The New Frontier: The Next Generation at White Castle Roofing Uses Technology to Broaden Their Business Horizons
Mike Hansen sought a master’s degree in sports science and seemed well on his way to a career in coaching or teaching when he got his first taste of being a roofing contractor.
It was 1985 and a major hail storm ravaged the communities in and around Lincoln, Neb. He and a friend, Steve Beigert, did very well that summer reroofing affected homes, and before long started their own roofing company, White Castle Roofing.
“We worked pretty hard and did well with it, going from job to job,” Hansen recalled. “If we weren’t working hard at something, we felt like we should be … and that’s how we founded the business.”
Starting out, the job demanded attention six, often seven days a week. At the same time he was trying to grow his business, Hansen was also growing a family with wife, Carol, who had just given birth to their first son, Luke. For years, Carol worked nights as a nurse and the two split days nurturing Luke and his two brothers, Dane and Jacob.
Looking back, Hansen said it was a juggling act that at times required precise focus, but also enough perspective to keep long-term goals in mind. Regardless of the approach, the three boys inevitably grew up around the business, and saw the value it not only created for their own family, but how the business made a positive impact in the communities around them.
White Castle soon built a reputation for high-quality work and reliable performance in a growing city.
“We did a good job on everything we reroofed, worked hard and made sure our word was good with people,” Hansen said. “It became a solid base for a business in Lincoln with an opportunity for growth.”
On the Rise
That growth outside of White Castle’s home market would come slowly as economic conditions and housing demands cycled over the years. In the meantime, Hansen’s sons started developing their own affection for the roofing business.
Luke started working on jobsites cleaning up the grounds at age 13.
“I never had anything else I wanted to do other than roofing,” he said, recalling how he recruited high school buddies to join him reroofing homes during the summer.
He said he envisioned a future as a roofing contractor, but did not expect to play a key role in the family business so early on. The company underwent a seismic shift when co-founder Beigert died in 2006.
Beigert did not have any children in the business, and his passing meant the eldest Hansen suddenly had a lot of added responsibilities. He also had complete flexibility to reorganize and start long-term plans for growth. Trusting that he raised his sons “right” in terms of business fundamentals, Hansen handed much of the strategic planning and marketing over.
“We wanted to grow, but didn’t have the right mindset,” Hansen said. “It took us awhile to change our mindset, and they had good ideas about how to grow the business and expand.”
Some changes were cosmetic and focused on branding with new marketing collateral, billboards and tactics like wrapping all company trucks and vehicles with promotions. They also innovated. White Castle was quick to make smartphones and mobile devices a requirement on jobsites, and was among the first in their market to use drones for both job completion and marketing campaigns.
Other changes made a big difference internally. The company is now structured in five divisions (residential roofing, commercial roofing, steep slope repairs, low slope repairs, and siding/gutters/cladding), and recently launched a maintenance service.
“We were able to change the way we bid projects and get that process right, and became really good at managing crews,” said Dane, director of sales and marketing. “We all work together to build trust with our customers and present our company as well as possible.”
White Castle opened a branch in Omaha, Neb. in 2012 that is now run by Hansen’s youngest son, Jake.
Quality control and safety are big areas of emphasis on jobsites in both markets.
Crews participate in monthly OSHA meeting to discuss safety topics and meet weekly and sometimes daily to go over procedures on specific projects. The company also has a designated employee to conduct all project inspections and ensure OHSA compliance. Performance training is ongoing for crewmembers with a third party each and every month.
“What sets us apart from the competition is our dedication to customer satisfaction and quality of work above all else,” Dane said. “If there’s a choice between doing it right and saving a few bucks, everyone knows it’s not a choice. We are going to do it right.”
Luke combined the entrepreneurial spirit he witnessed close up with his love for technology and problem solving to construct his next ‘big’ idea.
CompanyCam is a user-friendly app that allows anyone on the roofing crew in the field to communicate visually with team members in the office or clients on the move. Digital photos taken by any smartphone, mobile device or camera are streamed directly to a cloud-based server and create a visual record of the jobsite that all stakeholders can share — in real time.
Hansen firmly believes that the easiest, best way to demonstrate progress, communicate problems and try to minimize customer complaints on the jobsite is to keep good records. Photos taken by devices sophisticated enough to transmit images yet small enough to fit in a roofer’s pocket seemed like a good match.
Still, he was irked at the time spent by White Castle’s skilled installers and estimators downloading photos from their smartphone or digital camera memory card to a computer. Tack on the painstaking task of organizing the photos properly by jobsite, and then disseminating them to company leaders or clients — usually either by multiple emails or web-based photo sharing services. That translated to a lot of time off the roof.
After studying the problem for months, Hansen realized no one had really attempted to keep track of photos on every jobsite in a digital platform that theoretically would speed up production and improve transparency with customers. So he built a system that could.
“I just said: “We could do it and just needed to find a way to figure it out,” Hansen recalled. In late fall 2014, Hansen hired a tech-development shop to build an app program with features he believed the White Castle crews would want. They started with a proof of concept, field tested the features to determine their usefulness, and then rebuilt everything in-house to fit the current market.
White Castle crews use the app daily to keep the Hansens updated on progress and to collectively troubleshoot problems in the field. The CompanyCam app and independent company officially launched last July.
The app uses GPS to connect the photos with a real-world address or location and archives them by location so roofing contractors can easily access them whenever and wherever needed. Crewmembers also benefit from being able to add notes, draw pictures and share specs saved directly on the photo.
“What we’ve built is not rocket science. We’re just doing what the contractor has done and wanted to keep doing in a very laborious way much simpler,” he continued. “We’re taking what roofing contractors intuitively know they need to do and building a system that’s simpler and fits into the contractor’s work flow,”
Hansen said he was surprised by some of the unintended uses CompanyCam’s clients found for the product. One that stands out is helping police resolve a dispute over how much roofing material made it to a jobsite.
Officials at the Roof Depot branch in Rock Island, Ill. were accused by a customer of under-delivering materials. With CompanyCam photos readily at their disposal, branch managers showed officers investigating the complaint timestamped photos of exactly what was delivered, organized by address.
The officers immediately closed the case with undisputable evidence of what was delivered.
The Hansen brothers are now growing up as businessmen much like how they grew up as siblings: together.
At the same time, White Castle Roofing continues to enjoy its own growth trajectory.
The company transitioned into commercial roofing a little more than five years ago, and is starting to gain some traction in both markets they serve. Recent notable projects include a regional corrections facility that had a 6-10” thick lightweight concrete taper system, with a hot roof and an EPDM roof that needed to be torn off and replaced by a new EPDM roof with insulation adhesive.
White Castle is also active on the University of Nebraska campus, where crews have completed steep-slope shingle installations that required a self-ventilating insulated panel. Crews also installed a new membrane roof on the skybox at Memorial Stadium that required lifting materials more than 200 feet in the air by crane over an existing structure.
The maintenance program is in its early stages but is viewed as an area for sharp growth. Residential roofing, however, is still their bread and butter, comprising about 80 percent of the overall business and generating annual revenues of $10 - $15 million in recent years.
Though workforce issues affecting the entire roofing industry impact the markets they serve, the Hansens said they don’t have a lot of turnover. Part of that is due to the trust and loyalty built over the years with employees that benefit from company-sponsored health, vision and dental plans, as well as a 401 (k) program with a company match.
Years ago, Mike Hansen said he also committed to using an H2B Visa program that helps the company recruit and retain foreign workers for the peak season. Federal immigration laws limit the visas to foreigners with existing job offers in seasonal, non-agricultural work anywhere in the U.S. The number of visas allowed is also capped annually at 66,000, so applications need to be promptly submitted at the beginning of each winter.
The process requires the employees to get driver’s licenses, register with Social Security, receive the appropriate insurance coverages and pay their taxes.
The voluntary visa program is expensive and requires a lot of time and attention to administer, but it’s a worthy investment that undoubtedly helped complete jobs and attract new work, Mike Hansen said.
“It took us a couple of years to really make it work well, but this was clearly the way to do it,” he explained. “It brings everything above board and we know it’s done the way it should be done. We get the same guys coming back every year, and they’re invested in what we’re doing and want to be here. That works well for our quality and consistency.”
At peak, White Castle has about 120 non-union employees that over a five-year span have helped deliver the strongest years in company history.
“A lot of things are going really well right now and we’re very excited about that, and it gives us the energy to keep on going,” Luke said.