Situated in the heart of downtown Denver, Tomas Wolfram established Core Contractors Inc. in 2001 to specialize in general construction. However, when the economic downturn hit, he knew his company had to quickly adapt for survival. In 2009, he partnered with Andrew Schmidt and Jim Horning, and together they restructured and rebranded the business to focus exclusively on roofing and restoration. The collaboration became the first of many key relationships that would ultimately lead to the company’s future success.
“My background was as a communication specialist, Jim was a finance and insurance specialist, and Tomas was a construction specialist,” Schmidt explained. “When we teamed up, we found that there was a great partnership there, where the three of us could focus on our areas of strength and work together to build an organization that represented our purpose.”
The trio had their work cut out for them, as they didn’t have many relationships in the market. They had to rebuild from the ground up, starting by simply having conversations with other industry professionals and potential clients. “That first year was just sheer determination,” Schmidt said. “Trying to find business anywhere that we could, knocking on doors — whatever we could do to get going. Slowly, we started to realize the standard of industry practices, and we saw opportunities to improve upon them and do things a little bit differently in terms of how we built our organization.”
The Power of Three
While partnerships can be tricky, the three men saw great opportunity in the market, and they relied on their shared values and complementary strengths to propel forward. They never left a room without reaching a decision. “There was a lot of power in that because we had the ability to bounce our ideas off of one another, listen to different points of view and then collectively decide on a plan of action that we all felt comfortable with,” Schmidt said. “I’ve heard a lot of horror stories about partnerships, but for us, there’s a mutual respect for the expertise that we all carry in our three different divisions. There’s a healthy culture of deferring to one another’s expertise when it comes to making company decisions.”
From this collaboration, a new business was born, as Core Contractors shifted to specialize in residential and commercial re-roofing and storm-damage restoration work. The company now functions as one cohesive unit with three departments — operations, production, and sales and marketing — and last year added a warranty, repair and maintenance division under the production arm. While the framework is essential to daily procedures, Schmidt insisted it’s the people that ensure that work goes off without a hitch. As the partners took the company in an exciting new direction, they recruited passionate, top-notch employees to jump aboard and embrace the journey.
“Nobody has our people,” he said. “As you build a company, and as you grow from no employees to 20 employees, you’re forced to relinquish ownership and control of your own company, and you’re relinquishing it to people who will do with it what they will. What’s gotten us here is that we’ve found the right people, and we’ve helped get them into the right places where their strengths are utilized, and they’re happy. Every one of those people is what sets us apart.”
With the right team in place, attention turned to creating a unique culture that would carry over into the way Core Contractors does business. The partners envisioned a company that took great care of both its employees and its clients with an emphasis on quality, professionalism and integrity. “Our purpose behind growth is to increase the amount of opportunities that we offer to people in the marketplace to improve the quality of their lives, and to provide upward mobility for our team members, and opportunities for them to grow as people and grow with us as a company,” Schmidt explained.
To achieve this, they first connected with like-minded professionals by aligning with the Colorado Roofing Association (CRA), the National Roofing Contractors Association (NRCA) and the United Association of Storm Restoration Contractors (UASRC) — an organization founded to elevate the level of professional within the storm-damage restoration industry. Next, they brought in Jim Johnson of Roof Coach Pro to examine the business with a fresh pair of eyes and pinpoint its mission. Out of that process came the company’s purpose statement, which is Doing It Right Matters. “It’s become the anthem of our company, and the purpose and passion behind what we do,” Schmidt said. “We lead with this idea that doing the right thing is what matters most. That’s been the single most defining moment that’s taken us to the next level.”
As this purpose resonated within both the company and the community, the partners discovered that they could truly build a business through relationships. “When it comes to customers, we found that people want to connect with why we do business,” Schmidt explained. “Our clients want to feel like they’re connecting with something deeper than who they’re hiring to do their roof, and that’s where we’ve seen an amazing connection between our clients and our purpose statement. They want to know that the contractor’s motivated by what’s right. To be able to sit down, ask authentic questions and really consult our clients is what connects us so deeply with them.”
Core Contractors took this same approach with the local insurance companies. While there tends to be a lot of back and forth between contractors and insurance adjusters in the storm-restoration industry, the company has chosen to treat them as partners rather than enemies. “One of our big milestones was developing a culture and an attitude that our focus was to work with the insurance companies as parties that have a mutual client and not as adversaries,” Schmidt said. “It’s within all of our best interest to work together with respect and efficiency to create the best possible experience for our customers.”
By identifying and cultivating these key relationships, Core Contractors has seen an explosion of referral work. In fact, Schmidt said that about 90 percent of the company’s business comes from referrals and referral partners. Proven effective, the company continues to embrace this relational strategy, taking most of its push-marketing budget and putting it toward building existing relationships and identifying new partnerships where value can be mutually shared.
In turn, relying so heavily on references requires Core Contractors to consistently provide the high level of quality and professionalism that it prides itself on. “Doing it right matters, and if that’s our purpose and who we are, then quality workmanship is the proud son of that,” Schmidt explained. “When your business is that high in referrals, it forces you to maintain quality because we have an obligation to protect our referral partners’ reputations. There’s a sense of accountability that drives our workmanship because that business came from someone we know.”
This past year, the company had a chance to demonstrate just how serious it is about doing the right thing when it accidentally put the wrong roof on a house. An estimator was checking in on the jobsite cleanup when he realized that while the roof was the correct color, it wasn’t the impact-resistant shingle that the homeowner had specified. The homeowner was thrilled with the installation and unaware of the mistake, but instead of letting it slide, Core Contractors brought it to the homeowner’s attention — and completely redid the job.
The company also recently showed its colors in another way. When Schmidt saw a local news story about a contractor that took off with about 15 checks from homeowners in the city, he stepped up to give back to the community. Core Contractors acquired a list of the affected homeowners from the Better Business Bureau and, with the help of Chips Roofing and Ethos Roofing, coordinated an effort to replace the roofs. “Nothing breaks our hearts more than when we hear those stories,” Schmidt said. “It was really exciting because it was an opportunity for us to really live our purpose statement, even at the cost of our own bottom line. You don’t set out to do that for notoriety or attention, but it’s nice when the news channels do recognize that there’s someone doing it right and trying to help turn the industry reputation around.”
Fostering these healthy relationships and engaging the civic perspective has enabled Core Contractors to make its mark on the local business community and earned it some well-deserved recognition. The company was one of three finalists for the 2013 Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce Small Business of the Year award; a nominee for the 2013 CRA Job of the Year award; and the medium-business winner of the 2014 Denver/Boulder Better Business Bureau Torch Award for Marketplace Trust. “Those in the city have started to recognize us as a company that really does do it right,” Schmidt said.
As Core Contractors continues to make strides in the midst of a rebounding economy, the partners have developed a strategy for carefully managing finances while keeping the company’s purpose at the forefront. “The biggest thing is protecting our cash flow,” Schmidt explained. “There’s a lot of money that flows through our hands, and a lot of it isn’t ours. We have a responsibility to our clients and our employees to deliver what we say we’re going to deliver, provide for the families that are a part of our family, and really be an employee-first organization and take care of our people. The people working here are the hands and feet of who we are. They’re in the trenches and in the field representing us every day, and without them Core would be absolutely nothing. We have a responsibility to take care of our own and the commitments we have in the industry. Learning how to manage that and recognizing that there’s a responsibility that comes before our own self-interest has really helped us adapt and grow and become prosperous.”
Andrew Schmidt will be a featured speaker at the 2015 Best of Success conference, which will be held in Phoenix Sept. 21-22. For more information, visit www.BestofSuccessConference.com.