To hear Sean O’Reilly describe the core values of SmartRoof Inc., the Reston, Va.-based residential roofing contracting company where he is COO, it would seemingly be as much at home in Silicon Valley as in the suburbs of Washington, D.C.
Founded in 2016 by Joshua Jerge and Daniel Lucas, two of O’Reilly’s childhood friends, SmartRoof prides itself on being a disrupter within the roofing industry, where a focus on customer service and technological advancement meets work-life balance.
“The big vision is solar,” O’Reilly explains. “[Traditional] roofing will continue to be important for us, but we've always seen solar as the future of roofing. We have taken our infrastructure and what we do well in roofing and are using that as a foundation to be a leader in solar as well."
Included in innovation is how the company treats its employees, which encompasses keeping them safe and ensuring they are well-trained, fairly compensated and understanding that work can’t just be a means to an end but must be meaningful. The other side to that “caring” coin is how the company looks at its clients. O’Reilly said customers aren’t “customers” as much as each new client becomes another member of SmartRoof’s “extended family.” Mainly because when it comes to propelling its solar roof installs forward with a client base likely unfamiliar with how the technology works beyond its broad concepts, communication is essential.
“Most people don’t know much about roofing or solar and the potential issues that can come up,” O’Reilly says. “But, if you can build trust through strong communication and follow through, they trust you to make things right in the event something goes wrong.”
Building a Better Mousetrap
It was the middle of the 2010s when O’Reilly and Jerge sat around Lucas’ kitchen table, listening to their buddy talk about wanting to launch a new company that would be innovative-centric, shaking up what has been an industry moored to a convention. While roofing construction may not be one’s go-to thought for innovation, it remains a legacy industry run similarly to how it always had. Additionally, its leaders — principally baby boomers — are on the cusp of retirement. Couple those two elements with a burgeoning technology and this is where Jerge saw potential thanks to his background in home improvement sales. Between that and Lucas’ background in tech sales, the two decided to make a run of it.
O’Reilly said he was in a different career place then, but within two years of SmartRoof’s founding, O’Reilly joined his friends. He was sold on its vision, customer-centric ethos and drive to become a billion-dollar concern within a fragmented, hyper-localized market.
“Our mission is to positively impact lives through roofing and solar,” O’Reilly says. “So the milestones, whether its revenue or otherwise, are just measuring sticks for the number of lives we impact.”
From that initial kitchen table conversation, SmartRoof has developed its version of a “secret sauce” that has catapulted the company from its garage start-up roots to now being one of the largest roofing contractors nationwide. With four regional offices around the East Coast, SmartRoof has a reach that extends from Pennsylvania to Florida, serving clients in those two states as well as Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey and the greater Washington, D.C. metropolitan area.
From its founding, O’Reilly said, the company experienced year-over-year growth that has seen its workforce multiply in kind. As its workforce has grown, which is as good an indicator of annual revenues as any other, so too has a doubling-down on a strategy that has helped propel that success: individualized attention and standing good on craftsmanship. To that end, SmartRoof places tremendous emphasis on warranty education for its homeowners and employees, as well as recognizing a company is only as good as its name on the street.
“We’ve [completed] over 10,000 roofs for our members,” O’Reilly says with a seemingly intentional omission of the word "customer." “While we’ve done beautiful work in asphalt, slate, cedar and the like, none stands out above [the other]. We work closely with GAF Energy and their new Timberline Solar shingles and have installed the biggest residential projects in the country.”
No “I” in Team
Regarding innovation with emerging technology like solar roofing, collaborating with manufacturers and distributors plays an integral role. With every new product iteration comes a learning curve, and solar-integrated shingles are a concept that is still in its infancy. O’Reilly said SmartRoof’s success hasn’t happened in a vacuum, noting that its relationships with manufacturers like GAF and distributors like Beacon Building Products.
“When we bring in new vendors, we don’t look at it as transactional, but relational,” O’Reilly said.
He added that the company asks itself whether it wants to do business with any particular vendor before moving forward, questioning whether values and missions align and if core values are shared.
“Do they align to our core values of Impact, Innovate, Improve and Integrity? If we can answer these questions clearly and [they] show a track record of aligning to our mission, then we’re a fit,” he says.
Of course, when you grow quickly and look to change how the consumer perceives an industry, there are bound to be challenges. Of those, none has been more significant than how the company navigated a global health pandemic followed by supply chain disruptions.
Again, integrating and leveraging relationships to ensure customer service was minimally impacted was a key to navigating uncharted waters. Because of its emphasis on relationships, where face-time is a lynchpin, the restrictions were challenging but not impossible.
“We overcame [those] hurdles through technology, but that was the easiest part of the challenge,” O’Reilly says, adding that the supply chain disruptions were not as acute in the northern half of the country and, again, relationships were instrumental. “Other than limited colors, our suppliers did a great job working with us to keep things going; there were challenges, but it never felt like we couldn’t figure it out.”
With those hurdles seemingly behind it, SmartRoof continues on a path of success that its founders and C-suite team believe will allow it to achieve a benchmark the three childhood friends each could get behind.
“We want to achieve a goal of creating a billion dollar roofing and solar company” O’Reilly says. “And the goal is not about the money; that is simply a measuring stick for the number of lives we impact."