The bond that holds Contractor’s Roof Service Inc. together starts with brothers Jeff and Steve Rankin. But it extends to their families, their employees, and their customers. Their emphasis on teamwork, quality workmanship, top-notch safety and business ethics set the tone for the company, but that doesn’t mean they can’t have a little fun now and then, too.
“We’re brothers and we’re partners, going on 18 years now. We’re very close,” said Jeff. “We work hard and we play hard. We were out last night with some friends and customers shooting clay pigeons. That’s Steve and me in a nutshell.”
The Rankin brothers are the quintessential roofing success story: two people who thought they could do it better, so they branched out on their own to found their own business.
The Rankins believe that ethics are essential to long-term business success. “The key is giving straight answers and doing the right thing,” said Jeff. “A realtor called me about a re-roofing job last night. I asked her how she found out about us, and she said, ‘I know of your reputation.’ I measured that job on my way into work this morning.”
“We’ll do what whatever we have to do to make it right” said Steve. “We try to be fair. We’re serious, passionate, honest guys. We want to win, but we want others to win at the same time.”
Taking the Leap
Jeff worked for a framing company during college, and when things were slow he did some roofing work. He soon entered the roofing industry full time and was joined by his younger brother Steve as soon as he graduated from high school. They worked together for three years, and they developed their own vision of a more organized, quality conscious, safe and responsive roofing firm. “We thought, ‘There’s got to be a better way,’” said Jeff. “So in 1992 we started CRS.”
It was Steve’s idea.
“We were putting in a ton of time and energy - first in and last out - and the only other way to go was to do our own thing,” he recalled. “We started with nothing - two pickup trucks and some ladders, working out of our garage. And now, here we are.”
“Yeah, now we have overhead,” said Jeff. He remembers it this way: “Steve came to me and said, ‘I think we can do this better.’ It’s a difficult decision, stepping away from your salary and commission. It was risky. It was a scary time, making that jump.”
The Rankins focused their efforts on new construction at first. “That’s where the name came from - Contractors Roof Service,” said Steve. “We wanted to provide exceptional service for the general contractor. We wanted to be the best subcontractor out there. We wanted to do it right, be safe.”
The brothers soon found their work in new construction led to replacement opportunities. “Construction work is so relationship driven,” said Jeff. “If you do good work, you get more opportunities. Everyone we worked with had a dentist, a lawyer, a doctor - and they all had houses. It was a built-in resource for re-roofing opportunities.”
Jeff and Steve Rankin have always been determined to please those customers and get more referrals. “We want those opportunities nobody else knows about - proprietary leads,” said Jeff. “Do a good job, and that’s the way it comes.”
New construction has its own stresses, said Jeff, including delays and changes in the schedule before roofing work can begin “No one is ready when they’re supposed to be, and then they’re all ready at the same time,” he said. “The plumber, the drywaller, the electrician are all lined up right behind us, and everyone is waiting for the roof to be completed. Getting the roof on is a key point in the construction of these buildings.”
Over the years, the company added commercial, architectural sheet metal and sheet metal claddings divisions. With such a complex work schedule, planning is essential, said Jeff, who likens the CRS office to a war room. “You know those meetings with a map on the table where those generals push model tanks around? That’s what our production meetings are like.”
Production meetings are held every Wednesday, and the project schedule is adjusted almost daily. “Weather is a key concern in Washington,” Jeff said. “You can’t do a 40,000-square-foot tear-off in December.”
All that planning has paid off. Revenue was $5 million in 2009. “We’ve grown every year,” said Jeff.
While new construction is down, the commercial side of the business has continued to expand since its inception. 2007 marked the first year that commercial sales surpassed residential sales. The company exceeded 1 million square feet of single-ply membrane installed in 2008, and this year CRS earned its 64th consecutive “Perfect 10” single-ply installation from Carlisle SynTec.
Large commercial jobs can take some time to come around, but the Rankins believe that excellent service work means re-roofing opportunities will come in time.
“We just had two large low-slope projects come in that were several years in the making,” said Jeff. “On one we’ve done repair work for seven years. The other was a retail building with 80,000 square feet of roof space we’ve worked on for three years. We ran their annual repair expenses and showed them that putting the money into a replacement roof would save them a lot of money in the long run.”
There is work to be had in the commercial arena once the economy turns around, believes Jeff, and CRS is poised to pounce on it. “There is pent-up demand,” he said. “When we get through this, the upside will be pretty significant.”
The company’s emphasis on planning and preparation extends to the office and the jobsite. “One of our ambitions was to integrate estimating, job costing, accounting and production into one software system, so if someone wrote a purchase order, everyone would have access to it,” Jeff said. “We did that with Timberline accounting and estimating software. We don’t do a project without knowing all the costs and our projected profit. Real-time job costing is the key. You really have to have it to know where you stand financially.”
This attention to detail carries over into production. “Our biggest strength - we’re exhaustive in our preparation,” said Steve. “Before we do a job we know how much it will cost, how much we’re going to make. We always visit the jobsite ahead of time. Way before we get there, we know exactly what we’re going to do, what safety precautions are required.”
“It’s like watching the game films in football,” said Jeff.
Everything done each day is documented by those in the field, and reports include photographs of the work completed. “Our lead guys in the field have digital cameras and take before and after photos each day,” said Jeff. “We must have 40,000 pictures on our server. We can look back at a job and see progress by the day.”
Inspections, reports, notes, and photos are invaluable for building owners in distant locations, said Jeff - but the company’s Steep Slope Project Manager, Victor Barajas, soon found out they are also appreciated by homeowners. “We use them in our steep-slope division as well,” Jeff said. “The estimator takes before photos, and the crews turn in a CD with all the pictures from start to finish. Victor showed the photos to some customers, and they really liked it. Now we include a CD in the package with every finished job. Our clients say, ‘Wow, that’s really great stuff.’”
Keeping employees safe is the company’s top priority, say the Rankins. All new employees receive thorough orientation and training, and safety meetings are held every Wednesday at 6:30 a.m. Safety meetings are also held on the jobsite. “It’s effective in practice - and that’s where it really counts,” said Steve. “Safety really took off in Washington about 20 years ago. Everyone fought it. We decided to embrace it. We’re well educated about safety, and we save money by doing it.”
The company has open consultations with the state of Washington about setting up safety plans for specific projects. WISHA also conducts random inspections, and CRS makes sure its clients know when inspections have taken place and that there were no violations.
“We’re better educated at fall protection than anyone else out there,” said Steve. “Our employees know all of the different types of fall protection and where and when to use it.”
“We make fall protection a priority and educate our workers on the financial aspect of safety,” said Jeff. They make sure workers know about the effect accidents can have on their insurance rates.
The state of Washington requires that industrial insurance customers receive a portion of their money back, depending on their claims. “We got a five-figure check back and held a picnic where we must’ve served 500 burgers,” Jeff said. “We shared the return with the employees in the field, who each received a check. We have a picture of everyone receiving their check hanging on the wall. It’s a pretty interesting motivational tool.”
Jeff and Steve Rankin are quick to point out their company’s success is due to a team effort. They praised the professionalism and commitment of all their employees, including Controller Martha Buttlar and Steep Slope Project Manager Victor Barajas.
“Martha Buttlar is our current controller, and she’s been with us 10 years,” said Jeff. “She’s key to our success as far as the office, accounting, payroll and taxes. She does whatever she needs to do - including taking incoming leads.”
Barajas worked his way up through the ranks. “He started out as a laborer, became a crew leader, and was promoted to project manager,” Jeff said. “Now he does estimating as well. He’s been instrumental as far as safety, production, efficiencies. He’s been a huge key to our success. He manages every one of these projects from cradle to grave.”
Their family may not be huge, but everyone pitches in to help, especially their wives, who are always on the lookout for leads at the park or the soccer field.
“My wife, Belinda, is always on the lookout for good stuff for us,” said Jeff. “She recently found an IT Student on college break who revamped our Web site. We’re always looking for ways to help the business.”
Business partners are also a great source of help. “In addition to our staff, the relationships CRS enjoys with wholesale suppliers such as Allied Building Products Corp. are essential to our continued success,” Jeff said.
Keeping Things in Perspective
With a great team in place, Jeff and Steve can manage to escape to the cabin they built in the mountains every once in a while to engage in their passion for outdoor sports.
Steve is an avid snowmobiler and Jeff is a former professional ski instructor, so wintertime is very special.
“I’m always trying to get him to go skiing, and he’s always trying to get me to go snowmobiling,” said Jeff.
“I like to go as fast up the hill as I do down,” replied Steve.
The two used to race Jet Skis competitively, and they still enjoy the roar of Jet Skis and ATVs in the summer.
At the center of their lives are their families. Both have two daughters, and coaching them in sports and spending family time at the cabin are a priority. “We usually spend the week between Christmas and New Years at the cabin,” said Jeff. “We’ve done it for six years in a row.”
The cabin is also a great place to take clients and friends. “I love to cook, so we get together with friends and clients about once a month, where Steve and I host dinner and a snowmobile or ATV trip in the mountains,” Jeff said. “We can take people to spots no one else knows about.”
Jeff and Steve Rankin know maintaining a sense of humor is important - so much so that it is part of the company’s mission statement.
“That’s the key to doing it for 18 years,” said Steve. “We laugh more than we cry.”
Jeff agreed. “I had to leave ‘boys night out’ early last night because my sides were splitting,” he said.