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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Read the interview — or read along with the audio.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I go, “Well, I walked it off.”

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

ROD:
You didn’t come short did you?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ROD:
Absolutely.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

STEVE:
Wow!

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

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

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

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

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

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

ROD:
Wow, real cool.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ROD:
That is great.

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

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

STEVE:
That is great.

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

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

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

He’s like “There is a fire!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He said, “Well, who are you?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ROD:
Sure.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

STEVE:
That is great.

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

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

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

ROD:
Narrow it down to that, right?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And I said, “Okay, well, who is he?”

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

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

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

I mean, never met the guy my life.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ROD:
Absolutely.

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

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

STEVE:
Great. I love that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CHRIS:
That’s exactly right

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

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

STEVE:
Wait.

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

ROD:
Yes.

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

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

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

CHRIS:
That is a Phi Delta Theta pledgeship thing.

STEVE:
Ah. Gotcha.

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

CHRIS:
That is right.

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

CHRIS:
You can sleep when you’re dead.

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

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

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

CHRIS:
Yeah, we had too much fun.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

STEVE:
That’s great.

ROD:
That’s great. Great story.

STEVE:
Yeah.

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

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

STEVE:
Great. Thanks so much.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

STEVE:
Thank you.

 

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