Roofing companies don’t survive several generations without doing things right, and those behind H.T. Harrison & Sons Inc. offer proof positive.
Started 110 years ago by Herbert Thomas Harrison, the Rockville, Md.-based company is heading into its fourth generation under Harrison family ownership, with no signs of slowing.
Whereby the company has seen plenty of competitors fall by the wayside, revenue for the 27-employee shop is projected to hit $4 million in 2018, up from about $3.5 million last year.
Company officials attribute the success of H.T. Harrison & Sons to numerous factors essentially revolving around a consistent ability to tap “generous” levels of experience and expertise while maintaining an “essential” amount of communication — all in the name of customer service.
“Quite often, a building owner or management company will, for the first time, experience working with us and the next thing you know, we take on their entire roofing needs because of the service and expertise we bring,” said Capri Harrison, vice president and treasurer.
It’s an approach that dates to 1908, when Herbert Thomas Harrison started his roofing company in Richmond, Va. The company relocated to Maryland in the 1940s.
At the time, Herbert Thomas Harrison Jr., Wellford Thomas Harrison Sr., John Harrison and Ricky Harrison put the “sons” in H.T. Harrison & Sons.
The company remains family-owned.
Wayne Harrison, current owner and president of H.T. Harrison & Sons, is son of Wellford Thomas Harrison Sr.
Capri said the company’s success in the last few decades, and going forward, can be attributed to Wayne.
“His hard work and business planning was the major reason for success over the last 38 years,” Capri said of her husband. “We have confidence that this should continue into the next generation.”
Growing and Learning
Wayne started working for the company at a young age.
“At 13, my father pulled me off the couch during the summer and told me to get to work on one of the flat ‘hot tar’ crews,” he said.
Eventually, Wayne would go on to finish high school (attending Greenbrier Military School his senior year), and earn three degrees, including a bachelor’s degree in economics from West Virginia Wesleyan College and another degree from the Maryland Drafting Institute.
Concurrently, Wayne did two other things: played rugby — earning a spot on the U.S. national rugby team — and ran roofing crews in the summer.
In 1981, after having just turned 30 and worked for about three years at another roofing company, Wayne bought out his father and three uncles. His father was the only one who stayed actively involved with the company, which was a bit of an adjustment, according to Wayne.
“I had to send my dad to Florida for three months when I discovered every time I gave instructions to a crew they looked over at my dad for confirmation,” Wayne said. “It took some doing, but I had to win their respect and cooperation.”
It wasn’t the only challenge the company’s ever faced.
In 1977, a fire broke out at its Gaithersburg, Md. warehouse. Due to the building’s location, responding firefighters had to run their hoses across train tracks. Wayne said that “someone forgot to call the trainmaster to stop the trains.”
“Hoses were severed and everything burned to the ground,” he said.
Still, the company forged ahead, and “continued to operate with the help of donated old equipment from other roofing companies,” he said. They set up shop in Rockville, Md.
It was a good thing, too, because the 1980-89 period was particularly good to H.T. Harrison & Sons.
“Jobs were overly abundant and we could just about name our price on almost any project,” Wayne said.
At the beginning of the next decade, however, the company faced another big challenge when a long-time foreman for the company fell from a ladder and subsequently died.
Capri said it was an overwhelmingly sad time for the company as everyone dealt with the loss of their beloved colleague.
But, she said, there was some good that came out of the event.
Today, the company has what Wayne calls an “extensive safety program” based on National Roofing Contractors Association protocol and incorporating various safety manuals and training tools. Fall prevention is the foremost reviewed safety item, he said, with ladder safety and other safety risk reviews for each project. Additionally, projects are reviewed to highlight any particular safety concerns, such as overhead wires and/or skylight openings.
“(The accident) kind of shook enough people up that I think there were maybe some places we may have been a little slight on the safety aspect and all of the sudden everybody stepped up,” Capri said. “It really brought the company together as a unit.”
Service and Expertise
H.T. Harrison & Son’s business is split 50/50 between residential and commercial. About 10 percent of business stems from new construction with the rest coming from reroofing jobs. The company’s long-time slogan is “If we can lean a ladder against it, we can put a roof on it.”
“Our niche is basically reroofing of existing structures,” Capri said. “Low-rise apartments, shopping centers, industrial warehouses and things like that on the commercial side of things. And then, of course, we do residential work.”
Capri said H.T. Harrison & Sons has built up longstanding relationships with property owners and management companies in the area who know the kind of service and quality products the company can provide.
Take the Maryland & Virginia Milk Producers Association Inc. plant in Laurel, Md. — a customer of H.T. Harrison & Sons.
The plant processes various dairy products that utilize equipment that is extremely dust and dirt sensitive.
“Health department inspections are regular and ongoing,” Wayne said. “A call at the drop of the hat requires our roofing mechanics to respond quickly and efficiently with emergency repair or roof replacement. This customer cannot afford lengthy shut down times. It has been a good partnership for both of us over the last several years.”
Such customer service is important, Capri said, because about 90 percent of the company’s advertising is word-of-mouth.
It starts with being able to identify existing and potential issues for customers in the early stages of a project.
“Because we have that knowledge under our belt, we see the signs early, and in the early stages of tear-off, are able to communicate to owners what they’re dealing with…and that gives us a leg up in having a good rapport,” Capri said.
Customer service doesn’t stop with simply identifying issues, either.
“Each project is inspected at the onset, during production and at the completion to ensure our work has been performed within or exceeding our high standards,” Wayne said. “Communication is essential. Before and during any project there are phone calls and emails to keep each residential and commercial customer informed of our progress.”
It’s an approach instilled in all company employees, including Wayne and Capri’s son, Travis, who’s currently an estimator. He spent years as a roofing technician, and his parents said he represents the fourth generation of Harrisons involved with the company.
“Our main key attribute is the years of experience that we bring to the table,” Wayne said. “Roof products come and go, especially with newer technology. But knowledge of how systems work and the detail that makes them work successfully is critical. We have four generations of knowledge that we bring to the table.”