool. We think it can make all the difference for your business.

ROD:
Yep. We love to talk about it. So email us or call to find out more.

STEVE:
And . . . we have some really great interviews lined up for the future. We’re going to hear some success stories — and some stories about problems. The idea is that you can learn from them both.

ROD:
That’s right. Thanks for listening, everybody. We’ll catch you next time!

Roof Insight Show: Chad Muth of Muth & Co. – Episode 1

roof-insight-show-titleChad Muth of Muth & Company - 

From laughed out of the office to …
being asked for a job by his old boss.

chad-muth-and-companyChad Muth, a successful roofing contractor from Columbus, Ohio, talks about how his boss laughed him out of the office — and then a few years later, asked him for a job. He also discusses the lowest point of his business — and how it helped him grow bigger and better. We hear what happened when two of his guys went around to his customers and tried undercut him. Finally, he reveals a number of tips, including the importance of making a business plan, being open with your employees, and how to make roofing repairs work for your business.

Read the interview — or read along with the audio.

ROD:
Hey, It is indeed the Roof Insight Show. I’m Rod Menzel, and I’m a real-live roofing contractor, based in Southern California.

STEVE:
I’m Steve Wein. I’m a computer guy here in Southern California, too, and I work specifically with the roofing industry.

ROD:
As it says in the intro there, the point of this show is to help roofing contractors. This is a great industry — with its fair share of challenges — and we believe that we can work together and improve everything across the board. We think that roofing contractors can be the ones in the driver’s seat — and that will serve both them and the customers extremely well.

STEVE:
Yep. And today we’re real excited, because we’ve got a great guest on the show. His name is Chad Muth, a successful roofing contractor out of Columbus, Ohio. Chad’s been running his company for about twenty-two years.

ROD:
You know, I think there are a lot of cool things that Chad has to say here. For instance, Chad will tell us about his absolute lowest experience in the business — and what he learned from it.

STEVE:
Yeah, and we’ll hear about some employees of Chad’s who went behind his back and tried to start their own operation using his customers.

ROD:
Not cool at all. There are just a lot of good things here. He talks about how he was laughed at on his first job, he talks about the importance of having a good business plan, about being open with your employees…

STEVE:
He also shares some cool ideas on his company’s repair department, and how to make that aspect of your business bring in more revenue.

ROD:
Before we get into the interview, we should say that this show is sponsored by Roof Chief, the software that Steve and I developed to help roofing contractors. It’s designed to help you run your business from a customer’s first call to the job close-out. Or, as we like to say, from “ring ring to cha-ching.”

STEVE:
Yep. You can learn more about how it can help you and your business by going to roofchief.com.

ROD:
And now, let’s talk to Chad Muth, a successful roofer from Columbus, Ohio.

ROD:
Thank you for joining us here, we’re real excited to have you on the show.

CHAD:
Thank you. I appreciate the opportunity.

ROD:
First of all, if you wouldn’t mind telling me a little bit about yourself and name of your company and how you got started.

CHAD:
Well, obviously, Chad Muth. Muth and Company Roofing out of Columbus, Ohio is our company. And I got started in 1992. One of the things that I wanted to do was work outdoors, and I went to college for a few years and took Business and Accounting, and I had done a lot of that growing up, and I was just kind of — at that point my life — I was tired of bringing my work home with me, so to speak. You know, when you do taxes or you do things like that, your are constantly coming home and your brain is just firing on all cylinders, so I started working for different landscape companies and things like that, and I landed a job opportunity at a country club, helping them build the country club. I was on the build staff, and when we got done building it, it was late December/mid-December and they laid me off with the intention of bringing us back in the spring as full-time employees.

In the meantime, I worked for a buddy prepping and walls for flashing details, things like that just to make money over the winter until my full-time job kicked out. After about three months of doing it — December, January, February, and into March — I decided this is kind of cool, I like it’s an interesting industry, I get to work outdoors all the time. I don’t have to bring my work home with me, and I thought, “What a perfect job. If somebody that comes in and does it right could have a very lucrative future.” So I decided to call the company that I was supposed to start my full-time job with and asked them if I can have the summer to think about it and told him that I wanted to pursue this roofing thing and see how it turns out.

STEVE:
You told us why roofing appealed to you — what about yourself made you think that you could have a go at it and be successful?

CHAD:
Well, back in 1992 — and probably before that, at least in the Columbus market — it was kind of like the wild, wild West. There was no rhyme or reason for why companies started and got going on and then left. There was no standards as far as, you know, “we want to do a system: ABCD felts and ice guards and drip edge and shingles” and “This is how much ventilation you need and this is why you need it.” Everybody just kind of was willy-nilly and everybody kind of did it their own way. Some people put vents up, some people didn’t put any vents on, some people used power vents, some guys only worked until noon when the bars opened. And I kind of looked around and I thought, “Wow. If somebody comes into this industry, and they do it right, they have integrity, they develop a system, they follow a program, and they show a customer the true value and importance of the roofing system, they could accelerate and just explode in this industry. And I think that’s kind of what motivated me when I look at the industry as a whole. I thought, “Wow! It’s a blank slate, and I can paint whatever I want on it.” And that’s kind of what intrigued me about the whole thing.

The guy that I had started roofing with — that hired me over the wintertime to labor for him — had a company with the with the name, and it was a budding company. And I looked at his company and I thought, “You know, it’s not bad. It could be improved and there’s a lot of ways to do it,” and one of my dreams was, I guess, at that time frame, was to actually go into startup companies and try put together business plans for them. Five-year business plans for them, and create an opportunity for those companies to grow. And I thought, “Maybe I’ll pitch this to this guy, and if it’s successful and it works, then I’ll use that as my template to go to other companies — not necessarily roofing, but drywall or painting or landscaping.” It didn’t matter. I mean, business at that time — in my mind — business was business, and if you have a good plan you can accelerate in it, so that was kind of my motivation for getting started.

ROD:
And how old were you when you were writing this plan?

CHAD:
Around 19, 20 years old. Probably 20 when I actually wrote the plan. I was blessed — I got to create and start things at a very young age.

STEVE:
And so did you make that 5-year plan? And did you show it to the guy for whom you were working?

CHAD:
Actually, I did. I went home I my brain started flying. I jotted everything down on paper I came up with kind of an idea of how to how to go about it, and then I revised it over a few days and I came up with this — what I felt was an incredible idea.

I took it to the guy, and I said, “Look this is what I have for you. I’m willing to come on, look at your books, look at where you’re at right now, and I want to have a piece of it as it grows, but this is what I’m willing to do for you. I can help you with payroll, I can help you create a structure and a format for tearing off and installing the roofs.”

I laid it all out for him, you know, “This is how were going to do it, this is how it grow this is how we’re going to add crews to what we have going,” and I said, “I think in over the next five years, I can double — probably triple — your business.”

And he laughed at me. “You’re an idiot — this isn’t what I want. This is stupid. You know, it’s never going to work that way. You can’t have all these expenses and increases, because it’s not worth it.”

And I tried to explain to him, “Look, as you grow, you are to have some initial expenses, but we can offset it with the income that is coming in, and we can generate more income in the future, which will benefit both of us.

I mean, you’ll make a lot more money, I’ll have an ability to make more money. “You just have to you trust the plan, trust the idea and move forward with it. We can modify it once we see how it works in the real world.”

And he basically told me, “Go away, little boy. You don’t know what you’re talking about. “So in my depressed, kicked manner I went to my mom and I showed it to her. And my mom’s an accountant and a business professional.

So I brought it to her, and she’s pretty smart lady, and I said, “What did I do wrong?” and I showed it to her.

She was like, “Wow. That’s a fabulous business plan. Why don’t you start roofing company?”

And I was like, “I have no desire to start a roofing company. I want to take this guy’s company to the next level. He’s already done the hard work and kind of developed a name, and he’s got things going for him. I just want to know what I did wrong to make this guy laugh at me, basically.”

And my mom said, “This is what I want to do. What you need to do next is you need to go home, and you need to develop a budget of what you would need, how much money you would need, or how you would how you would get a start-up company going from scratch, because that might help develop this business plan that you have.”

And so I went home and I developed this whole budget of what we needed to start a company, and how much it would cost to buy the equipment and what equipment — a list of equipment we’d need, and we need a pick-up truck and we need this and that. Nails and compressors and generators and nail guns and hoses and tear-off shovels and scoop shovels and — you know — all the stuff that you need to start up a kind of a two-man operation type thing or three-, four-man operation just a small company, and I developed all that I brought it to her.

I showed it to her and she said, “See, you could start a company. You’ve already got the game plan of how to start it up and how to grow it. And you’ve got a five-year plan,” and she said, “I’ll tell you what, I’ll loan you the money at 8.9% interest.”

This is my mother we’re talking about. I said, “8.9 percent? How do you sleep at night?”

She said, “Well, that’s what my investments are making for me right now, and if you want to borrow the money, you got to pay me what I’m making if I left it where the money’s at.”

It wasn’t a lot — it was like $3,800 or something like that. We wrote up a contract, and I agreed to borrow the $3,800 from my mom at 8.9% under the regulation or the rule that I could pay it back as quickly as I wanted and everything I paid with directly towards principal and reduced my interest, because I had done some calculations on it, and I figured that I could have it paid back about eight months.

We agreed to it, she borrowed me the money. I went out and bought all my start-up equipment I needed. I hired a couple of guys and started my company and that was — when all that came together it was probably about August or September of 1992 when I kind of finalized everything.

And actually, the first two employees that I hired came up with the name. We were sitting around — this is kind of funny — we are being roofers. We were sitting around drinking beers one night, hanging out on five-gallon buckets, picking nails. We used to pick a lot of nails off of new construction job sites and stuff and then we would separate them into buckets all the different size nails, and that’s how we got our nails. So I bought a three-foot magnet on wheels, and we’d go around all the new construction sites at the end of the day and we’d run our magnet and just dump everything in a bucket, and we’d separate them when we’d get back to the house.

So we were trying to come up with names. Keep in mind, guys, this was like 1992, so the guys are like, “We should be Guns and Hoses, man!” And another guy said that we should be the Friendly Roofers, like “Caspar the Friendly Ghost.” We could be the Friendly Roofers, you know. At one point in time, one of the guys said, “You’re Muth and we’re the company, so why don’t we call ourselves Muth and Company Roofing?”

And we were like, “Wow! That’s brilliant.” So we named it Muth and Company Roofing, because I was Muth and they were the company, and we do roofing. And we felt like that was pretty good description of who we are and — bing boom bang — there we go. We were off and running.

ROD:
If I can interject real quick, what I get a kick out of your story is, it seems like it was your numbers, your understanding of finances — and your mom confirming that — that helped you kind of connect with a vision. And then it was your understanding of numbers that says, “Hey, if we can save on the nails,” and it’s probably still your understanding of numbers and finances that really drives so much your business.

CHAD:
Yeah. I think you’re exactly right. I think the biggest thing that I’ve learned and I’ve watched and observed, is there are some phenomenal roofers out there that have no clue how to run a business. I don’t think the roofers fail because they’re stupid per se because you need — you know the difference between doctors — are really, really good at doctoring. They’re not so good at running their businesses. That’s why they hire business managers, and they hire people to run their businesses. The problem is a roofer can’t see the — or understand how the process works from start to finish, so they think, you know, “As a roofer, I’m going to have to try to do my own billing and do my own collections and do my own accounting, and do my own — my own, my own, my own — and then what ends up happening is they get overwhelmed with doing things they know very little — or is very difficult for them — which is the accounting side of it and, they kind of lose focus on the roofing side. Or they spend a lot of time on the roofing side, and they lose focus of the accounting side, the business side of it. And that’s generally how they fail.

STEVE:
So you got the loan from your mom and how did you take that and start? How did you start getting customers building a business?

CHAD:
I mean, I did some roofing for the guy that I started working with, but because I was like in employee of his first and then I became a subcontractor, he wanted to pay me as if I was still an employee. So his wages were really low. He didn’t want to pay — because he didn’t see the vision of, “Hey, I’m adding another crew to you, so that’s bonus work, if you will. So you can pay me a little more than your hourly guys because you’re getting more roofs done and you’re making more money in the long run.”

He looked at it as, “If I pay you more, I lose money.” So he didn’t really get it. He didn’t understand the numbers game. So I didn’t do a whole lot for him, because he always wanted to fight and argue with me over money.

And I was like, “Look, you don’t understand. I’m adding more crews. The business plan I’m incorporating for Muth and Company is the same business plan I tried to show you. When you add more people, and you do more projects, you can make a little bit less money because in the overall scheme of things, you’re making more, and when you look at percentages — a percentage is a percentage. It doesn’t lie. A dollar can lie to you. One dollar on a million-dollar job is not nearly as powerful and as potent as five dollars. But when you look at percentages, percentages don’t lie. Because a percentage is percentage. It always is the same, no matter how you slice it, right?

So from there, I had a couple buddies who had worked for some other construction companies. I got another one, I went over to him, they had some problems with their roofer where they were having some leaks and issues, and they said, “If you can fix all these leaks and collect the check from this customer and make them happy, we’ll hire you as our roofer.”

So I went out, and I fixed all the lady’s leaks. And it turned out that she had some drywall damage that she need painted and drywalled. One of the guys that worked for me used be a drywaller, so he fixed her ceilings while I fixed the roof. And we collected the check and we made her super happy, and we brought it back to the company and gave it to them. And so they hired us as their roofer.

From there, we just started — I just did like you do old-fashioned, I banged on people’s doors. I went after remodelers. RJ Landis was a big remodel guy that did room additions and stuff and I said, “Hey, I want to be your roofer.” Columbus Home Services was another guy that I had a long, long relationship with. Another remodel guy. He did mail mostly kitchens and baths, but he would do some more extensive stuff, and by me being able to reach out to him he was able to start selling roofing. And I worked with him real closely to develop a roofing program, so I could do all his roofs. So he basically was the salesman. RJ Landis became a salesman, in a sense. I don’t think they realized they were selling for me because they were still selling under their company’s name. But I couldn’t sell and do work at the same time, so I just reached out to other companies and manipulated and convinced them that they needed to be the salesmen, and I needed to do their roofs. And it worked. And they bought it.

STEVE:
Do you know, Chad, the guy for whom you worked? The guy who didn’t see the value of having your crew is he still in the business? And do you–

CHAD:
A year and a half ago, he came into my office and asked me for a job.

STEVE:
Wow!

CHAD:
Isn’t that something? It gives me goose bumps. I got goose bumps again just thinking about it. He came in about a year and a half ago. And he wanted to be a salesman. He was tired of hunting for employees, he was tired of the ups and downs of roofing. The model that I live by today has obviously grown and developed over the years, but the initial five-year model with one I presented to that guy.

I mean it really was. The financials that I presented to my mom was what I used to develop my company the first five years. The five-year plan I gave that guy, I’ve obviously way exceeded any expectation I could ever have for this company. But that five-year plan was what I used to develop my company — and a year and a half ago the guy came and asked me for a job.

STEVE:
Yeah, interesting. I mean, it shows the power of a plan, I guess. The power of a good plan.

CHAD:
Well, you know, I think you hit the nail on the head. It’s not necessarily — I mean, a good plan is always a great idea. But a plan is the start. If you don’t have a plan, you’re going to fail. Even if your plan is bad, you can fix a bad plan. You know, I think you hit the nail on the head when you said it starts with a plan.

STEVE:
Yeah.

CHAD:
It absolutely starts with a game plan.

STEVE:
You said you were thinking you would be able to pay your mom back in eight months. Were you able to?

CHAD:
It was about five. It wasn’t very long.

She was really upset that she didn’t make nearly the kind of money she thought she was going to off of me.

My mom has always been huge in my life as far as my business decisions and everything, because she never gave me anything. She said she owed me — she told God when I was born that she would take care me, and she guaranteed that she would give me “three hots, a cot, and a Christian education.” And that’s all she guaranteed. So anything else I had to work on. I had work for.

STEVE:
Oh, that’s great.

CHAD:
So I owe her a lot. And all of her lessons, I don’t think it was so much the 8.9% — I think it was the lesson that she was trying to teach me. There’s no free lunch.

ROD:
Yeah.

STEVE: Just so I have a sense of your company today, when you started back in 1992, I know it was you and then you brought on another guy, it was a one-man band, it was a two-man band. What does your company look like today? how have you grown from the early 90s?

CHAD:
Oh, are you kidding me? Way beyond my wildest dreams. Muth and Company is not Chad Muth. I don’t think it was ever Chad Muth in the beginning it just I put a lot of pressure on myself obviously to stick to my plan, to continually grow my plan, and modify it based on the different situations and stuff, but the company has grown way beyond anything I’d ever imagined. We have a full-blown production department with three guys in it, we have a repair department that’s the largest one in central Ohio. We’ve got eight guys inside the repair department. We have four salesman that work for us now. We have three office ladies who do a fabulous job for me. The company is so much bigger than me. I’m just a piece of the working parts. I’m one of the gears that keep it going. But you know, as far as Muth and Company goes, there is a lot of truth to the initial guy that came up with “I am Muth, and they’re the Company.” And it stands true to this day, and it just everyday I walk into this place and it blows me away. At how well we’ve done and how much the people here care about the company. I mean, I’ve got guys that have been here fifteen, seventeen years and have worked their way up being a laborer all the way to a roofer to a production manager to a sales manager to now vice president of the company. So I’ve been blessed with incredible people and incredible staff and people who honestly feel that Muth and Company is as much theirs as it is mine. I don’t know if that’s the answer you are looking for but that’s what comes to my mind when somebody says, “What you think about the success of your company?” It blows me away every day. I think I’m probably one of the luckiest people in the world because not only is the company incredibly awesome but the people that I work with are great. My wife works with me — I’ve even had my daughter and my sons in here growing up in the summers, working on gutter crews and stuff like that, so it’s blessed me in so many ways I can’t even describe. As far as the success of the company goes, in the summer time, we help directly and indirectly supplying income for fifty-five families, so to me that’s huge.

STEVE: So when you describe, for instance, that employee who grew through the ranks he came up, it sounds like you run a pretty open operation and it sounds like you share information with your employees, and you care about them, too.

CHAD: Well, I like to think so. I think a lot of companies get very, very guarded when it comes to like incomes and profits and margins and different things like that because they’re afraid — I think sometimes they’re afraid that people might leave and compete against you, and they don’t want to give out their intellectual property so to speak, and I think other people get intimidated if they have guys that come up that understand it, because they maybe feel like, you know they’re not the smartest guy in the room anymore. With us, I want my people to know. I want my people to know what is our revenue, how much are we generating every year, what it costs us weekly to meet payroll, what does it cost us to pay the bills to turn the lights on, how much are we spending on ink and paper and different things like that? How does you throwing away a half a rack of step flash on the job or a chunk of ice card or a half a roll felt because we don’t need it on that to bring it back to the shop and we’ll show you how those wasteful items that people are thrown in the trash can be used in other ways to save money which then increases our income. I don’t care. You know, the thing is that I don’t rip people off, I don’t lie, I don’t steal. I don’t take more than what I deserve. And I want the guys to see it. Now, do I make more than them? Yup. And they know it.

You know why? Because I’m the one with all the risk, not them. But I tell them that, I’m like, “If you want me to come and work for you, then you need to take all the risk that I’m taking, and I will gladly come and work for you. But as long as I’m taking all the risks, I’m paid proportionate to what I do and what my risk level is.”

But I also show them that they’re paid proportionate to what they do and what their risk level is. I’m like, “You want to make more money? Then take more risks. Be a supervisor, be a manager, be somebody who has responsibility. But don’t come in here as a 9-to-5 guy who goes home every single night with no worries and no problems, and tell me that you deserve more. Because you’re paid proportionate.”

STEVE:
Yeah.

CHAD:
I worked with my production manager a few years ago — probably been about five years ago now — and I said, “Look, we’ve got too much waste in the company. This is what we’re spending, this is profit we’re making, this is how much your department’s costing us, and this is how much percentage it’s gone up over the years, and it shouldn’t.” And so we started looking at all the jobs, and we started seeing that half a tube of caulk would get left in the truck and get ruined or half a can of spray paint would get thrown away. And I showed him, I was like, “You know, that half a can of spray paint is $2.50. That half a tube of caulk might be $1.85.” So they’re throwing literally hundreds of dollars worth of products in the trash.” And I think when you teach your guys that — when they see how much that costs, then they start taken a vested interest in trying to save money as well.

ROD:
So–

CHAD:
And we try to give that back to them.

ROD:
Okay, that was my next question because bringing awareness to it is really step one. Now that we know that this is a problem, how do you actually execute it and make it happen on a day-to-day basis? Is there some sort of system you have? Is there some sort of recognition or award or reward for doing it?

CHAD:
Well, I mean obviously it’s a day-to-day thing and it’s part of the whole scheme of things. We have some bonus structures that we have for supervisors to encourage them if they meet certain margins and stuff. At the end of the year, I have a calculation where I take the total profit of the company after everything is said and done, and we pay out a bonus structure based on how many years you’ve been here and what level of employee you are. So every single solitary person in the company gets a small piece of the pie at the end of the year regardless of what — it’s irrelevant to their paycheck, it’s irrelevant to their weekly and monthly bonus structure, it’s irrelevant to their medical coverage or anything, it’s just simply: “This is how much we made this year, this is how much you get paid in a bonus based on a small piece of pie, so to speak.” And so what that does is that makes these guys look at things, because what they do is, if you’re getting a five-, six-, seven-, eight-, nine-hundred, one thousand dollars bonus at the end of the year because the company saved money and made a good profit, you tend to start looking at that stuff, and what I found is the guys police themselves and police each other. And they start yelling at each other, “Hey! Don’t throw those nails in the trash! Throw them in the bucket over there. We’ll sort of later.

ROD:
That’s nice.

CHAD:
They do it themselves, because — I call it “drinking the Kool-Aid,” and I know that is a bad term because of the cult and everything. But it really is — it’s being a part of the team, drinking the Kool-Aid, being on the same side and everybody understanding that were all after the same goal. And the more successful the company is, the more successful the employees are inside that company. And I put myself on that same tier as everyone else. I don’t put myself above everybody — I pay myself a modest salary to what I feel is fair for the position I do. I get bonuses just like everybody else does, based on the profit of the company, and I think it keeps the company very, very strong. And it shows people that I’m not above anybody else. I just have a different position in the company.

ROD:
Yeah, so at the very end of the year, they don’t have any idea and then all of the sudden their bonus shows up? Or do they have an idea throughout the year that hey, we’re looking pretty good?

CHAD:
Right, they have an idea. I mean, monthly I’ll send out — like I closed the books today actually cause it’s the end of the month so at the end of the day, I’ll send out, “Hey, this is how much revenue we did in February. This is what it what our costs were. This is how much — obviously we’re in Ohio so right now we lose money, this time of year. I guess “lose” is a relative term, you know. We spend what we make.

ROD:
Yeah, there’s no revenue.

CHAD:
So I tell them. I say, you know, for example, “We made” — these aren’t real numbers, but just for the sake of argument, I say, “Hey, we generated $50,000 in revenue this month. We spent $60,000, we’re negative ten thousand in the hole. We’ve got to have a fabulous March to make up this $10,000.”

Next month, I’ll say, “Hey, we generated $100,000 in revenue. It cost us $60,000, we made $40,000. $10,000 will have to pay back February’s losses, so we’re up 30 grand, guys, congratulations.” And I tell them that. People think I’m insane. They’re like, “Dude, you give people way too much information.” But information is power, and what I mean by that is when you give these guys the information, when they know when you lose money and they know when you make money and they know they get a piece of that pie, it makes them a vested person in the company. They have a vested interest in the company’s success and they understand it. If a guy — you know, I had a guy tell me years ago one time, and this is when I decided I really wanted my employees to understand what’s going on — he said, “Why don’t I get a raise? You made $5000 on that job, and it only took us three days.” I said, “How do you figure I made $5000?” He goes, “That’s what you collected was $5000.” I said, “Yeah, man, that’s how much I collect, but I have to pay your wages unless you’re working for me for free, I had to pay for the material unless you’re telling me that I don’t have pay that bill. I had to buy insurance, I had pay for gas to get over here, gas for the compressors, nails, staples, etc., etc., etc., etc.”

And the guy was like, “Yeah, yeah, yeah. Well. But you still probably made half of that.”

And I’m like, “You don’t have clue.” So I sat down with the guy, and I showed him everything, and I showed him what our true profit was at the end of the job. It was just a few hundred bucks — eight, nine percent or whatever it was, I don’t remember this was a while back — but the guy totally, his whole attitude towards the company changed, his whole work performance changed, everything changed when he understood what was going on with that job. And right then and there, I think my eyes were opened, and I said, “You know what? My people need to know this stuff. It makes them better in the company. It makes him a stronger employee. It makes them an advocate for Muth and Company and what we’re trying to do. We’ve tested it and it works. It’s worked year in and year out. This is not something I started a week ago. I started this fifteen years ago when the guy came to me and said, “You made $5,000, I need a raise.” Really?

STEVE:
What I do want to talk about a little is: you’ve been in business for over twenty years. It’s not all salad days, it’s not just showing up and end up having people throwing cash at you. What were some hard times and how did you get through those?

CHAD:
November 17, 1997, my daughter was born, which gave me my third child. I’d started my company in ’92, it really was starting to take off by ’94. So I was about three years into what I felt was an incredible ride of my life, where I was just getting — I mean, Jiminy Crickets — I mean, everything I was doing was firing on all cylinders. We were hiring people, we were being successful. I was doing great at selling. I was getting into the master elite program for the first time.

And I took three of my buddies up to New York for a long weekend to go skiing. We had been drinking all day. We’d been skiing in 50° weather, which we shouldn’t have been skiing in anyways. And the guys wanted to take one more run and go to the bar so they all circled around the backside of the mountain where all the blues and greens were. I decided to go straight down the mountain, down a black diamond run. And I got mangled up into a bunch of mookie, mushy moguls, and I fractured my leg. I had fifteen breaks in 3 1/2 inches of my leg. I was sent to love a O’Lean General, where they told me that I had severed my main artery in my leg, plus I had broken the tibia and the fibula in multiple places. That the fracture was worse than anything they had ever seen, and they were flying a specialist in from Pennsylvania, and they were scheduling emergency surgery for six or eight hours later — I don’t know — I was all looped up, drugged up, and they wanted to call my wife to notify her because the doctor was telling me that there is possibility I could lose my leg.

ROD:
Oof.

CHAD:
So the specialist came in, had the surgeries and everything. They said, “There’s no guarantee that this is going to heal properly. The nerve damage, the artery damage, the severe breaks as long as it was with the lack of blood flow” — I may have to have bone marrow transplants where they drill into and the take the marrow out of your hip and then inject it somehow into the bones. They told me that it would be a minimum of six to nine months that I would be on crutches and stuff before I could even begin therapy, right?

So I get home and I’m depressed and I’m like, “What the hell am I going to do? My company’s just starting to take off? I’m going to have to go on unemployment. My whole company’s going to be ruined.” Because you go through the depression stage, when you realize that the “S” is fading off of your chest.

So I decided — we came up with a game plan. I had a couple of guys working for me, I was going to make them supervisors of the crews. They were ready for it, they were training for it anyway. And I was good to do sales and kind of work in the office. I had an epiphany if you will, that I can’t be everything for everybody in this company. It either has to grow or it’s in jeopardy of failing, because I can’t be everything, because something could happen to me. Like I could fracture my leg and 3 1/2 inches of my leg could be shattered in the fifteen pieces, right?

So I thought, “I got this game plan. I’m going to redevelop my company. I’m going to train my guys to be supervisors. I’m going to hire some more guys in, and I’m going to get a secretary in the office. I’m going to start working with the secretary to teach her how to do some of the office stuff. I’m going to still do my sales. My wife is going to drive me to sales appointments and drop me off.”

I’d gimp in on crutches and gimp out. I kept my cell phone, she kept my pager. I would page her when I was wrapping up my meetings, so she could drive back and pick me up. And she’d just go sit at coffeehouse somewhere.

And then about four weeks into my break, I found out that two of my lead guys that I was training to be my supervisors were actually going behind my back and soliciting my contractors that I was working for, saying that they were to start their own roofing company and leave Muth and Company. They wanted to take my business with them.

The way I found out was — I told you before I develop friendships with my people. I had four of my contractors, my main contractors, my really good ones that I really liked. Four of them called me and said, “These guys have come into our office and sat down with us. They took your price sheet, cut your letterhead off, handed it to us, and said, ‘This is what you’re paying right now, this is what we’re willing to do it for.’”

So best and worst times. How’s that?

ROD:
Yeah, that’s–

STEVE:
Dramatic is how it is! Wow.

CHAD:
I fired them both. I hired some other guys, and I learned right away that no matter how much you protect or hide or try and do things, if somebody wants to come after you, they are going to after you. Right, wrong, or indifferent. They’re going to, so why not be honest, lay it out there, show them what you have, show them what you’re making, what you’re generating, what the payouts are? How to keep expenses under control, how to not have waste, and if they’re going to take your information and run with it — guess what — they’re not have near the passion that you had, because they didn’t create it. They stole it.

STEVE:
And just listening to you talk, Chad, it just goes to show the power of real relationships. That’s how you found out about those guys, that’s how you were able to survive those guys. I mean, you maintained those relationships — and you lost the devious employees.

CHAD:
Here’s the funny thing about it: three out of four companies stayed with me. One of companies jumped ship, and about three or four years later, I stayed friends with these guys. I didn’t have really no ill will, I mean, they wanted to benefit. I kind of thought they were stupid for the way they did things, but I got it. I mean, they wanted to move up. They should’ve talked to me, I could helped them. Instead I cut them off, and they had a do it all themselves.

But one of the guys called me up and he was talking to me, and he was like, “You can’t believe the son of a ______ stole one of my contracts!” And I was like, “Who was it?” And he was like, “______ Builders.”

And I like, “Huh!” I kind of giggled — I never said anything to him, but that was one of the contractors he stole from me.

STEVE:
It’s funny how what goes around comes around.

ROD:
And it sounds like this is another big step in what — here something, a crisis happens and it kind of forced you to automate your business further, streamline your business further, or train your employees better. I mean, it really was a very unfortunate thing, you’d probably not go through it, but here you did the right thing, and turned it into something great. So somebody who’s going through hard times, they should maybe remember that.

CHAD:
It’s funny, because when we when we talk about adversity with people, or you know, whether it’s in my personal life or my kids or my business or whatever, and we get into conversations, I say, “You know the best thing that ever happened to me?”

And they’re like, “What?”

I say, “Fracturing my leg.”

And they’re like, “What?! Are you insane? How is fracturing your leg the best thing that ever happened to you?”

And I say, “Because it taught me so much about how to take my business to the next level.” I had to make a decision: am I going to go on unemployment and pop pills the rest my life because I got this messed up leg? Or am I going to look at it and say, “Okay. I got a change course. I got a change paths. I got to change this thing so that it’s not so dependent upon me. I think that’s the hardest transition people have. When they talk about the glass ceiling, “I’ve hit this glass ceiling.”

There so many guys that say, “I need to grow but I can’t grow because I can’t find good people. You don’t understand, in my business you have to–” No. Business is business. Money is money. Percentage is a percentage.

If you want to grow, you have to learn to trust other people. And you have to also understand that there will be some guys out there that you put your trust in and they fail. That’s okay, because you learn from those.

ROD:
So are you doing a lot of repairs right now? If you’re not doing a lot of other work, do you still get out and do some repairs?

CHAD:
Well, yeah. I mean our repair department and service department really carries Muth and Company for probably three or four months out of the year. We do what we can, obviously, when the temperatures are like it is today: 22 degrees out with a wind chill of five. We’re not get a lot of work done, but we’re doing a lot of prospecting. You know, the salesmen are out doing prospecting, they’re meeting, you know, setting appointments up to meet with the insurance guys and property managers and different people that will help generate income in the future for us. Our repair and estimators are out doing estimates for leaks and gutters falling off the house and different things like that, so, more so were seeing the jobs stack up so that when this weather breaks in the next couple weeks, we’ll really, really start going. But yeah, we work when we can. I mean, you kind of — we’re a four seasons company because we live in Ohio, so you modify — for instance we do a lot of snow and ice removal. Not just on roofs, but we also attach plows to the front of our trucks in the wintertime, and we plow. And that helps keep the guys employed. When a guy gets laid off and goes on unemployment, they only stay there for a little while and then they start looking for another job. So our goal in the wintertime is not necessarily to make a profit for Muth and Company — that’ll come. But the goal is to keep the guys busy and give them a paycheck so that they don’t go look for a job somewhere else.

ROD:
Sure. Now what about your service work? Is that a common item that’s in Ohio that a lot of people do a lot of maintenance on the homes?

CHAD:
The funny thing is about six years ago — I was just running the numbers today to see how we’ve done over the last six years — but about six years ago, we started a maintenance program for residential roofing in Ohio, where we’d do — we call it an “ESP,” which is an Extended Service Plan, and it’s basically designed to do exactly that. It’s designed to extend the life of your roof, so you sign up for an Extended Service Plan, we go out to your house, we have a five-page basically report that we do, it’s all digital. We go out to the house, we do a complete inspection, we clean the roof off of all the debris, we clean the gutters out, we re-nail all the gutter spikes, we caulk all the flashings, you know, the soul boots and heat stacks. And we paint everything.

We basically do an oil change for the roof. We do that once a year for the customer. If we find something that it is easily fixed we do it as part of the maintenance plan, if it’s something that needs more attention or more detail or we have to pick up products, then we give them a repair estimate, and they obviously get a discount for being one of our customers as well. So it works out very, very good and for us, I mean, it’s been absolutely fabulous. Now, we started it. Before Muth and Company started it six years ago, nobody in Central Ohio was doing maintenance plans at all. Not unless the customer called and said, “Hey, can you come out and take a look at my roof?” And “How much would you charge me to kind of go through and make sure everything is right?” But nobody had a formal maintenance plan that I know of prior to us starting that about six years ago.

ROD:
Okay, yeah. That’s not a very common item, but it sounds like it worked well for you.

CHAD:
Yeah, it does. I mean, here’s the thing: we always look at our customers are our customers for life, and a lot of guys look at it as a customer will maybe put one roof on — maybe two — in their whole entire life and that’s it. But customers need other things, and they want somebody who’s reliable, dependable, honest and trustworthy to come out and look at their stuff. So for us, it was a way to create customers for life. We come out, we do the ESP-slash-”oil change for your roof,” we show you some things. We point things out that we don’t even do. I mean, we don’t do windows, and we don’t do, necessarily, siding or doors, but if we see that the caulking or the glazing around the windows need replacing, we point that out to them, because these customers can’t look at all of this stuff every single day. So we show it to them, we say, “You might want to get a guy out here to take a look to windows. It looks like you might need your windows re-glazed.” Or “You might need your chimney re-tuck pointed.” We do some of that stuff, but we don’t go into like when the bricks start to deface and you have to remove bricks and stuff. So we can do some minor tuck pointing repairs and stuff, but if it’s major we recommend that they get it done by a mason. We’re not a mason, so we don’t necessarily try to take on jobs that we’re not accustomed to doing.

But who are you going to buy a roof from, when you need a new roof? Are you going to buy it from the guy in the phone book that you know nothing about? Or are you going to buy it from the guy that’s been out there every year for the last five years, taking care of you, doing your maintenance, and building that trust factor?

ROD:
Yeah. No kidding.

CHAD:
It’s worked quite well. Not to bore you with the ugly details, but as of right now, we have a total of 483 Extended Service Plans that we’re doing for customers around central Ohio area. I mean, that’s a phenomenal way to inject life into your repair department. We’ve got 483 service plans that they’re doing between spring and fall.

ROD:
It sounds like also you’ve learn a lot. I think I learned a lot just hearing you speak today, and I think others would hopefully learn a lot from your stories as well, but what’s something real simple that somebody could do? Maybe a book? What book would you possibly recommend to another business owner or roofing contractor?

CHAD:
Oh, geez. You know, you said you weren’t going to put me on the spot…

ROD:
Well, what’s a recent book that you read?

CHAD:
The book that I think everybody should read, my daughter turned me onto it, it’s called The Alchemist. I just read it, actually about a month ago now, and it was the most profound book that I have ever read. I don’t even know if profound is the right word, but I think it is. It’s an incredible book about just life and your dreams, and don’t settle. My daughter gave to me — my 16-year-old daughter gave it to me, so for anybody who’s can read that book, keep in mind a 43-year-old man was given this book by a 16-year-old girl, and told, “Dad, this will change your life, you need to read it.”

And wow — it was intense. It was pretty good. I actually read it on an airplane and there were several different times where I had to put the book down, because I thought I was going to cry. And I’m not a crier. I grew up you know with a very, very tough dad who said, “Boys don’t cry, men don’t cry, suck it up and get back into life.”

Good to Great — that’s another book that I read a while back that was actually a really good book.

ROD:
That’s a good one, yeah.

STEVE:
So obviously you’re very knowledgeable and you’re running successful business. I listen to your voice and it sounds like you’re still enjoying it. And it sounds like you’re still excited to get in and do the work every day.

CHAD:
Well, I love what I do. I love my job. I love the people that I’m around. I love my customers. I’m extremely passionate about roofing. It’s funny because twenty years ago when I got into the business and people said, “What do you do for a living?” I was almost embarrassed to tell them I was a roofer. I would say, [mumbles]. And they would say, “What?” — and I would say [mumbles]. And they’d say, “Excuse me, I can’t hear you.” And I’d say, “I’m an exterior remodeler.” Because think about it: “exterior remodeler” that implies that you’re much more sophisticated than “What you do for a living?” “I’m a roofer.” Now I hang that around my head with pride. People say, “What you do for a living?” I say, “I’m a roofer.” And they kind of go, “Oh…” and they look around for more intelligent conversation in the room, you know.

ROD:
Well, you could always say that you’re an exterior remodeler with an emphasis on the top portion of the building.

CHAD:
Right. There you go. But you know, the thing is the industry has changed a lot in the last twenty years. And roofing contractors are doing a lot more than we ever did. You know we used to be two men in the truck were everywhere, and it’s not that two men in the truck aren’t everywhere anymore but there’s a lot more challenges in the roofing industry with the regulations, the government intervention, payrolls, Worker’s Comp, bonding certificates, lawsuits. There’s just so many things that make it so difficult for a guy now to start up a residential roofing company and just be that two men in the truck.

The customers alone are much, much smarter than they ever were. They have Google, for crying out loud. So a customer now — you can’t go to a customer and say, “I’m going to throw a roof up on your house — I’m going to charge you this,” and hand them a business card with the price on the back of it. Because they’ll go, “Whoa, whoa, whoa. Wait a minute. What type of felt are you using? How are you ventilating my roof? What are you doing with my bathroom fans? What type of shingle are you going to use? What’s the warranty on that shingle? Are you certified? Are you trained?” Because the customers — their hands are on everything instantly — we’re an instant society now.

All you have to do is type “roofing” into the Google search and you can find out whatever you want to know.

ROD:
That’s right.

CHAD:
And I think that makes it more challenging for the people and then, you know, with the changes in the growing and the education that were getting now, I just love it. I love the customers. I love the people. I love the challenges. It’s something new every single day. I mean, if you asked me twenty years ago would I be doing a interview with some incredible people on the phone, I would have said, “No! Nobody’s going to call me and interview me. I’m just a roofer!”

ROD:
Ah, I love it. “Just a roofer.” But you know what, we really appreciate everything you need shared with us today. Real excited to get to talk to you about this stuff. And we hope that the others can learn from it.

CHAD:
Thank you guys.

STEVE:
Okay, that was a great conversation. We really appreciate Chad’s time and that he shared so much with us.

ROD:
Absolutely. One hundred percent agreed. I personally am going to be a little more careful on black diamond runs!

STEVE:
Good idea, Rod. So again, we are in this to help roofing contractors. If you have any questions or ideas for us, please get in touch. Email us at info@roofinsight.com.

ROD:
And check out our software to help roofers over at RoofChief.com.

STEVE:
We have more great interviews coming up in the future. We’re really excited about them.

ROD:
Yep. Thanks for listening, everybody. Catch you next time!