The year is 1901, and William Prentiss Baker has left his home in Harnett County on muleback in search of better opportunities in the prosperous city of Raleigh, N.C., leaving behind him a strict father and a desolate past of life on the farm.
Once settled, he found a job that paid 50 cents a week, but offered a great deal more from a learning perspective. It’s there, in this little tinsmith known as Lumsden Brothers, that he begins to learn the art of the trades. During this time, the southwest quadrant of downtown Raleigh was filled with opportunity in the form of sheet metal shops and small manufacturing companies. After gaining a range of experience and learning as much as he could, Baker decided it was time to take charge of his future. On Sept. 20, 1915, he planted roots of his own, opening W.P. Baker Co., Tinner in flourishing downtown Raleigh.
Now a century and two major economic downturns later, Baker Roofing Co. has defied the odds, developing into one of the largest, most successful commercial roofing companies in the U.S. The company is home to 1,200 employees and 18 locations covering territory from Memphis to Orlando, and everywhere in between. In that 100 years, one constant has remained; the fierce commitment to customers and a motto that runs deep within the company’s roots.
Baker’s promise to customers has remained the same from the start, beginning with the small sign posted on the business’s front door that read, “We shall do good work, at a profit if we can, at a loss if we must, but always good work.” For over a century, this promise has been the backbone for growth, and the driving force behind Baker’s success.
“It’s hard to turn anywhere in our office and not see it,” said Todd Kavanaugh, director of marketing. “All of our offices have a duplication of the sign hanging up in the lobby and throughout the buildings.”
Though the motto has been around since the company’s inception, it wasn’t until eight years ago that the choice was made to bring it to the forefront of Baker’s branding. It has since become the company’s official mission statement. Replicated signs are branded on the tailgates of all company work trucks, and the motto is also used regularly in Baker’s radio commercials, to the point where consumers in their markets recognize the famous slogan.
“We hear stories of our employees running into people recognizing the line having heard it over and over. It’s great messaging for us and personifies our values for how old we are and how committed we are to doing our job well,” Kavanaugh said.
100 Years of History
The journey that led Baker Roofing Co. to its present state has been a long one — 101 years long in fact. Following a partnership that took place in 1920 with Rawls, Baker & Rawls Tin Shop was formed. Thirty-five years later, Bill Baker Jr., Prentiss’s only son, changed the company name to Baker & Brown. Bill would later hand off the company — by then named Baker Roofing Company — to his two sons, W. Prentiss III and Frank.
Both sons started off as laborers, in 1966 and ‘69 respectively. Working closely alongside one another, the duo has since taken the company to unimaginable levels, growing it from a small-town roofing company with 75 employees, to the powerhouse business it is today.
Over the last decade, Baker has launched numerous divisions, including Baker Renewable Energy and Baker Coatings. Residential roofing has also become a significant aspect of overall business.
“Our diversification of our business has provided us with opportunities to take advantage of changing markets,” Kavanaugh said. “We have the ability to say yes to a lot of jobs that other contractors couldn’t approach.”
In addition to the growing supply of resources that help Baker adapt to the evolving roofing market, Kavanaugh said being one of the oldest roofing companies around is also a pretty strong advantage over the competition. “Having a 100-plus-year old history helps to build confidence in our consumers. Confidence that we’ve done the right thing in the past to remain in business, as well as the confidence to be here in the future,” he said.
So the one question on everyone’s mind is — how does a company not only cover such a large duration of time, but continue to grow from year to year? Aside from laying groundwork in several areas of the market and adapting to a changing industry, company officials credit a great amount of Baker’s success to the commitment, knowledge and longevity of its employees.
“Our focus is on training and development of our employees. Effectively investing in our employee’s growth directly returns loyalty and engagement from those employees. It allows them to recognize that the company is concerned with their professional growth, and is providing them with a career path,” Kavanaugh said. The outlook at Baker is to make employees feel like more than just a “cog in the machine.”
Recruiting, Training, Retaining
Retaining employees at Baker Roofing is a process that starts from the very beginning of employment, and revolves around the mindset of, “Developing a company brand that people want to work for.” That means integrating company culture and employee development.
It all begins in the recruiting stage, which utilizes many avenues including an employee referral program, as well as a foreman recruiting and development program where foreman are incentivized to establish benchmarks and deadlines for teaching new skills to employees. Baker also makes use of resources like job boards, social media and press releases to seek out potential employees.
Once hired, the intricate training process commences and includes training boot camps, e-learning and an online video library. Boot camp is an intensive hands-on training that takes place at Baker’s corporate headquarters in Raleigh, where 8,000 hours of training have been completed by employees in less than two years.
The company also uses a rank and rating system that displays the skills needed to move forward from job to job, with the master foreman holding the top ranked spot. Company culture plays a large role in showcasing to Baker’s employees the importance of how to conduct business, both internally and externally.
Company culture begins with what are referred to as, “The Fundamentals,” a 26-item list of behavioral-based tasks. Beginning first thing Monday morning, employees receive an email stating what the fundamental of the week is and that specific fundamental is then the focus of weekly meetings.
Health and wellness plays a very important role in Baker’s company culture. An onsite gym is available to all employees and comes complete with Zumba and group fitness classes, as well as professional trainers. Select employees who decide to participate in the company-wide program are provided Fitbits to track progress.
“Are we doing all that we can to ensure our employees are successful?” asked Mark Lee, Baker Roofing’s president, to the audience during his session at this year at this year’s Best of Success conference in Marco Island, Fla. Lee’s presentation discussed the detailed planning that goes into the company’s recruiting, training and wellness programs.
Hard Work Pays Off
In addition to receiving Roofing Contractor’s Commercial Contractor of the Year award for 2016, Baker boasts an impressive record of achievements over their 100-year tenure. In 1979, Baker ranked 17th nationally out of 20 roofing subcontractors listed in Engineering News Record, and rose to 3rd from 2010-2014. The company has also held the 3rd spot on Roofing Contractor’s 2016 Top 100 list for the 5th consecutive year, with an impressive $200 million in revenue for 2015 — a rather sizeable increase of nearly $60 million from the previous year.
Baker’s strong customer focus, as well as their employee’s commitment to upholding quality service — always, has won them many high-profile projects. That includes the Kansas State House Dome replacement, a copper dome located in Topeka, Kan., that holds the record for the tallest dome in the nation. There’s also the well-known Duke Chapel at Duke University; as well as the “guitar” roof on the Music City Center in Nashville, Tenn.
These accomplishments help validate the hard work put in by the employees at Baker, many who’ve been with the company for decades. “The recognition that we are one of the top roofing contractors in the nation, it isn’t lost on us,” Kavanaugh said. “Each and every day we all leave our families and spend hours working really hard. We are working hard to keep the successful status, and this affirms those sacrifices that we have made in order to work and provide for our families.”
The extensive customer base Baker has built over their long history is centered around a promise to follow through on commitments. “We understand the best way to build a relationship with our customers is to deliver on the promises we make to them,” Kavanaugh explained. And those commitments are carried out, rain or shine, and regardless of the challenges.
“You can build an extremely strong customer for life in the midst of mistakes through proper communication and situational ownership,” he said.
The company does have a succession plan in the works that will uphold the fundamentals that have kept it successful for so long.
As the fourth and fifth generations have begun to stake their claim in Baker Roofing’s history, the future is looking brighter and brighter. In a novel written about the company’s history titled, “Always Good Work,” Prentiss explained, “It becomes a team and people want to be on a winning team. Our people — they’re our number one strength.” Further, these new generations will continue to lead the company forward, both financially, and through the continued building of strong customer relationships.
As far as what’s next, Prentiss remains adamant that the best of Baker is yet to come. “The future is very bright for Baker Roofing Company because of its people and their dedication. Our best days are ahead of us as we give our people opportunities to grow and be the best they can be.”