Jerry Lessel is a creature of habit. His work routine is virtually the same each day. And, as the company his father founded turns 70, Jerry Lessel sees this anniversary year as an opportunity to celebrate more of the same.
“Maybe 70 years is a long time for some,” Jerry Lessel says. “For me, it’s just another day.”
Jerry Lessel, who took over his father Al’s company, A.L.L. Roofing & Building Materials Corp., in 1963, is vice president of one of California’s largest distributors of residential and commercial roofing and waterproofing building materials to specialty contractors.
“I look forward to all the things we’re going to do from here on out,” Jerry Lessel says. “We just opened another distributor; now we have three operations in the north I look after. We want to keep going what my father started.”
The BeginningSeventy years ago, with $100 cash and a delivery truck, Adolph “Al” Lessel opened up A.L.L. Roofing & Building Materials Corp. in Los Angeles. The company was the only supplier in L.A. to provide roofing materials to contractors. Now Jerry Lessel runs the day-to-day operations for 10 locations in Los Angeles, Van Nuys, Ventura, Long Beach, Santa Ana, Norco, Rosemead, San Jose, Castorville and Lake Havasu, Ariz.
“My dad started it 1937,” Jerry Lessel says, “and we’ve grown it from there.”
Al Lessel died in 1963, which opened the way for sons Jerry and James Lessel to put lessons learned from their father into action. James Lessel is now retired.
Much has changed in the 70 years since Al Lessel moved to California to start up his own business, and one area in particular involves federal regulations. “We didn’t have all the problems with government, all the forms we have to fill out today,” Jerry Lessel laments. “I got a call not so long ago from Washington, D.C., about small business. She told me the U.S. was founded on small business. I told her, ‘Between you, federal and state, you do everything to drive small business out of business. All the forms you people want to fill out. I get forms that need to be filled out for everything. And they don’t mean anything. What do you do with them?’ A friend of mine owns a small restaurant, now she’s got unemployment. It’s a hassle. That’s No.1.
“Another thing - I’d walk up years ago and say I need materials. It was a handshake. Now we’re worrying about guys going bankrupt. We have some attorney come along and say it’s easier to become bankrupt. Now they want a credit application. Now there’s something to fill out for everything. Slows down business.”
Jerry Lessel said his father would take orders from customers, pick up the materials and deliver them to the jobsite. “He did the paperwork at night,” Jerry Lessel recalls. “By himself.”
In 1946, after World War II, A.L.L. had opened its second Los Angeles location. By 1963, after Al passed away, A.L.L. Roofing & Building Materials Corp. opened up a branch location in Van Nuys, which James ran. Branch locations in Long Beach and Rosemead followed in the 1970s with Ventura and Santa Ana in the 1980s and Chula Vista, Norco and Lake Havasu in the 1990s.
A.L.L. even tossed its hat into the oil ring. In 1965, the company purchased Envoy Petroleum Company in Long Beach - later renamed Asphalt Products Oil Corp. (APOC). In 1968, the company expanded its oil operation with the acquisition of Envoy’s automated roof coating production facility in Berkeley. “We stayed busy because that was the only way,” Jerry Lessel says. “Who wants to slow down when things are going good?”
Habit-Forming SuccessOne thing that doesn’t slow down is Jerry Lessel. He is 76 years old, but he believes it’s not the years, but rather how you live them. "I get up at the same time each day, work out at the same time and get to work at the same time," Jerry Lessel says. "And I play a lot of golf; play every day. I don’t ride, I walk. It’s an easy course to walk."
In what has become a tradition, Jerry Lessel also keeps the same weekly work schedule. "I get up at 3:30 a.m., work out at 4:40 a.m., and get to the office a little after 5 a.m.," he says. "I get a chance to talk to my old favorite customers. I can talk to them before the crews get out. Keep the wheel turning. Golf. Then I go home."
There is no magic formula that has put A.L.L. near the top of the roofing industry; much of the story simply revolves around they way Jerry Lessel treats people. "My big thing is to treat people the way I wanted to be treated," he says. "I feel that if I treat people poorly, people will treat me worse. Why do that? Try to make the best of life. Go on about it and look forward. Never have a bad attitude."
"I’m a Leo: outgoing personality," he continues, pointing to his wife Darleen and his family as his greatest joy in life. "Been married 56 years with three children, seven grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. It’s been great."
That doesn’t mean it’s always been easy. Jerry Lessel says business over the years has meant working every which way to create profits. "When we built our business, we did a lot of recover work, and money turned," Jerry Lessel says. "You get into new construction and material would be six figures, and all you need is a wrong billing. Then there’s so much money on the books you can’t pay your bill. That part of the business is the bread and butter. It’s been on the slow side. Normally it picks up after the Fourth of July."
Partnership With AlliedIn 2002, A.L.L. Roofing & Building Materials Corp. aligned with Allied Building Products Corp., adding its branches to Allied’s more than 180 locations in 29 states.
“They’re great people - No. 1,” Jerry Lessel states. “I was able to give my grandkids a college education and their kids an education - great things because of this association, a big step for my brother and I. I think it was good for Allied, too. Very satisfied.”
“We’ve built a nice business and have a great partner in Allied,” he says. “What else is there? Life is absolutely great.”
Greg Bloom, vice president of Allied Building Products Corp.’s Western Regions, said Allied is “ecstatic” about the relationship with A.L.L.
“We call it a partnership, an alliance,” Bloom says. “It requires a relationship to be built. Our goal is to keep everyone: the key players on both sides, anyone who has made a contribution. Most of us have the same vendors, the same trucks, and the same key locations. What separates us is one reason: people.”
Bloom says since the A.L.L. and Allied alliance in June 2002, the company has been able to expand, while adding another location in Kingman, Ariz., a satellite of Lake Havasu. “We’ve grown significantly a few lines of materials, like Carlisle, Tri-Built, we’re able to enhance their product offering,” Bloom says.
“What A.L.L. brought to Allied was a tremendous amount of synergy,” he continues. “We immediately jumped from being a minimal player in the California market. We had three locations in Arizona and two locations in Southern California. Now we have 16 locations in the Pacific Southwest - actually 17.”
“We were able to immediately save time and money on trucking and warehousing because they had warehouses up and down the coast,” Bloom says. “I think Robert Feury Sr., [Allied’s executive chairman] said this would be the most successful roofing acquisition in Allied history. I would say his premonition is bearing fruit. It’s a tremendous alliance.”
Bloom notes that while 70 years in business for A.L.L. is cause for celebration, he is eager to look to the future. “We can build off this foundation,” he says. “We’re not done aligning with companies down there. There are gaps to be filled. Even though we have 16 locations in Southern California, a lot of places logistically we are not. Any area that has a base of dense population we’re going to look at.”
Bloom credits Jerry Lessel for the continued success of the alliance. “I have a world of respect for him,” he says. “What Jerry and his family have accomplished over the years is unprecedented. The business he built, the relationships he built - he’s an ultimate professional, as genuine a business as they come. In these past 70 years, you can say you aligned your best companies in the industry.”