Roofing Contractor’s Young Guns series was designed to showcase the next generation of roofing professionals by putting the spotlight on contractors in their 20s and 30s who are making their mark in the industry. Those who assume that the industry is dominated by old, out-of touch owners using antiquated methods might be surprised to realize it, but there is a youth movement afoot in the roofing world. The contractors who shared their insights with Roofing Contractor for this article have all excelled in leadership roles in their respective companies, and they all cited the ability to adapt quickly in a rapidly changing economy as a key to their success.
Developing Solutions to Help Customers
David Schupmann is a Young Gun who is also an industry veteran. Schupmann, 38, is senior vice president of sales and marketing for Tecta America Corp., but when he was in college, a career in roofing was not even on his radar screen. He attended Aurora University in Aurora, Ill., where he studied business management and communications. He entered the roofing industry by chance. “To pay for college, I worked several jobs, including a golf course and men’s clothing store — Chicago-based Mark Shale. One of my customers at Mark Shale asked me to work for him part time at FJA Christiansen Roofing while going to school, so I added the third job. I began my career in the roofing industry doing CAD work, rooftop surveys, attending pre-bid meetings, pulling permits and preparing proposals.”
The owner of the company, Don McNamara, was one of the architects of Tecta America, which was founded in January of 2000. “FJAC was always on the forefront of shaping Tecta,” Schupmann said. “When Tecta made the large acquisition of the former GRS companies in June of 2005, the Chicago branch of FJAC was merged into our new Anthony location, and I moved to Tecta Corp. at that time to build up Tecta’s National Accounts program.”
Working for a large contactor with a national footprint definitely has its benefits, noted Schupmann, but it poses challenges as well. “A benefit is that we have the size, coverage and expertise to truly satisfy the needs of the most demanding customer. When it comes to quality and exceeding customer expectations, Tecta truly can put its roof where its mouth is,” he said. “We have issues like anybody else, but we stand behind our work and always attend to the needs of our customers. A challenge is that because Tecta was founded by 10 companies that were steeped in tradition (over 50 years on average, two of them over 100 years) and then grew largely by acquisition. Sometimes gaining alignment and rolling out new initiatives can be very challenging in a company that is still relatively young and so diverse.”
Rolling out some of those new initiatives is where Schupmann comes in. He’s worked on a number of sales, marketing and customer-service programs that have helped unify the company and improve each of its operating units in the process. Schupmann noted he is in sync with the Tecta America sales force because they all share the same goal: helping the company’s clients. “I’m most passionate about developing solutions to help our customers better manage their roof assets,” he said. “We want our customers to think of us more as a trusted business partner than just a roofing vendor.”
He helped create the Tecta Expert Selling Program, which was designed in partnership with the Sandler Sales Institute to teach contractors who were great at handling plans and specs and to get the most out of leads that did not involve immediate roof service. “We created a step-by-step guide for our salespeople covering everything from how to set up a business plan and attack certain markets, to how to focus different marketing efforts in those areas, to what a sales call looks like — how to walk a customer through the sales process, close them and keep them onboard for the long term.”
Schupmann also helped develop and expand Tecta’s Customer Solution Center, which allows the company to service accounts from one toll-free phone number — a must for many national accounts. What began with one person in a cubicle has evolved into a full-scale, state-of-the-art Customer Solution Center located in Mankato, Minn. “We do everything from call dispatch of our national customers, or anyone can call in here and receive immediate service to dispatch to local locations. We have our online roof asset management program called Tecta Tracker, and we run all of the data entry and all of the analytics of that program through here, which gives a really good, clean, consistent product to the customer at the end of the day. We run all of our disaster response through here, so if we get a hurricane or a snow-removal effort or a hail effort, this is the collection point for all of the information, and we are able to dispatch and communicate to all of our operating units through here. It’s a support for our customers as well as our internal operating units.”
Schupmann believes Tecta America has a bright future, and he is excited to be a part of it. “Tecta has afforded me many growth opportunities, and I will forever be appreciative of the trust and confidence that the company has had in me to just ‘figure things out,’” he said. “Over an 18-year career at Tecta, there is so much I am proud of, from helping young people grow, to seeing success in sales and marketing ideas, landing key accounts and watching them grow, and developing consistent sales and marketing programs that will be in place long after my tenure at Tecta.”
Adapting to a Changing Market
Megan McConville, 27, is president and owner of Offshore Construction Inc. in Manchester, Conn. Her father and grandfather both started their own roofing businesses, and McConville took over a third when she joined Offshore three years ago. Until recently, McConville never really considered roofing as a career. She graduated from Fairfield University as a finance and economics major and went into corporate finance and accounting, working for General Electric and Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy. She found herself bored by the day-to-day corporate world, and decided roofing was more her style. “I realized I wanted more of a challenge, so that’s why I came over here,” she said. “I thought I was going to run away as far as I could, but it sucked me in. Someone had to carry on the family tradition.”
Offshore was originally incorporated in 1998 in Florida, specializing in disaster relief, but when the Florida market dried up, it moved its headquarters to Connecticut. In 2010, the company shifted its service to primarily maintenance and repair work. “Once we got comfortable and as I got comfortable growing the company, we emerged into what is now a full-service roofing contracting company,” McConville said. “We do everything from re-roofs to new construction, and still do the maintenance and leak calls. Anything that has to do with roofing, sheet metal, carpentry on the roof, we handle as a complete, turnkey contractor.”
Her initial goals centered on establishing and growing the company. “We came in, and we were the smallest guy in the game,” she noted. “The only people that knew Offshore Construction were Florida-based people that had dealt with us for disaster relief, so the key was building up our reputation here in a market that was really saturated with well-known and well-respected contractors.”
Offshore soon began to make its mark. “I guess the biggest milestone would be our first $1 million contract, where I realized, hey, we have established and earned our reputation. We’re in the same game as the other guys,” she said. “We’re not just a little sister to them anymore. We started going after bigger contracts, and we were able to build up our portfolio and build a solid reputation on our prior work.”
The key to a good reputation in roofing is simple, according to McConville. “Definitely the quality of our craftsmanship is what allowed us to get there — being able to list those references and have them speak really highly of us,” she said.
She credits her people in the field and her internal support for the company’s reputation for quality work. “We put a ton of responsibility on our foremen,” she said. “So giving the training, tools and responsibility to our foremen so they know how to run the day to day — know when to call us and when to handle things on their own — has been our best efficiency and a source of pride. We have fantastic foremen. We invest a lot in them, and customers are comfortable with them.”
One of McConville’s goals was to bring Offshore into the solar market. She has approached this niche by adapting strategies based on the trends in the market, primarily funding opportunities. “We are certain to be in the forefront whenever there is an opportunity to foster a handshake between our customers, manufacturers and investment avenues,” she said.
Recent projects include an ESPN building in Bristol, Conn., where Offshore did prep work for a solar installation. “We were on site re-stripping all of their seams and working hand in hand with the manufacturer — in this case, Carlisle — making sure that the warranty for the owner would be preserved prior to installation of solar panels on the roofing system.”
Looking ahead, McConville is cautious about growing the company too quickly. “Adapting to the market is what I always think about, and not growing so fast that that we’re going to jeopardize the quality of the craftsmanship. Since we’ve started we’ve quadrupled our force here; however, we’re not doing it overnight. We’re making sure that we’re keeping up with our growth.”
McConville realizes companies have to adapt swiftly in today’s economic environment. “Understanding the market and adapting to the opportunities you’re looking for is definitely going to be important for us going forward,” she said. In order to reach new customers, Offshore has a diverse marketing strategy including traditional advertising, websites, social media and search engine optimization. “The key is understanding how people find us.”
Realizing the Value of Communication
Dion Gaines, 24, is the owner of Certified Roofing in Newton, Mass. Growing up he worked during summer vacations for his father’s company, which renovated and restored historic homes in the Boston area. “The roofs were always something exotic — slate, tile, a lot of the wooden roofs that I like to work on,” he said. “I worked for him every summer vacation as long as I can remember. I always enjoyed and excelled on the roofing projects we did and realized I wanted to be a roofing contractor.”
His dad had other plans. “My father wanted ‘better for me’ than to work with my hands,” Gaines remembered. “So I applied myself in school, and at the end of my junior year I was accepted into a local college as a dual-enrollment student, giving me an early start. Much to his disappointment, I quit college my first year. I missed being outside working and laughing with friends and family on beautiful days. I started my roofing company the next week.”
He was just 17 years old. Gaines entered the roofing industry because he loved it and because it was easy to get started. “Roofing was a lot like painting in Massachusetts when I started in ’05 — anyone could get into it,” Gaines said. “And because of that, roofers had a horrible reputation and ‘roofer’ had a horrible stereotype attached to it. I thought, I’m nothing like that — I’m professional, I’m personable, and I can get the job done at the same time. So I figure I can bank on that. I can work that in my favor, even though I’m young.”
He started out working mostly for family and friends, borrowing his grandmother’s minivan to serve as a work truck. Near the end of his first year, Gaines landed four new jobs, and when he asked the customers why they chose his company, he realized he was on to something. “Everyone ended up saying the same thing when I asked why I was referred,” he noted. “They all said, ‘It was the referral we got. They said you made the process really simple because you communicated well throughout the job. And a lot of guys don’t do that.’ That impressed on me the importance of communication throughout the job process.”
That lesson has stayed with him over the years. “That’s my thing,” he said. “I try to work really hard to communicate things so people can understand them — and just as often as possible, even when it seems unnecessary.”
He finds the same lesson applies to younger customers. They might just have a different attitude and way of doing things. “People buying homes in their 30s and 40s don’t even want to talk to me,” he said. “They want to text message me about jobs and pricing, which is interesting to me. I love it, I think it’s great, but it’s funny how that’s happening.”
Facebook, Twitter and YouTube have also proved good ways to get his message out. Gaines studied social media over the winter months, started a blog and a series of videos, and then enlisted the help of an intern from New England Art School to help him keep up with the various platforms. “The biggest thing about social media and the presence online is that it helps me close the jobs because it helps legitimize my business,’ he said. “Some businesses have been around over 50 years, and people already know the name. But when I say my company is Certified Roofing and I send them an e-mail, they see those links at the bottom, and they see different reviews. I have more than 160 reviews on Angie’s list alone, and when you compile all those, it creates a history for you. That really helps me close deals.”
He’s found putting links to videos below the signature on his e-mails is another effective method of reaching customers. “It’s us doing the job versus talking about it,” he said. “I have some videos on slate roofing, copper roofing, almost everything we do, and for each one, when I’m quoting the job, I’ll change the signature on it, so they have that link automatically.”
One of the keys to this rapidly changing market is the ability to adapt, and Gaines noted that’s one of his strengths. “I’m not stuck on anything because I’ve never had a proven system,” he said. “As I got started, I adjusted quickly to figure out ways to get things done — ways to get work and get leads. And I noticed that they changed. Some lead-generation methods that worked very, very well, just stopped working. And that could be within a year or two years, so you have to drop and switch quickly.”
Today, Certified Roofing focuses on residential asphalt shingle re-roofing and smaller commercial projects throughout Massachusetts, as well as specialty work including tile, slate, copper and wood shake. Last year was the company’s best year ever, and Gaines credits his family for inspiring him to succeed — and keeping him grounded.
“I have two kids, seven and two, and they are great and are my drive and focus,” he said. “My wife is my biggest critic and biggest supporter and advisor at the same time. Assuring that I make time for my family relaxes me and gives me joy. This helps me maintain a positive attitude while expanding my business. I also plan to continue to find the best ways to be efficient but all the meanwhile making sure that I am taking care of my core — my employees, the ones that make everything possible.”
Chris King is editor of Roofing Contractor. If you’d like to recommend someone for consideration in a future Young Guns article, please e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.