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Best of Success: How to Set Up an Effective, Game Changing Peer Group

December 2, 2016
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Relationships are critical for any business to survive as long Sutter Roofing Company of Sarasota, Fla. has. And as a fourth generation roofing contractor who spent his entire childhood and professional career in the roofing industry, President Doug Sutter learned early on that cultivating those relationships is essential for profitability and longevity.

Now in his third decade of leading the company — which finished with more than $34 million in revenue last year, good for 30th on Roofing Contractor’s 2015 Top 100 List — Sutter said a lot of his success in growing the company wouldn’t have happened without his peer group.

Established roughly 10 years ago, Sutter and three other presidents of roofing companies in different markets work together as a group to enhance their businesses.

“We all had aspirations for our similar firms, and we all saw a drive with each other to go to the next level,” Sutter said during his presentation at Best of Success 2016. “We didn’t know how to get it started, but thought it was a great idea and just met.”

Sutter said he hosted that first meeting a decade ago in his office, and that the group regularly rotates hosting meetings between their respective cities. Coming from similarly-sized companies, the first thing they looked at were each other’s project-flow processes, internal organization and pre-job planning. Since then, group discussions have ranged from personnel issues and safety, to managing material costs and marketing strategies.

“It’s the best thing we’ve done for our companies,” he said. “We’re on each other’s board of directors; we share everything — including our financials; and call each other frequently with questions. It’s just a very powerful tool available to you.”

Even though his company has more than 100 years of experience in the roofing business, Sutter said he still looks to others for help finding ways to improve in several areas, including finances, operations and company culture. His group is comprised of well-established firms, the youngest being Roofing Contractor’s 2015 Roofing Contractor of the Year Burns & Scalo Roofing, which recently celebrated its 60th anniversary.

Sutter said age isn’t necessarily as important as including a firm in the group that has a visionary leader that’s willing to share ideas. The key to having a successful peer group is selecting people who are committed to the process and have the ability to discuss issues clearly and comfortably without judgement. Members have to trust one another, Sutter said, and not be afraid to hold each other accountable when personal, company or group goals are not met.

“We all have ideas about what will make our businesses better, but we don’t always consider or see the negative aspects,” he said. “That’s what a peer group can do. We’re all better at one thing than another and it all seems to fit very well.”

Specifically, Sutter said his peer group helped him solidify his company’s core values and how they’re communicated to employees. It’s also helped him prepare the next line of company leaders and how to identify them early on so that the mentoring process can begin.

Before concluding, Sutter encouraged roofing contractors in the audience to think about starting their own peer groups and letting others in their company know, and potentially participate. It provides a forum for leaders across the company and gives them a pipeline to find and discuss best practices for common problems all roofing contractors face.

“It doesn’t have to have a president of a firm, like me, or a general manager,” Sutter explained. “It can be a service department head, or a superintendent. There’s leaders at every level.”

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