John Chan began his roofing career while working for The Durable Slate Co. during summer breaks from college. Upon graduating from UCLA with a degree in economics in 1989, he returned to the commercial roofing contractor full-time and rose through the ranks to ultimately own the company.
Thirty years and more than 10,000 slate and tile roofs later, Chan and his company received international recognition for a stellar and award-winning roof replacement. RC recently caught up with Chan to ask the following:
RC: Can you briefly describe who you are and how you got into roofing?
JC: I’m the owner of Durable Slate and Durable Restoration. We work on historic roofing projects, specializing in slate, clay tile and copper roofing. We also do historic restoration work — historic masonry, structural stabilization, stone patching, marble, terra cotta, sandstone, brownstone, granite restoration.
Slate roofing was a summer job for me when I was in college. After I graduated, I continued full-time, as I liked a variety of working outdoors and indoors, and I loved working on significant properties.
RC: You knew you loved roofing when ….?
JC: We started working on very historic and significant buildings, such as the State of Ohio Capitol Building, the Ohio Governor’s Mansion, pre-Revolutionary War homes, etc.
RC: You knew slate (or metal) was going to be your preferred system when…and why?
JC: It actually started that way because virtually no one else wanted to do it. It was an easy way to start. There was no competition at that time.
RC: How cool was it to represent not only your company and country, but your specific roofing specialty on the international stage?
JC: It was fantastic. It’s been a long-term vision and goal. Back in 1996, Gary Howes and I went to the Dach and Wand in Germany and we saw the roofing contest and the beautiful old roofs all over Europe. We really aspired to be able to do the kind of work that they do in Europe. So, it’s been in the back of our minds for over 20 years — to be recognized as a top roofing company internationally — one that can do the most challenging jobs.
RC: It sounds like a very meaningful recognition and experience?
JC: So that award is more like a lifetime achievement award in some ways. It was the steps of going from a small slate repair company in Columbus to expanding into other markets: Cincinnati, Cleveland, Baltimore, Washington D.C., and then doing high-profile mansions, churches and projects like: Abraham Lincoln’s Birthplace; Teddy Roosevelt’s Ranch; the old homes of Presidents Garfield, Harding and Hayes; the Ohio Governor’s Mansion; the Ohio State Capitol; the Florida State Capitol; Tampa City Hall; Trinidad and Tobago’s Red House — the House of Parliament, etc.
RC: What’s the future of slate look like?
JC: The future of slate is looking up. Organizations such as the National Slate Association and the Slate Roofing Contractors Association are creating educational programs that will help contractors understand slate and understand the cost effectiveness of this type of roofing. There’s a standards and installation manual, white papers, videos, and courses on slate roofing now.
RC: What are some of the key challenges in your market?
JC: The main challenge is the lack of workers. I believe that the push for kids to go into higher education has really harmed the ability for blue-collar industries to staff their companies very well. However, a person going into slate roofing or sheet metal roofing or carpentry or any skilled blue-collar job can make a very comfortable wage within a few years. Compare that to going to college and coming out with more than $100,000 of debt. It’s the biggest challenge we face.
RC: Any advice for other contractors out there?
JC: Do everything the right way — licensing, paying insurance, paying overtime, not cutting corners. Doing everything the right way always pays off in the end.