A Bright Future: Star Roofing's Talented Team Keeps Focus on Safety and Quality
When asked what makes their company successful, executives at Star Roofing Inc. immediately pointed to the company’s talented, experienced staff. “Our strength is our people, both in the office and field, who take pride in their work and have a lot of experience,” said President John Plescia. “We have the ability to install a wide variety of systems, both new and re-roof.”
Operations Manager Pete Schmautz agreed, noting that the company is structured to make the most of that talent — and adapt to changing conditions. “The biggest thing for us is the open lines of communication,” he said. “We do have a hierarchy of sorts — you’ve got to have the various levels of duties — but there’s nobody that’s above doing anything within our operations. That’s the thing — our versatility. If somebody is a project manager, and they need to do something else, then they do it. We’re not so tied into titles; we’re there to support each other. If someone needs help, they are going to get it.”
Talented workers with a team-first mentality have developed a reputation that sets the company apart, noted Schmautz. “We’re better at certain types of systems than our competitors,” he said. “In some cases, it seems the tougher jobs are, the better suited we are to deal with them.”
Headquartered in Phoenix, where it was founded in 1954, the union-shop roofing and waterproofing company has 70 employees. The vast majority of the company’s work is in the commercial arena, both re-roofing and new construction. About 10 percent of its work is residential.
Star Roofing is a member of National Roofing Partners (NRP), a group of affiliated independent contractors headquartered in Dallas that service accounts nationwide. The company is also a member of several industry organizations including the National Roofing Contractors Association (NRCA), Western States Roofing Contractors Association (WSRCA), Arizona Roofing Contractors Association (ARCA) and American Subcontractors Association (ASA), to name a few.
Star Roofing employees have been active in leadership roles in these associations over the years. Plescia served three terms as ARCA president, as well as stints on the boards of NRCA and WSRCA. He is also the longtime chairman of the regional roofers’ union health and welfare trust. Schmautz is a past president of ARCA, and he will take over as president of WSRCA in June. John Yoder, Star Roofing’s secretary-treasurer, is the current president of ARCA.
“We’re giving back and participating in organizations that have taken care of us, and we want to help take care of the industry going forward,” Schmautz said.
“It’s been a good thing for our company,” Plescia said. “Number one, I believe in giving back to the industry. That’s our main reason for being involved. We feel like we’ve done some good to help out our friends and our competitors. That’s a big thing, and I’ve tried to get our folks involved, including John and Pete and others, because I really think it’s a growth situation for them, and they’ve both learned a lot. I feel that’s important to our company.”
According to Plescia and Schmautz, the way to improve Star Roofing is to help every member of the team grow and improve. By extension, the way to improve the roofing industry as a whole is to help every company through the work of the local, regional and national associations. “Educational programs can bring up the level of quality of all of the contractors involved,” said Schmautz. “We want to have roofing thought of as a profession. That’s where we’d eventually like to be.”
Under the Hot Sun
Arizona was hard hit by the economic downturn, noted Plescia, and being the only union contractor in Arizona can have its drawbacks sometimes. Union wages can make for a higher labor rate on some large, open jobs, but on tough jobs where mistakes can be costly, talent and experience can equal profit.
“The more complex jobs are the ones we typically do better on,” said Schmautz, who pointed to a recent re-roofing project at Arizona State University as an example. After the existing built-up roof was torn off, a Sarnafil single-ply membrane was installed on the existing lightweight concrete deck, which had to accommodate numerous support members for a solar-thermal system. The installation earned first place in the sustainability category in Sika Sarnafil’s Project of the Year awards.
“The biggest thing on that project was the number of supports needed for the piping,” said Plescia. “They had to be cut all the way down to the steel deck for them to attach a plate, so we had to do some major coordination with the solar installer.”
After each section was torn off, the spots for the supports were marked and cut, and the plates were installed. “We came back around with prefabricated Styrofoam filler blocks that were about 12 inches thick, to match the insulation height,” said Plescia. “They had a pre-cut hole in them that fit right over the support pipe. Then we had to put sheetrock over it and the new roof — and keep the thing watertight, so it was a pretty involved set of circumstances. Each penetration had to be flashed as well. It was real interesting, and considering the kind of coordination needed went really, really well. And not a single leak with 550 penetrations.”
A new building for Arizona Public Service at its Palo Verde nuclear power station posed a different set of complex problems. The cold-process Tremco built-up roof assembly was pretty straightforward, but security details at the jobsite were complicated. Proper paperwork and complex safety procedures were at a premium during the construction, and the logistics were very time consuming. “It was a paperwork nightmare,” Schmautz said. “Just from the standpoint of getting everyone on the site, everyone had to go through background checks, and then once the project was under way, the general contractor had prolonged safety meetings in the morning and covered everything the nuclear plant was doing that day. Safety rightly was of the utmost concern for them, and they took it much further than OSHA regulations require.”
Star Roofing has also grown by expanding its service and maintenance work, which has been beneficial for the bottom line. “In Phoenix, it doesn’t rain a lot, so only at certain times of the year do we get service calls for leaks,” said Plescia. “But the sun does a number on the roofs, and people don’t realize that.”
Brutal sun conditions can prematurely age roofs, but they also can make for good maintenance projects, noted Plescia. “If you apply coatings, you can keep them going,” he said.
Plescia credits the company’s membership in NRP for the increase in maintenance work. “It has helped us expand our service department and introduced us to new customers,” he said. “NRP has brought us national customers that we had not been able to reach ourselves. I got involved in NRP almost from the get-go, in the first year of its existence, and I knew a lot of the people in the program. It’s a good group. It helped us access national accounts, like CVS, PetSmart and Auto Zone, to name a few, and that’s expanded our service work. It’s been really beneficial.”
Preaching to the Choir
Whether it’s a new construction project, a re-roof or a repair, the focus is on producing quality workmanship in a safe environment. Plescia and Schmautz said everything at Star Roofing is aligned to keep everyone focused on the same priorities.
“We preach safety, quality and planning,” Plescia said. “The focus is never on going fast. Superintendents visit the sites daily and monitor the installations throughout.”
Schmautz said safety has to always be the ultimate concern. “You just have to abide by it,” he said. “It’s tough sometimes when you get into these projects and you’re not doing what you thought you’d accomplish. We have certain performance goals we try to hit, but ultimately, if it’s a choice between safety and production, safety takes precedence, and you’ve got to stand behind it.”
Plescia agreed. “That’s another thing we tell the guys,” Plescia said. “There are enough hours in the job for you to do the job right, so don’t take shortcuts. And if we don’t have enough time in there, it’s our fault.”
Star Roofing does its own internal quality audits before any job is completed. “We have internal forms and procedures, and our field superintendent hits the job on the last day before the crew is supposed to finish, and we go through a quality checklist prior to any manufacturers’ or architects’ inspections,” said Plescia. “And that’s in addition to hitting the jobs periodically and reviewing all the details. But that last inspection — and doing our own punch list, if you will — is the key to ensuring quality workmanship.”
The key is working smart. Proper project planning is essential. “We try to give them a daily goal, and let’s call it the ‘end of the roof’ goal, and if you get to that point, you’ve done what’s expected of you,” Plescia said. “And you don’t have to rush to get there. The goals are realistic. These guys have all been here a long time. They know and understand that we want it done right the first time. We’ve been really fortunate — our warrantee expense is very minimal. I guess that’s how you determine if you are successful or not.”
It’s just one more example of a talented team living up to its reputation every day, noted Schmautz. “Experience does mean something,” he said. “When you’ve got people that you’ve had for 10, 15 years, and they have 20 or 30 years of experience — that does make a difference. It really does come down to the guys out in the field. Particularly in our residential side, I know that having those experienced field installers goes a long way toward securing work. Our chief residential guy sells on that point, more so than price. It’s one thing to have a good reputation out in the marketplace, but that’s all generated by your people.”