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.

 

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