Many roofing contractors throughout North America split their businesses between residential and commercial roofing. Although some work strictly in the steep-slope roofing market, it doesn't mean those interested in expanding their businesses can't move into the low-slope market, as well, and vice versa.
"If you're a roofing contractor doing residential work, it doesn't mean you can't do commercial work," says Jim Kirby, technical adviser for GAF, Parsippany, N.J. "It's another way to expand your business."
My company, McMahon Communications, Indianapolis, talked to three successful roofing organizations that sell and install both steep- and low-slope roof systems to learn more about how their business models work. We discussed the challenges they face when dividing their focus in terms of human and capital resources, training and business operations.
E. Cornell Malone Corp.
The Malone name has a deep heritage that spans four generations within the roofing industry. Horace Malone started Hub Sheet Metal during the late 1940s, and in 1959, the company's name changed to Malone Roofing and Sheet Metal. Horace Malone had nine children, and all were involved in some aspect of the roofing industry. Several family members formed separate roofing companies, and a few remain active in the industry.
Cornell Malone, Horace Malone's eighth child, started Hattiesburg Roofing Contractors in 1973 with his late brother, Charles, and in 1982 he bought Malone Roofing and Sheet Metal. In 1983, he started his own company, E. Cornell Malone Corp.
The company's fourth-generation operations include Cornell's sons, Roman and Ryan, and represent two entities: E. Cornell Malone and Malone Roofing Services LLC, also in Jackson.
"Locals commonly refer to us as Malone Roofing," says Roman Malone, president of E. Cornell Malone. "E. Cornell Malone is home to our commercial roof and wall panel divisions. Malone Roofing Services was created as an independent company specializing in roof system and property maintenance and restoration. This independence allows our staff to provide dedicated service with a personal touch. With numerous locations, we can provide local coverage anywhere in the Gulf States region."
The two companies have 15 divisions, employing about 250 people in eight offices within the Gulf States region of Alabama, Florida, Louisiana and Mississippi. Malone Roofing Service's initial work was steep-slope residential roofing. Eventually, its focus shifted to low- and steep-slope commercial roofing.
"In 2015, we decided to go back to our roots—we opened a steep-slope residential division in Jackson," Roman explains. "Overall, we install about 93 percent commercial low- and steep-slope roof systems compared with 7 percent residential steep-slope. However, our residential steep-slope division is rapidly growing, and we see opportunities to expand into our already large footprint throughout the southeastern U.S."
Although Malone Roofing Services installers are cross-trained within each company division, Roman says they've yet to see the need to cross-train between low- and steep-slope roofing workers.
"Aside from the physical skill sets that are required, there is a large difference in the types of construction processes, contracting procedures and customer interaction," Roman notes. "For example, we have a 60-step completion process for our commercial projects while our residential projects only have a 17-step process."
The Malone companies' additional commercial project steps include contract legal reviews, performance and payment bonds, and shop and as-built drawings. The company offers a custom-designed in-house mentoring program that lays out company expectations and pay ranges from laborers to foremen.
Although it's been several years since many workers left the roofing industry during the Great Recession, the industry continues to experience a shortage of skilled workers as the current workforce ages and the Baby Boomer generation retires.
"It's always been a challenge to find personnel who are trained and skilled in roofing work," Roman says. "However, we believe there is plenty of talent in our region, with individuals who are capable of learning if they are willing to 'earn their stripes.' It's our job to provide the tools necessary to groom and motivate this talent into becoming a productive part of our team."
Interstate Roofing Inc.
Interstate Roofing was established in 1988 by Mike Satran and grew from a one-man company to a well-recognized, award-winning enterprise serving the roof system replacement, repair and maintenance needs of the greater Portland area. In 2009, the company transitioned to the next generation when Satran's daughter, Shelley Metzler, president of Interstate Roofing, and son, Brad Satran, vice president and commercial division manager for Interstate Roofing, took the reins of the business to continue their father's standing commitment to excellence.
"My dad started this company and made it successful, developing processes along the way," Metzler reflects. "When my brother and I were given an opportunity to take over my dad's well-branded, well-run company, our goal was to make it even better. We decided to develop the people we have while bringing in new people who have the same core vision as we do to help the company grow."
Together, the Satran children have grown the business by focusing on the company goals of safety, customer service and quality. Additionally, they've made a major commitment to sustainability by incorporating recycling into their business process. With the flexibility of an in-house transportation division, Interstate Roofing recycles thousands of pounds of debris every year rather than adding to area landfills.
Metzler calls her father the true entrepreneur.
"He could sell ice cubes to Eskimos!" she says. "Dad got into the business of residential roofing by accident, one house at a time."
Mike Satran initially was in a business partnership but decided early on he wanted to go it alone. Because he had numerous steep-slope clients with low-slope roofing needs, he wanted to meet customer demand.
"His fear at the time was that if he didn't meet his customers' needs, someone else would," Metzler says.
According to Metzler, her father's roofing operation was an entrepreneurial startup.
"That all changed when my brother and I bought the company," she shares. "We stripped away some of the services and some of the big-volume focus on the business."
Interstate Roofing's original slogan "Any roof, anytime, anywhere" no longer is used.
"We are hyperfocused on safety, customer service and quality in that order," Metzler says. "Safety is paramount and customer service follows because communication is such a priority in terms of making sure we understand exactly what our customers want and need to get to a quality outcome."
Interstate Roofing's customer base includes homeowners, property managers and building owners. The company doesn't work with government entities or general contractors by choice.
"Our focus is on how we get things done. We've found there is a significant niche of customers who just need to be taken care of," Metzler points out.
Interstate Roofing's business has a steep- to low-slope ratio of 65-to-35. Metzler says those numbers likely will hold steady during the next five to 10 years. The company's steep-slope work includes residential homes, churches, apartment complexes and office buildings—all asphalt shingles. Most of its steep-slope work remains residential.
In the low-slope arena, Interstate Roofing's niche is numerous small- and medium-sized projects such as apartment complexes, churches, dental offices and strip malls that house optometrists, veterinarians and restaurants.
"It's all reroofing work," notes Metzler. "We do minimal new construction."
Cross-training employees between low- and steep-slope roofing work hasn't proved to be feasible for Interstate Roofing, according to Metzler.
"But we've had luck on a small scale," she says. "For example, if we have a couple of guys who work together on a repair crew and we can train them to work in both scenarios, then it's great. Overall, the tools, equipment and setup are totally different."
Metzler says their commercial clients don't expect the same level of interaction as those on the residential side.
"On commercial jobs, only our superintendent needs to interact with the building owners," she explains. "But with homeowners, it's direct interaction. Roofing contractors gravitate to one side or the other on purpose. That's where they want to be."
As far as mentoring employees, Metzler says Interstate Roofing currently doesn't have a formalized program, but training is a focus this year.
"There isn't an off-the-shelf package or one-size-fits-all program for any company," she says. "Our focus for 2018 will be to offer low-slope, steep-slope and repair paths for our employees."
Metzler envisions for each area, an employee would begin at "level one" and work up to "level five, senior level foreman."
"They will learn the skill sets needed along the way—the specifics about how to perform the tasks, keeping safety and customer service in mind along the way," she explains. "Full crews don't just walk in the door these days. We want to find good people who we can help and are motivated to climb the ladder."
"I feel like roofing contractors are all in the same boat," she shares. "We are all looking for the same kind of person—someone respectable who wants to work hard, be outside and likes challenges. We must look at the way we run our businesses, with a bigger focus on training. This is something we must do now to have a workforce tomorrow."
Every day, Nations Roof handles typical project challenges from troubleshooting a stubborn leak to managing a complex fast-track removal and replacement.
"We believe our business is finding solutions to customer challenges," says Alan Brenner, president of Nations Roof, Orlando. "Every aspect of the Nations Roof organization is geared to saving customers dollars on their facilities. We look for ways to complement and empower in-house facilities staff and offer creative solutions to maximize our clients' budgets."
Nations Roof is composed of 26 divisions across the U.S.
"We are one company with one mindset, which is fundamental to our success," Brenner says.
Each of their business units is slightly different. For example, Wisconsin is a standing-seam metal market for Nations Roof; Oregon is a hot-asphalt market; and Texas and Florida lead with TPO.
"As far as our Florida market focusing on steep-slope roofing, we didn't just wake up one day and say, 'Let's be steep-slope only,'" he comments. "Rather, we found numerous mixed applications in Florida, so we transitioned to what the market needs were. This is why our focus in Florida is more on the steep-slope side than our other divisions."
According to Brenner, Nations Roof is the "Mercedes Benz" of service when it comes to warranties, maintenance and reroofing projects.
"In every office across the U.S., this is our common binding factor," he notes.
Brenner says the way Nations Roof companies interact with customers is the same, and their service departments also work the same.
"The access and transparency into our reports through our customer portals is the same in Mobile, Miami or Portland," he explains. "Nations Roof provides detailed daily reports to all customers. Service is what defines us over our competition. We're here to assist customers in evolving from reactive to proactive management of their roofing assets. It's about how we best serve our customers. They drive how we do what we do."
The percentage of Nations Roof's overall business nationally is 2 to 5 percent steep-slope work and 95 to 98 percent low-slope work. In Florida, those numbers change substantially to 35 to 40 percent steep-slope work and 60 to 65 percent low-slope work.
"Architectural needs dictate this, and we had to move with the market to meet both needs. I brought some steep-slope intellectual property to the table," Brenner comments. "Steep slope is a niche that most low-slope roofers don't cater to, and that's the reason our business model is somewhat different."
Nations Roof sees that changing during the next 5 to 10 years. Nationally, it will be driven by the market. For example, areas in the southwest, including southern California, Texas and Arizona, are architecturally symbiotic with tile.
"We believe this footprint will change," Brenner says. "We see steep slope as architecturally driven in many commercial applications. Caribbean and country-style homes as well as banks, day care centers, schools, condominimums, apartment complexes, churches and military bases (which have a mix of low- and steep-slope roofs) use standing-seam metal, tile and shingles."
Brenner says whether it's an emergency or otherwise, Nations Roof must serve its clients' portfolio.
"In Florida, I might plan for a hurricane, but I can't plan for an earthquake or tornado," he explains. "It's all about having manpower cross-trained to handle steep- and low-slope work. And, because we don't know when an emergency will come, we must be prepared. We have crews that are trained specifically for one or the other.
"Generally, roofing workers who are smaller in stature have a lower center of gravity to handle steep-slope work. On the other hand, a larger person who is taller and heavier has a center of gravity that is higher and better equipped to handle the low-slope work."
Nations Roof's goal is to find good people with good skill sets, but Brenner believes recruiting from the next generation of workers is challenging because the generation is technologically driven and not ready to get on a roof.
"There isn't an app for putting on a roof. The way our children are raised and educated today isn't toward manual labor. It's tough to find people who want to get on a roof in 95 degrees and sling 450-degree asphalt on the end of a stick while baking in 100 percent humidity," he concludes. "No one dreams of doing this as a child!"
Brenner says Nations Roof staff are offered formal training programs through NRCA. If an employee wants further education, the company covers the cost to get trained and certified.
"Increasing employee self-worth and worth to the company is critical," he explains. "Some companies are reticent to do this because their employees may become the competition, but we don't look at it that way. You can mitigate all the risks in life but never negate them. If you teach a guy to fish, he eats forever as opposed to handing him a fish."
Roofing is constant
All roofing businesses face a challenge of managing operations while maintaining a trained workforce to meet customer needs. Knowing your company's strengths and the unique needs of your marketbase will help you implement a business model appropriate for your company. No matter whether you're working in commercial or residential roofing, Brenner reminds us what makes the roofing industry constant.
"It's one of the most important things," he says. "You may want air conditioning, but you need a roof!"
Alicia McMahon is principal of McMahon Communications, Indianapolis.
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