Contractor Makes it Big in the Southeast’s Golden Isles
Why would someone leave sunny California for, well, sunny Peachtree City, Ga.? To get the job done, that’s why.
Paul and Duane Clarke started Clarke Bros. Ltd. LLC in California in 1987, and specialize in the sales and design of architectural tile roofs. In 1991, they decided to move their business to the Southeast because of the changing business climate.
“There was a need for high-quality installers using modern techniques,” explains President and General Manager Nils Simonsen, who became the third partner in the business. “Jobs were sparse, but qualified installers were even more of a rarity.”
Clarke Bros. found its niche in the “Golden Isles,” a region from Charleston, S.C. on down the coast. The company does work in Virginia, the Carolinas, Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee and Louisiana. In November 2000, Clarke Bros. opened a second office on St. Simons Island, Ga., to support work in that location. And as the company grew, it expanded into other areas. In addition to tile, Clarke Bros. works with slate and high-end metal (copper and zinc), and has an extensive metal fabrication shop. The company currently employs about 35 people – five in the shop, six office workers and the rest installers.
Learning from the MastersSimonsen notes that as trends in architecture started moving toward the integration of different materials such as zinc, copper and terne metal, the availability of knowledge and the level of craftsmanship decreased. So Simonsen and others from the company went to Europe to train and experience architectural metal at its best. They spent a week in Germany at Schlebach, a top-of-the-line manufacturer of metalworking machines and equipment for roof and wall applications. They toured the company’s plant and were trained on all the different roll-forming equipment. They could then train other workers back in Georgia.
Clarke Bros. also became a manufacturer’s rep/distributor for VM Zinc, a division of the French company Umicore, with U.S. headquarters in Raleigh, N.C. According to VM Zinc, “Our close relationship with end users … result(s) in high-quality achievements … The success of zinc roofing can also be summed up in a few words: long-lasting, malleable, flexible, aesthetic and prestigious … it offers freedom of expression for roof design … (and) is suitable for all types of roofing accessories.”
VM Zinc offers the Pro-Zinc training program — classes conducted by certified master craftsmen offering training in a real working environment. Sessions are held in the company’s Raleigh location as well as in Portland, Ore., and at the Clarke Bros. facility in Georgia.
Clarke Bros. also works with copper and has a close relationship with the Copper Development Association, providing additional training classes in conjunction with this organization. These classes are offered for the contractors that Clarke Bros. supplies as well as architects seeking continuing education. “We work to raise awareness of design and craftsmanship,” explains Simonsen, “and we actively pursue recruitment for the industry.”
Clarke Bros. supplies metal to contractors mainly in the Southeast, but on occasion as far away as Canada and Mexico. According to Simonsen, “There are more markets for high-end roof drainage systems in the North and Northeast. Our steel products are local but we send the roll-formed zinc as far away as California.”
He continues, “We do roll-formed panels, accessories, curves, tapers, trapezoidal cuts — whatever length of panel is required, we can cut. This is a valuable asset because using continuous panels can eliminate seams.” In addition, “We are a job shop for some national metal manufacturers who do don’t do tapered pan cutting.”
Down by the SeaOn the installation side of the business, a higher volume of Clark Bros.’ work is on custom homes while the big, high-profile jobs bring in the greater dollar amount. To illustrate this point, in a little over a year, the company has done over $1.5 million in work for the Sea Island Development Co., a developer for Georgia’s Sea Island and surrounding areas.
The most recent project was an expansion of the Sea Island resort that involved 1,400 squares of U.S. Tile’s El Camino two-piece mission-style clay tile. “That, to-date, is singularly one of the largest concentrations of U.S. Tile’s product line,” says Simonsen.
The job was very technical and required careful training, “We developed training procedures ourselves and did multiple mock-ups,” says Simonsen. Clarke Bros. also worked closely with the manufacturer and Sea Island’s architect — the noted Peter Capone.
“The design criteria required a specific look. We developed a strategy to incorporate the look from the first building to the last,” explains Simonsen. They used a heavy-set mud style and a regular cap and pan, not traditionally used on a turret-style roof. The result? “It’s beautiful and we achieved all the design criteria we set out to,” says Simonsen.
The job had its challenges. The very fact of being in the midst of an upscale resort put restrictions on working hours, not to mention the fact that there is only one way on and one way off the island. There were also environmental concerns: The work site was surrounded by protected wetlands from the edge of the building out.
As always, safety was the first priority. “We have so many different redundant safety programs,” says Simonsen. “We comply with the GCs regulations, and then go beyond.” This includes daily toolbox talks in addition to a corporate health and safety program. “We’ve hired safety experts to survey the situation on some jobs; we pay a lot to make sure we are above and beyond what is required,” continues Simonsen. “We offer everything in English and Spanish, so no one is left out.” The result is a safety record to be proud of.
As far as the Sea Island expansion overall, “A large job like this isn’t successful unless the owner, GCs and design team all work together. Every one has to be focused,” says Simonsen. He notes that Clarke Bros. has a great relationship with Turner Construction, Rives E. Worrell, and the general contractors on the job, and gets a lot of jobs because of it.
Simonsen points out that it also helps to have support from your supplier: “They have to be knowledgeable,” he says. “We work with Troyce Jackson at JGA Southern Roof Center. Troyce knows what he’s doing. The material ordering process is very important.”
This teamwork was especially important when the Sea Island job was faced with rolling blackouts that affected production at the U.S. Tile plant in Corona, Calif. The tile is made-to-order in the first place, making it challenging enough. “U.S. Tile went to great lengths to keep the plant operating,” says Simonsen. “We had a lot of meetings that Troyce participated in. Production and transportation were both issues.” He says that U.S. Tile managed to operate with generators to keep the plant running.
U.S. Tile also had to contend with the fact that it was the rainy reason and the raw material for the tile sits outside. “But everyone was willing to see things through,” says Simonsen. “Troyce was the intermediary between the job site and manufacturer. No one walked away from obstacles.”
In the SpotlightClarke Bros. is currently working on the Student Learning Center at the University of Georgia Athens with general contractor Alcon Associates and nationally known architects Cooper & Carry. The roof is 700 squares of Black Diamond Slate and should be completed this fall. In addition, the job features several large, domed copper roofs. The CDA assisted Cooper & Carry in designing the domes and Clarke Bros. produced the trapezoidal flat-lock seam copper panels. Emphasizing the high-profile nature of this job, the university has set up a live “Construction Cam” at www.libs.uga.edu/slc/liveview.html.
The company is also doing work on the Winship Cancer Institute at Emory University in Atlanta. “It’s a very high profile job,” says Simonsen. “They are sure that a cure for cancer will be developed there.” In addition, “Everything on Emery’s campus is done for long-term results – that’s why we were chosen.” This roof will be S-style clay Tile manufactured by Santa Fe Tile, imported from Columbia.
ConclusionNo stranger to high profile jobs, Clarke Bros. has also done the roofs on the First Union Commons Annex Building in Charlotter, N.C. and the Atlanta Athletic Club, among others. They’ve also roll-formed metal for some celebrity homes, including comedian Jeff Foxworthy.
What sets Clarke Bros. apart from the crowd and helps them land the big jobs? Simonsen attributes it first of all to a heavy emphasis on design participation. “We get called from the get-go by architects,” he says “We know the proper design techniques for the different materials. We make sure different materials work together and pay attention to details.” This results in repeat clients, from small contractors to GCs, and leads from architects.
The other reason for success, it should go without saying, is the quality of the company’s work. “We have a zero callback rate,” says Simonsen rather matter-of-factly. “It’s a process to put on these roofs. To be done right, they can’t be done quickly. Most custom homes are 60 to 70 squares and it takes four to six weeks. We cut all angles with a diamond blade and employ different fastening techniques … We use very high-end torch-down underlayment.” In short, “We do it right the first time so there are no callbacks. Our repair service business? We don’t have one.”