40 & Counting
Western Roofing is Now in Its 40th Year

As Western Roofing enters its 40th year of publication serving the roofing industry, we

thought we should take a look back (look at that photo; I certainly had more hair back then)

at how it all started.  Are we bragging a bit?  Maybe, but as Walt Disney once said, “If

you don’t blow your own horn, nobody else will.”

In researching the beginnings of this publication, we went back to the source, Johnny Zamrzla of Western Pacific Roofing, Palmdale, California.  It turns out that while Western Roofing is a few years younger than the Western States Roofing Contractors Association (WSRCA), the two were linked from the start.  In the early 1970s, Zamrzla, along with Wayne Mullis, began discussing the need for a regional roofing association in the West.  Both would later serve as presidents of the National Roofing Contractors Association (NRCA) in the early 1980s.

Zamrzla and Mullis learned from going to trade shows, association meetings, and events across the country that there were, in fact, differences in roofing practices as well as building codes and techniques between the East and the West.  Some differences found in the West were the use of plywood decks; lots of built-up roofing; and miles and miles of base, ply, and cap sheet roofing systems.  Additionally, nothing about Western codes or issues was being discussed on a national basis.  Mullis noted, “If a roofing contractor in the West tried to follow national technical guidelines, it would put him at a competitive disadvantage.  We needed an association to add credibility to Western roofing techniques.”

Zamrzla and Mullis, along with other prominent roofing contractors such as Kink Clawson, Joedy Becker, Roy Bolt, Arnie Schmautz, Gaylord Blue, Walter Crow Sr., Red Rose, and others throughout the West, began talks with local and national manufacturers and suppliers to gain their support for a new regional association.  The talks centered on holding an annual regional roofing show, as opposed to numerous smaller tabletop state and local shows that had manufacturers tied up most of the time.

Once the suppliers and manufacturers were on board, Zamrzla approached his friend, Sam Jaffe, about helping promote a new association.  Jaffe was the owner of Building News, a publisher of building codebooks and several construction industry magazines.  Zamrzla stated that, “From the beginning, we knew we needed a magazine to help add credibility to our new association.”  Originally, the magazine was to be an in-house effort of the WSRCA with Jaffe handling the printing and distribution.  However, there was one problem.  There was simply no money available.

When the WSRCA was finally born in 1974, it did so without a magazine.  It was pretty informal.  Zamrzla said that, “We had to decide who was going to be the first WSRCA president.  Wayne and I flipped a coin.  Wayne won, so he was the first president and I was the second.”  Bill Elmer was WSRCA’s first executive director, with the office located in Oregon.  John Banister was the executive director of the Associated Roofing Contractors of the Bay Area Counties during the time WSRCA was being formed, and later served part-time as the association’s second executive director, with the office moving to the Bay Area.  Zamrzla stated that, “John was on loan by his Bay Area group and helped as interim executive director for WSRCA to put on its first conventions.”

The association limped along for a few more years until, at the request of Zamrzla and the WSRCA, Jaffe agreed to publish Western Roofing as the official publication of the WSRCA, and a stand-alone, independent magazine.  Western Roofing would publish articles and discuss issues pertinent to the West.  It would also help promote the WSRCA and its convention.  In return, the WSRCA would help supply technical articles, job stories, and keep Jaffe informed of changes and issues within the roofing industry.  Funding for the magazine would come from advertising and subscriptions and go to the publisher, with no funds or expenses being shared or exchanged between the two parties.

Once the deal was agreed upon, all it took was a handshake.  The first issue of Western Roofing was published in January 1978.  The early years were rough, but gradually the magazine gained traction, and as Zamrzla noted, “It took several years, but both Western Roofing and the WSRCA were growing and gaining the respect of the industry.  The magazine gave the WSRCA credibility and helped it flourish.  The combination brought everything together and showed cohesion.  Jaffe played a big part.”  Mullis added that, “The magazine played a big role in getting the WSRCA the recognition it deserved.  When the association developed good technical programs, it got the word out to the industry.”

I came on board with Jaffe in 1984, six years after the initial issue, and purchased Western Roofing from him later that year.  Jaffe was getting ready to retire and was selling off his publications one at a time.  Western Roofing was the only one that I could afford since it was the only one that was awash in red ink.  Jaffe was blunt with me, “I’m losing money with each issue.  I should have pulled the plug on Western Roofing, but I made a promise to Zamrzla and the WSRCA.  This publication has potential, but it needs more time and focus than I can give it.”  I had a little experience working on the roof, a little more experience writing for various magazines, and knew that as long as I had checks in the checkbook, I still had money in the bank, right?  As many people have said before, “It seemed like a good idea at the time.  What could possibly go wrong?”

I went before the WSRCA Board of Directors to plead my case in order to obtain their support and approval.  Banister asked the toughest questions.  As was his style, he was blunt, to the point, but completely fair, and he always had the association’s best interest at heart.  Luckily, the board gave me their blessing, and even luckier, I was able to deliver on the promises I had made to them.  Armed with my wife, Sue, as a partner, funding from a second home mortgage, and a loan from my mother-in-law, I was now a publisher.  1984 was the fastest year of my life.

Jaffe served as my mentor for the first year or so, and he kept tabs on the industry until his passing in 1994.  He was paid a salary of one dollar per year, and for that outrageous sum he was on call 24 hours a day and listed on our magazine masthead.  One of the mantras he kept drilling into my head was, “This is a small, family-oriented industry.  There are few secrets and people talk to each other.  They may work for one company one week and another the next, but they’re all the same good people.  They will be loyal to you if you are loyal to them.  Never make a promise to anyone that you can’t keep.”

In the early years, the WSRCA assigned a few board members to keep an eye on me.  I didn’t know it at the time, but several turned out to be my guardian angels.  During my first year, Utah-based Clawson asked me about how I had managed to get a particular Utah manufacturer to advertise, since they were difficult to work with.  I explained whom I had talked to and how I had managed to persuade him.  Clawson said, “Well, just make sure they pay you.  They don’t like to pay their bills.”  When I mentioned that I hadn’t been paid yet despite several attempts, unbeknownst to me, Clawson took action.  He went to their main facility, barged into the president’s office, and refused to leave until he had the check in hand.  After the check was in one of their company envelopes, he dropped it off at the post office.  I got paid, but I didn’t find out until years later what Clawson had done for me.  He told me that the WSRCA understood that it was important that Western Roofing succeeded and part of that success was turning a profit.

The WSRCA has continued to grow through the years, as has Western Roofing, and I like to think that this is no coincidence.  One was helping the other.  At one point, I served as interim executive director of the WSRCA for a few years.  The relationship between Western Roofing and the WSRCA is unique in both the publishing and roofing industries.  It’s been a good mix, although I’ll admit that there have been a few bumps along the way.  However, like any long relationship, we’ve always been able to work it out.

Over the years, Western Roofing went from a minor industry periodical to a strong industry presence, consistently having a higher page count, more industry ads, and a higher circulation in the West than national roofing magazines.  Many of our annual industry surveys, technical articles, and opinion pieces have been quoted and reprinted on a nationwide-wide basis.  Over the years, Western Roofing had become an important industry voice.  It had arrived.

A few years ago, my son, Marcus, acquired the company and has taken Western Roofing even further as its publisher.  He has worked for the magazine since 1990, when he was in high school.  Child labor laws be damned.  I now work for him, writing the editorial and a few articles for every issue, as well as offering advice whenever asked.  Marcus writes articles for both of our publications and serves as the editor and publisher of our architect/specifier magazine, Architectural West, now in its 20th year.  I hang around the office just enough to make myself dangerous.

It’s been 40 years since the debut issue of Western Roofing, and 34 years since my first editorial in this publication.  I’ll continue to write editorials and articles, and Western Roofing will continue to grow and serve the Western roofing industry and the WSRCA.  The best is yet to come.

Marc Dodson