December 4-6, 2024
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Best of Success

Best of Success 2013: Commitment to Excellence in Phoenix

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Now in its ninth year, Roofing Contractor’s Best of Success conference once again delivered a unique learning experience designed to help attendees improve their businesses and raise the bar for the entire roofing industry. More than 300 people from all over the country took time away from their busy schedules to attend the event, which was held at the Wigwam Resort in Phoenix Sept. 30-Oct. 1.

During her welcome address, Roofing Contractor Group Publisher Jill Bloom urged attendees to make the most of the many learning and networking opportunities available at Best of Success. “We try to create an atmosphere where everyone is approachable and ideas are shared in a place like no other,” she said. “It is our goal to leave a legacy — a legacy about how people share successes and failures so others can learn while building relationships, so you always know who to call in any situation. Relationships in this industry are unlike anything I have ever experienced. It is our goal that everyone who attends Best of Success feels like family — because the roofing industry is family. We don’t want attendees to leave with just one idea, but relationships that will shape and change lives and businesses. So look around. Take a moment. Let down your guard and interact with your fellow contractor, who just might have the answers you’re looking for.”

This intensive, two-day conference showcased a dynamic series of educational sessions that covered crucial industry issues and provided tips contractors could implement right away to make their businesses more productive and more profitable. Presenters included industry experts, motivational speakers and accomplished roofing professionals who shared their success stories. This year’s sessions included:

The conference also featured panel discussions highlighting the important topics of succession planning and I-9 audits.

While many aspects of the conference were exclusive to onsite attendees, the Roofing Contractor team felt it was time for others to get in on some of the Best of Success action, so it created a new opportunity to view select sessions remotely. “Best of Success has always focused on cutting-edge technology, and this year we added something new: we aired select sessions from the conference as live webinars,” Bloom said. “The webinars are also now available on demand, so those who were unable to attend in person can still tap into the expertise of the speakers. We are confident that once people get a glimpse of the conference online, they will be excited to join us in person next year and make the most of the networking opportunities.”

Those who did attend this year’s event embraced the rare opportunity to exchange ideas, share experiences and form relationships with their peers.

“Best of Success 2013 really delivered as the most dynamic of the many ways Roofing Contractor delivers great information to help our readers succeed in their roofing businesses,” Editorial Director Rick Damato said. “I consider all of the many forms of media we deliver to be dynamic. But of all the great offerings, Best of Success is the only one that is face to face — and sometimes in your face — where industry leaders meet to discuss the topics that are driving their roofing businesses today. It does not get any more dynamic than that.”

Answering the Tough Questions

In a gripping panel discussion titled “Tough Questions Roofing Owners Should Ask Themselves Today,” Kevin Gwaltney, president of Diamond Roofing in Manhattan and Dodge City, Kan., shared the story of his family business and its struggles after the untimely death of his father. Moderated by Steve Little, president of KPost Company, the panel discussion featured Gwaltney and Joe Bazzano, COO of Beacon Exit Planning, whose expertise was tapped by the Gwaltney family.

Gwaltney characterized his company as the very definition of a family business. Everything changed when his father, Rick, the founder and president of the company, suddenly passed away. His father’s energy, passion and leadership were undeniable, noted Gwaltney. “He was the drumbeat of our company,” he said.

Gwaltney had been trained to take over the company one day, but now he had to do so in a hurry, as his family prepared for the funeral of its patriarch. “Now I needed two of me,” Gwaltney said. “We knew we had to secure our family first.”

The next step was to solidify the business relationships, including the employees, customer base, sales representatives, manufacturers and other partners. “Every relationship we have, we have to rethink and rekindle,” he said. “It took time and effort to solidify our customer base and our position in the industry.”

They also had to make sure the business was financially sound. “We wanted to protect mom’s interest, and leave enough assets in the company to continue doing business and preserve his legacy,” Gwaltney said. “Trying to get money out tax efficiently was a big concern for our consultants.”

The Gwaltney family called on Beacon Exit Planning to help them sort through the options. Bazzano had handled similar tragic situations before. “Unfortunately it happens all too frequently,” he said. “I still remember the day I met with Kevin’s family. The emotion was overwhelming.”

The key was to forge a plan to move forward, but the person who had all the answers was no longer there. Rick Gwaltney had set up a will, a life insurance plan and a trust, but unfortunately there was a lack of integration in the plans. The accountant, attorney and insurance salesman had not communicated with each other. There was no overall directive or instruction as to how to proceed if the various documents were in conflict with each other.

“Big problems can be resolved by being proactive,” Bazzano said. “Working on the business is key.”

Bazzano worked with the family members to set up and implement a succession plan. “Communication is critical,” he said. “To Kevin’s family’s credit, they were all wonderful to work with. They all knew where they were going to go.”

“I had a vision of how I would run the company,” Gwaltney said. “We were also grieving for the loss of our father. It was important to put on the right hat at the right time in the right place, as we were all wearing multiple hats.”

With a great workforce and extra effort, the company prevailed, stated Gwaltney. “I made a lot of mistakes along the way,” he said. “But I was committed to carrying on my father’s legacy, with my sister and brother-in-law.”

He urged other contractors to learn from his experience. “We think of exit planning, not succession planning,” he said. “We’ve got to develop the leaders of tomorrow, today. If we wait, we put ourselves in the position of being surprised, like I was.”

Looking back, Gwaltney wishes he had known more about his father’s plans for the future. “Take time to reflect on this discussion and make sure your house is in order,” he said.

Bazzano advised attendees to make sure their own wills, trusts, insurance policies and other legal documents are in order and work well together. “If you don’t have the documents, get them, and put a plan together,” he said. “If you do have the documents, and you do have a plan, don’t just put them in a drawer. Know what they are and what they do.”

Bazzano suggest conducting periodic “fire drills” to make sure everyone knows what will happen if the documents are triggered. “Tax laws change,” he said. “Documents have to be reviewed.”

Be Prepared for an I-9 Audit

On day two of the conference, Steve Little moderated a panel discussion titled “Don’t Let I-9 Audits Kill You or Your Company.” The panel included Brad Beldon of Beldon Roofing Company, San Antonio, Texas; Scott Kawulok of B & M Roofing, Fredrick, Colo.; and Jayne Williams of KPost Company, Dallas. They recounted their company’s experiences dealing with audits conducted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and offered tips on proper documentation procedures with new hires.

First they covered some history on the Immigration Reform and Control Act, which has required employers to verify the identity and employment eligibility of employees since Nov. 6, 1986. The act designates the use of the Employment Eligibility Verification Form I-9 as the means of documenting this verification. Employers are required to keep the original I-9 forms for all current employees. In the case of former employees, the law requires that their I-9 forms be retained at least three years from the date of hire or for one year after the employee has left the company, whichever is longer. Criminal and civil sanctions can be issued for employment-related violations.

According to the act, the inspection process is triggered by the service of a Notice of Inspection (NOI), which compels employers to produce their I-9 forms. By law, employers are provided with at least three business days to produce the forms and other documents requested, which often include a list of current employees, copy of the payroll records, articles of Incorporation and business licenses.

According to the law, when technical or procedural violations are found, an employer is given 10 business days to make corrections. Employers may be fined for technical violations, and employers who are determined to have knowingly hired unauthorized workers may be fined and criminally prosecuted. Employers found to have knowingly employed unauthorized workers may also be prevented from participating in future federal contracts.

Beldon recalled the day he had to leave a conference call because two people were flashing badges at his front desk. When he realized the people were ICE agents conducting an I-9 audit, he was initially relieved. His company maintained up-to-date employment records, and it had been voluntarily participating in the Department of Homeland Security’s E-Verify system since 2006. “We thought we were doing everything correctly,” Beldon said.

However, as the process dragged on, the company was in limbo, and eventually paid a fine for some technical violations with the forms. Beldon now recommends that companies undergo an outside audit to ensure they are in compliance if ICE agents come calling, as the audit itself is difficult and time consuming. “Even if you think you’re doing everything right, you’re not,” he said. “Now every I-9 comes through me. You don’t want to go through what we went through.”

While Kawulok recommends that contractors use E-Verify, they should be aware of its limitations. “We had a false sense of security with E-Verify,” he said. “With E-Verify, like any other system, there are ways around it. It’s a pretty easy system to beat.”

Since fines for errors on the forms can range from $375 to $16,000 per violation, Williams emphasized the importance of ensuring the forms are processed correctly. “I encourage you to have two sets of eyes review every I-9,” she said. “Make sure your forms are flawless.”

“The onus is going to be on you as a contractor,” said Kawulok. “You need to do everything you can to ensure you are in complete compliance before you are audited.”

Little summed up the panel discussion this way: “Folks, this is the reason why you attend Best of Success — solid advice from fellow contractors that will change the way you do business.”

Contractors Tell All

Conference attendees who spoke with the Roofing Contractor team detailed the ways they benefit from everything that Best of Success has to offer. Bill Baley of C.I. Services in Mission Viejo, Calif., has participated in Best of Success as both an attendee and speaker for several years. His explanation for this was simple. “There’s nothing like Best of Success,” he said. “This is the place you come to meet your peers, to learn about new things, to get challenged. I love this thing. I wouldn’t miss it!”

Both seasoned and new attendees commented on the invaluable knowledge they gained from the educational sessions. “I took notes, and I have things already that I’ve talked to people back at my office about that we’re going to do, that we’re going to change, that we’re going implement and that we’re going talk about,” said first-timer Dennis Ryan of Waterproofing Associates in Mount View, Calif. “It was informative. There were some really key items that I’m going to bring back, and we’re going to have these discussions. It was a very good thing.”

Jon Oswell of New Image Remodeling in Inglewood, Calif., was also new to Best of Success this year, but he was already acknowledging the benefits. “So far, at least half of all of the lectures apply to me and my business, and I think it’s worth every penny for that,” he said. “I’ve found that if you really open your mind up, you can take at least one or two good things away from a conference or tradeshow that will help your business.”

Trevor Johnson of Premiere Roofing in Denver, Colo., was back for his second time, and there was a lot of new information for him to absorb. “The presentations regarding onboarding, continual employee satisfaction and keeping customers satisfied have probably been the best for me so far,” he said.

Many also complimented the unique networking opportunities available at Best of Success. “I like the atmosphere. It tends to be a nice, tight group of contractors,” said returning attendee Duane Hadley of Chinook Roofing in Seattle. “There tends to be a lot of conversations going on. At the bigger conferences, it tends to be a little bit fragmented. This is a much tighter group of people, and you have a lot more intimate conversations about what’s going on in the industry.”

First-time participant Scott Kawulok of B & M Roofing in Frederick, Colo., agreed. “I think what I like most is being away from your business for a period of time and being around your peers,” he said. “It lets you think more about managing your business than the day-to-day grind. That’s valuable for any contractor.”

Josey Parks of Metal Roofs of Texas in Forth Worth was enjoying his first Best of Success experience for the same reason. “The main thing about today was just to be with my peers and other people that are competitors, but in this environment, they’re friends,” he said.

“Networking is one of the fringe benefits of coming to an event like Best of Success, where you get to chat with people — people who aren’t your competitors, people who are your competitors — and learn about things that they’ve been successful with, and also share some of the things that you’ve been successful with,” said Aaron Santas of Guardian Roofing in Seattle.

New attendee Adam Olschewske of Marshall Exteriors in Newark, N.Y., was also hooked on the networking. “It’s been good. Like-minded people talking about like-minded ideas and getting to the same goal,” he said. “You don’t get to hang out with those people every day because if they’re in your market, they’re probably not hanging out with you.”

Several attendees were already excited about next year’s conference. “I really enjoy Best of Success because you get a group of people that are coming here on their own volition, so they’re not part of any organization,” Santas explained. “Everyone is just wanting to come here to share ideas, so you’re really getting a great, organic experience and learning a lot of great, new ideas from people who don’t have an agenda.”

“This is my first time to Best of Success, and I would absolutely come back,” Olschewske added. “I plan on attending every year from now on. Where else do you get to be in a room full of 250 of your peers?”

The Roofing Contractor team thanked all of the speakers and attendees for their enthusiastic participation, and expressed gratitude for the event’s sponsors. “Best of Success would not be possible without the support of its many sponsors,” Bloom said. “I would like to thank 3M, ABC Supply, AccuLynx, Allied Building Products, BAK/Hapco, Black Rhino, CARE, CertainTeed, Dataforma, EagleView Technologies, Equipter, GAF, Grip Rite, Hunter Panels, IKO, Inspire Roofing Products, Johns Manville, Karnak Corp., National Roofing Partners, Owens Corning, Polyglass U.S.A., Qualcraft Industries, Roofing Supply Group, SRS Distribution, TAMKO, and the United Association of Storm Restoration Contractors (UASRC).”

 Best of Success will celebrate its 10th anniversary next year. At press time, the Roofing Contractor team was still finalizing the details of the event. For more information about the 2014 Best of Success conference, visit   


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