Today, Adam Olschewske can sit back at his glass-top office desk in upstate New York and text away or email his roofing contractors in the field from his iPhone with a set of normal-looking, dexterous thumbs.

That certainly wasn’t the case a little more than 15 years ago when he started Marshall Exteriors in Newark, N.Y., and seriously began working on roofs for a living.

“It was just me, some nails, a hammer and two bloody thumbs. I didn’t even have a ladder and had to borrow one,” he said of his company’s early days, when it was common to work 18-hour days, seven days a week selling, tearing down and installing roofs — all by himself.

“I’ve been in the industry all my life and done almost every job, starting from the ‘ground guy’ to delivery, to the sales rep. and installer,” he said. “So that gave me a great background.”

Though he acknowledges possessing a drive to be successful that exceeds most people’s, Olschewske would like to tell you that what convinced him to leave general contracting and build his own roofing business was some great plan to dominate the competition in the greater Finger Lakes area. But in reality, the explanation is a lot simpler.

“I met a girl and fell in love,” he said, speaking of Colleen Marshall, his wife of 11 years, and company namesake. “Her name looks a lot better on a truck than mine…and she’s really my inspiration for creating the company. I wanted to give her the best life I could, and I wasn’t going to do that working for someone else.”

The ‘Bottleneck’

For the next six years, Olschewske toiled away growing the company incrementally while still heavily involved in all aspects of the business, from selling and billing to installing and inspecting. He was making money, but knew the company was neither reaching its full potential nor meeting his own expectations. On his own, he began to study other contractors and sought out some consultants who doled out some sobering straight talk.

“I discovered that I was the bottleneck. I was the problem that was holding the company back because everything had to go through me,” he explained. “It was hard, but I had to step back and let people do their jobs, while I focused on mine — growing the company. If I’m on the roof, who’s steering the ship.”

Through that process, Olschewske said he also discovered a natural ability to speak to people in a way that conveyed his passion for quality workmanship and keeping customers happy.

“There’s no question that I also believe we’ll do a better job than the next contractor, and believe that we’ll do it the right way,” he said. “I really want that to shine through, because if I don’t believe that, then I shouldn’t be on my own team.”

The epiphany motivated Olschewske to change. The company was still focused on residential re-roofing and maintenance, but he diversified the business to offer windows and doors, vinyl siding and basement finishing. He also jumped ahead of the technology curve in roofing, outfitting everyone in the field with iPhones and integrating mobile-friendly tools to streamline operations.

His team uses programs like Acculynx, Notability and EagleView Technologies every day, and Olschewske said he uses his iPhone or iPad for just about everything from communicating and posting on social media to placing orders, building customized quotes and filming training videos for his company’s internal YouTube channel.

“There’s a file cabinet in the back of the truck, but there’s not much in it these days,” he said during the Technology Round Table at the 2014 Best of Success conference (RC, July 2015). 

Marshall Exteriors also reorganized to five divisions: administration, sales, production, service and a call center.   

But perhaps the biggest change still was to Olschewske’s mindset when it came to sales. Instead of focusing on closing rates — a common measurable in roofing and in most industries — he said he can better gauge his return on investment by zeroing in the average dollar per lead.

Once Olschewske knows his allowable cost per lead compared to what revenue that lead generated, he said he can more accurately measure that salesperson’s effectiveness.

That formula, mixed with building a trusted team which embodies the company mantra (‘we will treat your home as if it were our own’), has built a base of loyal, repeat customers and positioned Marshall Exteriors well for the future.

The company has roughly 50 non-union employees at peak and is on pace for more than $4 million in revenue in 2015. That’s nearly double 2014 earnings and the most the company ever generated in one year.

Professional Gain, Personal Loss

All of Olschewske’s professional success this year came at the same time he and his family endured a tremendous personal tragedy. Just a few days before she was scheduled to give birth to their third child, Colleen had a sonogram that revealed their baby’s heart stopped beating. A team of doctors conferred, but concluded there was no hope. Their grief, Olschewske said, was compounded upon learning the difficult process of birthing the fully developed baby had to begin right away.

Paxton Olschewske was officially stillborn on New Year’s Eve. Colleen suffered immense blood loss and nearly died during the procedure, which Olschewske described as the scariest moment of his life.

Her physical recovery took three grueling months, and the emotional toll on the entire family, including daughter, Mirra, 11, and three-year old son, Zane, is ongoing.

“Every day since then and from here on out is a new challenge because you never know what will trigger those feelings, that reaction of complete sadness,” Olschewske explained while holding back tears.

He said he personally focuses on the positives to get through those times. Including a decision this spring to sponsor a family in Paxton’s honor through No Roof Left Behind. The national program organizes and helps roofing contractors provide a new roof for a family in need in their community.

“Just like that, (Paxton) was gone, but if we’re able to help take away another family’s pain by doing this, it helps take away a little bit of ours,” he reflected. “This program really kind of restored my faith in humanity.”

Home Sweet Home

Focusing on the business has helped Olschewske trudge through, but it’s also exposed some issues. Even though the company’s current facility built in 2008 has served him well, Olschewske said they’ve already outgrown it. He himself recently painted what was a break room that is currently being repurposed for training and additional office space.

Plans for a new, expanded facility are in the works, and Olschewske said he’s not planning to go too far away.

He’s enrolled in Newark’s Land For Jobs program, which provides him access to a land deed for the cost of $1. In exchange, Olschewske will build a new facility and commit to creating a specific number of full-time jobs for local workers.

“Adam is a great guy, and we’re very fortunate to have him in this community,” said Mark Peake, economic development facilitator with the Village of Newark. “In a small community, it’s tough to attract people, but we’ve had success with the program and businesses like his. It’s a first-class operation, and we’re very optimistic and excited about the prospects of him growing his business here.”

If the business continues to grow at this pace, Olschewske said he won’t rule out expanding into other markets, but it would have to be the right opportunity. Rural upstate New York is where he’s always been and where his heart is.

“I have roots here and feel like I’ve created a niche in a small market,” he said. “I might consider (expanding), but in another small market where I can put this business model into place. It’s been working out.”