Rackley Roofing’s business is about much more than just installing and maintaining commercial and industrial roofing in the Nashville, Knoxville, Memphis and Chattanooga areas of Tennessee. It is all about service and maintaining customer relationships.
Over the years, more than one company has used the slogan, ‘you need a new roof,’ implying that a new roof is always needed. Not so with Rackley Roofing, where service is more important than sales.
“We have a very large service department, and that is where we shine with repairs and maintenance of our customers’ roofs,” Chief Operating Officer Michelle Boykin told us. “We want to give our customers the biggest bang for their buck, so when other companies might say, ‘Let’s get you a new roof,’ we say, ‘We can get you another three to five years out of the roof you have. Let’s extend its life so you can save big money.’ We listen to what our customers say, and we work with them to create a plan, so our business is really all about service and relationship building.”
This is not to imply that Rackley does not install new roofs. When it comes time to replace a roof or install one on a new building, the company offers several options. It can repair built-up asphalt roofs using a cold-process, and installs and repairs metal and architectural sheet metal roofing, which is fabricated in-house.
Depending on what the building owner wants, Rackley can also install the newest roofing materials, including polyvinyl chloride (PVC) single-ply membrane roofing; thermoplastic polyolefin (TPO) membrane, or a high-performance ethylene propylene diene terpolymer (EPDM), a type of synthetic rubber which is one of the most recyclable roofing materials. Recyclability is a consideration when sustainability is important.
Another thing that sets Rackley apart is that it does not subcontract work, relying instead on its nearly two hundred employees. “It’s common in the roofing industry to subcontract,” says Boykin, “but we value having our own employees. There’s something to be said about having the same people show up for work every day. You get to know them and their families, and you are part of their lives. We also know the quality of the work they do when we put them on roofs. They are people we trust and have relationships with.”
“We treat our employees well and make sure they have benefits,” she said, adding that the company does, “random things to keep up morale. One year, we gave everyone an extra week paid vacation, and the year before, we gave cash value based on how long they’ve been here, and we’ve donated to their favorite charity. So we try to do something meaningful for individual employees in recognition that we’re not all the same.”
This past year, when the International Roofing Expo, the largest roofing trade show in the country, was held in Tennessee, the company provided transportation so every employee could attend on one day or another of the three-day event. “Usually only the executives from each company attend, but we’re proud we made it possible for every employee to attend,” Boykin said.
Boykin told us that the company places an emphasis on its core values and was inspired by a book entitled Traction by Gino Wickman. “It’s about creating a culture in your business and making sure everyone is on the same page. We decided to implement that, and one of the first things we had to do was come up with core values.”
The company took ideas from The Ideal Team Player by Patrick Lencioni. “He writes about making sure the employees you have are the employees you want and looking for three traits that mean they will perform well.” Those traits, she says, are humble, hungry, and smart, not so much in academics but in terms of emotional intelligence. Three other values the leadership at Rackley decided to adopt are being innovative, customer focused, and accountable, that is doing what you say you will do when you say you will do it.
“To be successful in this industry you have to stay ahead of the curve, and we need out-of-the-box thinkers who bring in new ideas and are not resistant to change because we are in an ever-changing industry,” she says.
And the industry certainly has changed since W. R. ‘Bill’ Rackley opened the company in 1974. Then he operated out of a one-room office in Carthage, with his crew using a rented pick-up truck. It did not take long, however, for the word to get around that Rackley was passionate about maintaining good customer relationships, and so the company grew. It has since continued to grow under the leadership of Curtis Sutton who became president in 2010, bringing over twenty-five years of experience in the industry.
He is passionate about introducing technologies, which he sees as integral to continuing the company’s tradition of service. The company is part of the Roofing Technology Think Tank (RT3) which gives the company access to cutting-edge technology.
Rackley RoofCheck and Rackley RoofView are two of the services the company provides. RoofCheck, Boykin explains, is a program that helps clients save money by maintaining roof systems, so they last longer. “We maintain our relationship with the customer, so if the roof does get to the point where it needs to be repaired, or replaced, they know they can trust us if we say they need a new roof.”
RoofView is an online client portal that allows clients to monitor and report leaks, view repair work, invoices, and for large projects, even see installation progress in real time. “It’s a way for building owners to be on the roof without actually being on the roof,” she says. “You might have someone who manages the property in another part of the country, but they can see what we’re doing on their roof.”
After learning about a virtual reality (VR) safety training program, the company purchased it from the American Society of Safety Professionals. As Boykin explained, it utilizes VR glasses and a special computer, “and now our new hires go through training that puts them on the roof, and they have to point out safety hazards, and the program grades them on those. The student is also in charge of a virtual co-worker and has to determine what kind of fall protection they will have and then inspect the harness. Then the program allows the co-worker to fall off the roof, and students can see how well they did in saving him or her. It’s a great tool for recruiting young people who love technology, but it’s also a way to give older employees a refresher on safety without making them sit through a classroom lecture.”
The newest piece of technology is the Microsoft Hololens, an augmented reality. “It’s like taking a piece of reality and layering technology over it,” Boykin says explaining how an employee working on the roof can wear goggles to look at a section, and someone in the office see what the worker on the roof is seeing and point out things that need to be done.
“This means you can take a less experienced employee and put him or her on the roof and use the expertise of an older employee – who doesn’t want to go up and down ladders every day anymore – to guide them.”
Although the trades are experiencing challenges in attracting new employees, Rackley has had success in attracting a more diverse workforce. The National Women in Roofing Association with 1,300 members nation-wide was founded three years ago, with Boykin as a founding member and Rackley as a Founding Sponsor.
“I started the Tennessee Council and served as recruitment chair in 2018. I am now on the Executive Committee as Treasurer. We have really pushed for women to get into roofing, and we want to transform what it looks like to be a roofing professional so we are trying to push the boundaries as a whole and pushing to get women on the roofs.”
Another woman, Lila Thomas, is Rackley’s Chief Financial Officer, and the company has several women in its office and three female field employees, “including one who is the lead technician, which means she is the assistant to the foreman,” Boykin says. “This is an important role because [the lead technician] is the one making sure things are going properly, making sure the crews are trained and everyone is being productive.”
Boykin does not find herself on a roof every day, but is certainly no stranger to it. Most recently, after the Tennessee Council for National Women in Roofing adopted a domestic violence shelter, she jumped in to help with the work. “They let us know they had a leak,” she says, “so a couple of the ladies volunteered and went and investigated it and patched the holes. It was about women supporting women.”
Boykin has an accounting background and worked in property management before coming to work for Rackley. “I sort of fell into it, but it’s been eleven years now, and I love it,” she says. “Curtis is a phenomenal boss and tries to bring out the best in all his employees. He pushes us in a way that makes us better. Plus the industry as a whole is very close. It’s like a family once you come into it, even though they’re our competitors. It’s a very special group, and now I can’t imagine not being in roofing.”