Sean Shapiro and Cameron Shouppe know only one way to face a challenge — head-on.
The young entrepreneurs were in business together flipping houses in the greater Jacksonville area when they recognized a gap in the local construction and remodeling market. A niche they could fill and a fertile customer base they could develop with some hard work, dedication, their relentless pursuit to surpass goals, and a few extra touches that their competitors wouldn’t match.
They launched Reliant Roofing in 2015 with one crew and little more than big hopes to create and maintain a ‘side’ income. The modest idea paid off — handsomely. Way busier than they expected in 2015 and 2016, the duo knew they needed more people to meet demand and sharpened their focus on growing their workforce. New to the industry and not fully aware of the labor shortage impacting roofing contractors across the country, they started recruiting. Creatively.
Now with 60 employees — the majority of whom are homegrown and fully trained — Reliant is rolling. Thus far, 2017 was the company’s most successful yet, with more than 1,000 completed reroofs that generated more than $8.5 million in revenue. That was good enough to crack RC’s 2018 Top 150 Roofing Contractors List for the first time.
The year-over-year growth of 59 percent from 2016 put was an unexpected surprise, but helped put Reliant’s potential into perspective for Shapiro and Shouppe.
The duo can hedge their bet on 2018 a little, given the strong backlog of jobs already on the schedule through year’s end.
“We were able to do more revenue than a vast majority of our direct competition in residential roofing in northeast Florida, and this was only our second full year in business,” Shapiro, Reliant’s CEO, explained. “We truly feel we’ll crush the revenue and profit numbers from this year again.”
To say the least, roofing is no longer just a hobby, or ‘side hustle’ for Shapiro and Shouppe. Both said they quickly had to reassess their business priorities and shifted their goals dramatically once they realized they were onto something bigger. It didn’t take that long; Reliant’s first crew achieved their projected annual goal of 80 reroofs within the first 60 days of business.
“We started it with just the two of us and one crew with a goal of having a ‘side business,’” said Shouppe, Reliant’s president. “We realized then how much our market yearned for a roofing contractor who designed a company around the customer experience. The rest is history.”
Hungry to find workers to meet the market demand they began to cultivate, Shapiro and Shouppe unsuccessfully looked for tradesmen to hire and train for several weeks. Dissatisfied, and not willing to rest on their laurels, the duo went to work and established their own in-house training program for roofing contractors.
They knew they had to think outside of the box in order to attract talent, and they needed the right kind of recruiting to develop and maintain that talent. And so they went out and found people willing to do a hard day’s work, and worried about roofing skill later. But they wouldn’t have to wait long. Eager to train their own people, Shapiro and Shouppe purchased a vacant home in foreclosure in Jacksonville, and started using it and their materials to begin a roofing training program. It’s an 8-week-long experience that begins with two weeks of classroom education on the roofing industry before intensive training in the field.
Graduates each earn a minimum of a $40,000 annual salary, and promoted crew leaders can earn almost double that amount through hard work and exhibiting team leadership. Reliant’s investment in trainees is significant but Shapiro and Shouppe said the value is in the long-term return to the company. The program is designed to teach more than just the technical and philosophical approaches to roof installation because trainees really explore the profession and try to help establish a career path that sets up them up for future success.
“Our training program creates a more positive working environment for each member of the crew and allows them all to work together to hit bonuses based on quality and production,” Shouppe said. “Many of our graduates continue to climb the ladder in our organizational structure and end up being project managers or fit into other managerial roles.”
Last year, the program drew the attention of TV personality and skilled trades advocate Mike Rowe, whose nonprofit organization, mikeroweWORKS Foundation, is committed to helping bridge the growing skills gap in this country when it comes to trade occupations. He spotlighted the company on the foundation’s social media platforms, which also helped promote the duo’s presentation on the subject of workforce development at the 2018 International Roofing Expo (IRE) in New Orleans — at which Rowe also made an appearance with GAF.
Still too young of a company to endure a real economic downturn, at the age of 30, both of Reliant’s ownership team is still old enough to recall the Great Recession of 2008. They say they’re constantly mindful of national and regional economics and follow financial projections to help prepare for signs of major change. They also have invested time and resources into developing long-term relationships with customers and building a reputation for high quality that they believe can carry them through leaner times.
The company is set up with a sales side and a production side and employees stay in their lanes.
“We have a very niche focused organizational structure in our company and we tend to let strengths shine within our employees,” Shapiro said. “We don’t expect them to wear five hats in our organization like many other roofing contractors.”
Other key aspects of Reliant’s team structure includes assessment specialists whose sole purpose is to measure and inspect roofs daily, and full-time project managers that actually manage crews and aren’t just crew leaders also working on the jobsite.
Both Shapiro and Shouppe are very big on company culture and providing employees with the tools and opportunities to take the next step in their careers.
“Our company is nothing without the ‘all-in’ mentality of our employees,” Shouppe said. “They care as much about Reliant as ownership and that’s what separates us from everyone else.”
The business partners said their best achievement to-date was being recognized by their employees and local media as a Jacksonville Best Place to Work in 2017.
In addition to being recognized both within and outside the roofing industry for its proactive approach to roofing’s workforce issue, Reliant’s also received recognition for high-quality work. The company’s reroof of the Topsail Residence in Ponte Vedra, Fla. with GAF Grand Canyon® Lifetime Designer Shingles and Hand sealed Timbertex® Premium Ridge Cap Shingles earned the Silver Award in the 2018 Asphalt Roofing Manufacturers Association’s (ARMA) QARC competition.
Industry accolades aside, Shapiro and Shouppe said they’re proudest of not only what they’ve been able to provide for their employees, but what they and their team have been able to provide to the greater Jacksonville community.
In addition to the proactive business moves Reliant has made to help fight blight and other negative elements from impacting the community, the company has shown a commitment to local charities and other worthwhile causes.
Three families benefitted from Reliant Roofing projects free of charge, and organizers say they’d like to complete more than three times as many this year, and hopefully more in the future as they make it an annual company tradition.
“These roofs may not be big in size but they are the most rewarding and meaningful roofs we’ve done to-date,” Shapiro said. “The reaction and relief we were able to provide to the recipients of our first annual Every Shingle Heart has really cemented our desire to help these remarkable families in the best way we can; with new, safe and dry roofs.”
The company received scores of nominations by this year’s July deadline, and will be selecting winners shortly.
Earlier this year, Reliant announced its partnership with the U.S. Army’s PaYS Program — a strategic partnership between the U.S. Army and premier businesses from a wide range of industries. The program was created in 2000, and aims to provide enlisted soldiers with a smooth transition into civilian life through career opportunities with partnership companies.
Partners commit to interviewing military veterans for potential employment upon their discharged from the armed services. Shaprio said they’ve already hired four former soldiers that are model employees and hard workers.
The benefits of community involvement far outweigh the biggest drawback — which Shouppe said is turning deserving families away during the Every Shingle Heart nomination process.
“We wish we could help everyone in need, but financially we can’t always make that happen,” he said describing it as his worst experience as a business owner.
Banking on the Future
The notoriety and attention Reliant’s received from within and outside the industry for their innovative training program and charitable work is helping the company grow, but Shapiro and Shouppe said they won’t lose sight of their key differentiator with their competitors — customer care. It’s the chief concern, and they actively sell the experience of working with Reliant as part of the overall value of the purchase. No other marketing tool they employ garners the same results as word-of-mouth.
The company sends each client a thank-you box as a token of appreciation that’s fully wrapped and stuffed full of Reliant swag items. There’s always a handwritten thank you card from the team, and referral cards that incentivize them to promote Reliant to their friends and family by offering $100 per referral and $250 off for the person they refer.
“Instead of investing in marketing to new clients why not invest in your own raving fans to create new business for you?” Shouppe said.
When it comes to overall success, these young entrepreneurs said simplify and stay focused on providing specific outcomes for clients and stick to what you’re good at.
“Don’t cast a widespread net on the services you provide just to boost your revenues,” Shapiro said. “Focus on something and be the very best at it, there is plenty of residential roofing work for everyone to make a good living at. Roofers shouldn’t be remodeling kitchens and adding a bathroom to your house!”