For decades, the academic pundits and business gurus both in and around the roofing industry have preached about the importance of harnessing and maximizing the power of the digital age to help their businesses grow.
From internal purposes such as accounting, payroll and scheduling, to customer-facing tasks such as developing a website and an active social media presence, having these tools are what most people would call essential for any business trying to survive, much less thrive in today’s competitive environment.
Don Fry isn’t most people. The founder and president of Fry Roofing, Inc. is on the cusp of reaching his fourth decade in business. And he’s never needed a flashy website, a strong Twitter following or gimmicky, over-the-top advertising to become one of the busiest and most respected roofing contractors in the greater San Antonio area.
He prefers to take care of business the old-fashioned way, developing personal relationships with customers that turn into long-term partnerships. And then they tell a friend … and then that person tells a friend, and so on.
Now, don’t jump to conclusions — it’s not that Fry is averse to technology, or oblivious to how it’s rapidly changing the roofing industry he entered before Ronald Reagan became president. He’s also not too stubborn or shortsighted to understand the importance of adapting to the market and the business conditions of the day. He’s just found a way to be successful and doesn’t see the point in shaking things up.
“Our company has always relied on word-of-mouth advertising over the years,” Fry said. “We work in a healthy market that tends to reward those companies that do quality work and deal with their customers in a professional and honest way. After 30-plus years we’ve established ourselves as a stable, qualified business with a good reputation and good name recognition in the industry.”
Fry couldn’t have known it at the time, but he started his long-lasting career in roofing while attending Kilgore Junior College, now just Kilgore College, in east Texas. He continued roofing part-time primarily with roof tile while attending Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, east of Dallas. He said he soon realized that the rooftop was a lot more appealing than the classroom.
“I became more excited about a future in the roofing industry than graduating with a degree in political science,” he recalled. “So I moved to San Antonio in 1981 and started my company as Don Fry Roofing.”
He later incorporated, and dropped his first name from the company brand. But corporate branding, in the modern sense, couldn’t have been further from his mind at the time. He focused on finishing high-quality roofing installations and treating his customers with a high-level of care, so that they’d come back to him when the need for repairs, reroofs or new construction arose. Fry purchased the company’s current and lone location in 1985, and hasn’t looked back.
His company currently has 28 non-union employees that specialize in concrete and clay roof tile, standing seam metal, asphalt shingles, single ply membrane, slate, and modified bitumen roofing systems. Fry said roughly 60 percent of their work is residential, and 90 percent of it is new construction.
While he once had a hand in every aspect of business operations, these days Fry concentrates mostly on the custom-home and multi-family residential projects. The commercial roofing side of the business is handled by his youngest son, Chris. He officially joined the company professionally in 2005, but has worked there in some capacity for more than two decades — starting with cleaning the trash and debris at job sites and then eventually earning his way up to his current position of vice president.
Turnover is low, and employees receive healthcare, 401k plans and paid vacations.
Much of the operations in the field are in the secure hands of Residential Field Superintendent Art Tanguma, and Commercial Field Superintendent Nathan Alba. Both are tasked with onsite supervision and good training with updated installation methods.
“They’re our eyes in the field,” Fry said.
Dustin Warner handles the service work, and is responsible for pricing and scheduling any service work that has been approved.
Keeping an eye on things in the office are Rachelle Cervera and Clara Rodriguez.
“They keep us organized with our daily tasks,” the younger Fry added. “Communication is key in any relationship, so we have daily meetings with our key employees to make sure everyone has input and shared goals.”
Taking the Lead
Fry Roofing, Inc., as a company, also places a big emphasis on training, whether it’s about technical aspects to onsite roofing work, or safety equipment and techniques for crews. Key employees participate in manufacturer training programs and certifications, and are also part of instruction efforts offered by different trade associations on a continual basis.
The company joined the Western States Roofing Contractors Association (WSRCA) and the National Roofing Contractors Association (NRCA) long ago, and more recently became active in the Tile Roof Institute and the Roofing Industry Committee on Weather Issues.
And Fry is hardly a passive member, instead choosing to become actively involved in leadership roles where he can contribute his experience and affinity for the profession to improve the industry for generations to come. He will relinquish his title as the 43rd WSRCA president at the association’s annual convention and expo June 11-12.
“We feel the greatest benefit of being involved in these industry associations is the flow of current and relevant information that’s necessary for contractors to succeed in an ever-changing industry,” Fry said.
Chris is also actively involved in the industry and is focused on improving his business acumen to help the company succeed for years to come. He completed the NRCA’s Future Executives Institute and is a member of the NRCA’s board of directors and several association committees.
“We feel like the tools and information we gather from these organizations have contributed to the long-term success of our business,” Fry said. “And we’ve established many mutually-beneficial relationships over the years that have enhanced our business, as well.”
During his year-long tenure as WSRCA president, the elder Fry focused on increasing membership and on improving training and recruitment efforts for roofers experiencing workforce shortages from the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean. Labor issues plaguing the entire industry are also taking its toll on the San Antonio roofing market, he said.
“The younger generation doesn’t seem content to follow in the footsteps of the older generations,” Fry lamented. “We used to be able to recruit right out of high school, for those not attending college, but that pool of people seems to have diminished.”
Fry doesn’t pretend to have the answer to the roofing industry’s workforce woes, but insists he and his team will maintain their success by sticking to what works.
“Fair and honest communication and prompt service with direct access to the owners of the company and the key employees,” he explained. “That’s it. This approach has worked well for us over the years and has allowed us to operate without a sales staff.”
Though modest, Fry believes strongly that his crews’ commitment to high-quality work and track record on projects not only speak for itself. It also helps sell future jobs.
“Reputation is everything, and we make sure all of our employees understand this. The longevity of our business speaks to that,” Fry said. “We’ve stayed with the types of construction that have served us well over the years, and we’ve tried to set ourselves apart by focusing on the specialty systems that require additional training and expertise within those types of construction.”
It may not work for everyone, but his advice for up-and-coming roofing contractors trying to make a name for themselves in a competitive market requires an all-out commitment from within, and keeping an open mind.
“Focus on certain areas of the industry and do it well,” he said. “Take pride in your work and teach your employees to be proud of what they’re doing. I also believe in getting involved in the industry, as much as possible, to learn from the successes and mistakes of others in different markets.”