Throughout 2016, Empire Roofing Corporation has earned a spot as one of the most elite contractors in the nation thanks to a commitment to long-term roofing system performance and high quality workmanship. Firestone Building Products has presented Empire Roofing Corporation with the 2017 Platinum Master Contractor, Inner Circle of Quality award, the platinum award, and particularly noteworthy, the coveted Harvey Firestone Award, which are the commercial roofing industry’s most distinguished honours.
I had an opportunity to speak with Ken Gascoigne the president of empire roofing early in April. When asked how he felt about being the first Canadian company to win not only the platinum award but also the Harvey award on two occasions, he humbly replied, “It’s a testament to the hard working men and women of this company.”
It should be noted that Empire is the largest installer of Firestone building products in Canada and top 15 in the Americas; it is an impressive achievement for a firm that started with only a pair of employees.
Empire currently has branches in Toronto, London and Windsor and is actively seeking to acquire locations in other regions including Florida, Michigan and Texas. The Company is also now serving the Midwestern and Southern regions of the United States.
Most of Empire’s clients are all long term repeat clientele in the industrial and commercial sectors. In a similar fashion, the firm does only a bit of residential work, for selected clients. The company just recently finished putting in a flat roof on a multi-million dollar residence in Essex County, Ontario, for example. The customer demanded a virtually leak-proof roof which Empire provided, along with a huge rooftop garden.
Major corporate clients have included Weston Foods, 3M, McDonald’s, Shoppers Drug Mart, Tim Hortons and Coca-Cola. The company has done roofs for over twenty-five Lowe’s home improvement stores across Canada.
Other recent major projects include a 566,000-square-foot-roof for Giant Tiger Distribution in Prescott, Ontario, a two-ply modified bitumen roof on a campus building at the University of Western Ontario and a just completed assignment for Wayne Gretzky.
The company worked with Gretzky “For his winery in Niagara-on-the-Lake. He asked us to put together a metal and flat roof system that would be unparalleled in quality and design,” says Gascoigne.
The job Empire is arguably most recently proud of involves a Windsor automotive supplier that was badly damaged when tornadoes hit that city last summer. The supplier made plastic gas tanks for the automotive sector. The storm put the plant out of commission which stalled work for thousands of employees at the auto factories that relied on its products.
There were over 100,000 square feet of roof destroyed including metal deck and structure, and the automotive plant asked Empire, “Can you accomplish this in five days?” Empire accomplished the task in four. “It was a testament to the hardworking men and women of this company,” says Gascoigne.
Roofing has long been a Gascoigne family tradition. His grandfather started a roofing company back in the 1920s. Gascoigne’s father joined the firm after quitting his job as a physicist. Gascoigne then worked there as an adolescent.
Like his father, Gascoigne liked physics and graduated with a degree in the subject from McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario. Rather than perusing a career in physics, he followed through his summer job and founded Empire Roofing Corporation in 1986.
Initially, Gascoigne had two employees. He worked alongside them, installing and repairing roofs for the first decade of the company’s existence. The early days “were a struggle. We worked out of a barn, lived in my brother’s basement. It was a rough start,” he recalls.
The company forged ahead and in April 2001, Empire joined Firestone’s network of licensed contractors. Empire began to grow. Growth in the last seven years has been especially strong. Today, the firm has 150 full-time employees. Add in seasonal workers and sub-contractors, and total personnel tops “well over a couple hundred,” says Gascoigne.
At this time last year, Empire had about 120 employees. Empire’s steady growth stems from the quality of the company’s work and its customer-service oriented mindset, says Gascoigne. “We are a company that values honesty and integrity and the highest level of customer service possible; if we charge you a dollar were going to give you $1.10.”
Gascoigne has repeated Empire’s success in other fields. Among additional ventures, Gascoigne runs a company called ERC Metal that manufactures and installs metal panels and siding. Empire Roofing is his main focus, however.
Anyone who wants a job with Empire has to embrace the company’s way of doing things. “Culturally, they have to be a fit, or it doesn’t work. It has to be people who operate with integrity and honesty and who put quality at the top of the list. Safety, of course, is another key factor. We’re finding a lot of firms are looking for extremely safe roofing companies. They don’t want risk, which is great [for us],” says Gascoigne.
Indeed, safety is central to everything Empire does. The company shuts down for an entire week each winter to conduct its annual “Safety Fest” with all field and office personnel. Outside support staff from the Ministry of Labour, safety equipment manufacturers and the OPP (Ontario Provincial Police) join these sessions to ensure each employee leaves the training with a well-rounded knowledge base of all things Safety. Similarly, Empire has in-house safety inspectors and managers and hires third-party auditors to make random visits to job sites and report back directly to the VP of safety.
Empire’s safety record has been achieved through the use of continuous training, positive reinforcement and, on occasion, disciplinary action if required. “Safety is our number one priority, and this is not just something we say; we live it.” Massive investments in onsite safety equipment, including harnesses, specialized railings and retractable lanyards have resulted in one of the most impressive safety records in the entire industry.
Empire is equally diligent about quality. In-house quality inspectors conduct random job site visits too. Work crews that pass quality inspections receive bonus incentives. Firestone has recognized such efforts by honouring Empire with the coveted inner circle of quality award.
Although Empire installs various types of roofing systems, the company is the Thermoplastic Polyolefin (TPO) specialist; TPO is a single-ply reflective roofing membrane for flat roofs. TPO reflects ultraviolet radiation, keeping roofs and buildings cool on hot days, which in turn reduces carbon emissions.
“We brought TPO into Canada from the United States. Immediately, we knew that it was going to be the future of roofing. TPO is now the number one installed roofing product in the world,” says Gascoigne.
“If a product comes out on the market and it’s environmentally friendly and it’s sustainable, durable, low-maintenance and is high quality, then we’re going to try it. TPO met those criteria,” says Service Manager Nada Tayar.
Empire has embraced other ‘green’ ideals. The company does not use pollution-emitting tar kettles or polyvinyl chloride (PVC) roofing material, which can be bad for worker’s health and the occupants inside the buildings.
Attracting skilled labourers is Empire’s biggest challenge right now. The shortage of skilled labour is one reason his company conducts such extensive in-house training, says the Empire president.
As for the future, the company has a “steady growth plan that we’ve been executing, and we are on target.” In five years or less, he predicts Empire will have double the sales and number of employees it currently has and an “office or two in the United States.” Ideally, Empire would like to have a U.S. office representing the northern states, in the Michigan/Ohio area and an office representing the south, in either Texas or Florida.
Empire has a tradition of donating ten percent of its profits to local charities and youth programs. Gascoigne sees this as a way to give back to communities that have long supported his company.
Brand loyalty runs deep at Empire, and the team is still using many of the same vendors and suppliers they have used since conception of the company.
Empire extends that same loyalty and support to its employees. The firm has a “family-centric” corporate culture, says Gascoigne. The company offers flexible schedules, encouraging staff to take a day off to celebrate a child’s birthday, for example, and providing staff with birthday gift certificates and work bonuses for jobs well done.
And his employees are worth it. Gascoigne says that the men and women who have built the company are responsible for the success and awards it has achieved.