Company Culture – Above Roofing – The Valorous Podcast


[00:00:00] Welcome to The Valorous Podcast, where we interview local businesses and have them share their stories and their tips about what’s made them successful in their industry. Today, I’m blessed to have the opportunity to talk to Robert Freeman of Above Roofing as he shares with us, how he started his business over 23 years ago and how he’s managed to be so successful as well as build an amazing team.

Join us as Robert shares some amazing wisdom, not only about business, but what to do when you feel like you’re ready to give up. Thank you for joining the Valera circle podcast today. I’m talking with Robert Freeman of Above Roofing. I’ve known Robert for several years and am really excited to be able to talk to him today, as he shares some tips about how they’ve managed to grow for the last 26 years and become one of the leading roofing companies in west [00:01:00] Michigan.

Robert, thanks for taking the time to join me. My pleasure. Let’s get started by just telling everybody just a little bit about yourself and Above Roofing, where you’re at today, and then we’ll kick back and, and take a look at some of the history as well. But tell us a little bit about who, who Above Roofing is today.

Okay. So we do pitch roofing shingles in the greater grand rapids market. We’ll go out to the lake shore. We have. Around 24 people, employees. We also work with, uh, subcontractors of within their specialty. We’ve been again, we’ve been doing this for 26 years and yeah, we have, we worked out a great system for consistency and quality and for customer service.

awesome. So, Robert, tell me just a little bit, how did you get involved in the roofing industry two and a half decades ago? What caused you to pick the roofing industry? Yeah, I would like to say that the roofing industry picked me [00:02:00] I tried to get, and sign was much, uh, cleaner, but I did a roofing job and people kept calling me for, so I’m like, why fight the, the tide.

I’m just going to just go along with. And so we, we began to more or less specialize in pitched shingled roofing. Now you mentioned pitched shingled roofing, and, and while I’ve known you for years, I don’t know a ton about the business. Right. Does that mean you; you don’t do like metal roofs and commercial roofs.

You really focused on, on the, what I would call as an, as a consumer, a sloped roof with asphalt single shingles. Is that it then? Yeah, but there are, uh, pitched sloped shingles. That are on commercial properties. We actually do work with a lot of condos, schools, churches, and then if there is like a small flat roof, we can do it.

We can tie it right into what we’re doing, but if it’s large, what we do, we just, we got several, a large roofing, flat roofing companies that we hand out their name for the client to [00:03:00] call mm-hmm. That’s awesome. Well, I know you’ve been a tremendous resource over the years to a lot of your clients. Talk to me a little bit about growth, obviously when you got started and, and things have changed a lot since then.

And I know a couple years ago, you guys built and moved into a beautiful brand-new building and that yeah, but talk to me a little bit about some of the early years, what were some of the things that were struggles? Early with Above Roofing or as you were launching that business. And the reason I ask Robert is a lot of the people that watch the podcast are other business owners, they’re entrepreneurs and people like that.

And we love to hear how maybe you overcame some struggles and maybe we can even get some tips on boy, Robert did it this way. Maybe that’d work in my business. Can you share any of those, uh, things that may have been some struggles that you overcame? Yeah, sure. The, the biggest struggle that we’ve had was when you, when you first start now, I think of the, of the book revisited, where you’re good at your trade.

You you’re really good at the flashing, the, whatever it is that your [00:04:00] skillset is, but that doesn’t necessarily lend itself to grow in the, the company. And so there is new skills I had to develop, and I do have a philosophy. It originates from the Bible that you surround yourself with good advisors. And it was the advisors that point out, um, some areas where, hey, you might need some improvement here.

Yeah. And so I’ve been challenged. You’ve been a part of that with Scott Goss, with mastermind mm-hmm and just being challenged. Um, yeah, there is the part that I may have contributed is maybe my humility realizing that yeah, I I’m a part of the success. I’m also a part of the hindrance of growing. And so as you grow your company, As the owner, you’re pretty much having to grow yourself.

You got to be a continuous learner. You’ve got to read. You got to; you have humility. You got to think of excellence, just a 1% improvement over a period of a quarter. If you can build upon that another 1% and [00:05:00] then another 1% at the end of 10 years. And you’re twice as good as what you were hopeful. Uh, that’s great advice and you’re right.

It reminds me of many of those mastermind conversations we’ve had over the years as, uh, we’ve been involved in some of those same groups. And I certainly can attest to, you’ve always done a great job of demonstrating that humility and helping even myself as I was growing my business, cut we’re not nearly two, two and a half decades old.

We’re just over a decade. And. Being that, that example of, wow, we need to, as business leaders and entrepreneurs and founders, we need to sometimes get out of the way, uh, because oftentimes we are the biggest impediment to our growth uh, especially if we surround ourselves with, with great people. So great share, appreciate that.

Yeah. And those great people need to feel comfortable. At saying something you don’t want a yes man or a yes. So that does bring up the, the issue of culture. What type of culture do you have? Are you able to bring up stuff to your boss? Are you [00:06:00] able to have a, a dialogue that is maybe not that comfortable?

And that’s, I would say another big part of the culture is a part of our, if you don’t have the right people, you’re, we can lose everything. We can lose our building, our nice new building its but it’s not our building. It’s not our trucks, it’s not our equipment. It comes down to the people. And so we, we consider ourselves in, in leadership almost like an upside-down pyramid.

So the higher you up, you go up, the more people that you serve. No, that’s a great analogy. That’s principle. No, and that makes so much sense. It’s really so true across the board to see that. How did you at Above Roofing, how did you instill that culture? And maybe even prior to that, how did you determine what you wanted that culture to be?

Yeah, that’s a good question. And I think that’s. Something where maybe a lot of companies fail. It deals with process. There’s a specific process that we’ve gone through. We follow traction. That’s [00:07:00] another book that I would recommend that that owners would read the process. Basically our business coach at the time brought us through thinking of, okay, who’s your best employee or, or your group of employees that work the best, what are their attributes?

And so you boil down, you relate what attributes they might have in. Uh, and you might come up with 20 words, don’t stick with 20 words. You got to boil that down to five seven. If you get it down to three, that would be awesome. But, and then after that, now when you hire, when you let people go, when you do performance reviews, it’s going to be based part of it.

It’s going to be based off of the culture, our particular culture, spells ethics. It’s an acronym and it stands for excellence team. Humility integrity cares for others and strong work ethic. And as a matter of fact, when now when we hire people, the very first contact we do, [00:08:00] it’s a phone interview. We interview for that culture.

And if they don’t meet our culture, it doesn’t matter what mad skills they have. They just don’t make it really good advice. Really good advice and correct me if I wrong traction that’s part of EOS or the entrepreneurial operating system. Yeah. Yes. Strongly recommended book. Mm-hmm good. Good. Thanks for sharing that.

That’s really helpful. And I, I can imagine that probably also helps you nowadays in the employment climate we have, where it’s hard to get good team. I’m assuming that culture is definitely helped you get the right people, not only at Above Roofing, but also the right people in the right seats at Above Roofing.

Is that a fair. Yeah. Yeah. So you, you help get the right people, performance reviews don’t necessarily stop there about, but there is most, definitely less a drama. You there’s less tension, unhealthy tension. There’s healthy tension, but there’s unhealthy tension. [00:09:00] There’s much less of that. And then, yeah, so we don’t just stop at culture.

Part of being the team member is again, one of our culture awards, and that means that you develop your skill set for whatever specialty that. Whatever area that you’re in. So if you’re a salesperson, your craft is selling. If you’re a technician, then your craft is working on the roofs and together as a team, we’re all within our specialties.

Yeah. That’s that helps out quite a bit too. Reminds me of another book. Okay. I met selling you. Good go. uh, there’s a book called chess, not checkers. And I, I forget the name. It is one of the VPs to Chick-fil-A. Basically when you’re first starting off, it’s like you’re playing a game of checkers. Each piece, uh, has the same specialty.

They, they are in general. I shouldn’t say specialty. Each piece has a specific value, and the pieces are interchangeable. As business goes on, you [00:10:00] realize I’m not playing a game. I’ve check of checkers anymore. I’m playing a game of. As a manager, what you need to do is say, okay, for each individual piece, what unique contributions can this person do?

Cause a great tack on the field doesn’t necessarily make them mean they’re going to make a great salesperson or a great manager. And so you’ve got to look at your people differently. And I know there’s a thing in the news where you winna treat everyone the same and I’m not a proponent of treating people.

The same people have unique skills and. Gifts, and you really have to treat them according to that, their gifts, their skills, how they contribute, and some contribute more. I, I think then if you’re a salesperson and you bring in more, you should expect more. I don’t know if that’s what was meaning to go with that.

No, I, and these are designed to go wherever and that’s part of the fun. I, I think it’s really intriguing. I agree with you on that. It’s while we winna be [00:11:00] fair to all of our teams, everybody has different personalities and different needs. I know. Even internally at vales, we go through the disk profile personality profiles, and yeah.

What a difference it has made to us. To know that I, I need to communicate to somebody who’s a high D like myself differently than I do somebody who’s an S or a C. And our team has shared with us that has proven to be really valuable because it helps them understand the best way to communicate with the rest of the team.

And it just, it’s proven to be really valuable overall. So I really do appreciate you sharing that. That’s fantastic. Yeah, obviously, great things about Above Roofing and reasons you’ve grown. So obviously a lot of really good information about what’s helped Above Roofing grow. And, and I think those are some tremendous insights as we take a look at that.

How does that translate to your customers as to why choose Above Roofing? I mean, I, as a business, Founder and a, and a leader I can see while [00:12:00] tremendous value in that making Above Roofing a much more reliable and responsive and trustworthy credible company to deal with. But how does that translate for your customers into how does that give them a better experience and a better value by selecting you over your competitors?

I’ll bring in culture again for this. You hire people that do not care about their salaries. And of course they do. And their family, we’re talking about a journal sense of caring. So where, when you go out to a person’s house and if you’re the salesperson, you care about giving them the right product that they need.

If you’re the tech, you care about doing the job. And so the, a culture helps out quite a bit. The other thing that helps the, the client out quite a bit is consistency. So then there’s a lot of R companies that can do a great job, but how consistent are they for each of the jobs? And so we have processes, checklists.

Accountability. We’re a big believer in accountability. When we are a smaller company, the accountability was easy. I was the first time on the, on the roof. I [00:13:00] was there with them. I, I knew what was promised that we say that salespeople are the promise makers and production is the promise keeper. But as you grow and your sales is different from production, there’s a higher level of communication that needs to happen.

You need to production needs to know what the promises are, and sales needs to know. Product capacity and capabilities are you want them on the same on the same plane? So we have systems in place for that. So we hire the right people. We provide the systems; we have the right tools. And because of that, we provide a consistent quality product, which is roofing for us.

And there’s times you mess up where people, something happens. We just take care of it. We go back and take care of it. As a matter of fact, most of our referrals comes from things to where we had to go back and take care of it. And I think people are a little surprised it’s oh, they thought they had to argue with us or they [00:14:00] thought they had to come up with a case and no, they call us up and say, hey, they have a problem.

We go out. If it is us, we admit it. And then we take care of it. And I think people. Relief. I think that really goes to the integrity that you talked about and definitely is I think in today’s culture is a surprise. Candidly. We’re not used to people taking responsibility for things that didn’t go. I know I’ve often used the phrase with a client, letting him know that, look, we’re human.

At some point, we’re going to take perfect aim and shoot ourselves in the foot. Everybody will. The difference is that company of character is going to stand up and go, you know, we did mess up and here’s how we’re going to fix this. And hopefully here’s what we’re going to change. So it doesn’t happen in the future.

So, yeah. Huge kudos on that. That’s a great way to look at things. Yeah. Thank you. And you right there are, and you have identified it. There’s two points. One of the points is what am I going to do for this client? And the second one is, what am I going to do for my future clients that this doesn’t happen?

That’s a really good point that you do. I think it’s especially important again, as business leaders, unless we want to deal [00:15:00] with the same thing over and over again and, and keep, you know, beating our heads against the wall, which none of us winna do. Then we’ve got to take a look. Not only how do we help the customer today, that’s imperative and that’s highest priority, but then how do we go back to our organization and our team and say, okay, what caused this to happen?

Was it a one off that, just that happens occasionally? Yeah. Or more likely, was it something that our systems failed in some way and that we can add a check in balance, or we can add something else into our process to make sure that doesn’t happen again to future customers. Yeah. That, that does remind me of, I know you have your questions, but that does remind me of something else.

Yeah. Two different people going through an experience. and if you’d have one of those two that I went through it, I won’t do that again. And then you have the other person that had gone through it, but they reflect about what went wrong. I would argue that the one that had reflected has more experience than the one that said, oh, I just won’t do [00:16:00] that again.

Because of the reflection. I think they have more experience. Sure. They have the same amount of time. They went through the same experience you would say, oh, they’re equal in experienced, but they’re not one person is thinking about it. Learning what specifically, went wrong, where the other one is, is walking off, maybe having the wrong issue or the, the wrong solution.

they that they come up with. If it reminds me of a story, how, as it marks Twain had a cat would jump on the stove in the summertime mm-hmm and then come wintertime, that thing was burning hot. The cat jumped up there and burned his feet and never went on that, that stove again, regardless of season. And so I, I think there’s, uh, and leadership in particular that when there’s a mistake that happens, you look back and you say, okay, how did I contribute towards this?

What could have I have. And then learn specifically and then grow and adjust from that. Don’t run from it. Don’t make a blanket [00:17:00] statement but learn specifically from your experiences. No, it’s tremendous advice and yeah, I so appreciate you sharing that. It’s. Yeah, I, I can’t even begin to express how important I agree with you.

And I think that is it. We do take a look at that. And even if in the moment we can’t evaluate and we just need to be reactive, it’s so important that we go back and re-look at that situation to fix it on an ongoing basis. It’s not only for ourselves, but it’s so important for our team too. The last thing we winna do is have our team, having them in that situation where they were having to go through, repeat.

Frustrations and negativity because of a, a poor system or just a missing step that could have resolved that. Yeah. So great. Share Robert. I, I really appreciate that back to the business a little bit. I obviously we’re, we’re all in business to make a fair profit and then that’s part of why we’re here.

But apart from profit, why are you in, in business? Why are you doing what you. Boy. That’s a hard question. It’s I use [00:18:00] profit as like the scoreboard and, but it’s not my main thing. I don’t money. Doesn’t make me happy. I’ve once heard monkey money. Doesn’t buy happiness, although it can rent it for a while.

It just says joke. I’m in business. I, I like strategy. I like to, um, develop people. And so there’s strategy in business. There is the, are people I love to invest in, in people that are worth investing in for those that have potential. I just love having investing. It’s like my, how I consume my consumerism.

I like to buy good deals. And right now, one of the best deals is investing in someone who has the right culture, who has the right mindset. And there’s a return on. On training. There’s a, just like how you would look at return on investments. There’s return on, do I get this truck or not? But there does seem to be a fear about, oh, if I train my guys, they’re going to leave and start [00:19:00] another business with, as your employees become more valuable.

Yeah. You do need to pay them more and hopefully you have a good culture to where they enjoy coming into work. Yesterday was Cinco de Mayo, which is not even a, really a Mexican holiday. More of. An American holiday for Mexicans, uh, but more for Americans. And we had, uh, lunch together. We had a potluck, they came in, were able to have some laughs.

We just enjoy each other. So there’s a level of culture, but for me again, yeah, it’s not about money. Uh, it’s about serving purpose, protecting our client’s most valuable. It’s not their house. It’s their home house is made of two by four S and drywall. Uh, a home is where you create memories. And so I, I would have to say it’s, it deals with other people and that’s my purpose.

Well, [00:20:00] that’s awesome. Thanks for sharing that, that it definitely fits with what I know of you. As we’ve gotten to know each other over the last number of years, and it certainly fits in with that very much. Going keeping in mind know that some of the people that are watching this are other business leaders, some aren’t, but some are what piece, what would be the best piece of advice, Robert, that you could give somebody in terms of overall business strategy for somebody that was getting started in a business, or maybe that has gotten started.

And it feels like they’re just not making progress. What’s one piece of advice you might share with that budding entrepreneur or business. Ooh. Yeah, that’s a good one. I think my advice in general changes, according to the person that I’m talking to. And, but I, I think universally, this is what I might say is that surround yourself with other people, other leaders you’re going to be, and be careful who you surround yourself.

You got to [00:21:00] guard your heart. Don’t make it about money. Whatever flows from that whatever’s in your heart is, is going to come through eventually. Elsewhere. So guard your heart and be careful if you’re hanging around with other people that are also, let’s say they’re negative. You can’t do it. Maybe take a vacation from that person.

Hopefully it’s not your spouse. I’m not take talking about that, but surround yourself with good advisors, be positive, go for it. And don’t be afraid of failing. As a matter of fact, fail, go out and, and fail some if you’re not afraid of failing and then you’re probably going to succeed because most people don’t even get to success.

They think they have to have everything 100%. No, you don’t. You don’t have to be 100% just learn from your mistakes. Go on. Don’t get too prideful. Don’t think you’re real. You’re the best person on the block and continually improve yourself. Read. Yeah, I. As a whole mixture of stuff. I just made a whole mixture.

Yeah. But great advice, but [00:22:00] great stuff. It reminds me, I actually saw a mime yesterday. I don’t remember exactly where, but it basically, if I can summarize that most people look at change and, and see risk entrepreneurs, look at change and see opportunity. Yeah. And it reminds me of that. And, and I agree with you.

Sometimes the most important thing we can do is to know it’s okay to fail. Um, if we don’t know that’s okay. We’re never going to try in the first place. So incredibly important, great answers to stuff. And you’ve been huge help. A couple questions that are just a little bit more fun. One in particular is I’m sure in the roofing industry, you’ve had a few bizarre things happen over the years.

Can you think of a bizarre story that you’ve had while working in the roofing industry? That’s family friendly, but any bizarre stories that you could share with us at all? This is from another contractor. The bizarre stories I have are. California imagines that. Yeah. One, one of the owners over, I, I belong to a group.

So by the way, I’m, so I’m mentioning being a part of the [00:23:00] mastermind that we were a part of and then having advisors and in reading. But part of the advisors I, that I belong to is a group of other roofers. And so one of the roofers in California was doing a sales presentation. And was talking about her cat and by the salesperson, uh, he asked, hey, yeah, it’s, this sounds like a wonderful cat.

And then she says, would you like to see him? And he says, sure. That’s, that’s what a good salesperson says. Yeah, I’ll see your cats. That’s important to her. So it’s important to him. So she walked him out to the garage and opened up her freezer and there was her frozen cat that had died months ago. And wow.

So he, oh, then he told me, he said, oh, would you like to see my cat? And then she says, yeah. Then he went to his truck and drove off. I, I suppose there is a, there’s probably a moral to the story. This was a story that I was told, but I would like [00:24:00] to add on my own moral to the story. just because someone calls you to be their client doesn’t mean you have to accept them to be.

And if you see someone’s crazy, if you’re, if you’re dating them, the sales appointment is like you’re dating. If the date’s not going well, don’t get married. Run away. There are other people that you can, that you can, you know, do estimates and work for more great business advice. I think that’s definitely a question I learned during our mastermind time together, which was that not every opportunity is a good opportunity for the business.

Uh, and that’s okay. It doesn’t mean anything negative about the other people necessarily or anything else. It’s just, sometimes it’s not a good fit and that’s. That’s perfectly. Okay. But it’s important to be able to identify that. I, I can’t imagine nothing quite that weird. I did have a sales call in an entirely different career, probably 30 plus years ago now where I walked into a couple’s house to talk to them at the time I was, uh, selling insurance, something.

It was a very short-lived stint in my career. And I walked in and realized that their [00:25:00] pets were goats. And the goats were in the house and, uh, made for a very, when they say, would you like to sit down on the sofa and there’s goats running around? Okay. think twice. It was very interesting. Very interesting.

Yeah. One of the things we also love to do, which is totally random and done on purpose is we love to ask just a random question, Robert. And so I use a site literally called random question and I go out and I, I pick a random question. I know you’re totally unprepared for this, but we love to ask anyway, cut it makes it a little bit of fun.

So the random question that came up today is if you were in a witness protection program, what would you want to do? And where would you want them? Make you live? What would I want? Alright, so I get to choose. Okay. So someplace where I’d winna live would be someplace warmer. This is interesting. That’s an interesting question.

What would I winna do? I think I would want to boy, what would I winna do? Let’s see, what do I like to do? [00:26:00] And I would have to make money through this, right? It did. We can be pretty creative here. They didn’t leave many, uh, many angles here. I suppose if you’re in witness protection, they may provide income.

I don’t know. I don’t know how that works, but it’s you winna be one of those guys running the para sailboat down off the beach or a little bit more basic. I do like variety. And I think that’s, what’s stopping me from, from answering that question, but, and then also the, I like to travel, I suppose I would say they would make me a travel agent to where I would have to go test the areas out and I would be flowing around in different areas, checking out the hotels and around the world.

Yep. That’s what I would do. That’d be a pretty good life. I like that. Good answer. Yeah. Good answer again, Robert, thank you so much for your time today. I, I took a lot of your time, and you just provided some immense and amazing insights. So really thankful for that for your time. And personally, I want to just thank you for the opportunities we’ve had over the years through the mastermind to get to know each other.

You have always been a, a tremendous guide and [00:27:00] resource as there’s been options, and you she been so willing to share your experience and that’s so valuable. So thank you so much for you. My pleasure. That’s how I feel about you too. Jonathan, thank you. On a serious note. Let me encourage you that if you live in the west Michigan area and you need roofing Above Roofing is an amazing company to deal with and is certainly someone that I’d encourage you to speak to.

If you’ve got a roofing project, I’ve known Robert personally for many years and he means what he says. He has integrity. Uh, he has the, the qualifications and the experience and his team really does an amazing job. If you’d like their information, you’ll see that next. Make it a great day.

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