North American Roofing Offers Nationwide Service with a Family Feel
by Chris King, Roofing Contractor Magazine
The country is in the midst of an economic downturn, but at North American Roofing, business is up. According to Brian Verble, North American’s Chief Executive Officer, one key to the company’s success is its nationwide strategy. “Business is still out there,” he said. “It’s a matter of going out there and finding it.”
Headquartered in Asheville, N.C., North American has sales offices and crews strategically located throughout the country. It is licensed in all 50 states.
In business since 1979, the company specializes in commercial and industrial re-roofing and new construction installation of all major roofing brands, including its own private label products. It also handles repairs and preventive maintenance — and provides consultative services including roof asset management and energy savings analysis.
“We’re proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish over the last 30 years,” said Brian Verble, the third-generation leader of the family business. “We have a good foundation with a lot of top-quality people – many going back to the early days of the company – who are experts in their respective areas.”
The company was founded by his grandfather, Carl Verble, whose background was in shopping center development in the Midwest and Southeast. “My grandfather and grandmother were real entrepreneurs,” said Brian. “In the 1960s they also built custom homes and spec houses in Indianapolis.”
As Carl Verble got more heavily involved in commercial real estate, he realized his buildings had an all-too-common problem: leaky roofs. “At the time he didn’t know much about flat roofs, but he knew his roofs were failing prematurely, and he got on his own roofs and looked at products that were out there.”
The idea of single-ply membranes appealed to Carl, and he formed his own roofing division. He began experimenting with PVC membranes and various manufacturers’ products, leading to his own custom in-house specifications. As his research continued, and his crews became experts at installation, he saw the potential for EPDM. Teaming up with a neighbor who was an executive at Firestone Tire and Rubber, he formed a partnership with Firestone in 1980.
Carl Verble formed a distribution and training arm named Rubber Roofing Sales, and North American Roofing Co. obtained license No. 1 for Firestone’s roofing division. “They trained the first several hundred Firestone installers in the country,” Brian noted.
Carl’s son, Mike Verble, headed up sales and marketing and began exhibiting at trade shows across the country, including the ICSC (International Council of Shopping Centers), and the company grew quickly. “It really took off in 1982,” Brian said. “EPDM had so many benefits — it was lightweight, it could go over existing roofs, it could be mechanically fastened. It was a cost-effective solution to re-roofing.”
Many of the first people his grandfather hired are still with the company today. “The chief estimator is still the chief estimator today,” Brian said. “Many of the project managers we have today are our former field managers who’ve moved up. We’ve got a lot of people with a lot of great experience.”
North American executed the concept of becoming both the private label manufacturer and installer. “It was a very marketable concept — ease of service after installation,” Brian said. “We were the manufacturer, the installer, and held the warranty. We created an easy process for our customers — one phone call. This is still available today, although we’ve expanded to meet new demands for specific manufacturer brands as well. And, we’ve expanded our service network throughout the country.”
The company primarily installed EPDM through the 90s, but Brian Verble said the company now offers all types of roofing systems, including green roofs. TPO is a large part of their business.
“We’ve done half a billion square feet of roofing since we started,” said Brian. “We’ve expanded our customer base by focusing on our relationships. We do a good job of taking care of the customer, treating them like family, and that is why they have remained so loyal.”
Mike Verble took over the business in 1989. “He was involved in the company in the early days on the sales side, and brought in J.C. Penney and other big retail shopping center clients,” Brian said. “He has the same entrepreneurial spirit as my grandfather, and is still very much involved in the company today.”
In 1990, after graduating from Duke, Brian decided to follow the family tradition and enter the roofing industry. “I grew up in the business,” he said. “I worked on the roofs, did summer work like a lot of college kids did.”
In 1992 Brian Verble founded NorthStar Building Services, the company’s maintenance division, which primarily serviced roofs that were not installed by North American. Today, this division has grown to service repairs and offer preventive maintenance and asset management programs for national accounts. “I started that division and ran it. We did more preventive maintenance and scheduled repairs than on-demand service,” he recalled. “North- Star is geared up to be a great area of growth for the company moving forward, and is expected to add another competitive advantage to what North American offers to its customers.”
In the late 1980s, Mike Verble saw an opportunity to help Home Depot reach residential customers. “We put a proposal together to do their residential roofing for them on a national scale,” Brian said. “We were the very first national licensee for Home Depot for their At Home Services Division.”
The Verbles named this new company Installed Products USA. “We ran the entire process for them through qualified contractors and established distribution channels,” Brian said. “Installed Products USA managed everything from in-store displays, sales, pre-construction meetings to the final punch-out and collection.”
The company set appointments at the store level with local sales associates from a call center in Tampa. The company started this opportunity in 1997 with 10 stores in the Carolinas and expanded to 26 offices serving more than 1,500 stores within five years.
“It was a major undertaking, but it was a fantastic opportunity for the family and North American Roofing,” Brian said. “This experience in residential roofing for a national brand like Home Depot laid the foundation for our focus on systems and efficient processes, which we continue to embrace today.”
Installed Products USA was sold back to Home Depot in 2003, and Brian Verble returned to North American Roofing. “I came back to my roots,” he said. He returned his focus to commercial roofing and found the concepts he learned in residential roofing still applied.
“The key is providing an efficient means of communicating and measuring performance so the customer receives the same high level of service no matter which office or what team member they are working with,” Brian said. “The five years at Installed Products opened up my eyes to an improved way North American must serve our customer. We set ourselves apart by our consultative approach we take with each customer. We listen to their needs, survey their facilities, understand their budgets and recommend the right solution for them. There is no one-size-fits-all at North American. We pride ourselves on our full service, consultative, relationship-building process.”
Expanding the company’s product lines helped in the recent downturn, according to Brian. “It opens up opportunities for us to supply different products for different customer needs — and allows us to expand market share.”
Infrastructure investments also paid off. “About the same time the economy began to tank we were actually growing, for example, expanding our business development team for sourcing opportunities and growing business,” he said. “We have always invested in technology, but we have more resources now with our strategy of a dedicated IT department, which will continue to allow us to better focus on mining our data and targeting particular customers and industries.”
“We’ve done a good job of taking care of our customers’ warranty and repair issues over the years,” he continued. “We are using technology and new infrastructure to improve upon that service and expand the offering to meet demand. We’re offering more roof asset management, maintenance programs, emergency response to natural disasters. Our in-house rapid response team is highly experienced at assessing the situation, getting the right team to the job, getting the roof watertight and following up with repairs or replacements immediately.”
North American’s national reach is ideal for helping customers with facilities around the country, Brian asserted. “One thing customers tell us they like is our centralized approach to managing their accounts — a centralized database for monitoring every aspect of their job and account, and, most importantly, a single point of contact for all concerns,” he said. “And we are utilizing the new IT infrastructure to improve upon this approach even more.”
Brian Verble credits those who came before him for setting up the foundation for the company’s success. “Let’s give credit where credit it due,” he said. “My grandfather and my father founded and built this business, and it’s still family owned. We have an impressive number of employees who have been with us more than 20 years. We treat our employees like they’re family. We treat our customers like family. It’s a good working environment, and people can work their way up. We’re fortunate to have such a great group of people.
“Our bread and butter has been the large national client, and serving that niche. That’s why the processes and resources we continue to implement align with the demands of that size national client.”
These days Brian tries to get out in the field as often as he can. “I like to pick everyone’s mind, see how we can do things better, ask how things are going. These guys are the face of the company and it’s as important for me to learn from them as it is for them to know their voice and work is being noticed.”
Satisfying customers’ needs starts with a safe workplace for employees. “First and foremost, you have to make sure everyone is safe. Safety is the top priority for us.” Brian pointed to a recent tear-off and replacement job for a major retailer as an example of meeting stringent job requirements without compromising safety. North American installed insulation and a singleply system over a metal deck while the store was open for business underneath.
“We set up safety netting underneath the deck in a 40-foot-by-40-foot area each day,” Brian said. “We reset the safety netting every day, moved products, and curtained off the area below and taped it off. I was very pleased with our crew’s performance. I was even more pleased when I talked to the owners and received the letter of praise from the on-site store manager saying how professional our crew was and how their business wasn’t interrupted a bit.”
For more information about North American Roofing, visit www.naroofing.com.
Chris King is editor of Roofing Contractor. He can be reached at 248-244-6497 or firstname.lastname@example.org.