Arbutus Roofing: Covering British Columbia
“You are what your record says you are.”
Over lunch, Rick Ambrose, president of Arbutus Roofing tosses that Bill Parcells quotation into a conversation about the past, present and future of the Vancouver company that he’s headed for over thirty years. He explains that Parcells, the Hall of Fame football coach, was talking about wins and losses, but Ambrose found a deeper meaning in the maxim.
“Of course, business is about making money. If we don’t make money, we don’t eat lunch. But profit isn’t the only measure of success. There comes a point, once you’re established, when you stop and think about what kind of company you are. My dad, Curly, started Arbutus Roofing sixty years ago. Aside from the name, his company would be unrecognizable today. The materials have changed, the workers have changed, the technology has changed. We’re constantly evolving. But what’s made us successful, and what’s kept us going through some difficult periods, are the relationships that we’ve established with our customers, our suppliers, and our personnel.”
“We have customers that are the sons and daughters of my father’s customers. That doesn’t happen without strong relationships. Re-roofing, rather than new construction, is our bread and butter, and there’s a degree of unpredictability involved in tearing off an old roof. Will we find a section of rotten decking or some insulation that needs to be replaced? When we go back to clients for more money, we better have established a good rapport. They, in turn, expect us to drop the contract price if we come in well under budget. We may not make more money with that flexibility, but it fosters a more pleasant business experience. During the last economic downturn, we were in a position to be flexible about payments from some longtime customers who were overextended. We all got through that okay, and maybe next time we’ll be the ones that need a little help. And those relationships are also what make it enjoyable to come to work every morning.”
At Arbutus Roofing’s Richmond headquarters, Mark Kushniryk directs the day-to-day operations of a staff of sixty. “Detailed planning and preparation are, without a doubt, the keys to the success of a re-roofing project,” he asserts. “Our estimators routinely review one another’s bids, and we meet regularly with our material suppliers to keep up with new developments. A supervisor visits each job site before startup to confirm conditions on the ground, and we brief the entire crew before they’re dispatched. Our foremen and key workers have all been with us for years. It’s important to recognize individual strengths when putting a crew together.”
Kushniryk goes on to say that the local roofing industry is very fortunate that some visionary contractors put together the Roofing Contractors Association of British Columbia (RCABC) many years ago. The RCABC training center is second to none in turning out qualified tradespeople. The association also sets standards, provides technical support and administers the highly-regarded RoofStar Guarantee.
“I started costing roofs forty years ago with a measuring tape, a pencil and a pad of paper,” chuckles Ken Thomas, the Senior Estimator at Arbutus, demonstrating his now state-of the art estimating software. “For twenty years we did tar and gravel roofing. Period. Then the pace suddenly picked up. We got cell phones and computers. Torchon roofing products came onto the market and our workforce had to retrain. For the first time, women came into the trade in numbers, and they turned out to be some of the best torchon applicators.”
“Now we have a whole menu of roofing products to choose from. We have to select the right materials for the job, and be able to explain that choice to the client.”
Upstairs, Ian Reid runs the Arbutus Shingle Roofing Division. Reid explains that the efficient application of a shingle roof is just the starting point. “Re-roofing can be a dusty, noisy process and we have to minimize inconvenience to our customers and sometimes to our customer’s customers. Our shingle applicators have to be skilled tradespeople and do P.R. work, too, but that’s what wins us referrals, and referrals give us opportunities to expand our customer base.”
In the gleaming sheet metal shop, Supervisor Tim Sampson points out that the company takes on a fair number of projects that are challenging from an architectural standpoint. His fabricators and installers enjoy coming up with cost-effective solutions that exceed the industry standard, and sometimes even contribute a visual exclamation point to the finished product.
Safety Officer Chris Burdekin is in the vehicle compound, checking the first aid equipment in one of the thirty sky blue trucks that carry the distinctive Arbutus logo. “We regularly get compliments on the appearance of our fleet,” he says. “They may be our best advertising. We have our own maintenance shop with a full-time mechanic, and our crews have a friendly competition keeping their vehicles clean and well-stocked. There’s even a year-end award for that.”
“Just a few years ago, most companies used roof repair work to keep their regular workers busy on rainy days.” The speaker is Gary Tysick who oversees the Arbutus Roofing Maintenance and Repair Department. “Now we have fully-trained repair specialists on twenty-four call and we work with property managers to perform preventive maintenance inspections.”
“For the past few years, rapid change has been the norm for Arbutus,” he adds, “and for the industry in general. New products, new techniques, new approaches. But if you’re an established, well-run organization with the right people in place, you should thrive in that environment. We’re a very competitive bunch and we’re confident that we’re well-positioned to face whatever challenges are out there. Our record speaks for itself.”