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!

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