Low Country Boil
Down around those parts when the shrimp are coming in, the locals gather around for what is commonly known as a Low Country boil. Pretty simple to do, you just gather a mess of friends and family, take a huge pot full of water and set it on to boil. Not just any pot, but one (or two or three) of those huge gas-fired turkey-frying jobs. Once that water sets to boiling you start adding in the ingredients one at a time. Slowly, as they all have their job to do, each requiring a little less time to cook than the last. Tell you more about that later.
Roofing Contractor had the opportunity recently to visit with Roofing Professionals Inc. (RPI) of Richmond Hills, Ga., which is located just outside Savannah, Ga., in the heart of the Low Country. This young firm has been on the boil since 2000 and has built a nice roofing business, adding one ingredient at a time. "Ingredients" in this case as defined by the talent added to the mix in order to grow the business from around $700,000 in 2000 to nearly $6 million in 2004.
RPI is a partnership between Kevin Vick and John Reynolds. Each brought a significant, but different set of experiences and skills to the enterprise. The firm specializes in commercial, industrial and institutional work, but maintains some clients who build high-end custom homes. At present the mix of commercial work is 70 percent modified and built-up with the balance being single-ply systems. They see the single-ply systems as a larger part of their business in the future, as well as metal roofing.
Vick and Reynolds both acknowledge that in the beginning, any roofing work was seriously considered, even though the goal was to compete in the commercial arena from the very beginning.
Vick is the head of operations for the firm. His career spans over 20 years beginning in Auburn, Ala. He worked in the field for a couple of notable contractors around the South, ending up with a roofing contractor who specialized in military work. He was based at Ft. Stewart, also near Savannah, Ga. Vick met Reynolds quite by coincidence by way of their mutual membership in a golf league.
Reynolds leads the sales and administrative arm of RPI. He has been in the contracting industry nearly 10 years, and was working for a commercial roofing and sheet metal contractor in Savannah when he and Vick met in July of 1999. According to Vick, the two are nearly complete opposites. Vick says he keeps things cooking in the field while Reynolds "watches the money."
The firm incorporated in January of 2000 and completed its first job in April. Despite the experience that Vick and Reynolds brought to the partnership, the first job turned out to be a "learning opportunity" owing to a visit from OSHA. Vick actually credits the experience to the firm's solid commitment to safety. He says, "I've got every safety video." Vick oversees hands-on training for the crews four full days per year. With a significant Hispanic workforce, he is fluent in Spanish, "Almost a necessity in this day and age," according to Vick.
According to Reynolds, one thing they are most proud of has been their record of maintaining employee relationships. Some of the key folks have been around from the beginning, and some have been added to "the boil" along the way. Ted Deaton joined RPI as a project manager and estimator. His roofing experience spans a number of years and includes stints working as a representative for a major roofing manufacturer and several years as a roofing contractor. Michael Grafton came along as a project manager, bringing with him a number of years of experience in roof contracting. In the field, Ernie Perry is superintendent, and Tony Vick is described as a "utility player." An example of that is the recently completed Laurel Bay project that involved 14,000 squares of shingles along with some other sub-contracted improvements on military housing that Vick oversaw. Marsha and Terri (without whom this article could not have been completed) round out the administrative staff.
The most recent addition to the stew is John Fish, who is the assistant operations manager and specializes in metal roofing. Fish spent a number of years as an inspector for a major metal roofing manufacturer. Metal roofing is growing by leaps and bounds, particularly on the coast. The firm recently completed the roof on the Ware County Jail, currently under construction in Waycross, Ga.
In RPI's five years the company has encountered a number of challenging projects in addition to the day-to-day perils of running a roof contracting business. Vick cites the Satilla Regional Hospital job in Waycross, Ga. This retrofit job involved a complete roof removal beginning in the summer, just after Independence Day. In case you wondered, Waycross is located in extreme south Georgia away from the coast next to the Okefenokee Swamp. To describe working on a roofing job in July in Waycross as "hot" would be a monumental understatement.
Typical of a hospital, the job featured more than 500 penetrations over the surgical area and cafeteria. No hot asphalt was allowed, so the two layers of insulation had to be cold-applied over the structural concrete deck. The modified base and cap were torch-applied. Every HVAC unit had to be moved in synch with other contractors and 10 new drains had to be cut into the concrete deck. All the while the hospital was open and operating. Vick credits the ChemCurb system from Chem Link Inc., Kalamazoo, Mich., for handling all shapes and sizes of penetrations, "There was no way to use anything else."
Reynolds recalls the difficulty involved in their first large and complex military job, Building 700 at Paris Island, S.C. The 400-square slate job was complex enough on its own, but required a significant amount of preparation to complete and maintain the myriad of reports required by the military. RPI had to devise a robust fall protection plan and then execute it flawlessly. If you are going to work for the Marines, you must be prepared to play by their rules.
As RPI enters the second half of its first decade, the firm is well suited to continue producing the quality of work on which it has built its reputation. The firm is in the midst of opening its first branch in Auburn, Ala., and has been involved in numerous jobs rebuilding areas of coastal northwest Florida following the hurricanes that hit last year. James Furmanek has taken on the role of operations manager for the Auburn operation.
Vick and Reynolds, while different, are heading in the same direction. Their vision for the firm is shared, and they see success in terms beyond the monetary. Vick dreams of building the business so it can be turned over to their children. Reynolds cites "peace and happiness." They both agree that having great people working together is the real recipe for success in the roof contracting business.
RPI hopes to turn more of its business into negotiated work, military work and schools. In transition from small contractor to a larger-scale, "project management"-type roofing contractor, Vick and Reynolds envision having a few growing pains and some hard work along the way. About the partnership, Vick says, "It's like a marriage.... Sorrow is cut in half... joy (success) is doubled."
For RPI, the secret to its success has been to put together some great people and keep them all moving in the same direction ... like a Low Country boil.
Side Bar: My favorite "Low Country Boil" recipe.With thanks to Paula Deen of Savannah and my buddy Ed Rutherford, whose recipes I have borrowed and modified.
Crab boil, 2 teaspoons per quart of water
Cayenne pepper to taste
12 red new potatoes
6 (4-inch) smoked link sausages
6 ears corn
3 pounds fresh shrimp, unpeeled
4 cans or bottles of your favorite beer
Fill a large pot with enough water to cover all of the ingredients. Add the crab boil and bring to a boil. Drink a beer. Adjust the crab boil to suit your taste. When the water boils, add the potatoes and sausage. Drink a beer. Cook on medium heat for 20 minutes. Add corn and cook for an additional 10 minutes. Drink a beer. Add shrimp and cook for no more than 3 minutes. Open a beer, but you won't have time to drink it now. Drain and serve. My favorite method of serving is to cover some folding tables with newsprint or brown butcher paper and just spread it all out there with paper plates and napkins. You do not have to furnish forks and knives, but you really should put out the Tabasco sauce, salt, pepper and butter. The beer may be replaced with sweet ice tea or Coke. It's a Low Country thing.