At the age of 28, Wisconsin resident Joe Dzienkowski took a chance and bought Eau Claire Roofing in the midst of the Great Recession. It was a calculated risk backed by a keen business acumen he picked up from an unlikely source: dairy farming.
“I grew up on a dairy farm just east of Eau Claire,” Dzienkowski explained. “My dad would be directly related to any of my success, he’s always had my back, and as a large dairy farmer has always had to juggle many different aspects of business.”
Generational expertise like this is what has steered Eau Claire Roofing from its origins in the 1940s, and continues to lead the company today. With a focus on low slope roofing and a bevy of awards for quality workmanship, Eau Claire Roofing has set the bar for commercial roofing in cheese country.
Adopting the name of the city it serves, Eau Claire Roofing was formed in 1945 by Ralph Leslie. At the time, the city’s population was around 30,800. As the city grew, so did the business. The company changed hands to Ralph Leslie Jr., who owned it for 50 years before turning it over to his son, Steve Leslie.
Roughly 18 years ago, Dzienkowski joined the company, installing his first roof for Eau Claire Roofing on a church. In 2008, he purchased the company from Steve.
“Steve wanted to see his family’s company continue and I am happy to be a part of the legacy,” Dzienkowski said.
At the time it was an exciting opportunity for Dzienkowski, as he now owned a roofing company in the state’s ninth-largest city (the population had more than doubled in size since Eau Claire Roofing began). But it was also fraught with risk. The Great Recession had started a year prior to the purchase, and with roofing already being a highly competitive industry, he had his work cut out for him.
“I always said it was the worst time to buy considering the market, but others tell me it was the best time to buy,” he said. “Either way, it was an education on how to run lean during those first few years of my ownership.”
Eau Claire Roofing persevered, thanks in part to its long family history and strong positioning in west central Wisconsin. Dzienkowski added that having the city’s name as part of the company name hasn’t hurt either, but it’s truly come down to building strong relationships with clients.
“Relationship building starts with the first phone call — they’ve already chosen to call you, it’s up to you make the sale,” Dzienkowski said. “Most start with a simple repair; fix their problems, provide prompt service and bill fairly, and there will be no reason to shop around.”
Nowadays, Eau Claire Roofing is jointly owned by Dzienkowski and his wife, Karin, and has since flourished. It has handled everything from churches and businesses to restaurants, malls and apartment buildings.
Along with his father, Dzienkowski credits Steve Leslie for teaching him about the business. To this day, he continues to milk the minds of other roofing contractors.
“I always ask guys that have retired from commercial roofing questions,” Dzienkowski said. “I want to learn from others’ mistakes instead of my own, being proactive instead of reactive.”
An FAQ on the company’s website shares a portion of that knowledge with customers, including facts about hiring proper contractors as well as information about various products, including Metro Stone-Coated steel roofing and Duro-Last.
But one piece of advice Dzienkowski always provides is scheduling check-ups. He finds himself reminding clients that his company offers an inexpensive maintenance service to keep smaller problems from becoming bigger ones.
“If your roof is leaking it’s not going to fix itself,” he said. “It’s always surprising hearing, ‘It’s been doing that for a year.’”
Small but Mighty Crews
One of the keys to Eau Claire Roofing’s success is staying lean, which includes its staff. Dzienkowski said the company has 12 employees, doesn’t subcontract any work and doesn’t have separate divisions.
With a smaller crew, Eau Claire Roofing has a firm grasp on its strengths. For instance, it doesn’t specifically train its crews on customer service, letting them focus more on doing the work. If there’s a question they can’t answer, they know they can call Dzienkowski.
“I have good control on what the end product will look like,” he said. “Between my foreman directing traffic and my sales manager ordering accurately, this is the reason we produce high-quality installs.”
Of course, the downside is that the crew members may butt heads more often, but Dzienkowski takes it as an opportunity to assess any weaknesses and improve morale.
“We try to keep it fun. Roofing is hard work and the guys spend countless hours together as a team,” Dzienkowski said. “If you team a couple of guys up that don’t get along, you’re asking for trouble, so I try and keep them comfortable with what guys fit into a task.”
Dzienkowski believes having a smaller crew also allows for a better grasp on safety. He has daily “tool box talks” about safety practices alongside official quarterly safety meetings. A number of employees have completed various OSHA classes as well.
The smaller crew also means most training takes place on the jobsite, but the roofing contractor is certainly no slouch — it passed the Dwelling Contractor’s Qualifier to earn its license in the state of Wisconsin, and is accredited by the Better Business Bureau.
Eau Clair Roofing is looking to go above and beyond with its qualifications. As a member of the National Roofing Contractors Association, Dzienkowski plans on enrolling employees into the association’s rigorous ProCertification program to boost their credibility even further.
“We are in a small market, so if you are not laying down quality work, it won’t take long for that to be known,” he said.
This attention to quality has not gone unnoticed. Since 2005, the company has earned multiple awards from Duro-Last, including the Elite Contractor/Admirals Award Club Winner in 2015, which recognizes outstanding achievement in workmanship and customer satisfaction alongside annual sales exceeding $500,000.
“Duro-Last roofing has been an excellent supplier and provides all the support a contractor could ask for,” he said. “They have a great culture and really top-notch people to partner with. It’s been awesome to grow with them.”
While the company grows, Dzienkowski is keeping an eye toward the future. Operations are almost exclusively commercial at the moment, but the residential market is in sight. Should he expand, Dzienkowski plans on holding true to the lessons he learned from his predecessors.
“We don’t bite off more than we can chew in a day,” he said. “Honestly, I think guys can get into trouble trying to go to big — that’s when quality suffers.”