Chris Zazo distinctly remembers the first time he ever saw and felt a hailstorm.
The self-described farm boy from northeast Ohio had barely settled into his new surroundings in Dallas when the skies quickly opened up and pelted him and others at a golf event.
“It was clear blue skies and all of the sudden these ice balls started hitting everything … damaging cars, denting the picnic pavilion and hitting the buildings around us really hard,” he recalled of that day in the mid-1990s. “At first I thought they were golf balls but realized what was happening, and thought it was one of most amazing things I’ve ever seen.”
So started a fascination that ultimately led Zazo to ditch his sales job with a steel framing company, stop flipping houses, cash in his 401K, and start chasing storms across the Deep South. It was only supposed to be a 90-day diversion, but the profits and genuine fun he had traversing the storm belt in a diesel motor bus coach kept him going for nearly three years.
“We were like rock stars with no rock. Just looking for hail and hurricanes,” he said. “I didn’t really know what I was getting into. I just knew that failure was not an option.”
After a successful run reroofing damage caused by a series of major hurricanes (including Frances, Ivan, Jeanne and Katrina), Zazo returned to Dallas and established Aspenmark Roofing & Solar in 2005. Well aware of the poor reputation that generally follows roofers doing storm work, Zazo said establishing trust internally and externally was a fundamental building block for his company.
An entrepreneur at heart, Zazo has had his share of swings — and misses — on business opportunities. But he wanted to make sure his roofing business was built correctly from the inside out. He wanted hard workers that also had the drive to improve themselves and to be part of something bigger.
“Trust is tough in the storm restoration industry because you’re dealing with insurance adjusters, carriers, lawyers, etc.,” Zazo said. “The honesty piece was probably the biggest thing we emphasized from the start, and that’s never going to change.”
The team also takes a diverse approach to training. There’s in-house product and sales training, and they’ve lined up the services of RoofCoachPro Jim Johnson to improve employee production and skill building. Employees also take advantage of training opportunities provided by their chief suppliers and manufacturing partners, such as GAF, Beacon Roofing Supply, and Air Vent. They also make use of training provided by the North Texas Roofing Contractors Assocation’s “Elevate” program as well as membership in the Roofing Contractors Association of Texas.
Teamwork is the key in a working culture designed to share success and accountability, whether on the jobsite or the company’s large kitchen.
“From the very beginning when there was only one Aspenmark employee, we created a culture where everyone eats lunch together — whether it was ordering in, cooking or now using Door Dash and Uber Eats,” Zazo said. “For the most part, the team in the office spends time eating together.”
That first employee, Jackie Argueta, is still with the company and part of the management team today.
Paula Felix, vice president of operations, joined the company eight years ago and said that loyalty is built through hard work, camaraderie and establishing a positive working atmosphere. Other benefits include working in a W-2 environment with flexible hours that allow for ‘have-to’s’ like kids’ doctor’s appointments. Employees also get two weeks’ vacation and standard holidays observed.
The company started a maintenance department to help boost revenue in 2014, and high-quality installations are ensured by constant communication.
“Our production manager is active in the field and in touch with our installers constantly,” Felix said. “We have one ‘field pro’ who acts as the day-to-day project manager for single-family installations, two project managers to handle the onsite logistics and jobsite control for multi-family and commercial projects.”
Building relationships with customers is critically important to the team, which requires a certain mindset.
“All customers want and deserve excellent service. If you don’t give it to them, they will find someone who will,” Zazo said. “Treat them like you are a waiter in a fine dining establishment — service the heck out of them! Before, during and after the sale.”
When asked to break down his business mindset, Zazo proposed a simple, but effective approach to the roofing business based on these points:
- Work within your means and capital, which means saving for a rainy day, because a bad year will come.
- Be true to yourself and fair to your customer.
- Participate in local and national professional industry organizations.
- Most importantly, always be looking for ways to improve.
Where They’re Going
Aspenmark’s journey forward as a company will begin under a new partnership in 2020. Shortly after the New Year, Zazo announced that he’ll join the Restoration Builders Inc. consortium. The company launched an aggressive acquisition campaign late last fall, and announced purchase agreements with 15 roofers and other contractors in the repair and restoration space. The Aspenmark acquisition was among the final moves of what’s being called the first phase of a business model that will shake the roofing industry up.
Approached before by investors and other companies looking to expand, Zazo said the decision to join Restoration Builders now is a matter of good timing and creating a succession plan for his team. Being part of a national company that can offer mobility, continuous work year-round, and the potential of stock offerings in the future were more than he felt he could do on his own.
“My family is the Aspenmark family, they work their butts off day-in, day-out and the biggest thing was to find a way that would be beneficial for all of them in the future,” Zazo explained.
The announcement, made internally in early 2019, set the stage for a very successful year after what they considered a down year in 2018.
“It really changed the mindset for everyone because we have so much more to work for now,” he said. “If this all goes according to plan, we all will be a lot better off than we would have been working for another company. It’s really the chance of a lifetime and I think people have really rallied around that.”
The move was more than a year in the making, and very deliberate, said Restoration Builders Co-founder Janet Lorenz. Zazo’s personality and proven ability to get the job done were immediate attractions. The intangibles he brings to an organization with broader goals were positives that closed the deal.
“We chose them for different reasons. Chris is going to be a really key manager for the company. He has a good heart, great business skills and his people, his team, they love him,” Lorenz said.
Based off Aspenmark’s success and his industry-wide reputation, Zazo was among the handful of first roofing contractors Lorenz and her husband, Co-founder John Lorenz, interviewed. Key attractions were the management structure, the people that they have in place as well as their service territory.
“There’s hurricanes, there’s a lot of other storm activity. And you can reach other areas quite quickly from Texas,” Janet explained. “Not only does the territory follow U.S. storm patterns and there’s need for the market there…we found very high-quality managers in our Texans.”
The Lorenzes said they’ll evaluate keeping a company’s independent identity after the acquisition on a case-by-case basis; however, the goal is to have the companies operate under one roofing brand. The intent is eventually for the company to go public on the New York Stock Exchange.
Part of Zazo’s decision to join the conglomerate was also based on the regulatory environment in Texas, or lack thereof.
“Texas is the only Gulf state that does not require licensing or oversight for roofing contractors and general contractors, yet is one of the biggest markets for insurance restoration work. This creates a bit of a Wild, Wild West feel and transient roofing environment in our state,” Zazo said.
He believes being part of a larger group with shared values and vision to uplift the industry will be taking a
Put simply, Zazo said this is an opportunity worth the potential risk for everyone on the team.
“This opportunity is kind of the karma of doing all right things all those years coming back to you,” he explained. “It’s going to be a lot of fun, a lot of hard work, but the reason why we’re all doing this is to help make it better for all in the roofing industry, and there’s going to be a gain for those of us willing to do the work and take the risk.”