Summers used to be a lot different for sisters Tana Ford and Brandy Ford Kaster. As veteran teachers who loved to mold young minds for nine months out of the year, the summer used to be a time for reflection, relative relaxation and mentally preparing for the next school year fast approaching.
But that all changed roughly five years ago, when the pair answered a contractor-friend’s plea for help managing a growing roofing and remodeling company. Tana, the elder by four years, answered the call, and liked the roofing experience so much that despite just earning a master’s degree, quit her teaching job and went into roofing full-time.
“Every single one of my friends said I was crazy to quit teaching to become a roofer,” she said.
Brandy pitched in by project managing on roofing jobs throughout the summer months, but with tenure approaching and a Master’s Degree in Education nearly complete, she returned to the classroom. Once Tana decided to establish her own roofing company in 2017, it was only a matter of time. Within her first year, Tana said she realized how difficult it was to manage a growing business and approached Brandy about joining her in roofing full-time, and neither have looked back since.
“It was a scary leap of faith to leave a 20-year teaching position with retirement and venture out into something new,” Brandy recalled. “But it has been the best decision in both of our lives.”
Building a Brand
Despite a saturated roofing market, Sorelle Construction’s business built up fast with word-of-mouth referrals in awfully fertile territory. The Dallas-Fort Worth area, known as the Metroplex, is home to roughly 8 million people and is the most-populated inland metro area in the country. Officially, it’s the fourth-largest metro area in the United States and is growing fast, largely due to having the largest concentration of Fortune 500 companies behind New York and Chicago. All those companies need talented employees, and all those employees need reliable roofs over their heads.
Not only did the chance to succeed in roofing appear readily available, but the marketplace was full of disreputable contractors. The sisters knew what kind of business they didn’t want to run, and focused on their strengths — educating customers and taking the time to nurture relationships that ultimately led to good business opportunities.
“You would see other owners cut corners, and really for no reason,” Tana said. “And we realized that about 80 percent of the companies in our market did it that way. When we went out on our own, we said we wanted to raise the bar higher.”
It begins with their personal involvement in every job from the start. They ensure their crews understand all of the client’s goals and concerns, and aren’t afraid to get dirty. The hands-on owners have been known to collect trash and debris at jobsites, hand deliver parts and equipment when needed and document what’s happening on a daily basis.
At every jobsite one of them is on the roof inspecting work, coaching crews and making sure any and all details are accounted for to relay to the customer.
“There’s not a customer that we have not personally met with and talked to from the beginning to the end of the roofing process,” Brandy explained. “We hope that as the business continues to grow, we won’t lose that ability that we feel sets us apart.”
The pair said they’ve also paid a lot of attention to smart, managed growth. That includes difficult decisions to turn down the potential for larger jobs they could become front-runners for because of their minority-owned business status.
“We haven’t reached out for contracts that might be lucrative but stretch us too thin,” Tana said. “We wanted to grow at a pace that’s not ever going to put us at risk of going under or not meeting payroll. We’re growing at the rate we need to grow in order to be stable.”
Offering Something Different
In addition to being family, Sorelle Construction’s owners walk through every front door and sit in a prospect’s kitchen with another undeniable differentiator — their gender.
It’s a fact they’ve not only learned to deal with, but have turned into an asset in the sales process.
“We get asked about it all the time,” Tana said. “Homeowners and business owners tend to be a lot more open with women than men when it comes to talking about the (roofing) problem and a difficult decision that needs to be made.”
The pair fall back to their teaching experiences and rely on giving the customer an education in roofing that they never knew they’d be interested in. The results speak for themselves.
“It is a man’s field and we’re a huge minority in this business, so I think we’re constantly being underestimated or judged,” Brandy said. “But as soon as they realize we know what they’re talking about, they start to ask more and more questions and the process gets easier. It’s a fun transition to watch.”
Both sisters are strong supporters of National Women in Roofing, a nonprofit organization focused on the professional growth and empowerment of women within the industry, and say they can see the industry evolving fast in just their few short years as roofing contractors.
“People’s attitudes are changing about everything and we’re seeing more and more women in a working-class field like roofing because we’re effective,” Brandy said.
She added that, in general, women in roofing pay more attention to detail and are willing to make the hard decision today that leads to a more lucrative tomorrow.
“We’re willing to lose $1,000 on a project to use certain materials or to have a crew that costs a few more dollars per square, but is totally worth it because they’re dependable and do quality work,” she continued. “We’re not going to settle for stuff.”
Though focused on the future, these sisters say it’s easy to look back just a few years and realize how fortunate they are to become part of the roofing industry at what they think is just the right time. And that they’re finding success together while still having a lot of fun.
“I knew that if I put all that I had into this and after one year could see the potential, that I’d leave teaching behind,” Tana said. “My sister is funny, she’s awesome with customers and I knew that after a few frustrating years in education that this could be a good change, and that she’d be really good at it.”
Brandy was a bit more direct when describing why their business relationship works so well.
“Tana is very hot headed, and can go from zero to 10 very quick,” Brandy explained. “I can keep things calm when things come up, and I’m a little more organized. It’s a really good balance.
“(Tana’s) also really aggressive and confident, and that comes out whenever we’re in the field,” Brandy said. “She doesn’t like to take ‘no’ for an answer.”
Sometimes that determination surfaces when they don’t always see eye-to-eye.
“It can be a lot working with family that close,” Brandy admitted. “She can agitate me, but we have fun every day, and that’s one of the things that keeps us going.
“We’re still new to the business and learning every day, and it’s nice to do something where you’re constantly learning. Any profession you can get stagnant at, so it was a big change, but a change that was needed.”