There was no sophomore jinx at the 2005 Roofing Contractor Best of Success event, as the second annual conference held in the Dallas-Fort Worth area was, by all accounts, even better than last year's initial offering in Myrtle Beach, S.C. Nearly 200 contractors joined manufacturer sponsors and industry executives for the two-day educational conference, and a packed house was on hand to tap into the knowledge of industry experts.

A packed house was on hand for the educational seminars at the 2005 Best of Success event.
There was no sophomore jinx at the 2005 Roofing Contractor Best of Success event, as the second annual conference held in the Dallas-Fort Worth area was, by all accounts, even better than last year's initial offering in Myrtle Beach, S.C. Nearly 200 contractors joined manufacturer sponsors and industry executives for the two-day educational conference, and a packed house was on hand to tap into the knowledge of experts in topics that are integral to running a business in the roofing industry - sales, marketing, business management, technical advancements, safety, and legal issues, to name a few.

The dynamic series of educational seminars was the highlight of the event, but peer networking, roundtable luncheons with the featured speakers, and an evening cocktail reception held at poolside in the unusually warm November weather were all memorable highlights. Roofing Contractor publisher Jill Nash and Rick Damato, the publication's editorial director, kicked things off by welcoming the crowd and holding the first of 10 random drawings; 10 lucky contractors received a Hemi hammer drill, while all of those who attended received a coupon pack featuring offers from the event's manufacturer sponsors with a retail value in excess of $4,770.

Business consultant Ellen Rohr offered insights on establishing systems designed to make a business run smoothly.

All in the Family

The first featured speaker, Ellen Rohr, offered insights on implementing business systems in her seminar titled "Business vs. Bloodlines," but before she got started she set the ground rules for the day, establishing fines for lateness, cell phone calls, etc. She appointed Sandy Sanderson, president of Western Roofing, Golden, Colo., to collect the fines, and by the end of the event he had collected $172, which he donated to the American Cancer Society.

Once the ground rules were established, Rohr, the president of Bare Bones Biz Inc. and a Roofing Contractor columnist, launched into her discussion, which centered on establishing systems designed to make a family business - or any business - run smoothly. Some small family businesses do not need systems, said Rohr, but if you want to change things, grow, and become more profitable, systems are essential.

She announced that her goal for the seminar was "to teach you how to create a system," and for those in family businesses, she subtitled her discussion "How do you fire your mom and still get invited to Thanksgiving dinner?"

"It's all about the plan," said Rohr. "Write it down. Be specific about how, what, where, when and how much. There's no perfect template, there's no ideal model, but there are hundreds of models out there, so just do it." Why do we create systems? To help us make money. "The key to running a family business is holding everyone to the same standards," said Rohr. Watch out for individuals who hoard power or information under the guise of "the intimidator" or "the martyr." Rohr urged company owners to share the financials with "everyone who's interested."

"When you impose systems, everyone will be held accountable," said Rohr. So, how do you fire mom and still get invited to Thanksgiving dinner? "You don't have to fire her," Rohr stated. "Mom fires herself." That is, once the systems are in place and all workers are held to a defined standard, underperforming workers often take it upon themselves to resign.

John D’Annunzio explored the market forces driving the use of emerging technologies in his seminar on technical applications.

Adapting to Change

Next, John D'Annunzio explored roofing technologies and the market forces driving their use in his presentation titled "Emerging Roof Technologies That Meet 21st Century Regulations."

D'Annunzio, president of Paragon Roofing Technologies and a technical columnist for Roofing Contractor, began his discussion by noting that both the dinosaurs and alligators lived millions of years ago, but only alligators are alive now because they adapted to change. New technologies, labor shortages, environmental regulations, depletion of natural resources, insurance regulations and competition are having an impact on the roofing industry, said D'Annunzio, and these forces are altering the way companies do business. "There are changes being made, and we have to adapt to them," he said.

"The current and future regulations will have a significant impact on roof systems. Attachment methods are also changing, as building owners are now more reluctant to surrender their buildings during construction."

D'Annunzio then proceeded to examine recent technologies, including:

  • Cold-applied modified bitumen.
  • Self-adhering modified bitumen.
  • Cold process systems.
  • Self-adhering TPOs.
D'Annunzio explained how these technologies were applied, noting that some of these systems have been in place for some time but were seeing a surge in popularity due to factors such as environmental concerns and insurance rates that favor cold-applied systems over those using the torch and kettle. Education and proper installation methods are always essential, stressed D'Annunzio, but they take on even more importance when learning a new process. He cautioned that many of these methods have restrictions as far as temperature range and weather conditions for application, asserting that understanding the manufacturers' specifications is essential.

"These materials and attachment methods promise many advantages, including reduced environmental impact, lower insurance costs, and fewer labor regulations, but these benefits will only prove substantial if these systems can provide long-term waterproofing capabilities," said D'Annunzio. "If these materials and attachment methods prove credible over time, they can be beneficial to contractors' bottom lines."

Chip Macdonald of Best Safety LLC enlisted a life-size safety dummy nicknamed Seymour Doolittle to assist him in his safety demonstration.

Safety First, Last and Always

Chip Macdonald of Best Safety LLC donned his safety harness and scaled some scaffolding set up to simulate a roof as part of his presentation on safety issues titled "A Roof-Edge Rescue Plan."

Macdonald began his discussion with some grim statistics, noting that roofers' total fatalities increased markedly between 2002 and 2004 (up from 76 to 114), while fatal falls increased 85 percent in the same period. He pointed out that residential roof edge falls account for 79 percent of all roofers' fatal falls, and 50 percent of fall fatalities originate at less than 21 feet above grade.

All companies need a post-fall emergency action plan (EAP), said Macdonald, stressing that personal protection equipment (PPE) should be considered the last line of defense - not the first. Preventing falls in the first place is always the best course of action. "The OSHA regulations are simple," he said. "First observe, next act, then verify. Observe the hazard. Act to abate the hazard. Verify that the hazard has been removed and no new hazard has arisen."

PPE does not remove the hazard; it just provides protection if a fall ensues. "PPE is designed to fail, not to succeed," he said. "Users should know the limitations of each piece of equipment." Macdonald detailed the proper use of various fall arrest systems and PPE for attendees. He pointed out that in 88 percent of fatalities that occur when a harness is used, the failure is with the anchor point. "Safety starts above the shoulders and between the ears."

Using a life-sized safety dummy nicknamed Seymour Doolittle, Maconald demonstrated the proper use of fall arrest equipment and detailed rescue options including self-rescue, assisted rescue, and the technical rescue of an unconscious or incapacitated victim. It is essential to establish an EAP, he said, but the key is to realize that the EAP must be flexible. "Stress backup and redundancy in all equipment and operations," advised Macdonald. Variables can change during the rescue - fire might break out, for example - and hazards must be continually re-evaluated to see if the plan should be altered.

Once the EAP is established, training must be thorough. The stress on the rescuer as well as the victim is acute in emergency situations, he indicated, and Rescue Stress Syndrome can prevent the rescuer from making prompt and sound decisions.

"There is only way to cope with fear: drill, drill, drill, drill. As the natural fear mechanism becomes commonplace by practice, you can learn to cope with it and let it go rather than resist it."

Gary Nash, president of Nash Construction, Marshall, Va., drew on his own experience to provide some advice on crafting a unique selling proposition.

One Company's Success Story

Gary Nash, president of Nash Construction, Marshall, Va., detailed his personal success story as part of his seminar on crafting a unique selling proposition (USP). "A unique selling proposition is a one-line phrase - a tagline - that will turn the head of the target you are aiming at," he said. Before crafting his USP, Nash's construction and home remodeling company was faltering and on the brink of bankruptcy. After working for his father's masonry business and a large commercial contractor, he had founded the company in 1993, but he soon realized, like many small business owners do, that his expertise in construction management was not all he needed to run a business. He stumbled across the books The E-Myth and The E-Myth Contractor by Michael Gerber. Gerber's thesis is that most small businesses are founded by former technicians, not entrepreneurs, and thus most small business owners do not have a background in organizing and managing a business.

Nash contacted Gerber's company and embraced the consultant's methods. He detailed his struggle to craft his company's mission statement, strategic objective, core beliefs and values, and unique selling proposition. Nash realized that the major frustration homeowners had with contractors involved poor scheduling and shoddy workmanship, so he decided to implement a process to ensure that top-quality work would be completed on time. He developed a system that involved the customer at every step of the process, included follow-up walk-throughs after the job was completed, and culminated in a three-year warranty against faulty workmanship. He named the process "The Nash Triple Guarantee." His company's USP became "What we promise, we deliver," and his company successfully delivered some $6 million in projects in 2004, with $8 million projected for 2005.

"Marketing is an attitude, not a department," said Nash. "People make decisions two ways - with reason and emotion - and emotion wins out every time. If you can appeal to both - tantalize them with emotion and back it up with a sound rationale - you have the best of both worlds." One key is to document your company's processes and to use that information in your marketing plans, said Nash. This approach can help businesses find new employees as well as new customers. "When people walk into Nash Construction, they see our strategic objective, our mission statement, and our beliefs and values - everyone, customers, employees, everyone who comes in the door." Nash also posts an organizational chart, as well as an organizational chart for the future, which serves as a great incentive for all employees striving for success and that next promotion.

Ricardo González, the founder and CEO of Bilingual America, discussed successful strategies for training and retaining Hispanic workers.

The Modern Workforce

The first speaker on day two was Ricardo Gonz

Attorney John Alfs offered advice to contractors regarding contract language and dispute resolution in a seminar titled “Protecting Your Business.”

Avoiding Legal Trouble

Attorney John Alfs discussed contracts and other legal concerns in his discussion titled "Protecting Your Business." Alfs, a shareholder in the Troy, Mich., law firm Cox, Hodgman & Giamarco, won over the crowd immediately when he proclaimed that the goal of his presentation was to advise business owners "how to spend as little time as possible with guys like me."

He pointed out a few "universal truths" about legal proceedings, including:

1. Lawyers do not work for free.

2. You pay your lawyer whether you win or lose.

3. You don't get paid for time spent thinking about or dealing with your legal problem.

4. Every second that you and your employees spend dealing with legal problems, you are not being productive.

5. Ninety percent of disputes are resolved before the case goes to trial. When involved in a legal dispute, make sure you're not picking the wrong fight. "Try to take your ego out of it and make a sound decision," Alfs advised. "Put your business hat on and make a business decision."

When first consulting an attorney about a dispute, look for someone who offers a game plan, including some pricing estimates. "Litigation should not be a deep, dark hole into which your profits are deposited," he said.

One common mistake contractors make is assuming that a good contract is all the protection they need, said Alfs. He cautioned that a lopsided contract can engender bad faith at the outset, and this can be detrimental, especially in the commercial arena, where ongoing relationships are essential. "Fairness - that's all you're asking for," he said. "Have the terms be balanced."

Business Tips

Jim Olsztynski, the editorial director of Plumbing & Mechanical and a Roofing Contractor, business management columnist, picked up on the key themes of several other speakers in his seminar titled "Top 10 Business Tips."

Tip No. 1: Think like a business owner, not a roofer. "Most owners don't own a business, they own a job," he said. "The acid test is, can you sell your business if you want to?" If not, you've got a job, not a business. He advised business owners to put away the tools and focus on people, money and marketing. "You need to run your business as if it were a franchise," said Olsztynski.

Tip No. 2: Know your costs. Olsztynski urged contracts to establish meaningful metrics, suggesting that calculating the cost per billable hour might be the most useful method.

Tip No. 3: Don't work cheap. "The going rate is deadly," said Olsztynski. He urged contractors to get away from competitive bidding and find a comfortable niche. "Turning down a losing job is as good as landing a profitable one," he said.

Tip No. 4: Define your USP. Like Gary Nash before him, Olsztynski underscored the importance of the unique selling proposition. "A lot of you have a USP, but you don't know it," he said. "Guys are so bogged down in the details of the business that they don't know what separates them from the competition." To find your USP, said Olsztynski, fill in the blank when you ask yourself this question: "We're the only one in the market that ..."

Tip No. 5: Selling is not a dirty word. "Selling is a part of any business," said Olsztynski. His advice: Sell clients what they want or need, but make sure they understand everything you have to offer.

Tip No. 6: Be the best at customer relations. Make sure all employees are trained in how to interact with clients. "To the customer, the guy working on your roof is the company."

Tip No. 7: Complainers are your best friends. "They are your best friends because they are the canary in the coal mine. They tell you something's wrong while you still have time to fix it."

Tip No. 8: Communication is key. "Often, it's not what you say, but how you say it," he said. Strive to be concise, precise, and detailed in written and verbal communication.

Tip No. 9: Change or die. Keep abreast of new materials, new techniques, changing customer demographics, and current trends.

Tip No. 10: Love your work. "Money can buy happiness (to some degree), but it must be about more than money," said Olsztynski. "You've got to like what you do and share the wealth."

Sandy Sanderson of Western Roofing, Golden, Colo., not only gained valuable insights for his business, he collected $172 for charity.

Looking Back, Looking Ahead

The feedback from the contractors in attendance was overwhelmingly positive. "I found the conference extremely beneficial," said Christian Madsen of Madsen Roof Co., Sacramento, Calif. "All the speakers were informative, professional and interacted well with the audience. The information that I gained at the Best of Success Conference will no doubt help me run my business more effectively for years to come. Congratulations to Roofing Contractor magazine on providing such a valuable educational tool to the roofing community."

"When I attend a conference, I set a goal for myself to learn one or two things, and, if so, I consider my time well spent," said Sandy Sanderson, the erstwhile fine collector. "This conference exceeded my expectations." Ken Kelly of Kelly Roofing, Naples, Fla., concurred. "Every session had terrific ideas that immediately improved my business," he said. "I walked away with the tools, knowledge and excitement to take my business to the next level." He was particularly impressed with Ricardo Gonz