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Business Observer Friday, Jul. 30, 2004 18 years ago

Profit on a Hot-tile Roof

Jesse Lynn, president of Circle L Roofing Inc., found a niche in the roofing industry that has made the company one of the top players.

Profit on a Hot-tile Roof

Jesse Lynn, president of Circle L Roofing Inc., found a niche in the roofing industry that has made the company one of the top players.

By Sean Roth

Real Estate Editor

Circle L Roofing Inc. - one of the state's largest roofers - has experienced explosive growth in the 11 years since it was founded by the Lynn family. The company, which specializes in concrete, clay tile and metal roofs, now has eight offices and 500 employees, including 200 in its backyard.

The subcontractor, which is considered the largest roofer in the Sarasota-Manatee market, has seen its gross revenue grow by more than 40% over the past two years, says Circle L President Jesse Lynn, who refused to disclose specific revenue figures or market share for the Lakewood-based company.

"They are likely one of the largest tile installers in the world," says Bart Cox, a sales representative with concrete tile supplier Hanson Roof Tile. "It's one of my largest customers. It is also one of the top residential roofers in the country."

Last year, Circle L Roofing expanded its service to include consumer projects. Most recently, the company bought 7 acres in Centre Park, on U.S. 301, to build a centralized consumer-service division to solidify its entry.

"We are investing more than $3 million in that facility (including land)," says Lynn. And for good reason, he might add.

"Essentially, we are looking for our business volume (in consumer-services) to double in '04," he says. "And we are looking for an additional 50% growth in '05."

Ambitious goals, but attainable, Lynn says. Circle L's decision to move into the consumer market is crucial to the company's growth.

The roofer already had a strong presence in the Florida market, an area where there's strong demand for tile roofing. But company officials had to decide between expanding nationally or in the state.

Despite its growth, Circle L remains a family-owned and operated business. Lynn, the eldest of two brothers, runs the business with his father, James, vice-president of operations; mother, RaeDean, vice-president of human resources; younger brother Lucas, vice-president of construction; and Lucas's wife, Paula, administration manager. Jesse Lynn's wife, Lara, works for the company on a part-time basis.

"We are a very close-knit family," Lynn says. "It just works. I developed my drive from my dad's work ethic and mom's sheer determination. My dad was a union carpenter, and my mom was a homemaker until her two kids got out of school."

Jesse Lynn grew up on a southern Georgia farm. After obtaining an associate's degree from Waycross College in Georgia, Lynn attended the University of South Florida. He also worked as an estimator for an uncle, Otis Beasly, who was a roofing contractor. Eventually, Lynn became his bookkeeper and superintendent of his uncle's company.

"While I was attending USF, I decided to stay my education in lieu of an ability to grow in the industry," Lynn says. "I was working on a finance degree, and I recognized the opportunity and just kind of ran with it. My father, brother and I were already working in the construction business. It was just a natural opportunity to get the company off the ground."

At 24, Lynn, joined by his father, mother and brother, hired an employee and formed Circle L Roofing.

There were lean times in the beginning, Lynn recalls. He'd make sales calls all morning and work with his family on roofs all afternoon. After the sun went down, it was time to do paperwork.

"That is just how things were in the early years," Lynn says. "We started out with one roof at a time. We were very hands on. It was really hot up there. But it was about doing something that you enjoyed."

The transition from a five-person operation to a larger company happened quickly. When Circle L's sales volume became too much for one person, Lynn hired Steve Barrow. He is now vice-president in charge of sales in the company's backyards.

Shortly thereafter, the company started new offices in Stuart, Fort Myers, Jacksonville, Orlando and Tampa.

Lynn credits Circle L's vice-president of sales, Scott Sweitzer, recruited from a large distributor, with setting up the statewide sales and marketing plan.

In another key staffing move, Lynn hired Stephen Ackoury to centralize the roofer's purchasing operations. Ackoury's experience in acquisitions allowed Circle L to buy Barrier Roofing in Melbourne in 2002 and Jim's Roofing in Santa Rosa Beach earlier this year.

"The key to any of our business successes has been in being in a position to acquire and direct good people," Jesse Lynn says. "From my perspective, I like to think of everyone in the company as extended family."

Greg Leffert, currently vice-president of construction for Circle L, will soon be appointed president of the new consumer division.

"Greg has been here for eight years," Lynn says. "A lot of our growth is tied to him. He has helped us open a lot of new stores. He knows all of our processes. He knows every piece of a new business opening, including customer service and sales."

The new division will function autonomously in terms of sales, scheduling, purchasing and workforce allocation.

"We are trying to decentralize consumer services," Lynn says. "Of course, we will still handle price negotiations through here."

As for the new department's focus, it will hit on two different market segments: individuals and community associations.

"We have certainly done residential roofing before," Lynn says, "but it was basically for entire communities. Now, it will be more individual homes. We know that it will require the inspection process to have a tighter window. We have our growth pretty much defined for the next five years. As the demand grows we will be adding additional stores to fill in the market."

Quality service is key to Circle L's success, Lynn says.

"We have intensive quality inspection in the field," he says. "In addition to that, we have a customized piece of software that allows us to schedule consistently the materials we need to complete the jobs on time. It allows us to more easily deal with things like weather and material shortages (concrete and steel) ... variables beyond our control."

The software program is the "glue that holds our operations together," Lynn says. "We are looking forward to bringing that professional customer service from the contractor side of the business to the consumer."

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