Like offensive linemen on a soccer team, roofers tend to go unnoticed until something bad happens.
“People only think of their roof when it leaks, don’t they?” said Jason Stock, chief financial officer of Central Roofing, a longtime roofer in Minneapolis. “Out of sight, out of mind. If water stays outside, it’s good. If it comes in, it’s the end of the world.”
Central Roofing has played its part in ensuring that roofs have not leaked for more than 90 years. The company started out as a “one-man business” during the Great Depression and has since grown to serve customers across the country, according to its website.
Local clients and projects include the Hubert H. Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota, Hennepin County Medical Center, and the historic 1888 Masonic Temple in Minneapolis.
In the following interview, Stock goes into the history of Central Roofing and the effects of COVID-19 on the entire roofing business, among other things. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Q: I understand that your company was founded during the Great Depression. Can you talk about the early history?
A: Central was founded in 1929 by the Somers family. I think they actually ran a supermarket and then somehow moved to the next branch [of figuring out what else their customers needed]. “Hey, we can offer them roofs.” It started with a few people in a pickup truck and has grown to be what we are today.
Q: How many employees do you have today?
A: We only have 250 employees. There are a little over 200 in the field and then we have about 40 in the office. And there are eight or nine in the warehouse, so definitely a strong company.
And that’s all year round. In the summer we will likely top that 280 number. I always like those college students who want to get a nice job for three months before they come back. That’s how I got my way through college. It was always a nice plus about the fact that you can work three months and have nine months off. And … you work really hard on your grades to make sure they’re good so you don’t have to go back [laughs].
Q: Well, you could do a lot worse when it comes to a summer job.
A: That’s for sure. You know, I always loved it. I always went back to school tanned and well built.
Q: What types of work do you focus on? Is it mostly commercial?
A: Our focus is usually commercial. About 95% of everything we do is in this commercial market sector. We do quite a few townhouses. We did that [Minneapolis] Congress Center, the Viking Training Center, HCMC [Hennepin County Medical Center].
Q: One of your most interesting projects is the roof of the Masonic Temple from 1888 in Minneapolis. What were some of the challenges facing this historic building?
A: Almost every time we enter the historic buildings, they are always the most fascinating and funniest. You want to be able to honor the historical part, not take it apart and destroy it. So you don’t change the essence of the building.
Years ago we wanted everything to breathe. Now all of a sudden we have to deal with air barriers which, if we don’t get them right, will create condensation problems. So it really has to change the way we look at a building to make sure that, for one thing, we don’t alter the structure too much – that we can still see that historical value – and yet we go further to make it watertight .
Q: It sounds like some of these old buildings have had the roofs done in several layers and then you have to deal with asbestos and all sorts of challenging things.
A: From … asbestos products from earlier years to fumed silica, there are many more hazards that we know about. So we always need to make sure we have PPE in place to make sure our employees and the general public are safe, and try to contain those elements to make sure we aren’t spreading what we shouldn’t be. During this time, several new challenges had to be overcome. But why do you shy away from a challenge?
Q: You mentioned PPE, and of course everyone has been talking about it for the last year. How has the pandemic affected your business and your workload?
A: It obviously affected us, like everyone else. When Minnesota first went into this shutdown matter, we did our best to honor the best we could. Of course, we’re important to making sure we don’t have customers with roof leaks and all of those things. So we kept a skeleton crew going during that time and then we brought everyone back.
Unfortunately in our industry in the past a lot of people did crew hopping so you would have a couple of people who were like the main crew and then a couple of floaters. We had to somehow get rid of this system to make sure we kept everyone in this core group in as small a group as possible just to make sure that if someone gets sick we don’t have bulk across the organization.
The communication was great. Obviously in the past the superintendent drove to every construction site every day and had this conversation: Where are we? What do we need? That had to be changed to video calls, cell phones, pictures.
The stocks keep getting lower. Over the past year our inventory has probably doubled just to make sure I always have enough. We always have a joke here that nothing is stopping the train, because when the train stops, it takes too long to get going again.
On the other hand, I never thought I’d have roofers with the cleanest hands in the world these days. But when it comes to wearing masks when torn off, we’ve been doing it for years. So it’s actually not that different.
Q: Back to the Great Depression: Your company has gone through difficult times, right?
A: It went through a number of challenges: the Great Depression, World War II, Korea. It had a different lead. … We bought it 10 years ago [from Corporate America]. It is family-owned again and is doing very well, but it has had many different phases over these 90+ years.
We are owned and operated by women. Gerry Stock is the President and CEO. Warren Stock is the senior vice president responsible for operations. … I am always impressed with the umbrella industry. It’s amazing how many families are all involved.
Q: What are you working on these days?
A: We have about 35 people in Fargo roofing over the new Amazon warehouse. Everyone is talking about square feet, but in this case it’s about 25 acres of roof. We always joke that you don’t want to forget anything on the ground because it’s a little over a mile to walk around the entire building.
Q: What is your outlook for the rest of 2021? Do you see a fairly constant workload?
A: There are more things out there than we can currently accomplish in the command world. So it’s very strong. … We always run into the problem that we cannot find enough people. I would love it if more people would promote the craft for jobs in the future.
Q: What’s your selling point to involve younger people?
A: Work hard, live honestly, be part of a team. We have benefits and all of these great things from 401 (k) to health insurance to retirement plans. You get good pay. You don’t have to spend a lot of money on college debt these days. They actually get paid education. All of our unions have great training programs to start with on day one and work your way up to make sure you can do so safely and productively. So it’s definitely a new road.
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