For as long as he can remember, Mark DeBoo wanted to own his own business.
“Everybody works for somebody,” he says. “Even the doctors and lawyers work for someone. Owning your company is the only way to have the freedom and ability to guide your own destiny.”
Growing up in Chicago, DeBoo worked for a roofing company while still in high school. At Benedictine Illinois and later at DePauw University, he studied business management. The day he left school, at age 21, he started his own roofing and siding business. But, after 12 years, DeBoo realized the company wasn’t growing. His company was earning $750,000 a year and he was employing about 20 people, but he wanted a larger organization.
“I had never really worked for a big business,” he says. “I knew how to roof, but I didn’t have the experience or internal knowledge necessary to grow a business.”
DeBoo dissolved his company and went to work for All American Exteriors in Lake Zurich, Illinois. He spent the next 13 years learning everything he could about managing a business. He started out as a “troubleshooter” – going out in the field and tracking down problems and solving them. Soon he took over the residential department and grew it from earning at the level of his old company to $5 million a year.
But the desire to own his own company never left him. Finally, he convinced the owners of the Illinois company to back him in opening a roofing business in the southeast. After a year of research, he narrowed the location for his future business down to three areas: Atlanta, Raleigh/Durham, and Charlotte. A visit to Charlotte clinched the deal.
“Charlotte was a slam dunk,” says DeBoo. “It’s such a beautiful city; there’s nothing not to like.”
DeBoo spent his time in Charlotte talking with builders, while his wife Terri investigated schools for their son Blaine. When DeBoo went back to Illinois, he had 250 pounds of blueprints from builders who wanted him to give them estimates on projects. In July 1999, he moved to Charlotte and opened All American Roofing, Inc. He had the financial backing of two silent partners and two subcontracting crews, but the management of the new company was in his own hands.
In six years, the company has grown from one employee to one hundred. In 2002, the company moved from its original office on Tyron Street to a new 18,000-square-foot building in the Harrisburg Industrial Park. In an average week the company builds 50 to 70 roofs; in a busy week, it does as many as 100 to120. It is currently putting roofs on houses in 170 different subdivisions. In an industry where profits run from $100,000 to $40 million a year, All American Roofing falls strongly in the middle of the range – not the biggest company in town, but close.
Nailing Customer Service
For the past two years, Mark DeBoo has been recognized by the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce as a finalist in its entrepreneur awards. In both 2004 and 2005, All American Roofing was a finalist in the 36-150 employees category. Although he didn’t win, DeBoo says it was an honor to be in the running.
“With 5,600 businesses in Charlotte, to be one of the top three in the category two years in a row is exciting,” he says.
Steve Partridge, senior vice president at the Chamber, says the only reason All American Roofing hasn’t actually won is that “it’s a very competitive category.” Partridge calls DeBoo “a very sincere guy with a quiet passion.” He also says that what distinguishes All American Roofing is DeBoo’s commitment to the business and to customer service.
“From the very beginning, I set up the business to be proactive,” says DeBoo. “Our primary business is doing new construction for major builders. Those builders are our customers and it is the quality of our customer service that sets us apart.”
The bottom line in customer service is getting the job done right and on time, and All American Roofing has built a reputation for meeting schedules and for quality work. However, DeBoo has gone far beyond that step in making customer service a high priority. There are no answering machines at All American; customers talk to a live person. The staff at All American works hand-in-hand with the builder, talking with each customer at least once a week, to provide a level of service unmatched by others. And, All American is the only roofing company in the area that hires its own service technicians to inspect the finished job or to troubleshoot problems.
“Most companies hire subcontractors to do the final inspection or complete the punch out list,” explains DeBoo. “We hire our own service technicians. This helps us control the quality and meet the builder’s schedule. It’s much easier to exercise control over an employee than a subcontractor.”
DeBoo shows the same commitment to his employees that he does to his customers. All American Roofing provides longevity and security for its employees with health care and retirement plans. No one, including DeBoo, works on Sundays, giving employees time to spend with their families.
“Our employees are family and we’re committed to them.” says DeBoo. “The company depends on bringing the right people together. You can’t do it all yourself. Our estimates are more timely and more accurate because of our excellent office personal.”
All American Roofing is what DeBoo calls “a one stop shop.” It does both residential and commercial work and offers all types of roofing systems including shingles, slate, cedar, tile, flat metal and copper. Among its residential customers are Ryland Homes, Southampton Homes, D.R. Horton, Mercedes Homes, Centex Homes, as well as custom home builders like Arcadia Homes. It has done work in residential communities such as Waterside Landing, Mallard Pointe, and Mission Hills in Kannapolis, Roberta Woods in Concord, and Cherry Grove and The Pointe in Mooresville.
Among its many commercial projects are numerous hospitals, churches and schools. It put the roof on the Citizen’s South Bank building in Salisbury, the Boy Scouts of America Headquarters in Charlotte, the Rockingham City Hall, and the Holiday Inn Express in Kannapolis. It did the roofing for the new Northlake Mall, the renovated Southpark Mall, and the Shoppes@University.
Secrets of Success
A half million companies are started in this county every year. Not many of them show the type of explosive growth that All American Roofing has demonstrated in its first six years. Mark DeBoo has been honored as an Entrepreneur by the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce and interviewed as part of the WTVI series “American Entrepreneur” by Skylark Entertainment. He has some insight into what is necessary to start a successful business.
First, he says it is necessary to have a vision. In his own case, he saw a need for quality roofing companies throughout the county. In an industry where anyone with a pick up truck can go into the roofing business, it is not enough just to know how to property install a roofing system. DeBoo says you have to find the right people to do the work; people who will take pride in their work and are willing to do it right. And you have to do the work as economically as possible – keeping in mind that it is a business and must be run with structure, discipline and accountability.
Second, you need financial backing. DeBoo has two partners in his company – one runs a custom home building company in Illinois while the other heads up American Exteriors – who helped finance the start up of All American Roofing. If you can’t find partners willing to invest, you can put together a financial plan and take it to a bank, but capital is critical to an entrepreneur’s success.
Third, you have to have the ability to bring in customers. DeBoo says the secret to building a customer base, in addition to providing dependable, stable, and quality service, is to listen to the customer and find out what they need.
“Too many people try to tell their customer what he needs instead of spending their time listening to the customer,” says DeBoo.
DeBoo has a secret weapon in his business arsenal; it’s his wife Terri. Both Terri and Mark believe it is important for a business to give something back to the community that supports it. Since they moved to Charlotte six years ago, Terri has been a willing volunteer with the Charlotte Mecklenburg School system as well as with the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce.
“She’s the ultimate volunteer,” says Partridge. “She’s served on several area committees. She’s personable and aggressive about talking with folks. It was her networking that resulted in All American Roofing getting a piece of the SouthPark Mall job.”
DeBoo says Charlotte is a great place to do business. He believes that All American Roofing will continue to prosper as along as the atmosphere in Charlotte continues to encourage growth and development. The company has recently become involved with building retirement communities – an area that DeBoo expects to grow even more important to the bottom line in the future. He also expects the company to expand into different regions around the area. The company already has an office in Charleston and crews working in the Triad area.
DeBoo also expects changes in technology to change the roofing industry. With asphalt shingles becoming more and more expensive as oil prices rise, the industry will need to look at more economical ways to put a roof on a building. He believes that metal and shake roofs will be used more widely because of their longevity. He is also concerned about the environment and the way we keep filling up our dumps. Metal, he says, could be recycled at the end of a roof’s life.
“I never had any intention of being the cheapest roofing company,” says DeBoo, “I just wanted to do it right and on time, and be the best.” Mark DeBoo has certainly raised the roof on quality and service for the Charlotte market; he and his company seem to be in peak performance.