Since 1976, National Roofing Co. of Albuquerque, New Mexico has been setting the standard for how roofers should treat clients and staff. Now in its second generation, this recognized Master Contractor is constantly striving to be a positive part of the community it serves while diversifying into performing more envelope work and preparing to grow into new areas. We spoke with National Roofing President Jackson Johns.
Jackson’s father Tom began in the early seventies doing shingle work to prevent “starving to death,” as Jackson explains. He became quite proficient at the trade while working for a company in New Mexico along with a friend, until the two missed getting a paycheck. They decided that if their employers could run a company, they could as well.
“They started up National Roofing Co., as it was a name that a housewife would trust. Ten years in, Tom wanted to move into commercial roofing, but that went contrary to the interests of his partner Pete. They separated ways, and Tom bought out Pete to start the commercial roofing business,” says Jackson.
The company grew rapidly into the nineties but wanted to maintain the quality and professionalism for which it was known, so it shrunk back to a size where it could do this. In 2009, Jackson graduated from college and had no intentions of joining the business, but upon graduation, the only job he could find was as a forklift driver for National Roofing.
Although he was hesitant at first, he started having fun and grew to like the work. He slowly worked his way up based on merit, not nepotism. Now his father is set to retire, and a transition is currently underway.
“I am excited to come into work, and there are always new challenges. We have the best team with wonderful people,” says Jackson.
National Roofing is the only contractor in New Mexico that has its own full-time, value-added service department. Jackson explains that most roofers in New Mexico and within the industry do work that favors them and not the customer. A complete reroofing is not always warranted, and sometimes all it takes is a little maintenance. National Roofing offers a Roof Maintenance Program that can extend the roof’s lifespan, giving customers and clients what is best for them and not what is in the company’s interest.
“In the customer relation acquisition business, you start slow and build trust. The aim is to earn a reroof and not be involved in a race to the bottom, low-bid market. It’s based on science and thought, and that’s what the service department does for us,” says Jackson.
The biggest aspect of the company’s organizational culture involves teamwork and collaboration. There is engagement across all levels of the company, and nothing is done in a vacuum, which is a rarity in this industry. National Roofing is transparent in terms of what is going on and how projects are managed, which requires a lot of trust, honesty, and tolerance.
The employee cooperation has made the company truly successful. Employees know that if they make mistakes, the rest of the team will help right the ship. A large part of that philosophy is derived from Tom’s values.
“He used to have expressions such as: ‘We are all eating off the same plate.’ I was fortunate to step in and further his philosophy. I have big shoes to fill as my father is well known in the community. It’s rare that people have not heard of us, and it’s a positive challenge to take on,” says Jackson.
National Roofing has been around for forty years and will be around for forty more because of the way it does business. Jackson has his first child on the way, and the prospect of leaving the company to a third generation is appealing.
Jackson is not the only one in the company with a family connection. There are people whose fathers, aunts, and uncles have worked here. This part of the company culture is one that intends to maintain that keep family-run atmosphere.
According to Jackson, you only need two things to be a successful roofing contractor: physics and chemistry. The company takes a scientific approach and a knowledge-based decision-making process to everything it does.
“It’s one of the things I get excited about, to do a pull-out test and ensure the roof will stay on the building. We like that aspect of the business. It is a good analytical tool,” says Jackson.
National Roofing has been a Firestone Master Contractor for twenty-five years, and last year, it won a safety award from the local American Builders and Contractors association. These are the important recognitions, but there are other metrics that matter more to the firm.
“It’s the internal key performance indicators and the fact that we have a quality incident rating of less than one. We also have the lowest experience modifier rate of any roofing contractor in our area. These awards and recognitions are far more important to me than somebody handing me a plaque and saying ‘Good job!’” says Jackson.
The New Mexico roofing company is somewhat relentless in its pursuit of excellence and in maintaining a high level of accountability. When a mistake is made, it is fixed. Every job site has safety hurdles, but it is how these are prevented, fixed, and confronted that determines success. The same is true for any roofing issue.
“I would rather go broke doing a good job than rich doing a bad one,” says Jackson.
When clients have a leak, they tend to assume it is the roof. Due to the company’s quality craftsmanship, however, that is rarely the case. Many times it is some other part of the building envelope that is leaking, and this work is a new aspect of the business, making it convenient for the customer.
Many of the components and skills of installing a roofing system are similar to those of assembling a wall panel, making the addition of walls a natural transition for National Roofing. The company can build a thermal and moisture barrier across the entire building and not just the roof assembly.
“It just favors our skill set and is one more way we can be really client-centric and focused. There is also a business reason for the change to envelope work. If you want to get rich, consolidate your resources. If you want to stay rich, diversify,” says Jackson.
One area of diversification is eco-friendly, green roofs. These come in a variety of styles, as green is a broad term that is more of a mindset for sustainability than a specific set of parameters. National Roofing works on garden roofs, and many people think of these as green roofs simply because there are plants involved.
“Ordinarily, you don’t want people walking on the roof while we are working on it, as that is how plants get damaged. Now there are people landscaping over your roof, and that requires real finesse and coordination,” says Jackson.
As far as green systems go, Jackson is impressed with roof photovoltaic installations. The company has worked with other solar contractors and has installed megawatt systems. Jackson is passionate about chasing these projects because he lives in a state that sees three hundred days of sunshine per year and is a firm believer that the largest existential crisis that has ever faced humanity is anthropogenic climate change. The only way to solve that is to get away from carbon addiction and turn to an energy resource like solar.
National Roofing is trying to work based on the model of what is right for the building owner and the building. Eco-friendly options amaze some clients when they realize that there will be no energy bills to pay.
“We want to help our customers accomplish that. We were able to successfully work with our local Roadrunner Food Bank, which helps to solve food scarcity in New Mexico, by applying solar on top of their roof and giving them energy independence,” says Jackson. The demand for solar systems is light because these are capital intensive, but just to be knowledgeable and offer it on the market is important for National.
There are, however, some older roofing systems that are sustainable and still in use. The ballasted synthetic rubber roofing membrane called ethylene propylene diene terpolymer (EPDM) system is an example of this. National Roofing got away from installing the EPDM system, but when it comes across an owner that has one, it will work with them to make it last, saving the building owner money. It is an incredibly sustainable and environmentally friendly rubber roofing system that the company knows well.
The biggest hurdle facing roofing contractors and the general construction industry is a scarcity of labor. To keep the right people, you need to treat them well and develop a culture that fosters emotionally and psychologically healthy people.
“There is this old-school mentality in roofing that we will beat our guys up and ‘mad dog’ them to get the work out of them. That’s just not true. Why would anyone stay in that situation? We are an industry on the knife’s edge from a threat of automation. We are building an environment where people thrive, and this will be one of the keys to success going forward,” says Jackson.
National Roofing will continue to grow and diversify. By the end of July 2019, it will have moved into a new facility that is three times larger than its present location.
“Our future is very bright. We have some issues in the industry, but we are forward-looking and strategic enough in our outlook that we will solve those problems. In a lot of instances, we will be the first to solve them,” says Jackson.
To be a successful roofing contractor, a company needs to understand roofing first. Secondly, it must develop business experience, and thirdly but most importantly, it needs to understand people. National Roofing does all three.