True Advocates: For Advocate Construction Owners, It's 'All About the People'
Doug Cooper and Nick Wallace worked together in construction for more than a dozen years before recognizing they could build a successful business and make a bigger impact by focusing on roofing. So in 2012, the Chicago and Wisconsin natives, respectively, ventured out on their own to become roofing contractors and formed Advocate Construction, headquartered just outside Chicago in Glendale Heights, Ill. They quickly found their niche in residential re-roofing, and in just three years expanded to St. Louis and Grand Rapids, Mich. Now they have 30 non-union employees and a team looking forward to what’s ahead.
“We have had a tremendous amount of growth and achieved many things in a very short amount of time,” said Cooper, Advocate’s president. “But we are especially proud of the fact that we have been able to foster a culture where our people can leave behind traditionally comfortable positions and find a greater opportunity for financial, professional and personal growth.”
And it all starts with the people. Advocate is comprised of a leadership team, administrative office team, a sales and service team, and a production team. From the beginning, Cooper and Wallace said the business philosophy was to surround themselves with highly skilled customer service professionals and teach them roofing, rather than find good roofers and school them in high-level customer relations.
“Being so young as a company, we’ve really worked hard to develop a culture. We’ve done that by going after people that fit in well with us and who didn’t necessarily know roofing,” Wallace said. “It’s a business model that’s worked well for us.”
What’s also worked well is their commitment to integrity and customer satisfaction. Cooper and Wallace proudly acknowledge that the majority of job leads come from existing clients, and they’ve worked with roofing contractors in the past that couldn’t say the same.
“A lot of guys see roofing from job to job, but we see ourselves running a business that’s highly focused on training and developing people with great customer service skills who just happen to work in a specialized segment of the construction industry,” Cooper said. “The good thing about roofing is that there’s really only one right way to do it, and it’s the quality and level of service you can provide that makes you different. That’s how we set ourselves apart.”
They also aren’t afraid to take calculated risks when the opportunities arise. For example, the company wasn’t looking to expand into a third state, but when Cooper and Wallace found the right person they believed could be a great addition to the company, they didn’t hesitate to accommodate him by opening the St. Louis branch.
“We’re all about finding good people and getting them when they’re available,” Wallace explained. “If a person is a good candidate and available now, we know that they won’t be available in the future when we’re ready. We went after the person we knew we could grow with.”
Internal Focus, External Results
Once they have the right people in place, Cooper said the company fosters their growth through a multi-pronged approach. Advocate’s leadership-team members attend annual management training, and regularly work with assistant managers and sales staff to develop their skills. The company also instituted 30, 60 and 90-day reviews to help strengthen potential weaknesses and design a roadmap for setting individual and team goals.
“We know that the future leaders of our industry are just getting started with us right now,” Cooper said. “Our atmosphere is one of individual responsibility. If our people meet our minimum standard of performance — which happens to be high — they have total freedom of schedule and are extremely well compensated with the opportunity to advance.”
The company also approaches quality with the same intensity. Production teams are directed to always do what’s right for the home and never seek shortcuts or workarounds to a problem, Wallace explained. Production managers are also onsite to inspect every project during and after installation.
That commitment to quality is emphasized to the customer in the days leading up to the project’s start through the sales-team members. Wallace said they made a conscious decision to keep their salespeople involved as the primary contact with the customer through all phases of the job to ensure all promises and expectations are met.
All in a Day’s Work
Despite their experience in construction, starting Advocate was a labor-intensive and sometimes daunting task for Cooper and Wallace, who are long-time friends. That process was made easier through their partnership with Allied Building Products. Allied not only helped the start-up secure essential lines of credit, but also connected them with manufacturers that had the products and warranties to meet their customer’s needs.
Building those relationships with manufacturers has been important to their success and helped Advocate better educate its customers. Cooper said he encourages homeowners to take advantage of the resources the companies already put out on their own before considering that sales pitch.
“Every material manufacturer has a ton of information available to building owners,” he said. “TAMKO, GAF, Certainteed, IKO and Owens Corning are all industry leaders who provide great resources on their websites. Don’t always take advice from a smooth salesperson, as oftentimes the key to their sales strategy is to sound smarter than the person they are bidding against, which often means you aren’t comparing apples to apples.”
Advocate is also affiliated with the National Roofing Contractors Association (NRCA), which Wallace said helps provide access to educational materials that can get their crews ready for any type of project. They also recognize that the NRCA does a good job of communicating the needs and challenges of their specialty work with other trade organizations. Wallace said he believes that helps other companies in the construction trades have a better understanding of what they do, and how to spec and prepare for their crews on a jobsite.
Next to the team, Advocate’s people pride themselves on the ability to start and finish every residential job within the same day. That’s not something most competitors in their market can say, and customers appreciate the peace of mind knowing the project will be completed and their property won’t be exposed to the elements.
Friends for roughly 16 years, Cooper and Wallace, both 37, can’t argue with the results thus far into their company’s short history. And they let their employees know it. For the second consecutive year, Advocate will take its top performers in each of the major roles at all three locations on a winter incentive trip to Cancun.
Cooper and Wallace said it isn’t until the end of the year that they can celebrate their people, take stock and evaluate the year’s accomplishments.
“Throughout the year, we’re always pushing so hard to keep going and grow our business that we don’t look at it until then,” Cooper explained. “It’s an opportunity to reflect on what we’ve done over the past year, but it’s not viewed as a finish line for our people. It’s our way of thanking them and communicating to the top performers about what’s in store for them down the road.”