2020 would have been a memorable year for roofing contractors regardless of their business size or customer reach in just about any market. But in Elmira, N.Y., the team at the Evans Roofing Company endured one of its toughest challenges yet in its 75 years — staying profitable amid a global pandemic that impacted roofing jobs locally, nationally and internationally.
Despite the added health and safety requirements, logistical headaches and crippling effect of New York’s lockdowns early-on in the crisis, the Evans Roofing Company and its subsidiaries – the Charles F. Evans Co. Inc., and CFE Inc. — continued to grow its national reputation for high-level safety and top-notch commercial and industrial installations. The company ended the year reporting $35.5 million in annual revenue, a slight increase from the $35.5 million reported in 2020, which was good for #53 on RC’s 2021 Top 100 List.
That the company’s 170 employees completed the year on a high note at all when others in the commercial roofing sector suffered from near-recession conditions is a testament to the versatility, dedication and high-quality work that has come to represent the Evans family name for more than seven decades. That they did it without one of the true foundations of the company speaks volumes more. Former president and owner Dick Evans died last November, just shy of his 90th birthday. He is survived by his wife of 67 years, Elizabeth Burness Evans, three daughters, six grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.
“Having the ability to grow our business each year by adding talented labor regardless of the industry’s challenges is a quality Dick taught us all,” said Bob Pringle, current company co-owner and vice president. “Look for the good in everyone, allow them to grow within the organization and continue to coach them in areas for improvement. That is the TQM way.”
Though long retired from the company, he elevated to new heights after taking the reins from his father, Charles, and his impact on long-time employees will be felt for years to come. Both current and past company leaders spoke with grateful appreciation about Dick’s ability to see untapped potential in others, and having the courage to pursue his dreams in business, regardless of how lofty.
“When he retired (in 1995) he didn’t want any party, any recognition, so he literally just walked out the door when he was done. That was how he wanted it,” recalled Kevin Kennedy, who worked at Evans for 28 years, including serving as vice president and co-owner. “His focus and his legacy was that he wanted to leave the company a better place than when he got it, and that he’d leave it in good hands to take it to the next stage. And he did.
“The thing that was emotional for Dick was that his father started the company, and Dick was the one that was the heart and soul of the company going to the next level. And he really left us a very distinct succession story.”
Going ‘Next Level’
Focusing on that legacy is really important for both current and past employees, and that’s how they want it at the family business — which ironically now has no Evans family members officially in the fold.
It starts with understanding just how Dick worked his way into the top of the company. Yes, he was the founder’s son, and the only offspring showing true interest in pursuing the family business as a career. But it was hardly an easy handover.
Dick stayed close to the company and learned the trade from his father. He wanted to be more involved in leadership and have more responsibility, but Charles firmly held the reins and stalled any formal ascension to the top. Undeterred, and maybe just a smidge bothered by the silence, Dick leveraged his accounting knowledge and his own relationship with local bank officials to get seed funding for his own roofing company. He was ready to leave, and everyone was shocked at the prospect of potentially losing the next generation of the family who was already playing such an integral role in its success. Though reportedly dumbfounded by the move, Charles relented and within two weeks, Dick had a piece of the company and a succession plan firmly in place.
His vision to grow the company into a roofing powerhouse exceeded his ambition, and the younger Evans began making changes right away. When he left the company for boot camp in 1966, long-time employee Garey Stout described the company as having a dozen regular roofers and five sheet metal workers. Within just a few years, the company grew to roughly 50 sheet metal installers and nearly three times as many roofers. It was only a matter of time before the company diversified service offerings, delving into HVAC work and specialized roofing projects.
A new marketing campaign helped ward off the pain of the recession in the early 1980s, which included an aggressive door-knocking campaign across western New York for new commercial business. It kept the business afloat, but more importantly, it exposed workers to different roofing systems. Soon, the company developed a niche in heat-welded membranes that competed well against BUR and adhered systems dominating the market.
Shrewd business decisions were just the half of it. Evans also showed immeasurable compassion for the Elmira community by getting involved in several nonprofits, and was equally as generous to employees.
Stout started working for Evans Roofing right out of high school in the summer of 1965 when Charles was still in charge. Like many patriotic Americans at the time, Stout joined the U.S. Army in 1966 and served in Vietnam. Upon his discharged in 1969, he returned to a different company with Dick Evans firmly in control. He asked him for a job, and sensing the returning soldier’s desperation, Evans welcomed him back. However, he knew he’d need at least a week to clear the paperwork and other union stipulations in order to get Stout on the rooftop.
“He welcomed me back with one stipulation,” Stout recalled. “I was to take one week off with pay for serving in the military. I have always remembered that like it was yesterday. The company always cared about their employees.”
Stout returned the generosity with hard work and loyalty spanning nearly five decades. Starting out primarily as a skilled metal craftsman in his second stint with the company, Stout eventually rose to company vice president and COO before retiring in 2016.
Evans sought consensus as a company leader, and it helped that he liked to promote from within. But he wasn’t afraid of out-of-the-box thinking in terms of strategy or personnel.
Pleased by the success of moving to different systems in the early ‘80s, Evans set his sights on becoming a stellar local roofing company with national reach for those larger clients with roofing needs. That would require a new business model, revamped sales strategy, and a team of dynamic personalities that could compete with established roofing contractors coast-to-coast.
He turned to Kennedy — who taught his daughter’s fifth-grade class — and often passed by while jogging in the neighborhood they shared. Impressed by their interactions through the elementary school, Evans heard Kennedy was looking to possibly change careers and didn’t hesitate when he saw his opening.
“I lived two blocks away, and he saw me jogging by his house and asked to talk about a job,” Kennedy recalled. “I literally tried to talk my way out of him hiring me. A toothbrush was the only power tool I owned and I knew nothing about construction.”
Evans was a persuasive leader and convinced Kennedy that his experience as a teacher and keeping a captive audience throughout the day was great sales training. He was right. Kennedy said he proved his worth within a few months while project managing a job in the throes of the 1982 recession. That job became 25% of the company’s revenue stream for the year.
“Dick was a visionary, not so much in developing his own ideas, but was visionary in the sense of helping your ideas or other people’s ideas come to be,” he said. “With Dick, he always invested in people, and he invested in me.”
Part of that investment included giving his sales team the tools they needed, and the flexibility to focus on doing things differently than before. The biggest investment was the company plane, which he shared ownership with other local manufacturers. Always a fan of aviation, Evans saw the value in having transportation to get to and from clients anywhere around the country. It was also a key time saver, as they could fly in and out of nearby Big Flats Airport, just north of town, and didn’t have to worry about flight delays or connecting routes to not-so-nearby Pittsburgh, Newark or Philadelphia.
It paid off. Kennedy said their first national break came in 1984 when they won the Sears account for its massive “Store of the Future” reroofing program before remodeling the interiors. That same year, they began evaluating and budgeting roofs for a then-growing shopping center owner named National Property Analysts. By the end of 1985, Evans crews reroofed eight Sears’ stores and seven of NPA’s shopping centers. Those relationships strengthened, and so did the company’s reach. In 1989, it received the RSI “Roofing Contractor of the Year” award, which officials said put Evans Roofing in the spotlight and helped open doors through greater credibility in the marketplace.
By the early 1990s, the impressive list of international companies using Evans crews included Aldi, Coca-Cola, Fuji, IBM, Safeway and Toyota.
The New Blood
With the company’s national reputation growing, Evans again turned inward and looked for ways to improve further and really position new leadership for future success. He became a fan of the Total Quality Management (TQM) system and hired their first quality manager.
The TQM program is a renowned business approach that focuses on customer satisfaction. To do that, the company developed three core pillars and required full engagement from every employee to revamp their business culture. Safety, quality and customer satisfaction became the company’s chief priorities. Today, Evans Roofing Company Inc. and its subsidiaries have grown the TQM program to include four principles and 10 actions.
“These very important principles and actions are the true roadmap for our success,” said Pringle. “Surrounding ourselves around good people, good clients who understand safety and quality is job one and that has allowed us to grow in sales and profitability.”
In practical applications, the industrial model of TQM led to fewer mistakes, better customer satisfaction, and in general made the company stronger, Kennedy said. The system demanded accountability, and it exposed a glaring weakness that Evan knew he needed to fix — and perhaps could even leverage — to win future jobs: safety.
He tasked Kennedy and other members of the leadership team — William Allington, Philip McKinney, Wayne Mercer, and Stout — with finding a board-certified safety professional that could revamp their program and deal with emerging problems like asbestos mitigation, fall safety and state labor-law requirements.
Simply put, the process worked, and numbers don’t lie. When Kennedy joined Evans, he said the company earned roughly $3.5 million in revenue, and by the time Evans retired, revenue grew to $12 million. By the time he and the next round of company leaders left in the late 1990s, Evans was among the few $30 million roofing companies in the country.
The TQM focus was on addressing a specific problem, but without an heir to take over the family business, Evans had also started the succession process by grooming the next group of leaders to take over, and then pushing that group to identify and cultivate the next round of leaders.
“Succession isn’t just about running a company,” Kennedy said. “It’s about getting new managers to work together as a true team. We needed something to unite us and get us to the next level, and the emphasis on safety was it.”
The leadership team hired Pringle in 1992 to become their first safety director, and safety became a way of life internally and externally. The Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) awarded both subsidiaries — Charles F. Evans Company Inc. and CFE Inc. — with its Voluntary Protection Program Mobile Workforce designation.
“This prestigious partnership between OSHA and Evans subsidiaries definitely raised our bar for site safety and health ownership,” Pringle said. “A personal commitment to protecting themselves and their fellow team is never compromised, simply put.”
Keeping an eye on the industry with new technologies and products also allows Evans to offer clients more options for their roofing projects. Now the company is viewed as a leader in safety not just for its proven success, but continued passion among new leaders to keep safety a daily priority. Under their direction, the safety paradigm has shifted dramatically within the company despite its obvious challenges.
Pringle said the constant attention to existing and predictable conditions, and specific training will cultivate a safe and caring work environment for employees.
“Safety is a huge differentiator in this business,” said Pringle, who became part of the current ownership group in 2003. “Low bids not always the winner anymore. Quality and safety is really at a premium. You want to be on top of the list because today, you can’t get invited into the discussion without being a rated company.”
That’s an obvious example of where the Evans family influence still seeps through, but there are other, more subtle ways employees that never met him still feel Dick Evans’ company’s vision. In 1991, Evans set out to write an operations manual to guide future workers how to do business the “right way.” Following his family-style approach, Evans sought input directly from the associates on what processes worked, and what needed tweaking.
“It became our guide for doing things right, which is still used today with continuous modification for improvement,” Stout said. “The company’s philosophy was to learn from your mistake and create a standard to eliminate this mistake in the future.”
This philosophy also instilled something dear to all of his employees — earning and ensuring the trust and faith in others is key to long-term success.
“Dick was a gentle giant, an extremely fair, honest and hardworking man who wanted everyone to do good work, to make good decisions,” said Pringle. “Dick Evans touched all of his employees’ lives, at work and even at home and for that we are all eternally grateful.”
Total Quality Management — A Contractors Perspective
By: Bob Pringle, Evans Roofing Company Inc.
For the past several years, debate about the value of formal Total Quality Management (TQM) programs has filled the pages of business periodicals. Some companies swear by it while other companies swear at it. Some consider their quality programs as having made a strong contribution to productivity, customer and employee satisfaction. Others have abandoned these programs, feeling their investment of time and money was largely wasted.
Where does the truth lie? And more to the point, should your company consider diving into the murky waters of TQM? Based on our experience since implementing a formal program in 1991, the answer is, “it depends.” This article discusses our company’s program, its impact on our performance, and some thoughts on what it takes to make it work.TQM Program Elements
In 1991, the establishment of our formal TQM program was motivated by a desire to achieve significant improvement in terms of both internal performance and customer satisfaction. As expressed in our company mission statement developed early in the process by our Quality Management Team (QMT), the primary goal is to provide uncompromising customer satisfaction through quality workmanship, service and safe work practices. The programs and processes that have evolved during the past 22 years have been focused directly on achieving these goals.
Our operational definition of total quality is: “Knowing what needs to be done, having the right tools to do it, then doing it right the first time, every time.” The components of this definition are independent. All must be present in order to make meaningful progress toward the goal of “total” quality. Let’s examine each element:
“Knowing what needs to be done…”
In the language of total quality, the word “requirements” is used to describe “what needs to be done?” The TQM “textbook,” verified by our own experience, indicates that most errors occur when customer requirements are either poorly defined and/or not clearly understood prior to beginning a task, activity or project. It’s parallel to the old expression, “garbage in, garbage out.” Therefore, the classroom training in which all employees participate places strong emphasis on the importance of clarifying and reaching agreement on critical requirements prior to commencing any activity.
“…having the tools to do it …”
In the context of total quality, the word “tools” mean more than the physical tools used on the job. Providing intangible tools — most notably education and training — is equally important. As a result, substantial investment is required to ensure that all employees are provided with both the tangible and intangible tools they need.
“…doing it right the first time…”
Once customer requirements are clearly understood and the necessary tools are in place, the final ingredient for success is that all associates embrace an attitude of error-free work. This means demonstrating a personal commitment to the idea of doing things right the first time, every time. And personal commitment is not something that can be bought or decreed. It must be earned by a management team that leads by example and truly “practices what it preaches.”Management by Prevention
TQM seeks to eliminate mistakes by building quality into work. Emphasis is shifted to anticipate errors in order to cause them not to happen. This change in thinking is accomplished primarily through an increased level of planning and training activities. Numerous studies have shown every hour invested in planning prevents at least eight hours of mistakes, frustration and rework.Corrective Action
Perfection is not achievable. Even committed employees make mistakes. When this happens, the key is not to assign blame, but rather identify the cause(s) and take corrective action to prevent future errors. One primary reason some errors repeat is we hurry our way into trouble. In our haste to get to the next job, time is not taken to identify causes and develop corrective action plans. In seeking solutions, managers are taught to recognize the people who actually perform the work are in the best position to find better ways of doing the work. Encouraging, recognizing and rewarding ideas from all levels of the organization is critical to a successful program.Keys to Success
Based upon our positive, though sometimes painful experience, we would suggest some of the following to any firm that is considering a quality management program.
First: Make sure top management is committed. Without top management truly committed to quality, all else that follows is senseless.
Second: Establish specific goals and communicate them often and clearly. Make sure you set goals that are challenging but obtainable.
Third: Don’t try to wing it by simply “talking” quality. Research before purchasing a quality program to ensure it is complete and easily adaptable to your needs. Start at the top and make sure all levels within your organization are included, and remember to train often.
Fourth: Designate a qualified “in-house” person to drive the process and handle coordination, training and facilitation of your quality program. Establish the teams and processes needed to direct, support and implement quality initiatives. Ensure some early success to demonstrate your commitment to your quality program.
Fifth: Be patient. Commit to long-term, continuous improvement and remember this may take time and additional resources.
Sixth: Most importantly, listen to your employees and encourage them to speak up. Recognize and reward those who contribute to the quality process.Conclusion
Have there been disappointments? You bet, and I have been witness to some in my career. The path leading to “total quality” is both elusive and never-ending. Meaningful progress requires real change in people’s attitudes and behaviors. And change is difficult, even for the most committed among us. There’s no question, however, that our quality program has sharpened customer focus and produced positive change in all areas of operations. Is it a cure-all for what ails an organization? Certainly not, but no matter your involvement in the roofing community — consulting services, materials supply, contracting, education, publishing or association work — our experience would indicate that a well-conceived program, supported by adequate resources and nurtured with time, patience and commitment, can enhance the well-being of your employees, the satisfaction of your customers, and your bottom line.