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Follow the rooftops

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  • | 9:57 a.m. March 21, 2014
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Michael Shephard is surprisingly candid when he recalls his arrival in Fort Myers from Alaska in 1980.

“I didn't know anything about business and I didn't know anything about roofing,” Shephard chuckles.

The California native had been working in Alaska for an insulation company when the owner offered to set him up in business in Fort Myers to diversify revenues. To make it worth his while, he gave Shephard ownership of 49% of the Southwest Florida operation. “He wanted a wintertime business,” Shephard says.

When the owner grew tired of traveling back and forth from Alaska to Florida, Shephard bought the rest of the company from him for $13,000.

So much for not knowing anything about business and roofing: Last year, Advanced Roofing & Sheet Metal posted $8.9 million in revenues.

Notable commercial projects in recent years have included roofing most of the corporate campus of women's retailer Chico's FAS in Fort Myers, the SunTrust Building in Naples and Scanlon Lexus dealership in Fort Myers. In addition, the company has installed roofs on hotels, schools and condominiums.

Although revenues rose a modest 2.3% in 2013, Shephard says he expects sales to rise 20% this year as commercial construction recovers from a devastating recession. “We're bidding with normal profit margins now,” says Shephard. “There's significantly more construction.”

Like many commercial subcontractors around the state, Advanced Roofing rode the wild boom and the bust of the 2000s. By 2006, Advanced Roofing was posting revenues of $15 million, triple the sales from 2003. At its peak, Advanced Roofing had 180 employees. “It was very stressful, but we had a lot of fun,” Shephard says.

Shephard says Advanced Roofing's reputation grew after Hurricane Charley in 2004, when its steel roofs withstood the storm's powerful winds. “Not even a leak, nothing happened,” he says.

The fun expansion years ended in 2007 and during the depths of the downturn Advanced Roofing lowered its headcount to as few as 15 employees. “We perfected the art of breaking even,” Shephard smiles, noting that the company only was unprofitable one year. “We played it very close to the line.”

To make it through the downturn, Advanced Roofing survived on reroofing jobs, emergency repairs and boosting its maintenance department. Today, the 17-person maintenance department represents about 20% of the total revenues of the company, with better margins than roofing because of lengthier warranties by manufacturers of materials.

Business started coming back in 2011. Shephard says 2012 was stable and 2013 saw modest growth. “This year is accelerating,” he says, noting the company now has 85 employees covering the region from Naples to Venice. Shephard has done work for contractors such as DeAngelis Diamond, Owen-Ames-Kimball and Balfour Beatty.

Clients sometimes take Advanced Roofing beyond the region's borders. For example, the firm recently added a roof to a hospital in Wesley Chapel north of Tampa. A licensed pilot, Shephard says he can fly to any job site at a moment's notice with his Cirrus plane.

With the surge in demand, subcontractors such as Advanced Roofing can bid on projects and make money. While reroofing continues to generate 60% of the company's total sales, new construction contributes about 20% of the company's revenues today. “Commercial construction is normalizing,” Shephard says. “Right now there's very high bidding activity.”


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