Entrepreneurs are doers, not dreamers. They see opportunity when others see impossibility. They are focused and take risks. They have a passion for learning and believe in contributing to something bigger than themselves.
When Nick Sabino, president and founder of Deer Park Roofing Inc., Cincinnati, started his roofing company in 1996, he was 24 years old and didn’t know much about roofing. He had heard nine out of 10 startup businesses fail during the first year, so he was aware the odds were not in his favor.
But that didn’t stop Sabino from reading technical manuals and going to job sites to learn from installers. He was determined to learn everything he could about roofing. And despite the statistics that scare others out of business, Sabino has made it a practice to grow the company 25% to 30% almost every year and now employs 125 people at two branches.
“Nick is competitive and driven, and he doesn’t fail,” says Matt Cox, vice president of Deer Park Roofing. “That’s the way he is, and that’s the kind of leader you want.”
This month, Sabino assumes his position as NRCA chairman of the board.
“NRCA has been part of my life for almost 20 years,” Sabino says. “To be asked to serve in this capacity is an honor and a privilege. Our company has been so successful because of the help NRCA has given us, so the least I can do is give back what I can.”
Deer Park Roofing
Roofing wasn’t always in Sabino’s professional plans. He grew up in Deer Park, Ohio, and graduated from Xavier University, Cincinnati, in 1994 with a bachelor’s of science degree in mathematics. Then, he attended graduate school at University at Cincinnati but did not complete a master’s degree.
“I was trying to be an actuary, but one of my friend’s parents talked me out of it and said I should instead use my personality,” he says. “A good actuary wouldn’t have taken the risks that I have taken, so it was great advice.”
Knowing when to take advice has served Sabino well.
“Then, I met a guy who was renting a two-family unit from me, and he was a really good guy,” Sabino says. “He was a roofing worker and was always asking me whether I had other properties he could work on. He was somebody with high integrity, so I would look for roofing projects for him even though I was his landlord. I had a friend who was a homebuilder and he suggested I start a roofing company.”
Sabino’s parents, Victor and Lil, were shocked when their son told them he was opening a roofing contracting company.
“I told him he was crazy,” Victor says. “I told him he doesn’t know anything about the roofing business. And Nick replied: ‘I’ll learn.’ And here he is now at the top of the pile.”
Lil says when people starting hearing about Deer Park Roofing, they thought her husband started the business.
“People assumed Nick had taken it over from his father,” Lil says. “And I would say: ‘No, my son did it all on his own.’”
Sabino managed Deer Park Roofing from his bedroom and moved the company to a small office in 1999. In 2014, Sabino’s growing company needed more space and moved to a 23,000-square-foot building that used to be the grocery store where he’d stop in to play video games while on his way home from school.
“I’m the statistic that’s not supposed to make it,” Sabino says. “I’m not supposed to be here in this former grocery store. But we had something special happen to us.”
Deer Park Roofing’s employees say that something special is Sabino.
“I’ve been in the roofing industry for 33 years—the first 25 in the field,” says Dennis Gross, commercial maintenance manager for Deer Park Roofing. “Deer Park Roofing is the best place I’ve ever worked, and Nick is the best boss I’ve ever had. A few years ago, I had back surgery, and if it weren’t for Nick giving me the opportunity to move from the field to the office, I don’t know where I’d be today. He’s a caring, thoughtful person, and I wish there were more people out there like him.”
Elaine Tepe, project manager for Deer Park Roofing, started out as a part-time administrative assistant at the company six years ago.
“I was a stay-at-home mom for 22 years and wasn’t happy I had to go back to work, but it was necessary because the economy wasn’t doing well,” Tepe says. “Nick was supportive, understanding and inspired me to be the best version of me I can be. He inspired me to become a manager and realize I had it in me. And now I look forward to coming to work and can’t imagine not working here.”
Gross and Tepe are just two examples of the dedicated employees at Deer Park Roofing.
“Some of the people here I have worked with for 20 years,” Sabino says. “And now some of them have their children working here, so Deer Park Roofing no longer is a first-generation roofing contracting company. It’s really neat to see that. We have a family here.”
Unique to the industry
Cox has been with Deer Park Roofing since 2000 and believes the way the company trains people is unique to the industry and a reason why employees stay.
“The hardest thing is to hire somebody who has been in the industry for years because it takes them longer to break bad habits and relearn how we do things,” Cox says. “So that’s why we developed our training program. We believe in lots of practice and training, and we stick to it. We show them there is a career path.”
Although Deer Park Roofing has many loyal employees, employee retention wasn’t always easy.
“If we hire somebody who quits after two weeks, we’re doing something wrong,” Sabino says. “It’s an industrywide problem. How do we onboard somebody differently so he or she is not quitting after 10 days? The answer may not be what we want to hear.”
At Deer Park Roofing, having a well-planned onboarding process, an on-site training center and giving new employees actual tools to succeed are helping retain staff.
“We’re providing them with hand tools, so they are better prepared when they get to the job site,” Sabino explains. “If we can reduce their inexperience right away on day one, they’ll be treated better by crews and last longer. We need to stop blaming others for why people aren’t choosing roofing as a career. Let’s change the way we are doing things as an industry and not be stuck in the 1990s. We need to stop hazing and do more training.”
Sabino plans to share his company’s tips for training success with NRCA.
In 2000, Sabino joined NRCA to take advantage of the association’s vast resources.
“Being a first-generation roofing contractor was tough,” he says. “I had to figure out a lot of things on my own. With NRCA, help was just a call or email away. I had the support of a large staff even though I was a small company. I had the option of looking for the expertise of someone on my staff or contacting NRCA.”
Sabino remembers his first interaction with NRCA was “amazing.”
“I had received an OSHA citation, so I called NRCA’s risk management department and asked what to do,” he recalls. “They prepared me so well that when I walked into the OSHA office and started citing what the OSHA regulations require and don’t require, the OSHA guy went and got his area director. I asked so many questions the director said: ‘Now, I have question: Do you want a job here?’”
After a distributor suggested Sabino get more involved in the association to meet roofing contractors outside his market, Sabino began serving on NRCA committees such as Membership and University Operations. In 2010, he was elected to serve on the board of directors and served two terms from 2010-13 and 2016-18. During 2014-16, he served as a vice chairman, and during 2018-19 he served as chairman of the board-elect. One of the first committees on which he served as a chairman was NRCA’s Young Contractors Committee.
“That was a really fun committee to be part of, and I met a lot of good friends,” he says. “There’s not a day that goes by now that I’m not texting another NRCA member for advice. The friendships have been incredible. It’s pretty special.”
Sabino says back then the Young Contractors Committee consisted of “a bunch of 35-year-olds.”
“And now we have a bunch of 25-year-olds,” he says. “And that’s to former NRCA Chairman of the Board Kent Schwickert’s credit; it was one of his initiatives. He also created the Diversity + Inclusion Committee and made changes in the makeup of our board to be more diverse.”
During Schwickert’s recent term as chairman of the board, Sabino worked closely with him to address one of Schwickert’s greatest challenges: meeting the deadlines set to launch NRCA’s certification program, NRCA ProCertification,™ and NRCA’s Qualified Trainer program.
“We promised to deliver these programs to help address the roofing industry’s workforce issues,” Sabino says. “Everybody is seeking more workers, so we had to do something about it as quickly as possible. Chairman Schwickert invested a lot of money in NRCA’s infrastructure, namely ProCertification and our new database system. The fact that we broke even fiscally is an incredible accomplishment.”
Earlier this year, NRCA launched its roofing foreman and two installer (asphalt shingles and thermoplastic systems) certifications with more planned to launch later this year.
In addition to offering professional certifications, NRCA also is launching training programs and materials to enhance training efforts. NRCA’s new Qualified Trainer Conferences teach roofing company trainers how to effectively train new and experienced workers at various levels within a roofing company. And NRCA is developing its soon-to-be-launched Training for Roof Application Careers program for field workers.
Sabino believes these efforts and others are going to be “big” for the industry as they will enable NRCA to collaborate with vocational and technical schools.
“I want to do something similar to what the Roofing Alliance did with adopting Ronald McDonald houses,” he says. “What if we did the same thing with vocational-technical schools and had roofing contractors adopt local trade schools nationwide?
“We need to show up at orientation, not graduation. There is no commercial roofing and minimal residential roofing being taught in schools, so we need to be part of the curriculum and part of the educational process. We can’t just hope these individuals show up at our doors. This absolutely will benefit the industry.”
“What we’re doing with Roofing Day in D.C. is really powerful,” he says. “Our goal is to get 1,000 roofing industry professionals to Roofing Day in D.C. If we can do that, the roofing industry would be in the top 1% of lobbyists and advocacy groups on the Hill.
“What is special about Roofing Day in D.C. is the high level of engagement at the event. I have met members from Ohio at Roofing Day in D.C. who I’ve never seen at other NRCA events. We all were excited about the power of walking up the stairs of the Russell Senate Office Building together and being able to meet with our senators.”
“I encourage every member to contribute at whatever level he or she feels is appropriate,” he says. “Every contribution helps make a difference.”
Sabino believes NRCA’s initiatives will improve the industry’s reputation, one of his long-term goals.
“When we were at the recent International Roofing Expo,® the German delegation presented a study that concluded roof system installer is the most respected trade in Germany,” he says. “That’s where I’d like to see the U.S. roofing industry in 10 years. There’s no reason why we can’t dramatically raise the level of professionalism in roofing. That’s one of the goals with NRCA ProCertification, and we are well on our way to making it happen.”
Gross says Sabino is dedicated to positively changing the roofing industry’s image.
“He wants to change the mentality of how people view us,” Gross says. “He knows we are professionals, but people don’t always look at us that way.”
Vic Sabino, division manager for Deer Park Roofing’s Kentucky branch and Nick Sabino’s oldest brother, says if anybody can change the industry’s image for the better, it’s his brother.
“Nick is dedicated to changing the image of roofing contractors,” Vic says. “He already is aiming to have Deer Park Roofing among the first roofing contracting companies in the nation to have NRCA ProCertified installers.”
Sabino’s wife, Jennifer, remembers the day Sabino made it his goal to improve the roofing industry’s reputation.
“Nick’s sister Cheri is a neonatal intensive care nurse, and her son’s school was just up the street in Deer Park, and they were having Career Day at the school,” Jennifer explains. “Cheri couldn’t go, so she asked Nick to do it, but when he called the school to say he was filling in for his sister, they told him nobody wants to grow up and work in roofing. So he didn’t go because they didn’t want him to do it. That was 15 years ago, and Nick was so offended by that, it changed him forever.”
Sabino met his wife in 2002 when she was a single mom working three jobs, one of them at a cafe next door to Deer Park Roofing.
“Nick would come in, and I’d serve him. One night, when he was leaving, I said: ‘If you go to the horse track, let me know.’”
After one of Jennifer’s friends told Sabino to call Jennifer because she’s so fun, Nick invited Jennifer out with some friends to hang out at a casino.
“After that, he realized I am so fun and invited me over for dinner around the Fourth of July,” Jennifer says. “He made me chicken fajitas. I couldn’t believe he made me dinner.”
The two dated that summer, and it was almost two and a half years before Jennifer met Sabino’s family.
“We dated for a long time until we went on a Sabino family vacation together,” Jennifer says. “It was our two-year anniversary of dating when we went on that trip.”
After that summer family vacation, the couple were engaged in October 2004.
“It was the night the Red Sox won the World Series,” Jennifer says. “Nick said: ‘Let’s go to the park,’ and he took my 12-year-old son, who is also named Nick, and his dog with us. I had no idea he was going to propose until he got down on his knee and asked me right there in the park.”
Sabino and Jennifer may have dated for a while, but three months after their engagement they were married in January 2005 in Jamaica while attending an ABC Supply Co. Inc. seminar.
“We had been looking for houses, but I wasn’t going to move into one together until we were married,” Jennifer says. “So when my wedding planner overheard me talking to Nick about going to Jamaica, she suggested we get married there. I didn’t want to do it without my son, but I also wasn’t moving into the house until we were married. So we pretty much eloped on the ABC Supply trip—I guess you can say we’re married to roofing!”
After they moved into a new house together, Sabino and Jennifer renewed their vows on Mother’s Day in the park where Sabino proposed.
“And we brought my son because I wanted him to feel included,” Jennifer says. “It was so sweet.”
Jennifer’s son, Nick Malsbury, says Sabino’s greatest accomplishment is marrying his mother, but a close second is building a roofing business from scratch.
“Imagine someone who can work on his roofing business in the morning, play a round of golf with clients in the afternoon, grill an entire meal for family and friends when he gets home, and then finish the night reading a book about investment banking while watching a Cincinnati Reds game,” Malsbury says.
Sabino enjoys attending sporting events and is a huge fan of Xavier University basketball.
“He lives for Xavier basketball,” Malsbury says. “He hasn’t missed a game since I’ve known him.”
During basketball off-season, Sabino and Jennifer enjoy taking extended family vacations together and hosting friends and family.
“We love spending time with Vic and his kids,” Jennifer says. “We like going to Bald Head Island in North Carolina, and my family is from Florida, so it’s easy for us to go there. We also enjoy cooking and being hosts in our home, so we always have company over on the holidays and during summertime.”
Jennifer previously worked at Deer Park Roofing, so she understands the industry and her husband’s increased NRCA responsibilities.
“Nick and I both work a lot, so we’re used to balancing our work and personal lives,” Jennifer says. “I used to come in at 3 p.m. to help answer phones, and from there I started doing more as we hired more employees. Originally, we started flipping real estate to keep the Deer Park Roofing crews busy during wintertime. Now, I’m a full-time project manager for our real estate investments. Right now, I’m working on remodeling Deer Park Roofing’s former office building and redoing the bathrooms here at the new building.”
Jennifer says Sabino will bring a fresh perspective to his new NRCA role.
“Nick is a risk-taker, and he’s not afraid of making changes,” she says. “The difference between him and other people is he’ll go to a meeting, take notes and then implement what he’s learned while other people take notes but don’t implement what they’ve learned. I’ve seen him read books and use what he’s read, and it works.”
Jennifer fully supports Sabino’s voluntary work and leadership with NRCA and is happy he’s doing what he wants to do.
“This is Nick’s deal, and I will do whatever he wants me to do,” she says. “We’ve met really good friends through NRCA, and I plan to continue the great examples demonstrated by Kent and Jane Schwickert. I am so proud of Nick, and he is so proud NRCA wants him to represent this industry. He’s a great man.”
An exciting year ahead
“It’s an exciting time at NRCA,” Sabino says. “There’s a combination of things we’ve been working on for a long time and a lot of fresh ideas being considered. It’s a huge responsibility to lead the industry through the changes, and I’m honored to do it. Remember, I’m supposed to be the guy who no longer is in business, so to be chairman of the board is really special, and I’m going to do my best to make everyone proud.”
Vic says he’s already proud and knows his brother’s entrepreneurial spirit will bring an unrivaled passion for establishing and accomplishing NRCA goals.
“His determination, thirst for completion and stewardship of the industry will pay big dividends for the industry,” Vic says. “Nick will lead with your issues in mind, and everyone can be reassured they are getting an excellent ambassador for NRCA and the industry.”
The lighter side
What is your favorite word?
What sound or noise do you love?
A golf ball going into a cup
What sound or noise do you hate?
Two pieces of slate rubbing together
What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
What is your favorite quality in a person?
What is your fear?
As a roofing contractor, I’m afraid of winter every year.
Which season of the year do you prefer?
If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the pearly gates?
Come on in, we’ve been waiting a long time for you.
Do you have a favorite food?
What is your pet peeve?
Next in line: Rod Petrick
Rod Petrick, president of Ridgeworth Roofing Co. Inc., Frankfort, Ill., has been in the roofing industry since 1975. After serving as president of the Chicago Roofing Contractors Association from 2007-08 and president of the Midwest Roofing Contractors Association in 2008, he became involved in NRCA.
“When I was heavily participating at the local and regional levels, I was a liaison to NRCA’s Technical Operations Committee,” he says. “I got to know a lot of people, and I like how NRCA represents the entire industry. So it was a natural step forward.”
Since then, Petrick has served on multiple NRCA committees such as the Future Executives Institute, Manual Update, NRCA University Operations and ProCertification™ Program committees. He was elected to serve on NRCA’s board of directors from 2011-14 and 2016-18 and Executive Committee from 2014-16 and 2018-19. Petrick also served as president of the Roofing Alliane from 2018-19 before accepting the position of NRCA chairman of the board-elect.
“Having been on the board of directors and Executive Committee, I see the importance of NRCA promoting roofing contractors as professionals,” Petrick says. “My company strives to reflect professionalism every day. With NRCA developing training, educational and certification programs to help others, I want to be involved to help move these initiatives forward.”
“Finding and retaining a trained workforce is the most important issue facing the industry,” Petrick says. “We seem to be able to find untrained workers, but what the industry needs is workers who will stay on the job. The programs NRCA is developing will provide roofing contracting companies of all sizes with the resources they need to train and retain new employees.”
Petrick believes the training and certification programs will have a tremendous, positive effect on the industry’s workforce, but NRCA needs to maintain its momentum.
“We need to keep up the work so everyone in the industry knows about these opportunities,” he says. “We cannot let these programs become the best-kept secret in the industry.”
According to Petrick, Nick Sabino, NRCA’s chairman of the board and president and founder of Deer Park Roofing Inc., Cincinnati, is an example of having the right person in the right place at the right time to lead and attain NRCA’s goals.
“Nick is a driven guy who will keep NRCA ProCertification on track,” Petrick says. ”I am here to support him on this initiative and any other issues he believes are important to NRCA and the industry. I will help out and do whatever he needs to achieve his goals. I am here to be his wingman.”
When Petrick is not volunteering with NRCA or working at Ridgeworth Roofing, he likes cleaning and driving his startup collection of muscle cars and visiting with friends and family.
“Most of all, I like spending time with my five grandchildren, who affectionately call me ‘Grumpy,’” he says. Petrick is married to Bonnie, and the couple shares three children: Ashley, 30, who lives in Phoenix; Ryan, 34, who lives in Frankfort, Ill., and has two children with his wife, Christen; and Dan, 39, who lives in Boston but soon will be relocating to San Diego with his wife, Ashley, and their three children.
“Ryan works at Ridgeworth Roofing and is the third generation to join our family business,” Petrick says. “He has completed NRCA University’s Future Executives Institute and is slowly showing me the road to retirement.”
Petrick eventually will retire, but for now his focus is on giving back to NRCA and the industry.
“NRCA has given me the opportunity to meet like-minded roofing contractors from around the U.S. and share ideas and practices,” he says. “I have met many lifelong friends. To even be considered for this position is humbling. The men and women who have served before me have set a high bar, and I hope to follow their lead of driving NRCA forward as the voice of the roofing industry.”