You won’t hear either of them say that economic recessions are a good thing, but both Matt Clarke and Chris Werner know and appreciate that they wouldn’t be where they are today if there hadn’t been one at seemingly just the right time.
The tandem from Colorado Springs, Colo., became fast friends in high school and lost touch after graduation, only to become reacquainted in 2008, when each faced their own employment challenges on the cusp of the Great Recession.
“He told me he was starting a roofing company and asked if I wanted to join, and I said yes. Especially considering I didn’t really have any alternative,” said Werner, who at the time faced an imminent layoff as a heavy-machine operator with a struggling general contractor.
Werner dove into the new role and immediately showed his knack for sales and planning. Within 30 days, Clarke offered him a higher stake in the company as his original business partner wanted out.
“I knew him and trusted him, and thought it would be fun having Chris as a partner,” Clarke said of his decision. “Looking back, I wouldn’t change it. He was the right man for the job.”
Working from their personal vehicles and out of a bedroom in Clarke’s Colorado Springs house, the two started re-roofing homes in the volatile southern Colorado residential market with relatively low expectations and high hopes. Then Mother Nature intervened.
The summer of 2009 proved to be pivotal for the fledging company as the Denver area endured a severe hail storm that caused an estimated $768 million in damages to homes, businesses and vehicles. Though contested in recent seasons, the 2009 storm still ranks as the costliest in state history, according to the Rocky Mountain Insurance Information Association.
“It was a perfect opportunity for us — being the local contractor, so we got a team together and really kicked ass that summer,” Werner recalled. “It really kick started the company because we were able to buy a few trucks, get new equipment and see a path going forward.”
It also meant building the company in scale without falling into debt. Clarke, company president, said the storm-related work pushed revenues past $1 million during the first year and got the attention of larger distributors and manufacturers.
The company expanded into the commercial market two years ago and started working with Versico Roofing Systems, which led to certification and a stronger relationship with Carlisle Syntec Systems. Commercial jobs now account for the majority of annual work (roughly 65 percent). Last year, revenues exceeded $5 million and Clarke said he’s looking to improve that total in 2016.
Clarke and Werner are also proud to work closely with Allied Building Products Corp. for nearly six years.
“They’ve definitely been a key player in helping us succeed,” Werner said. “We were given a real chance to make it.”
The business Clarke and Werner built together has taken hold in the Colorado Springs area and is showing no signs of slowing down as they continue to grow their project portfolio along the Rocky Mountain’s Front Range. They’re also looking to broaden their marketing strategy and add opportunities with specific customers out of state.
The duo have very different personalities and approaches to keeping the business solvent. Clarke is a second-generation roofer who’s outspoken, impulsive and has been described as a “firecracker,” always ready and willing to close the next deal. Werner is a bit quieter, more reserved and conservative when it comes to business and personal financial objectives. Their philosophies mix well together as long as they share the same goals and communicate well with each other and their customers.
“Most companies don’t succeed or have problems because of a lack of communication,” said Werner, company vice president. “Communication is really the key because when there’s no communication things get put aside or missed, and that’s when it can create big problems.”
From Clarke’s perspective, the business keeps churning as long as the entire staff — now approaching 20 full-time employees and some additional subs — stays focused on three rules:
Sell, Sell, Sell
There aren’t many business problems you can’t sell your way out of, according to Clarke. He said he often encourages the sales team to not to focus on previous jobs sold or “count the money” when that time can be spent on closing the next deal or cultivating the next client. Southern Colorado Roofing also recently diversified its offerings to include drywall, insulation, gutters, skylights and siding to keep the sales team busy.
‘We Roof Everything’
It’s about as close to a company mantra as it gets. From dog houses and single-family homes to strip malls and multi-unit residential complexes, everyone on the team learns early on not to refuse opportunities to roof anything and everything that a customer wants.
Nothing but Smiles
The final company rule is that the entire team becomes invested in making every customer satisfied. Through their hands-on approach to every project, both Clarke and Werner said they ensure crews are doing quality work and keeping customers informed so that they can overcome challenges that arise on the jobsite.
“More than anything in this industry, it comes down to our customers and making sure they’re always happy,” Clarke explained. “If you’re one of them, you’re one of the luckiest people in the county because I’m available to you any time my eyes are open.”
Keeping it Local
Clarke and Werner both said commitment to their community is another big differentiator in a very competitive roofing market. It starts with the company name and branding, both calculated decisions made early on. Clark said he wanted something that said “Colorado,” and that the public would easily recognize, so he mimicked the state’s license plate for a company logo and incorporated the business hotline number. The number is also used in the company website’s URL (www.473roof.com), so it’s constantly in sight of anyone searching the service offerings or customer testimonials.
Southern Colorado Roofing also makes a real commitment to improving Colorado Springs. Clarke said they’re always looking to partner first with local businesses when services like painting or landscaping are needed at properties they work on.
“That’s me and Chris. That’s just who we are; two local kids who got one shot and made it, and we want everybody around us to make it too,” Clarke said.
For the last three years, the company has sponsored an effort to help area homeless through Marian House, a soup kitchen and comprehensive service provider for central Colorado’s homeless and low-income residents.
Each Christmas Eve, Clarke, Werner and other staff bring their families together to prepare and deliver 200 care-packages with snacks, socks, gloves, toiletries and other essentials for people in need.
“We like to give back,” Werner said. “This is our community, and if you do good things and give back in the community that gives you business, it comes back to you.”
Keeping the pair grounded and operating efficiently is Clarke’s wife, Mel, who handles all the hotline calls and aids in keeping the office organized.
“Some things just need a woman’s touch, especially in here,” said Werner, who solidified his own family ties with the business by adding older brother, Jason, to the sales team a few years ago.
Despite their fast start, Clarke and Werner said they remain humble and focused on getting better at what they do to grow the company properly. At 38 and 37, respectively, they believe they’re at the right age and size, growing at the correct pace to make a mark in their market and beyond.
They see themselves as two underdogs who got their shot to make it in business and in life, and are doing whatever they can to make it happen.
“Everything just really came together and we’re very fortunate,” Clarke said. “Have we had some jobs that didn’t work out and did we have to get through those to get where we are now? Yes. But it’s not all about the fall, it’s about the climb.”