A Team Effort: Rainbow Federal Thrives by Working Together
“I just think we’re better together,” said Carol Robertson, operations manager for Rainbow Federal in Carnation, Wash. She insisted that she and her coworkers approach the interview for this article in the same way that they have always conducted daily business — as a team.
Current Owner and President Dale Robertson got his start in roofing working for a company in the Seattle area, where he came in with no experience and within two years became a foreman. “I was self-taught, you might say,” he explained. “I just worked at each individual job until somebody didn’t show up to work, and they asked me if I could do it, and I said, ‘You betcha.’” He then moved on to another construction job, and after a year his boss offered him his equipment — which Dale used to start his own roofing business in 1975.
The new company got its start in residential work and was incorporated as Rainbow Roofing in 1978. The company transitioned into federal work and was renamed Rainbow Federal in 1983. “The housing market tanked here, and we had to find another opportunity, so we started doing government work on military installations all over the West Coast,” Dale said. “We did strictly government work then until government contracting fell apart, and then we jumped into commercial work.”
It was around that time that Carol came on board. “I’ve been here for about 24 years. You know, I married the roofer,” she said, laughing. “I just help out wherever I can.”
“She’s not really telling the truth,” Dale explained. “She does all the purchasing and all the ordering of materials, which is pretty extensive, and a lot of the scheduling.”
Today, Rainbow Federal averages 40 employees and focuses solely on commercial roofing, specializing in both new construction and re-roof projects. While the company’s niche and name have changed over the years, its commitment to teamwork and retaining quality employees has remained the same — and allowed the company to thrive despite its several transitions.
“We’ve always hired laborers and then trained them, and all of my superintendents, foreman and journeymen have been with the company between 10 and 35 years,” Dale said. “We train from within, and I think that’s a key to working together. When you have people who have worked together for that long, it just seems to work better.”
“We all work together to try to get things to start off on the right foot,” said Stefani Christian, an estimator who started helping out at the company 13 years ago and never left. “If we come across something that’s a challenge, there’s no finger pointing here. We work together to find solutions instead of focusing on the problem and who created it — I think that’s really important — and we bring the solution to the field.”
The company keeps team morale high by continuously training together. Rainbow Federal is a member of the Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC), which offers all types of learning opportunities from fall protection and foreman training to first aid and CPR classes. “They have a good local office here in the area,” Carol explained. “When we go to their classes, we see people that we work with, and we learn things together, which is kind of nice.”
Much of this training involves keeping workers safe, which is one of the company’s top priorities. “We’ve been with ABC for 16 years, and every year we’ve been their Gold Level with their STEP Program, which is especially good for a roofing contractor,” Carol explained. “In that program, we get money back every year for being a safe contractor.”
Rainbow Federal sends all of its employees to ABC for training, which includes a 10-week course for foremen. “It teaches our foremen how to be safe on the job and how to do their job better,” Carol said. “It’s a real helpful class to be able to send them to. We’re big on any kind of training here that we can get.” The company also has in-house training, as Dale is a certified CERTA trainer and holds classes to teach the roofers proper procedures.
“We do really well in safety. We have a lot to be proud of there,” Carol added. “We just feel that if a guy goes to work in the morning, he should only go home that day a little more tired, hopefully not hurt — so we’re pretty aggressive there.”
According to Dale, the emphasis on safety is part of the company’s plan to establish a positive work environment for employees. “We try to train from within so that every employee gets evaluations and raises based on his production,” he explained. “We have evaluations on what they’ve learned, and the faster they can learn, the more money they make. I think that creates a competitive atmosphere where everyone feels like they’re being treated fairly.”
Rainbow Federal values good relationships not only among its employees, but also with its customers. “We try to do good production at a rate that keeps them on schedule and picks them up when they’re behind schedule because we have so much rain in the area,” Dale explained. “Also with honest pricing — I think Stefani does a great job with value engineering a lot of projects, and that gets the owner’s and the general contractor’s attention right away.”
“We always want to maintain a good relationship with our manufacturers as well,” Christian added. “So we don’t step on toes with manufacturers. If it is a specified product, we stick with that product. There are times when the project is open, and we can go in with different options and give them some ideas, but I think it’s really important that we maintain that good relationship with each of the manufacturers we do business with so they can trust us.”
The company considers its manufacturer and distributor partners an integral part of its strategy. “We deal with these people because we look at them as part of a team effort,” Carol said. “We’re calling and working with them on a daily basis, and they have done a fabulous job of helping us with our day-to-day activities. They’re our business friends and family.”
Versico named Rainbow Federal its National Contractor of the Year for 2014. “The Robertsons were unaware that it was happening, and it was the first time that a West Coast contractor had received that award,” Christian said.
In addition to maintaining top-notch employees and relationships, the company credits its success in part to its willingness to adapt. “I think the combination of our ability to change with the different conditions in our market and the different systems that need to be installed is probably one of our key attributes,” Dale said. However, it all goes back to working together. “Our mission statement is providing quality craftsmanship at an exceptional value, but I think it all boils down to teamwork in the long run,” he continued. “It’s a group effort.”