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Business Observer Friday, Aug. 18, 2017 2 years ago

Raise the roof

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Survival instincts, to conserve in the downturn, have started to pay off for a large contractor business.
by: Ted Carter Contributing Writer

Here's a good sign the rebound in the economy has some heft: A roofing company, decimated by the recession, now receives regular calls from potential buyers.

But executives with Fort Myers-based Crowther Roofing & Sheet Metal of Florida aren't interested in selling the business. Not, at least, until an acquisition proposal makes “perfect sense,” says CEO Lee Scott Crowther, son of company chairman Lee J. Crowther.

“I have a successful business with no debt,” he says. “I don't have to do anything.”

The success, punctuated by a 37% revenue spike since 2014, from $40.2 million to $55.1 million, accentuates a key lesson when things are down: maintain as much of the core infrastructure as possible.

An overarching casualty of the recession at Crowther was job cuts. The company went from 800 employees before the bust to as low as 250 during the lean years. It peaked at $100 million in revenue in 2006, a figure that fell to around
$40 million for several years. Yet the company kept the core of its skilled workforce, officials say, and also hung on to its facilities, equipment and truck fleet.

“There were a lot of bad things that happened to a lot of good people,” Crowther says of the crash. “Fortunately for us, we had a very conservative business philosophy. We had had a number of good years. We had everything paid off on our vehicles and equipment. That carried us through.”

The Crowthers and longtime company President Kevin Callans established much of the infrastructure during the boom years of 2004 to 2007. Having all its parts ready to go when the recovery finally arrived helped quicken the return to profitability. Says Crowther: “We've been back in the black for four years.”

Today, Crowther Roofing has rebuilt to slightly more than 400 employees, returned to replacing roofs on high-end homes and expanded to Florida's east coast. The company's commercial side is doing a pair of large hospital buildings for Lee Memorial in Lee County and a couple of schools, one in Lee and another in Sarasota County. “We're on pace to do a little north of $60 million” this year, Crowther says.

Beyond recession survival instincts, another key to the company's recent growth, Crowther says, is the fifth-generation family-owned company's policy of going it alone on each of its commercial and residential projects. “We self-perform our work. We don't hire subcontractors,” he says.

And the company doesn't borrow money, he adds. “We don't leverage anything.”

Crowther Roofing returned to residential three years ago and established an HVAC division for both residential and commercial work. This time around, the company is benefiting from name recognition as an established business.

It concentrates on high-end residential with roof replacement jobs. “Those are the ones who will pay an extra 5% to hire my company,” says Crowther, who puts the cost of these roof replacements at between $30,000 to $100,000.

The company also opened a residential showroom on Fort Myers' Metro Parkway to display roofing products and fixtures such as gutters and solar power panels. It has a large marketing budget to draw in customers, to the showroom and for projects. “I spend $30,000 a month doing residential TV commercials. That makes my phone ring a lot,” Crowther says.

If anything keeps Crowther up at night, like some of his peers, it's maintaining a skilled workforce. New employees receive on-the-job training and receive bonuses for acquiring new skills. And the firm rewards foremen and other site supervisors with year-end bonuses of 25% to 50% if they achieve strong safety records.

“We are looking for talent,” he says. “Once we train them we pay them top dollar rates. We don't want workers jumping ship for an extra buck somewhere.”

AT A GLANCE

Crowther Roofing
Year Revenue %growth

2014 $40.2 million
2015 $45.3 million 12.6%
2016 $55.1 million 21.6%
Source: Crowther Roofing

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