Finding a true niche in business that allows a company and its employees to grow personally and professionally over a sustained period of time isn’t easy. Many roofing contractors spend years searching for it, and some give up and move on to other careers — fearing it’s beyond their grasp.
Brad Baker didn’t have that problem. Though based in central Idaho — known for its relatively small cities and vast areas of mountainous, government-protected wilderness — the owner of Professional Roofing always felt a strong obligation to help improve the industry. He also grew an affinity for the EPDM installations that dominated his market in the 1980s and 90s. That laid the foundation for his business that today — nearly 25 years after his rise to ownership — is among the most respected and diversely skilled enterprises in the region.
Located on the outskirts of Sawtooth National Forest, Bellevue is a city with less than 2,300 residents nestled roughly halfway between Boise and Idaho Falls in what’s better known around the country as Idaho’s Sun Valley. The small town started as a mining community in the late 19th century and — at more than 5,100 feet above sea level — has since developed into a destination spot for serious skiers and a haven for naturalists seeking some of the best terrain that outdoor recreation has to offer.
It became an ideal place for general contractors Steve King and Steve Wolper to start their company in 1986. Then part of King Construction, neither had a particular interest or love for roofing. But to keep business moving and to compete with other contractors winning jobs in their territory, solely by installing hot-mopped BUR systems, they sought a better way.
“One of the problems with roofing in this area was that the construction cycle would start in the spring after the winter snow left, and most buildings would take three to six months to frame and put the roofing time frame in late summer or early fall,” Baker explained. “Having to deal with cold morning temperatures would make good applied BUR roofs a challenge, so (Wolper) considered other roofing types in the market.”
At the time, Carlisle Syntec’s EPDM rubber technology was growing in popularity and gaining a good reputation for cold-weather applications. Once crews started to perfect the installation process, the company became a go-to roofing solution for other general contractors in the area, to the point where Wolper broke off on his own and started Professional Roofing in 1990.
Meant for This
Baker grew up in the North Dakota’s Red River Valley. He learned the sheet metal trade from his father, Wayne, an installer with Twin City Roofing near the Minnesota border.
In his early teens, Baker helped his father and grandfather work on reroofs of local homes and barns for extra money on the weekends. After high school graduation, he attended North Dakota State’s School of Science and earned an associate’s degree in architectural drafting and estimating. Baker worked at lumber yards, architectural firms and Big Sky Insulations — a leading supplier of expanded polystyrene products and structural insulated panels, before moving with wife, Kim, to Boise in the spring of 1990 and tried roofing professionally.
Baker started out working for the late Joedy Becker at Modern Roofing & Insulation, but dreamed about having his own company to mold and building a legacy — something he lacked despite his family’s years in the business. Eager to show his ability and desire to change the market, Baker worked hard at perfecting his craft and cultivated relationships with key people he met along the way.
When the opportunity to branch out on his own materialized, Baker didn’t hesitate and purchased Professional Roofing from Wolper in 1993. Starting out as only a flat-roof contractor, he took a few years to get established and then started to diversify offerings and grow the company. Sheet metal services with not only standing seam metal roofing projects, but architectural metal siding were added and became solid opportunities to generate new work,
Milestone projects soon followed and propelled the company into a strong leadership position in the market. They included the Wood River Middle School in nearby Hailey, Idaho, which required 1,100 squares of EPDM. That successful installation led to the new roof at Wood River High School, which was another EPDM project totaling 1,183 squares. In between that time, Professional Roofing became one of Firestone’s EPDM Master Contractors.
Baker said he was the first roofing contractor in the Sun Valley to purchase his own roll former for metal projects, and the company’s proficiency shined through on several jobs. In 2008, crews working with Baker’s friend and colleague Mike Winters of Mike’s Metalworks in Bozeman, Mont., completed the roofing project atop the Sun Valley Music Pavilion. The 18,000 square-foot, open-air entertainment venue with a tensile canopy was the company’s largest copper installation to date.
While working with a general contractor in 2013, the company received special recognition from Architectural Record magazine for roofing one of the publication’s Top 10 Houses of the Year. The project featured custom flat-lock steel roofing panels as well as custom wall panels on a 7,900 square-foot vacation home that’s separated into two wings. Designers included a rooftop deck where the wings intersect, and configured several challenging angles for the bronze-toned steel covering.
As his business grew, Baker also became increasingly interested in improving his own leadership skills and doing what he could to uplift the industry. Though the company had strong name recognition locally, Baker wanted to broaden its reach and boost credibility at the same time. Following in the footsteps of Becker and others, his strategy included getting involved with local roofing associations and then the Western States Roofing Contractors Association (WSRCA).
Idaho roofers have a history of active participation in the organization, and a noticeable presence atop the leadership. Baker is the fifth roofer from the state to serve as president, and will become the 42nd former president shortly after the 43rd annual Western Roofing Expo later this month in Las Vegas. Just as in business, Baker worked his way up the ranks of the association by participating in multiple leadership committees over the past 15 years. While he completed any task assigned to him, and regularly provided valuable input to the board over the years, Baker really maximized his opportunity as president to make a significant mark on the organization going forward, said WSRCA Executive Director Tom Papas.
Under Baker’s leadership, WSRCA has refocused its mission and message to roofing contractors to demonstrate why membership matters. Papas said the organization took several steps, including hiring a consultant and conducting focus groups across the west over the past year to move the needle on membership growth and satisfaction. Baker’s also serious about incentivizing current members to help grow the association through referrals and word-of-mouth branding. In 2017, the WSRCA will present its first ‘Wrangler of the Year Award’ to the member that recruits the most prospects to join. Next year, the award will come with a belt buckle created by the team that designs the National Rodeo Championship Belt Buckle.
“This is one of the most member-focused — acquisition and retention — years I’ve seen by a professional association that I’ve ever dealt with in 25 years of doing this,” Papas explained. “And, by far, Brad has been the spearhead of that. He’s passionate about growing the membership with high-quality contractors and getting people that are struggling what they need.”
Papas said the association now assesses programs and operating decisions through what they call a ‘member-value proposition.’
“What we’re really focused on is showing our members the value of what they get,” Papas said. “Brad came in asking ‘How can we help the guy looking at a problem from the hood of his truck and gives us a call?’”
It’s not just a temporary priority either, said Papas, who described Baker’s influence as a structural shift for the association.
“This is not a one-and-done thing,” he said. “We’re structurally looking at things through a different lens and it’s already made a difference. Everything going forward for us will be looked at through that prism.”
Baker said moving the association in this direction was important for its future and to help instill in others the continued strong sense of pride he feels giving back to an organization so instrumental in his success.
“Tom (Papas) and I always discuss the WSRCA leadership like football or sports in general,” he said. “Many of us have played at the high school level, some at the college level and very few at the professional level. When given the chance to play at any level, what you make out of the journey is up to you and your level of dedication. The WSRCA over the years have given many roofing contractors the chance to shine and many have taken it to the next level — whether board director or president. The WSRCA has a history of ‘hall of famers.’”
With more than three decades of roofing behind him, and 25 of them at the helm of a successful company, Baker is beginning to look at the next step for him personally, as well as the company. He credits much of the success to the team he’s assembled, including many that have stuck with him over the years during economic booms and dry spells.
“Most of this work would not be possible without some outstanding employees,” he explained. “(Our) twelve to eighteen full-time employees have been very dedicated over the years. Most have been with the company for twelve to seventeen years and the experience shows in the quality of work performed.”
He said he believes the future for the industry and his company looks bright, and that he’s begun the often difficult task of envisioning his company without him. There are a few key employees he believes are capable, and one of his three daughters still has time to take on the company and continue moving it in the right direction, but he’s not certain that she wants to.
He’s also not ruling out the possibility of finding someone much like himself years ago — determined, ready and hungry for an opportunity.
“Who knows? Another Brad might come along from the roofing industry who wants to have owner financing and make a name for himself,” he said. “The roofing industry is a great business and with roofing leadership such as WSRCA involvement, any goals are attainable for the right person.”