It doesn’t take long to get a glimpse of the company culture at John Beal Roofing Inc.
Showcased on a wall standing 15-feet high as one walks in the corporate headquarters in suburban St. Louis is the “Penalty of Leadership.” To call it a mantra doesn’t quite do it justice. More than 400 words long, the passages are straight from an ad in the 1915 Saturday Evening Post for the Cadillac Motor Car Co. Radical for its time, it never once mentions the company brand name, furthering its meaning that leadership comes at a cost, and with great responsibility.
The words set the tone for the nearly 100 employees that have taken the 72-year-old primarily residential roofing company to new heights under relatively new leadership. John Beal roofing crews set company records for revenue consecutively in each of the last three years. In 2018, the company reported $33 million in revenue, good for 44th on RC ’s 2018 Top 100 Roofing Contractor’s list.
“Just five years ago, it was very possible that we would’ve gone under,” said General Manager Sam Maiden. “But the people that stayed were the ones that believed in the company through and through — the ones we call ‘true black and yellow.’”
“It felt like everyone just stopped caring and if you don’t believe in what you’re doing, then your work is going to suffer,” he explained. “And (John Beal) said that we either needed to fix this thing or pack it up and go home.”
Within six months, the company let 40 people go and was down to just about a dozen employees.
Though it was difficult to scale back and essentially revamp the company from the ground up, the changes were positive and paid plentiful dividends.
Momentum really started to pick up in 2015 and the company posted a then-record $18 million in revenue. Sales increased to $25 million the following year, and workforce nearly doubled to its current size of about 100 employees.
In 2016, the company relocated into a new 20,000-square-foot building and established of the region’s largest showrooms for roofing products, with more than 100 shingle colors on display from multiple manufacturers.
Maiden credits the employees as the company’s key attributes to success. Not only are they hard working and keep up with a rapid pace of work in multiple volatile roofing markets, but they’re innovative. The company developed internally a pricing app that not only keeps pricing consistent, but also immediately builds labor and material orders simultaneously.
“Waste and overages went out the window allowing us to price our jobs more competitively,” Mainer said. “We do not rely on a salesman to determine how much of a material comes in a box or how much waste is needed.”
He said he firmly believes that one of the hardest things to do in business is to find a good person, a good employee.
“If you don’t have the right people, no matter how much business you get, you’re going to fail,” he said.
John Beal took over the company in 1994 and is the third generation in his family at the helm since his grandfather started it in 1947 upon returning from World War II. It has changed names a few times since then, but always remained in the family. Though not officially retired, Beal has other business ventures and entrusts Maiden and Operations Manager Jeremy Mainer to run the day-to-day.
It’s part of his overall business philosophy that no one is irreplaceable, and shouldn’t be.
“Everybody here is trained to find their replacement. That’s how we work and that’s what we tell our people over and over again,” said Maiden, who joined the company in 2008 after excelling in garage door sales. “It’s not so that we can go out and get rid of you, but it’s so you can keep moving up and go on to do bigger and better things.”
The company is broken up into multiple divisions: repair, residential roof, commercial roof, accounts receivable, insurance, sales and a call center. The key is open communication and not blending roles to remain more like an assembly line. Each important piece is handled by someone with expertise in that aspect of the business model to make the entire process work, Mainer explained.
Each Monday, the company leaders have what’s called internally their “braintrust” meeting where the 10 managers listen to concerns and issues, and then take votes on the best approach to solve them.
Maiden said they do their fair share of storm work each year, but don’t rely on it, as they instead try and emphasize serving the communities where they’ve established roots and community partnerships.
Working with nonprofit organizations is now a company cornerstone, and employees pride in giving back to the greater St. Louis area — donating an estimated $150,000 a year for the last four years to various charities and nonprofit organizations.
That commitment led to what Maiden describes as one the best experiences they’ve have had as a company last June — an all-day fund raiser for the USO of Missouri, which provides support for active military members and their families. Funded solely by donations, the effort is imperative to help provide comfort to the men and women serving abroad, and their loved ones bravely “serving” while waiting home.
Maiden said the company matched the first $10,000 raised, for a one-day total of more than $22,000 raised in a festive environment.
“Local radio personalities were on site, and there were drawings for prizes, including an opportunity to win a new roof,” he said. “The entire company participated. It was a wonderful time as we all worked in concert for a great cause.”
The company’s long association with the armed forces and dedication to the men and women that serve has not gone unrecognized. John Beal received the “5-Star Donor Award” from the USO of Missouri, and was also designated as a “Patriotic Employer” by the U.S. Dept. of Defense. The award is presented annually to supervisors and managers who support active U.S. National Guard and Reserve members to be both private-industry employees and service members of the U.S. military.
Other award and nicknames that stuck over the years include: “The Face of Roofing in St. Louis” — St. Louis Magazine; “Best Places To Work in St. Louis” — St. Louis Post Dispatch; “Fastest Growing Companies in the United States” — INC.
And the “Bright Star Award” from Owens Corning, without whom the John Beal turnaround couldn’t have happened so rapidly, Maiden said. Also on the list of invaluable partners is ABC Supply Co. Inc.
“We would not be where we are at today had it not been for ABC Supply,” he said. “ABC has been with us every step of the way and works with us more like a partner than a supplier.”
Taking the Lead
After seven decades in business, John Beal Roofing has withstood the test of unpredictable market variables, product innovations and stringent regulations. But to ensure a solid future, Maiden and others in leadership believe the industry needs to be more proactive in the political sphere.
Currently, Missouri is just one of six states without any formal oversight of the roofing industry, and no regulatory requirements at all. Maiden said the environment simply attracts too many bad and unethical contractors out there, and that changing it is a matter of business sense and professional pride.
“Anyone with a ladder can essentially become a roofer within 24 hours. There’s literally nothing on the books,” he said. “We see (roof scams) so many times, and you’ve got to do something to help these victims. We just got tired of it.”
While local associations have tried moving roof licensing requirements before, the John Beal team took a simpler approach by reaching out to legislators and partners to start a political process that would build momentum toward licensing the right way.
They lobbied hard enough to get a bill introduced last session in the Missouri House of Representatives that would provide for a standardized roofing test and require bonding for each certified roofing contractor. The Legislature is expected to consider the bill this fall.
The second phase of the legislative process will be to go to the local municipalities to make sure they don’t issue permits for roofing projects without a license-carrying contractor.
“We also got tired of waiting around,” he said bluntly. “No one wants over-regulation, but we do need some sort of licensing test to show people. It’s common sense. Come and take the test, and prove that you know what you’re doing.”