Roughly five years ago, Roofing Contractor set out to highlight the next generation of roofing contractors working their way through the industry by launching our Young Guns series.

But the next wave of roofing industry leaders isn’t limited to just the contractor side of the business. NEMEON, the purchasing cooperative of independent, locally-owned roofing and siding distributors from around the country, continues to organize and empower industry leaders of the future through its NextGen initiative.

Started in 2011 as an idea to draw together distributors from different regions of the United States, the organization has annual meetings and offers networking opportunities for companies that are invested in NEMEON’s core vision: Promoting pride and prosperity industrywide through unity, value and partnership.

Unlike RC’s traditional Young Guns — who are all under age 40, NextGen members can be any age. They just must be already either in a leadership position or will be assuming one in ownership, management, or other extended role in the business.  

“We realize this is a broad based definition of next generation but our goal is to prepare the leaders of tomorrow to best assume that role,” said NEMEON President and CEO Dave O’Donnell.

The meetings include speakers from different aspects of the business ranging from peer company presidents to manufacturer executives. Attendees also are exposed to professional speakers that teach and coach leadership, change-management strategies and other business-related skills.

Organizers also incorporate a company site visit with a local NEMEON member, to see and learn first-hand how a business — and sometimes even competitors — strive for success.

While some participants may initially be a little leery, after the meetings it’s common for members to set up their own trips for site visits to continue learning, O’Donnell said. 

“During these site visits everyone takes away at least one new or different way of doing things,” he said. “It’s not often that distributors are welcomed into other distribution companies to see how they do it. But with this group it’s a common occurrence.”

The group has grown from just a few dozen that gathered in Chicago in 2011, to more than 100 that convened in Austin, Texas last September.

Ultimately, organizers said the NextGen group has created the potential for a long-lasting network of resources from distributor members to become better partners to their chief business partners — roofing contractors.

“By continuing to learn new techniques and about new products it allows us to pass that info on to contractors to be a resource for them and to assist them on improving (the contractors’) bottom line,” O’Donnell explained.

Roofing Contractor took a closer look at some of the emerging leaders and outspoken voices in the distribution side of the roofing industry.

Michelle Cassady: Thriving on Change to Benefit All 

From a very young age, Michelle Cassady always had an appreciation for roofs. That’s what happens when you grow up with a parent actively involved in the building-supply business in a robust construction market like northern California.

“I remember when my siblings and I were young our family would be driving down a street and my mom would have to urge my dad to keep driving as he would slow down to look up at a new roof, roof being loaded, or a roof that needed replacement,” Cassady, now 37, recalled. “Now my husband laughs as I notice the roofs in each street we drive down or new place we visit.”

Catching the ‘roofing bug,’ as she puts it, was the best professional decision Cassady made for her career, which was headed down a very different path when she decided to work with her father in the A.L.L. Roofing Materials headquarters in San Jose 13 years ago. With a bachelor’s degree in wildlife, fish and conservation biology from the University of California Davis, Cassady was a veterinary technician poised to go back to veterinary school when the opportunity to join the company materialized.

She started out in the company’s now-closed Livermore yard and joined the main branch in San Jose after the birth of her second child. Today, she juggles multiple responsibilities as company COO.

While having the opportunity to work closely with Phil Quimet, her father and mentor in the business, Cassady said she’s also gained invaluable experience and insight into the roofing industry through her involvement with NEMEON NextGen.

Shortly after attending her first meeting, Cassady said she was extremely motivated to bring about some internal and external changes to help the company thrive. She responded by confidently implementing a major change in the company’s operating software that she learned about through her NextGen experiences.

Other concrete improvements include integrating a customer relationship management system and managing their website and social media in-house.

“Through our website you can connect to our Facebook page which is integrated with our Twitter account,” she explained. “We are working to strengthen our Internet presence and brand recognition, and even more important, our ability to instantly connect with customers. It’s challenging and exciting to learn new ways to use technology to propel the business forward.”

She also said it’s helped her definition of leadership evolve.

“Being a leader is different than being a friend, although they are not mutually exclusive. It’s a balance of being assertive and receptive. Of delegating and making clear what different roles are and holding people accountable, while deep down knowing that anything that goes wrong is ultimately due to a bad leadership decision.”

In a saturated building market, one bad decision can have enormous consequences, which is why Cassady said being flexible and having employees willing to embrace change is crucial to fostering long-standing relationships with customers.

“I thrive on change. There is always a way to improve,” she stated. “We’re very excited about the future, and being part of the NEMEON group is a big reason why. We enjoy being an independent and feel extremely lucky to have the employees and customers we do today.”

Brett Berry: Leading by Example

Sometimes, you know instantly when you’ve found the company you want to spend your career working for. Other times, you have to first explore alternative avenues to realize you’ve already found it. Such was the path for Brett Berry, who started with Camco Roofing Supplies and departed, only to return later — ready to work hard for the company that gave him his start in the roofing business.

Berry began working for Camco in 1988 at a warehouse, and later transferred to a sister company, John J. Campbell Company, in 1996. After a brief two-year stint, he accepted a position with a different company entirely, shifting his focus from roofing to the steel industry. It wasn’t until 2004 that Berry was, in his own words, “Brought back home,” as the vice president of Camco Roofing Supplies.

Since his return, Camco acquired three new locations and focused intensely on diversifying its service offerings. The company now offers metal roofing, vinyl siding, windows, gutters and more in addition to their commercial and residential work. They have also invested in improving their technology, recently adding a program that allows their customers to view real-time account information via web portal. Through this system, customers can check invoices, make payments, and more. The updated technology allows for smoother communication and, ideally, increased overall satisfaction — Berry’s main goal.

In the near future, the company plans to implement a web-based platform for ordering and delivery scheduling that would provide customers with the added benefit of a 24-hour ordering service.

According to Berry, the company’s continued success is attributed to focusing on the details. “Everyone in this industry believes they offer great service, but our focus has always been on the details that matter most to our clients: order completion, accuracy and timeliness of deliveries,” said Berry.

And it’s the employees who help bring those details to light, dedicating their efforts to make the company the best it can be. “We stress to all of our employees how important they are and the differences they can make for all of our successes,” he said.

In addition to the details, Berry emphasizes ‘leading by example,’ and creating a working environment that will inspire others to be the best they can be. That’s how he became involved with the NextGen program, whose members possess a wealth of knowledge and experience that can be shared to help grow each other’s businesses. “The NextGen group was a perfect way to learn from peers and share successful and even unsuccessful projects we have experienced,” he said.

Berry explained that conversing at tradeshows and conventions can be a bit overwhelming, so the small size of the NextGen group is extremely beneficial in that it allows for more intimate, relevant conversations.

Continued growth is on the forefront for 2017, with plans of adding new revenue streams, expanding on product selection and adding new locations. And, most importantly, continuing to fullfill customer’s needs to their best abilities. “As with almost any business, it comes down to our employees and customers. My passion lies in satisfying their needs,” Berry said. “If we succeed in keeping our customers and employees happy, our business will continue to thrive.”

Regan Walker: Focusing on the Little Things

When you spend the summers of your youth working for the family business, you observe first-hand what it takes run a successful company, and all the hard work that goes into it. Once college is over and the reality of adulthood and responsibilities sets it, the decision must be made — stake your claim in the family business, or seek employment elsewhere. This decision was an obvious one for Regan Walker, purchasing manager of her family’s business, CB Wholesale, Inc.

In June of 1982, CB Wholesale opened its doors, selling roofing wholesale to Skagit County, Wash. Despite consolidation and pressure from large national chains, CB has remained the sole independent distributor within their market, selling roofing, drywall, steel and insulation to customers from the Canadian border down into Seattle. Though it’s been challenging at times, Walker says that working with an independent company like CB certainly has its advantages, particularly, open lines of communication between customers and upper-level management.

“We’re able to react to situations immediately, there’s no need to run anything up the chain of command,” Walker said. “Our customers have confidence that their concerns or issues are being addressed by top management, not a local manager.”    

While taking care of customers remains the top priority, keeping employees satisfied is extremely important to the management team at CB, whose goal is to improve continuously. “We ask our employees for ideas, we look at other successful distribution businesses for their best practices. We are setting new goals and trying to push ourselves every year to improve,” said Walker.

And with programs in place like NEMEON’s NextGen, the team at CB is able to do just that. Walker’s passion for her family business and relentless desire to help it succeed into the future is what led her to join the NextGen program. According to Walker, the program has been an invaluable source of information and support, providing her with helpful advice and resources that benefit small businesses like CB. At these meetings, Walker says she’s able to speak with peers about a range of issues from hiring and personnel, to comparable adversities and achievements. “I have years of experience readily available to me. I use them as a sounding board all the time,” Walker said. “I’ve been surprised at how similar our businesses are, our hardships, our triumphs and everything in between.”

In her youth, Walker would travel with her family, and she remembers her father stopping frequently to tour roofing and drywall yards throughout their trips, a habit that Walker herself now admits to doing. Her dad’s approach to the business has remained the same after all these years — there’s always room for improvement, both big and small.

Such improvements include upgrading their software system, utilizing an outside firm to manage their website and increasing their social media presence. Each new implementation, in Walker’s eyes, will aid in driving CB Wholesale forward for future generations. “I get excited about trying to tweak the little things. We’re striving to improve, and at this point, a lot of that’s not really the big ideas, it’s finding the little things to fine tune what we’re doing.”