John T. Scalo and Richard ‘Duke’ Burns shared a business plan and vision to excel at whatever they did when it came to roofs. Scalo worked for a roofing contractor and befriended the older Burns before entering the U.S. Air Force. In 1956, after Scalo’s service requirement, they opened their own business doing shingle work for home builders in and around Pittsburgh.
Burns & Scalo Roofing grew to be a formidable force in the region’s residential market, and Jack Scalo, one of John’s twin sons, watched the hard work and commitment to quality with his eyes wide open. Spending summers between jobsites and the truck yard outside the family business cleaning debris, he knew as a teen that he wanted to be in business and that roofing was a natural opportunity. But he also learned there were things he didn’t want to do… forever.
“I’d go driving around with my dad in our station wagon calling on clients and I’d see him arguing with a woman over a $200 gutter leak and I’m saying to myself ‘I’m not going to be doing this the rest of my life.’ There has to be a better way.”
When weighing the prospects of going to college or heading directly into the family business, the younger Scalo said his father encouraged him to go and learn ways to make the company better. And that’s what he did.
Upon graduating with a business degree from Ohio University in 1981, Jack joined the executive team and immediately started to make an impact in sales — one of his true business passions. Burns and Scalo Roofing hasn’t been the same since.
What was a lucrative family residential roofing business that earned $2 million in revenue when he started, has blossomed into a corporate juggernaut that now touches all areas of the roofing industry. In 2014, Scalo said the company celebrated its best year ever, generating nearly $38 million in revenue — good for 27th on RC’s Top 100 Roofing Contractors list.
With a commitment to quality and customers spanning nearly six decades, Burns & Scalo Roofing had won just about every major industry award. Add Roofing Contractor’s 2015 Commercial Contractor of Year title to that list. The award is given annually to contractors that employ industry best practices, take care of their employees, and excel at quality workmanship and customer satisfaction.
“It’s very unexpected,” he said moments after accepting the honor in front of roughly 400 industry professionals at the 2015 Best of Success conference in September. “It’s definitely a surprise and a terrific honor that I can’t wait to take back to our people and our company because they’re going to be over-the-top thrilled, and so am I.”
Humble and Hungry
With both strong financial footing and a great business reputation in the region, both Scalo brothers saw opportunities to be successful and close to the family business. Jack gravitated toward roofing, while twin brother, Jim, started working in commercial real estate. He now leads a team of roughly 30 employees as president of Burns & Scalo Real Estate Services Inc.
Both the roofing and real estate companies are branches underneath the Scalo Incorporated umbrella, which also includes Scalo Solar Solutions and Cuddy Roofing — the corporation’s commercial contracting company for union jobs, a market too large to ignore in the Rust Belt.
The entire company has roughly 300 employees at peak season that serve the mid-Atlantic and portions of the eastern seaboard with branch offices in Ohio. Since Jack started, the company steadily evolved and now offers a full range of services from commercial (roughly 90 percent), residential and industrial roofing to wall panels, waterproofing and solar roofing systems.
By design, Scalo built the company to touch all marketplaces; the existing green roof category, new construction, and local residential re-roofing and repair. He also implemented a culture of innovation to keep it diversified and flexible to adapt to market changes in the future.
“We have a saying here that you’re either green and growing or brown and wilting,” he said.
Scalo’s approach to technology is a prime example of implementing that philosophy. He said Burns & Scalo Roofing has easily spent millions in recent years modernizing their internal and customer-facing software systems, completely phasing out the need for paper invoices, estimates and reports.
The company uses Timberline for all estimating and accounting, and recently partnered with Facility Control Systems to develop MasterKey (trademark), which customizes exclusive features tailored for specific business needs built on the FCSControl framework. Scalo said they use it to track leads as soon as they come in and until the job is done. To demonstrate a new level of transparency and accountability, reports are cloud-based, shared internally, edited and sent to the client at the end of every day.
Despite the unquestioned success in commercial roofing, getting back to Burns & Scalo’s residential roots is another way the company continues to grow.
“Residential is an area that we’re actually trying to develop because we realized while growing the business in other ways that we weren’t injecting the same growth hormones into that part of our business,” Scalo explained.
Always homegrown, Scalo deviated from the norm and steered the company toward its first acquisition.
The purchase of David Hood & Sons, a 90-year-old roofing company in nearby Turtle Creek, Penn. in 2014 positioned Scalo to service a different part of Pittsburgh’s residential market.
He called it David Hood Roofing—a Scalo Company; saying it was important to keep the long-time company’s name recognition and reputation for quality intact, while also balancing the need for transparency with potential customers.
“We needed to keep the phone ringing and did our research. What we learned that residential customers buy roofs like they buy their car,” Scalo explained. “They go to the local dealer.”
And no local dealer is successful without a dazzling showroom. Scalo intuitively built his on the roof of the company’s headquarters. Half EPDM, half TPO, the roof also consists of five different solar technologies, multiple skylight technologies and a vegetative oasis that make it the “most interesting roof in the entire mid-Atlantic,” he said.
It’s part of an overall Sunscape Demonstration Project that reinforces Scalo’s strong belief in the benefits of environmentally-friendly construction, technology and alternative energy sources. More than 3,000 visitors trekked from around the country to see it, and Scalo invites just about anyone he meets to see it for themselves.
“This is how we get customers to come to our building,” he said. “Normally, they don’t come to us, we go to them. But we’ve turned it around and give them a reason to come. I always tell them to visit my competitor’s office too before making their decision, because I know that they’re going to see something different with us.”
Before focusing on the roof, Scalo spent years researching and developing plans for a corporate headquarters. The days of being satisfied with an office and window-mounted air conditioning unit in the apartment space above the company’s first location were long over. Scalo travelled around the country studying companies with reportedly the best facilities in the industry and in 2003 moved into a new 65,000 square-foot building with offices, 40,000 square feet of warehouse space and a 5,000 square foot maintenance building on 10 acres along the windy roads of Pittsburgh’s east hills.
While it appears as a standard industrial park office building from the front, it’s built for roofing in the back. There are separate entrances for union and non-union employees and a coded parking lot where each company vehicle is accounted for at the start and stop of each work day by managers perched in a glass-encased work station that resembles an air traffic control tower.
Scalo said the made the multi-million dollar investment with the next few decades in mind, but he nearly lost it all barely 12 months later. In Sept. 2004, the remnants of Hurricane Ivan dumped an unprecedented 5.95 inches of rain on western Pennsylvania in one day. Despite being in a 500-year flood plain, the water submerged the entire parking lots and filled the building’s first floor up to the doorknobs of offices.
Every truck and piece of equipment was water logged; inventory was submerged under four feet of water in the warehouse, and every piece of furniture, paper records and critical infrastructure on the first floor was compromised.
“It was the only time I felt like our business was really in danger,” Scalo recalled. “It was devastating, the biggest tragedy we had in our business’ history.”
Without much choice, Scalo set the tone, moving into a trailer on the water-soaked site to stay hands-on and be on the loading dock at 6 a.m. each morning to help employees work through problems. Scalo’s father came out of retirement from Florida to help deal with the insurance companies and keep the company going.
The philosophy was simple: not letting the company’s internal problem become their customer’s problem. Other employees — even those faced with their own challenges from the flood — pitched in to help.
“It was kind of amazing, actually,” reflected Mark Heckathorne, vice president of sales and estimating. “It happened on a Friday, and all the employees came in to help over the weekend and move everything we could to the second floor so that we could open on Monday. And we did.”
Burns & Scalo also fosters that same type of loyalty with Pittsburgh area residents through several strategic partnerships with schools and local non-profit organizations. One example is Pittsburgh Works, which provides a pool of employable candidates for careers in several aspects of roofing.
The six week program combines classroom work, hands-on technical instruction and life skills training at the company headquarters to students of all ages. Forty participants graduated this year alone and several are potential candidates for jobs, he said.
The company is also actively involved in the Education Partnership, an organization that provides the tools, resources and support for Pittsburgh public school teachers. The company recently ‘adopted’ Whittier Elementary, a school from Pittsburgh’s inner city with more than 300 students. Employees and their families assembled kits with essential supplies to help with class assignments, and then visited the building to meet and interact with the children.
“Giving back has always been a big part of who we are as a company and one of the most important things we can and will continue to do,” he said. “We can’t be complacent about any piece of our business.”
When discussing the future, Scalo is quick to say he feels no need to retire and still has goals he’d like to accomplish before handing over the reins. However, he does acknowledge being in the early stages of forming a succession plan.
“I’m not the type of guy that looks forward to retirement, but also understand that I need to slow down,” he explained. “One good quality of a leader is knowing when to leave.”
It’s important to him to continue the company’s upward trajectory and leave behind a family legacy for the next generation of Scalos to enhance, much like he did when he joined the executive team.
Just as his father did for him more than three decades ago, Jack basically left the decision for a family successor up to John Jr.
“As a kid, sometimes you feel pressured or forced into it, but he’s always told me it was up to me,” said the younger Scalo, who started working summers with the company at age 13. “Yes, it’s pressure, but it’s also a great opportunity.”
Now, in his second full year out of college, John Jr. is a project engineer and learning all he can about the business and industry as quickly as he can.
The elder Scalo makes a point of including him in high-level meetings and events like Best of Success to expose his son to as much of the industry as quickly as possible.
“He always has me involved and I’m seeing how he’s running the meetings, handling deals and going to these big events like Best of Success,” Scalo Jr. said. “I have the best teacher in the industry.”
Daughter Jessica (Jesse) is also part of the company’s future. Scalo recently brought her on board from the real estate business and named her the new director of marketing for Scalo Inc., where she’ll be coordinating marketing, publicity campaigns and promotions for all the companies in the Scalo group.
Responsible to maintaining and enhancing the company’s image, the youngest Scalo sibling said she’s happy to join the company at such an exciting time with the RC Commercial Contractor of the Year award and the 60th anniversary approaching.
“We’ve seen what it takes to get to this point, and it’s awesome for me to come into the business at this time and kind of be able to enjoy that with him,” said Jesse, who studied real estate and construction at the University of Denver. “It’s been 30 years in the making.”
Scalo said he couldn’t be prouder to have the next generation committed to the family business and looks forward to grooming them both for success.
“We’re building something here that is much larger than any of us,” Jack said. “There’s a lot of pride in the family business, especially when your name is on the wall.”