Reaching the top of your market in roofing and staying there for four decades requires the ability to build a strong reputation and to stay resilient when challenges arise. Positioning a company to not only stay on that path but help lead the industry for decades to come often depends on strong leadership with a willingness to take calculated risks.
The team at Rackley Roofing Co. Inc. has the unique combination of all those elements, and is showing it’s not afraid to transform and embrace change well before economic factors and market demands dictate.
W.R. “Bill” Rackley was a hungry entrepreneur who in 1974 opened his own roofing company in Carthage, Tenn., with a one-room office, a secretary, one roofing crew, and a rented pickup truck. Despite humble beginnings, he built the business on trust, hard work and fair pricing, and ran it until 1987, when long-time employee David Frost bought him out. Frost, Rackley’s current executive vice president, set out to grow the company’s reputation as the go-to, hassle-free roofer in the market. Under his leadership, Rackley expanded its customer base across the state and into additional markets in neighboring Alabama and Georgia.
During this time, Rackley also earned a reputation for being the “gold” standard of commercial and industrial roofing in Tennessee, a point of pride that still consumes the company’s executive leadership. Spearheading that focus is President Curtis Sutton, who joined the company in 2010 and immediately began working on company culture and expanding service options.
The first step was building a reliable service division that, at the time, many in the roofing industry viewed as a money-losing nuisance. Not Sutton, who correctly viewed it as a foundational piece for Rackley Roofing’s next chapter. The division grew from one service crew eight years ago to 20 today. Officials said the ability to gain and cultivate new customers with long-term roofing needs while setting itself apart from the regional competition is a big reason why the company’s 180 employees generated roughly $30 million in revenue last year.
Inside and Out
The other piece Sutton and other company officials point to as instrumental for its success is the commitment to customer care. And that actually begins before a Rackley Roofing employee is ever in front of a customer or a prospect.
Sutton began his roofing career at the bottom — doing the dirty jobs as a laborer for a national roofing contractor right after graduating high school. He stuck with it and worked his way up the ranks to general manager before seeking his own opportunities to lead a company.
He said his bottom-to-top career path and experience paid dividends when it came time to manage an organization reliant on the actions and reputations of employees in the field.
“When you start as a laborer like I did, you see just how much quality employees can impact a company,” Sutton explained. “Your field employees are just as much the face and voice of your company as the office staff. Why would you ever underestimate that?
“We know that good people who do good work leave a lasting impression, and we want people to achieve their dreams and reach their goals they may be afraid to say out loud.”
Employees are told from day one that there are no limitations to their success within the company, if they’re willing to put in the work. They often promote from within, and given the constant need for qualified workers industrywide, also take proactive steps to keep competitors from recruiting them away. Part of Rackley’s ongoing training regimen includes education on what Sutton calls “taking the cheese.”
“We have a saying at Rackley ‘often imitated but never duplicated,’” he said. “We just make sure we stay ahead of the competition on educating our employees. We also understand the value of this training in keeping our employees happy.”
When asked to describe the company, Sutton rattled off words like humble, hungry, smart, innovative, accountable, and customer-focused. But he insisted it all begins and ends with safety in mind. Rackley employs two full-time safety directors and every project has a designated safety plan before work begins. Random site visits are weekly occurrences and employees also utilize an in-house training program called Rackley University to practice safety procedures as well as train on product installation techniques.
The company boasts a .57 Experience Modification Rate (EMR), the standard used by insurance companies to gauge the costs of past injuries, and potential worksite injuries in the future.
“We are safe above everything else,” he explained. “Safe before profit, safe before production. Safe, safe, safe, and our employees love it because they trust the company culture. They know we’re here to take care of them. So in turn, they take care of our customers. It’s a beautiful relationship.”
The fruits of that relationship can be seen across Music City and beyond — the company’s project portfolio is a “what’s where?” list of some of the region’s most important structures. Crews have completed roof installations on multiple landmark buildings in Nashville, including the Schermerhorn Concert Hall, The State Capitol, Top Golf Nashville, the Adventure Science Center, and the new Criminal Justice Center.
Perhaps their most high-profile partnership is with the National Football League’s Tennessee Titans, which features the “Rackley Replay” on the Nissan Stadium jumbotron screen during all home games. Other recent company milestones include:
Becoming the first Firestone Master Contractor High-Five Award winner; involvement with Tennessee Association of Roofing Contractors (TARC) — of which Sutton served as president and past president from 2015-2016; becoming a founding sponsor of National Women in Roofing; and the recent acquisition of roofing companies RD Herbert & Sons, of Nashville, and C.M. Henley, of Knoxville.
Recent success aside, Rackley continues to push forward with a mission statement that’s a bit broader and more ambitious than just generating profits and building a legacy.
Sutton said he and his company want to transform the roofing industry, and they intend to lead by example. Rackley is actively involved in roughly a dozen of the leading state, regional and national roofing-related professional associations. In addition to serving as president of TARC, Sutton and Rackley Roofing COO Michelle Boykin are part of the Roofing Technology Think Tank (RT3), a collection of roofing industry professionals working together to help contractors solve urgent business problems through technology.
Their involvement requires resources but has already paid dividends through unique experiences that include visiting Georgia Institute of Technology and Microsoft headquarters. Boykin said they unexpectedly learned about and used a new communications app that’s already cut down on the steady — and often overwhelming — stream of company emails.
It’s one of several items she’s looking forward to speaking about as part of a panel discussion on technology and innovation at the 2019 International Roofing Expo in Nashville.
“Anytime you can learn about new technologies in the pipeline for roofing, there is an excitement. Just hearing about ideas each year is great,” she told RC. “Just being a part of this organization allows you to be surrounded by other innovative leaders.”
Sutton said it’s part of an overall approach to constantly improve, whether as part of a business team or an individual.
“To me, there’s no better way to learn but from someone else’s success and mistakes,” he explained. “We understand the more involved you become, the better relationships you create. Friendships and partnerships are the very fabric of the roofing community. You can’t isolate yourself and expect to be a success.”
The philosophy, attitude and willingness to fully invest in pushing the roofing trade forward is getting noticed industry-wide.
“They’ve established a standard of business from which all roofing companies should model,” said Steve Little, head coach of Dallas-based K-Post Co., RC’s 2017 Commercial Roofing Contractor of the Year. “Their mission statement is to transform the roofing industry. From our vantage point, Curtis and his team are doing just that.”
In the short-term, the goals are partially self-serving. Sutton said he believes utilizing technology is quickly becoming the best tool contractors already have available to improve safety and efficiency on the roof. In the long-term, the emergence of drones, virtual reality and artificial intelligence have the potential to completely revolutionize roofing and help recruit the next generation of tech-savvy workers.
“The (current and future) employees at Rackley know we will always be ahead of the competition because we do not follow,” he said. “When we decided to brand Rackley as ‘Transforming The Industry’ it was not just a motto. We live it every day.”