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Blown Away

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  • | 6:00 p.m. May 12, 2006
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Blown Away

COMPANIES by Francis X. Gilpin | Associate Editor

Nice guys don't always finish last.

William Tamayo didn't see much sense in aggravating roofing material manufacturers when he took over Suncoast Roofers Supply Inc. Surprisingly, according to Tamayo, making nice with your vendors was unusual in his industry. Other wholesalers often acted as if manufacturers needed them more than visa versa.

Fast forward 11 years.

After two destructive hurricane seasons, finding shingles, tiles and metal sheeting for installation contractors is a challenge in 2006. Manufacturers have the upper hand now.

"Our industry is at capacity in Florida right now," says Tamayo.

Dispensing with the adversarial attitude a decade or so ago has put Suncoast Roofers Supply in a better place than more irascible rivals. "That's where those partnerships have paid some dividends," Tamayo says.

Tamayo assumed management of a struggling company with two small Pinellas County locations and about $4 million in sales in 1995. The now Tampa-based company has since growth to 14 distribution centers in Florida and reported sales of $215 million last year.

But that isn't the best part.

In March, Suncoast Roofers Supply opened its first location outside of Florida, in Mobile, Ala. The Alabama store is the first to cater to homeowners who haven't necessarily been steered there by a contractor to pick out a roofing material preference.

Tamayo says the first six weeks at the Mobile store have generated several hundred thousand dollars in sales and have convinced him that he can roll out the concept nationally.

Coming home to Florida

Tamayo, 48, grew up in Miami and obtained an economics degree from the University of Florida. He went to work for Tampa's old Jim Walter Corp. in Alabama and Texas, eventually moving into sales of building materials.

While in the Lone Star State, he earned an MBA at the University of Texas in San Antonio but grew homesick for Florida. He came back home in 1989 after his mother won the state lottery, taking a manager's job with a Dallas roofing manufacturer.

One of his accounts in St. Petersburg suffered a series of business setbacks and Tamayo decided to try to help reverse its fortunes in 1995. Tamayo became co-owner of Suncoast Roofers Supply with the founder's son, Rowland E. Gregory Jr.

Tamayo later acquired majority ownership of the company and moved with it to Tampa.

At his previous employer, Tamayo was in charge of $100 million worth of business in seven states. He says he had a pretty good idea of what to do with Suncoast Roofers Supply. "I saw a lot of good distribution companies and I saw a lot of bad ones," he says.

Tamayo says he initially had to contend with larger competitors who tried to intimidate manufacturers or bankers into denying his company product or financing. But he overcame that with a good attitude and hiring the right people, such as recent college graduates. "They don't bring bad habits," he says.

'Canes drive business

The hurricane season of 2004 was a turning point for Suncoast Roofers Supply. "We grew without hurricanes," Tamayo says, "but that really changed things."

In 2003, Suncoast Roofers Supply totaled up sales of $120 million. That was a nice leap from the $4 million eight years earlier. But Suncoast Roofers Supply has nearly doubled 2003 sales in just the past two years.

Homeowners are demanding higher-end tiles and shingles that they hope will withstand winds of 75 miles an hour or higher that weather experts predict will be blowing across Florida from future storms.

Insurance companies are requiring big deductibles, in the range of $5,000 to $7,000, before they will help to replace a Florida roof destroyed by a storm, according to Tamayo. "People have figured it out," he says. "Their roofs are not getting paid for."

To ensure more reliable deliveries, Suncoast Roofers Supply has added trucks that go directly to manufacturers to pick up orders for roofers. Internally, the company has devised a hub-and-spoke delivery system among its network of Florida distribution centers, including locations in Clearwater, Fort Myers, Sarasota and Tampa.

"We've become more sensitive to logistics," Tamayo says.

Targeting the Sunbelt

The greater emphasis on transportation efficiency should help as Suncoast Roofers Supply expands the stores exclusively for homeowners beyond Mobile. Unlike the company stores in Florida, Suncoast Roofers Supply will handle installation, if Mobile customers desire that.

The preliminary results from the Mobile store suggest that homeowners are more comfortable choosing roof covering with digital visuals in a showroom than they are fumbling through samples with a contractor in their living rooms, says Tamayo.

Storm anxiety along the Gulf Coast certainly plays into homeowner behavior, says Tamayo. But he thinks the no-contractor-required Mobile store has benefited from the direct-to-homeowner approach, too.

After studying regional demographics, Tamayo will place the first round of Roof Design Centers in Sunbelt cities with at least 100,000 residents. Future openings in larger markets, such as Atlanta, Charlotte and Raleigh, will be accompanied by a blitz of local television commercials.

Tamayo downplays his own role in the impressive growth of Suncoast Roofers Supply, crediting his employees and their initiative. "The race horse was in the barn all along," he says. "I just rode it."

Across the bay, again

Suncoast Roofers Supply Inc. was founded 31 years ago in Pinellas County. When the company changed principal owners, William Tamayo moved the company's corporate offices to Tampa.

But Suncoast Roofers Supply is moving again. The company plans to occupy a brand new headquarters in Clearwater by January.

"I've always felt we were a Pinellas County company," says Tamayo, who is moving his residence with the company from Tampa.

The company has yet to fit all of its headquarters operations into a single location. For example, accounting is handled out of Hudson in Pasco County and employees are trained in Polk County at a location in Auburndale.

Tamayo has expanded the company through bank financing, based on strong financials. "Banks won't lend you money unless you're making money," he says.

He has given some thought to going public, especially since he started to contemplate a national launch of a chain of roofing stores. So far, though, he has rejected an IPO.

"That is just too short term," he says. "We really can't do it the way we want to do it."

Outside financing schemes have more appeal to buyout firms and securities underwriters than to him. "It's all about high returns and quick exits," says Tamayo.


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