Building Business From the Ground Up: Alliance Roofing & Sheet Metal Evolves into Sole-Source Contractor
While he’s now been in the business for 26 years, Mike Adams didn’t grow up working in the roofing or construction fields — so it’s fitting that he was as new to the industry as the company where he got his start in 1989. “My background was in industrial sales and hospitality,” he explained. “A friend who opened a roofing company approached me because he needed help in the office, but he couldn’t pay me. I was offered an ownership position in exchange for my sweat equity.”
Located in Baltimore, the then start-up business is Alliance Roofing & Sheet Metal Inc. The company began specializing in single-ply applications, and while its field services were in great shape, the business was lacking experience in construction sales, estimating and administration. Founder Korky Bowling tapped Adams to ramp up office operations, and he successfully improved the accounting reporting, enabling Alliance to obtain a loan to secure its first bonds. This was the first of many milestones, as revenue began to increase, and a game-changing project soon followed. “The second major milestone was a specific job that brought us out of a hole, and taught us that we needed to emphasize the bottom line and not the top line,” said Adams, the company’s co-owner, secretary and treasurer. “When we won the Deer Park Elementary job — re-roofing with a complete deck replacement — people said it would be the death of us, but it was just the opposite.”
After tackling this job, Alliance continued to propel forward, taking on more challenging projects and expanding its offerings in the commercial sector. Today, the company specializes in all types of new construction and re-roofing work, including low-slope, steep-slope and vertical applications. It also runs a large service division dedicated to leak investigation and repairs — and that’s not all. The company has evolved to provide additional exterior construction services, positioning itself as a desirable one-stop shop for clients. “Alliance has transformed from a roofing contractor to an exterior building-envelope contractor,” Adams said. “We’ve added solar, exterior wall panel systems, glass and glazing to our traditional lines of roofing, waterproofing and architectural sheet metal work. This allows us to be a sole-source solution for building exteriors, and we’ve had success performing these combinations of trades.”
In 2013, the company also established a separate entity, Alliance SRL, in the Dominican Republic, which specializes in solar development and construction, including related roofing work. Expanding its reach and offerings has meant educating and training employees to ensure team members are knowledgeable of all available services and products. Alliance has achieved this by organizing divisions at the top and establishing uniformity throughout the bottom. “We cross train our people across trades,” Adams explained. “This enables our sales and estimating team to pursue work without a concern about looking for specific types of work. We look at overall capacity.”
With this business structure in place, the company has seen an increase in both number of jobs and scope of work on projects — and with so many moving parts, careful attention must be paid to quality workmanship. According to Adams, each employee plays a crucial role in upholding standards, as foremen are responsible for flawless work on their projects, and superintendents are expected to be a regular presence and source of support on jobsites. “Every job gets a visit from a superintendent every day,” he said. “Our president is in the shop helping to get the men out every morning, talking to them about the importance of what they’re doing and finding out what they need.”
Steady growth has allowed the company to regularly increase manpower, and Alliance now employs about 100 workers — all of who are appreciated as crucial team members. “Alliance is dedicated to employee satisfaction more than any other company I know,” Adams said. “In addition to paying wages that set the standard in our geographic region, we share our profits through a bonus program. This helps employees take ownership of our success and gain rewards now. Employees want to be held accountable and want management to be accountable — that’s what we strive for.”
The company also does its very best to take care of its employees during the off season, as its maintenance division represents 15-20 percent of its volume. “Having a large maintenance division enables us to keep people busy in weather conditions that prohibit working on projects,” Adams said. “That means a lot to the employees and families that want a steady paycheck.”
Alliance cares for its customers in the same way, striving to make their jobs easier and their projects run smoother with an emphasis on getting the job done the right way. “We build relationships from that base,” Adams said. “Do what you say, on time, every time.”
Due to the company’s location, many of these clients are associated with the U.S. government. Alliance has worked on the majority of government properties in its area during the past 26 years, which has led to several high-profile projects. A few that stand out for Adams include the hangar for Marine One (the presidential helicopter) in Quantico, Va., which included significant tongue-in-groove deck replacement; renovating the Hippodrome Theater in Baltimore with high-end architectural sheet metal work; the University Housing at Towson University in Maryland, where the company installed everything on the exterior except for the masonry; and solar work at Fort Buchanan in Puerto Rico, which included ground-mounted, roof-mounted and parking canopies in a hurricane zone.
While the company’s projects run the gamut, its commitment to keeping its people safe on all jobsites is unwavering. Alliance holds regular toolbox talks, safety meetings and training courses as well as an annual Safety Day. This is a mandatory, paid workday for all employees that covers everything from product and equipment demonstrations to proper work attire and safe driving habits. The company recently upgraded from OSHA 10-hour to 30-hour training, with more than a dozen employees now holding the certification, and this year earned a Diamond safety award from the Associated Builders and Contractors STEP program.
Alliance has come a long way from its humble beginnings, and both Bowling and Adams give credit to the company’s hardworking employees. “I think the primary reason for our success is how well we’ve treated our employees,” Bowling said. “Our success is generated by their work and our ability to retain the best people.”
“First and foremost are the men and women who have worked for Alliance for 26 years,” Adams agreed. “It’s their hard work and dedication that we’ve been able to leverage into success, and we became family because they allowed it. We’re so grateful for all of it.”