If your surname is Beldon, it’s no surprise that you are in the umbrella business. But for Brad Beldon, it’s not just about meeting family expectations – he loves the job.
Two years after graduating from the University of Texas at Austin, he returned to town to work for the family-run roofing company in San Antonio.
In 2004, he succeeded his father, Mike Beldon, who succeeded his father, Morry Beldon, who founded the company in 1946. Last year, Brad Beldon’s 24-year-old daughter Mackenzie Beldon joined the firm as a business development manager.
In nearly 75 years, the company has performed more than 100,000 commercial and residential roofing jobs. There are also departments that specialize in installing gutters, windows, doors and fiber cement cladding.
As a commercial contractor, they have national military contracts in place, but the residential side brings in most of the contracts.
Here is an edited transcript of the interview where Brad Beldon talks about some of the biggest challenges facing the umbrella industry and how the coronavirus pandemic has affected business.
Q: Can you tell me a little bit about your company and how it started?
ON: My grandparents are Bostonians. My grandfather was on General (George S.) Patton’s staff and made two business trips through Fort Sam (Houston). At the end of the war, my grandmother told me, she didn’t want to go back to Boston. She didn’t like the cold winters and they really enjoyed their time in San Antonio. You opened a shop here in 1946 and today we are in our fourth generation.
Q: Always doing a roofer?
ON: No. We started out as a lumber yard for Ray Ellison, who is now KB Homes (based in Los Angeles). Then this lumber yard turned into a roofing company, and that’s how we’ve been installing roofs for over 70 years.
Q: When did you take over the reins?
ON: I graduated in 1986 and worked for another roofer in Washington, DC for two years. I returned here in 1988 and have been working with my father ever since.
I started in the summer of my 12th birthday. My dad brought me in and I had to cut the grass (in the office). We have about 300 feet of grass and he would come and complain about how I cut it and then I would complain to my mom every night. Eventually we agreed that we weren’t going to create Wimbledon grass and that I would do my best to cut the grass and he would leave me alone. After that we got along well.
I was probably on a roof for the first time when I was 14 and it was a metal roof. I learned every part of our subject in the summer. It was all. I’ve always wanted to be in business since I was a little kid. My father always brought me with him when I was little. He said I always asked him which office would be mine.
Q: You briefly had a tech startup called Roof Monitor. Would you do something like this again?
ON: Yes and no. I think I was ahead of my time in using technology in the rooftop industry, and a number of competitors have recently launched similar products. I don’t think the umbrella industry has accepted the use of technology like many other industries. Not yet. I think it’s coming. There are sensors everywhere in buildings. The roof is just the next logical place to see these sensors. Would i do it again Probably, but I’ve certainly learned a lot of lessons about what not to do.
It definitely created a lot of gray hair and it certainly cost a lot of money. It was a very expensive lesson. I met a lot of great people during the process and learned a lot about how I can improve what we have been doing as a roofing company.
Q: How has the umbrella industry changed from the start?
ON: When I started, most of it consisted of multi-layer roofs. A lot of work, very labor intensive. Now a large percentage of roofing products are single ply and they fall off as one layer, drastically reducing labor costs. I think you will continue to see components that are put together so that there is less manpower available.
Q: Is there an additional risk associated with being on the roof?
ON: Oh sure, absolutely, but safety has come a long way too. We have devices today that make it a lot safer than when I first started my business, and these will continue to improve. From the outside it doesn’t seem like an exciting type of business, but still everything we do changes every day. The exciting thing is that no two days and no two buildings are the same. Even if they are built next to each other, the buildings, from a historical perspective only, the wear and tear on each building is different.
Q: How long should house and commercial roofs last? Has that changed over time?
ON: The products have gotten a lot better. A typical clapboard roof will last 10 to 15 years. On a typical commercial roof, you will likely benefit from a (well) designed roof for 20 years, if not longer if it is well maintained. When I started in this organic materials business, 10 years had passed.
Q: Before COVID-19, what were some of the biggest challenges facing the industry?
ON: I mean, that has been our biggest challenge – work for 10 years – and it continues to be a problem. Immigration you know there aren’t a lot of people who want these jobs and solving the immigration problem that I think is going to help the trade. Regardless of the construction industry in which we all need a workforce to keep doing what we do best.
Q: Are there any newer challenges after COVID-19?
ON: I think COVID-19 made us look at our businesses differently. Before COVID-19, we thought we couldn’t do anything remotely. Although we did a very good job of putting everything in the cloud, we still thought that you have to be next to each other to be successful. I think we learned from COVID that we can work practically anywhere except when we put the roof on, but the support team can work from anywhere in the world. I don’t think we thought that before. Ultimately, it gives more of our employees a happier place to work.
Q: How do you overcome these workforce hurdles?
ON: Before COVID, we founded Beldon University. It is a training program to bring new employees into our industry who have no previous experience. We did pretty well until COVID hit, and then we closed the classes because we had a social distancing problem. Once we have some kind of vaccine out there, we’ll already have the curriculum in place, the classroom set up, and we’ll be putting together a program again that will allow us to work with vocational students or others who want to get into the industry.
Q: How has the pandemic affected the company’s sales?
ON: Our sales dropped dramatically due to COVID. Not only have sales decreased, but the opportunities have also slowed. I think consumer confidence has dropped tremendously and many of our commercial customers were scared of having someone in their facility.
What we did, however, is check everyone’s temperature every day and hand out a dated bracelet so everyone knows their employee has been checked. We also have a four-question questionnaire that all of our team members ask and complete online on a daily basis to help resolve COVID-related issues.
Our goal is to create a work environment that is safer than the home environment. We work on it every day. We’ve invested over $ 150,000 since COVID took security precautions.
Q: Do you have offices in other parts of Texas?
ON: Yes. Austin, Houston, Dallas and we are headquartered here in San Antonio.
From a commercial perspective, we are licensed in 45 states and Puerto Rico. We travel all over the country installing commercial roofs. We do not do residential roofing outside of the San Antonio area.
Q: Were you able to qualify for the PPP or for the support?
ON: Yeah, and that helped, especially when revenue was down. We’re a big employer with 270 employees and we wanted to make sure everyone kept their jobs. It’s difficult to do that when people aren’t calling you.
Laura Garcia covers the healthcare industry. To read more from Laura, become a subscriber. [email protected] | Twitter: @Reporter_Laura