Tony Flattum and the leadership team at Built Strong Exteriors have more than two decades of experience in roofing within Minnesota’s Twin Cities metropolitan area with varying degrees of profitability, so forgive his response when asked if he’s “surprised” by a recent surge of success.
“Of course!” he exclaimed. “We just got out of high school and just started working and doing our thing, and kind of got pulled into this business,”
The primarily residential roofing company Flattum's brother started in his house nine years earlier has been on a meteoric rise. Last year, the Built Strong team of about 100 generated more than $63 million in roofing revenue — a significant jump from the $22 million it reported in 2021 — and placed the firm near the top third of qualifiers in RC’s 2023 Top 100 List for the first time.
Flattum said many factors contributed to the company’s success, including a strong, determined sales force, effective and targeted marketing through digital campaigns, neighborhood canvassing and reinvigorated employees committed to the team’s overall success.
But he’s sure to point out that the most significant factor — often hard to quantify — was refocusing on the first of his company’s seven core principles: customer care. Flattum said everyone on staff recognizes the importance of transparency and providing clear expectations to the customer through timely, positive communication. They often discuss going above “the ordinary” for customers and their business partners and train for scenarios where they can provide world-class customer service.
“We’ve initiated several training programs in all facets of the customer experience, striving to be the gold standard in the people business,” said Sales Manager Reed Asher about last year’s success. “Customer care is our number one core value.”
That can-do attitude is what Flattum said was often missing from the roofing and construction companies in his past — and what he believes the industry still lacks, writ large.
Built Strong Exteriors donated approximately 5,000 bottles of water to the memorial services held for St. Croix County Sheriff's Deputy Kate Leising last May.
It may be counterintuitive for a business owner to call focusing on the customer a bold initiative — customers are the lifeblood of any enterprise’s prosperity. But Flattum found that losing sight of the customer’s satisfaction in roofing and construction can often lead to more stress, problems and less profitability, which is why he ventured out on his own to build a roofing company in the first place.
Flattum’s roofing career began in 2002 when a friend recruited him to join an install crew for a company just starting in the Minneapolis area’s active market. He quickly moved “up” from installing to production and quality control on the job site; the company also expanded beyond roof restoration and repairs. He also gained exposure to the lucrative storm-restoration market, which he called “eye-opening.” His key takeaways were that working with insurance companies can be tricky, and customer care was often not top of mind. He said he was also curious to learn more about that aspect of the roofing business he’d never seen up close, intrigued by the potential volume of sales it generates.
Within a year, Flattum jumped over from sales to the operations side of the business and developed a process he soon wanted to test out — but in a venture of his own. He partnered with another roofer in 2006 and operated locations in Minnesota and Florida for roughly eight years before that affiliation fizzled out.
“We were going in different directions,” Flattum said. “He wanted to do more franchising, strictly, and I wanted to do more of a corporate location.”
Looking back, he said the critical component of their buyout agreement was Flattum’s ability to keep his Minnesota operation intact, which included his team. Still committed to roofing, his team needed a rebrand, which they found with Built Strong, started by his brother, Dave, in 2014.
The changes to operations, corporate culture and marketing Flattum’s team put into motion started to pay quick dividends and garnered attention from private equity investors in 2017. Flattum said he shook off the first few entreaties from potential suitors but saw an opportunity when Restoration Builders Inc. approached — not just to improve his bottom line but also to help lift the larger roofing industry.
“The idea was to take all these successful roofing companies, build this group up and change the industry. Make it better for everybody,” Flattum explained.
By November 2019, he sold to RBI and was among the first 15 roofing contractors from diverse but largely storm-driven markets — stretching from Florida to the upper Midwest — to join the rollup. Flattum agreed to purchase shares in a corporation that ultimately was to go public and likely walk into a windfall of profits. The deal also allowed him to stay independent before it became publicly traded.
The roofing jobs and partnership with RBI continued through the COVID-19 pandemic, with contractors sharing best practices on Zoom meetings and trying to align their systems and operations under the same platform. Flattum began working closely with veteran roofer Ty Adams, whom he’d worked with before and who had just left crosstown rival Legacy Restoration and started consulting.
The pair developed a system with the potential for nationwide expansion that the RBI team was interested in. However, finding ways to implement it was challenging, and Flattum and Adams both said they realized Built Strong may be better on its own. By 2021, Flattum said he left RBI and implemented the new system — full force.
Location: Lake Elmo, Oakdale and Rochester, Minn.
Owners: Tony Flattum, Managing Director; Dave Flattum
Specialty: Family-owned and operated; handles roofing, siding, windows, gutters and insulation in and around the Twin Cities.
Did You Know? Built Strong Exteriors was among the first handful of roofing companies rolled up in the industry’s latest flurry of acquisitions. It had its most successful back-to-back years after leaving.
Built Strong employees show off a friendly inter-office football rivalry between the Green Bay Packers and Mineesota Vikings.
Taking ‘Massive Action’
Customer care, safety, honesty and teamwork became the bedrock of Built Strong’s new foundation.
“From there, it was taking massive action on the sales side,” Flattum said. “That's where it kind of all started, just doing really well on selling and getting the business going and bringing in tons of volume.
“It was kind of a learning-as-you-go kind of a deal, and then I brought in the right people to help fill the areas that I wasn't good at,” he added.
Adams, his one-time competitor, said they tried a new approach of compartmentalizing departments and clearly defining employee roles. Workers were divided into different departments: production teams, maintenance and repairs technicians, sales representatives, gutter squads and collections specialists.
Each department has its mission; depending on responsibility, they stay in their own lanes.
“It was about making our teams smaller, so salesmen aren’t project managing, which was part of the burnout factor,” Adams said. “Their job is to feed the pipeline, and there’s nothing more demoralizing than when you have to work so hard to build the pipeline and then watch it diminish because of production.”
The company also emphasizes training online and in the field. Workers are trained on something every day, Flattum said. In addition to regular safety training and providing 401(k) contributions, Flattum said they’ve revamped company culture by offering incentives and experiences helping drive success. He saw the opportunity to work on the firm’s workforce by “building people up.” The company started offering growth opportunities and career tracks by working on both hard and soft skills, strengthening team management and undergirding customer satisfaction.
The pair also developed a family-style approach to work culture, emphasizing team-building through work exercises and bonding via company-wide trips, most recently to Columbia. Beyond coworkers, the bonding experience and camaraderie expanded to employees’ family members on the trip, allowing everyone to meet each others’ families they had previously only heard mention of.
“People are still talking about that trip and know they [must] hit their goals to go again,” Flattum said. “The people we have [here] make the most difference; it’s clear that they care about the company and our customers.”