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2012 Residential Roofing Contractor of the Year: Collis Roofing

Versatile, Dependable, Financially Sound

November 1, 2012
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Collis Roofing’s aim is to be number one or number two in every roofing market in Central Florida. But the company’s goals don’t stop there. According to Doug Lanier, the company’s president, the priorities are the same on every job: to perform top-notch workmanship, employ safe work practices and earn a fair profit at the same time.

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Of course, no company gets everything right every time, but Collis Roofing’s track record speaks for itself, and the fact that the company has thrived during the recent economic downturn is a testament to its sound business management. Collis Roofing’s versatility, consistency, and reputation for quality have earned it the distinction of being named Roofing Contractor’s 2012 Residential Roofing Contractor of the Year.

Collis Roofing has been in business since 1993. It currently has 400 employees and offices in four Florida cities — Longwood, Lakeland, Melbourne and St. Augustine. The company had $34 million in sales in 2011 and is on pace to do $40 million this year. Approximately 80 percent of its work is residential and 20 percent commercial. Three-quarters of its work is new construction. Doug Lanier owns the company along with his wife, Joyce, who has been with the company since its inception and is now vice president.

The company is a longtime member of the National Roofing Contractors Association (NRCA) and the Florida Roofing, Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors Association (FRSA), as well as the Central Florida Roofing and Sheet Metal Association. It’s also a member of Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) and participates in the quality program of the National Association of Home Builders. “We’re the only roofer in Florida that is designated a quality roofing contractor through the NAHBC Quality Control Program,” Lanier noted.

 

A Business Background

After graduating from Stetson University in 1981 with an accounting degree, Lanier went to work for his father, who was in the wholesale lumber business in Orlando. Some of his best clients were commercial roofing contractors. After a rare hailstorm hit Orlando in 1991, Lanier worked out a deal to sell roofs for one of them in the afternoons four days a week. The deal was pretty lucrative for both of them, and when Hurricane Andrew hit Miami in 1992, Lanier agreed to help open up an office there. He sold $1.3 million in the first 90 days. Soon he was ordering material, hiring crews, obtaining permits, scheduling jobs and handling inspections. A light bulb went off. “I just thought to myself, ‘If I’m going to do all of these things, why not do them for myself, and why not do them where I’d grown up?’”

He teamed up with Mike Collis, a general contractor who was looking to start up a roofing division in his company, Collis Inc. Together they created and operated Collis Roofing Inc. in 1994. In 2001 Lanier and his wife became sole operators but decided to keep the company name because it had been so successful. “Most people at that point, instead of calling me Doug Lanier, they were calling me Doug Collis, so I just went along with it. They just assumed the name had to be my last name, and after a while I just quit correcting them.”

The company got its start in residential new construction, and the market just took off. As the price of starter homes rose, the percentage of tile roofs skyrocketed, and soon Collis Roofing had its own production tile division to complement its shingle division. “We were in one of those cities where the new construction market just went crazy during the heyday,” Lanier recalled. “By 2004, we were doing $63 million in sales and doing no commercial and hardly any re-roofing at all.”

Today 25 percent of the company’s work comes from roof replacement. In 2004, after Florida was hit by three hurricanes, Collis ramped up its re-roofing division. “We were doing $2 million a month in re-roofing, so needless to say that was quite an undertaking. When you go from almost zero to $2 million a month, that’s a dramatic shock. It took us a while to get our systems in place.”

The company is a CertainTeed Master Shingle Applicator, an Owens Corning Platinum Contractor, and a Master Elite Contractor with GAF. “Right now we’re No. 1 in the United States in warranty sales for GAF,” Lanier said

Collis opened its commercial division in 2006. “We learned the most important lesson in commercial, that the quote-unquote trophy jobs might look good on the wall, but they don’t look good in the checkbook,” said Lanier. “In 2008, 2009 we made a commitment to avoid large jobs/bids. We try to get jobs we can control — when we get there, how we get there, when we get paid, all those things. It tapered off our volume, but we’ve become much more profitable with it.”

The company also added a service department and it’s become the second most profitable division behind re-roofing. “We’ve really expanded our customer service department, so we are able to give the people needing re-roofs and the people needing leak repairs a lot more attention.”

The emphasis on commercial service has also brought in roof replacement work. “It’s just been a wonderful thing for us,” he said. “We repair a building for two or three years, and finally they have so much trust in us they just say, ‘OK, we’re ready to put a new roof on, and you’re the one we want to use.’”

 

Versatile Performers

According to Lanier, what sets his company apart is its versatility. “I think the thing that makes us different is we’ve been in business for quite some time and we can go into any arena in the community that needs us,” he said. “We can go into the commercial arena, we can go into the high-end residential arena, we can go into the production arena, we can go into the home with the homeowner — which is unusual. Most roofing contractors specialize in one of those things, not all of those things.”

Lanier’s goal is not just to compete in each of those markets, but to excel. “We want to be number one or number two in every market. In new construction shingles we are number one, in new construction tile we are number one, in re-roofing we are number one, in warranty service we are number one. Really our only division that is not number one at this time is our commercial division, and it may not be in volume and it may not have all of the flash of some others, but at the same time it’s very profitable. We very, very rarely don’t make money on anything we do in that division, so for us it’s a smart thing.”

Collis Roofing also prides itself on sound financial management. After all, if you aren’t profitable, you won’t be in business very long. “We’re very honest, and we’re very sound financially,” Lanier said. “We have a 3A1 with Dunn and Bradstreet, we’re A-plus with the Better Business Bureau forever, and we have a top designation with each of the major shingle manufacturers — GAF, Owens Corning and CertainTeed. You know you’ve been around enough to know the very top people at the manufacturers, the top people at the best suppliers. Those relationships are valuable at the end of the day.”

The company solidifies its reputation by sticking to agreed payment terms no matter what. “We pride ourselves on paying better than anybody,” he said. “If I bought from you and I told you I’d pay you in 30 days, I don’t care if I got paid or not, I’m paying you in 30 days. And we do that. Those are the kinds of things that aren’t flashy, but it means a lot to a lot of people.”

Prompt payment also qualifies the company for discounts with vendors. It’s all part of the company’s overall financial plan. “Fortunately for us we have absolutely no debt,” said Lanier. “I think it’s critical. It’s hard to grow a business sometimes without borrowing money, but it sure makes it easier if you don’t have those recurring payments. It’s those kinds of payments that can make or break you in a hurry.”

 

All Systems Go

With all those divisions humming, the systems have to be in place to ensure everyone is on the same page. Lanier and his team make sure they are on top of things by checking daily reports. “I’m a very e-mail oriented person,” he said. “One of the sayings around here is, ‘If it’s not in an e-mail, you didn’t say it — it didn’t happen.’”

Every division reports production to the billing department via e-mail every day. “At the end of every day, we know exactly where we stand on that day,” said Lanier. “Our financials are live.”

The system usually performs like clockwork, and it if doesn’t, it allows management to spot problems quickly. According to Lanier, the key is nipping problems in the bud by using “gentle, early-on persuasion.”

“You start to get a sense of when e-mails should come, what should be going on, and you can also sense when there’s tension — when somebody is saying, ‘Hey, I haven’t gotten this,’” he said. “Everyone is accountable for their tasks. Nobody has an overwhelming task, but they all go together like a puzzle, it all has to be done in a certain order and it all has to be done in a timely fashion. You can’t jam somebody up at 4 o’clock and say, ‘Here’s three hours of work,’ when you could have gotten it to them at 1 o’clock and they would have had three hours to do it.”

The key is communication, and Lanier makes sure the division are performing at peak efficiency and sharing best practices. “I love working with my divisions,” he said. “It’s just like Best of Success, where you have different people come up to speak. When you have round table — and I’ve been to quite a few different kinds — when you can talk to peers across lines and you’re not competing, it’s so helpful.”

Lanier brings that roundtable concept to his own company with bi-weekly management meetings. “It’s like we have four or five businesses running here, but we’re all one company,” he said. “Let’s just say my shingle guy figures out something. We instantly have a meeting of the management team, and best practices and discoveries that are done in one department are instantly passed on to all the others, so that positive process is now in place all across the company — not just in shingles or not just in re-roofing.”

Managers receive incentives based on the profitability of each division, and if the company makes money every month in a quarter, employees receive an extra week’s pay at the end of those three months. “You can make four weeks of extra pay by the company making money for 90 days in a row. That’s been a big incentive. It’s got everybody watching the pennies, and it’s helpful The more people out there doing that for you, the better.”

Besides financial incentives, Collis Roofing strives to foster a good work environment. “We try to make it as flexible as possible for everybody,” said Lanier. “It’s a different atmosphere than being at a place where you’re just a number.”

The company recently added to its workforce through an unlikely source. The company tapped into a state program designed to give unemployed people work experience, and it’s been a success for all involved. “Our marketing person had a great idea and wanted to create a program called Collis Cares,” said Lanier. “We’ve hired eight of the 10 people that have come to work for us in the program. We’re a big family here. They become part of it, they like it, and they enjoy it.”

When it comes to roofing, there’s no more important issue than safety, and the company shows its commitment to safety with a drug testing program, mandatory ongoing training, and a full-time, bilingual safety officer whose only responsibility is safety.

In 2011, FRSA named Collis Roofing Contractor of the Year for safety. “We’ve had our mod rating down to .46. Right now it’s .54 as I’m talking to you,” Lanier said. “We tie off every single job, every day. We do a lot of safety inspections. We have a master form, and every time one of our superintendents interacts with a crew, he must, before he leaves that site, do a safety inspection. Pictures are required and the form must be filled out and electronically sent to the office.”

At the end of the day, Lanier believes the company’s commitment to its employees results in excellent work and satisfied customers. “There’s a lot of pride here in our work,” he said. “When we leave a job, we want it to be so that no one is going to walk up on that job and be able to criticize the quality of that work. We’re members the NAHB quality program, and we’ve had the quality designation for five or six years, so it’s very important to us. We pride ourselves on our quality.”

 “We all get along like a family,” he said. “We all work hard together. The four managers of the departments and the three managers of the branches are all very close and they interact a lot together. Our really strong suit is our versatility. It’s important not only because we can go into any arena, but a lot of the nice jobs are jobs that are 100 squares of commercial and 400 squares of tile, or 50 squares of commercial and 300 squares of shingles, and we’re able to handle those dual-scope jobs.”   

 

CLICK HERE TO LISTEN TO EDITOR CHRIS KING'S INTERVIEW WITH Doug lanier, PRESIDENT OF cOLLIS ROOFING. 


 

Pickup TruckReaching Out to Today’s Customers 

 

Collis Roofing has a great reputation, but according to Doug Lanier, president of the Longwood, Fla.-based company, it doesn’t depend entirely on referrals for new business. It’s always trying to reach out to potential customers — both homeowners and business owners.

The company used to rely heavily on Yellow Pages ads to reach residential customers, but things have changed. “We’re trying to get away from the phone book,” said Lanier. He noted that today 75 percent of the company’s new leads are generated from the Web and online marketing. However, he still keeps a presence in phone directories to reach older consumers who still rely on them — still a significant slice of the population in Florida.

“These days, people are no using Siri to search,” said Lanier, so the company relies on its website (www.collisroofing.com), search engine optimization (SEO), and pay-per-click ads, as well as social media sites like Facebook, YouTube, Yelp and Angie’s List. They also do some TV advertising, but Lanier has found the TV stations’ websites are an even better source for leads. Collis Roofing purchases banner ads on the TV news websites and taps into the expertise of the television stations. “They’ve become Internet and SEO experts, so not only do we do commercials that are broadcast on different shows, we do a lot of Internet through the TV stations,” he said.

The company also gets a lot of good PR by giving away a free roof to a needy homeowner every year. Collis Roofing’s “I Need a New Roof” contest encourages people to submit entries for families in need of a new roof and vote for the winner, earning the company a lot of attention in the community as well as great exposure on the news media.

Another way Collis Roofing keeps its name out there is through private labeling. The synthetic underlayment, rolls of felt, and roof cement all have the company’s logo prominently displayed. “Our guys can say, ‘Here is the underlayment we use; it’s manufactured by GAF, and we do so much business with them our name is on it.’”

Lanier also treats his own home as a marketing showroom. He recently installed a solar system on his roof during a recent addition. “Everything we sell I put on my home, so I can honestly say if it works or not,” he said. “With this solar system I can check how much power each one of my panels is putting out any time of day online — on my iPhone, on my PC, on my iPad. It also e-mails me a monthly report. We’re getting quite a few solar requests from homeowners to install solar, and now we’re able to tell them not only will we put it on there, this is what we expect it to produce, and you’ll have a digital readout that shows you exactly what it produces.”

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