WSRCA President
 
Presidential Material
A Candid Conversation with Brad Baker, 
The Next WSRCA President
by Marc Dodson, editor

For having relatively few roofing contractors compared to the rest of the Western states,

Idaho has supplied the Western States Roofing Contactors Association (WSRCA) with more

than its fair share of presidents.  This is a fact that Brad Baker, Professional Roofing,

Bellevue, Idaho, likes to point out.  "We don't have a big population base but the roofing

contractors here have a passion for giving back to the industry, which has been very good

to us," states Baker.  After the WSRCA convention this June in Las Vegas, Nevada, Baker will

become the association’s 42nd president, and the fifth one from Idaho.


Baker has been in the roofing industry most of his life, starting at the tender age of ten.  “My dad always worked for Twin City Roofing, Wahpeton, North Dakota.  Dad worked four 10 hour days and on Fridays and Saturdays we would do local form and barn projects.  Dad would always lay the shingles and I made sure the shingles were in front of him,” says Baker.  He further expanded his formal roofing experience starting at Big Sky Insulations in 1985 with the Huempfners doing tapered EPT foam layouts. 


Baker attended North Dakota State School of Science, a tech school in Wahpeton, earning associate's degree in architectural drafting and estimating.  After graduation he worked for several architects.  “My first job was in Grand Island, Nebraska, for Chief Industries.  It was a metal building company that manufactured metal building components.  After that, I worked for two architects, one in Minnesota.  I remember one of the architects said, 'You job skip too much.  You stay here eight years you'll be able take your boards.’  I must have had 14 different jobs by the time I was 33, including a stint at Modern Roofing, owned by Joedy Becker, one of the past presidents of the WSRCA, then I bought Professional Roofing from Steve Wolper in 1993,” added Baker.


Baker and his wife, Kim, have been married since 1982.  Kim is the secretary/bookkeeper for the company.  They have three daughters.  When not in the office, Baker and his wife like to travel.  Now we’re timing our vacations to coincide with the summer and fall board meetings,” he adds.


Recently, however, time has been in short supply for Baker since he’s now serving as senior vice president and convention chairman for the WSRCA.  Recently, Western Roofing was able to catch up with Baker to get his thoughts on the coming year.


Western Roofing (WR): What’s the main focus of your company?  Residential? Commercial? Industrial? Government work?


Baker: When I bought the company, in Sun Valley, Idaho, the county population was only 12,000 people.  Sun Valley Roofing did the pitched work and Professional Roofing did the flat work, mostly EPDM.  So if there was any rubber, decks, or flat roof, the contracts always went to Professional Roofing.  Then, as time progressed, 22,000 more people came to the area.  Now there are six or seven roofing contractors in Sun Valley and we all do everything. 


WR: What about materials? 


Baker:  About 80% of our flat work is Firestone, EPDM.  Steve Wolper was one of the original leaders in EPDM roofing, and he always worked with Carlisle.  They had a program that when you have 100 jobs inspected you get to be a Centurion, and when I bought the company he was up to 96.  Bob Berg, a Firestone rep, put me in touch with Steve, who let me buy his company, so we've always stayed really strong with Firestone.  Bob has always been close to our family and a help to the business, so I’ve been loyal to him.


WR:  What are the main problems you encounter on the job you see over and over again regularly?


Baker:  Fortunately we've never really had major single-ply problems because we have stayed with one company and we did it by their manual.  I think that their biggest innovation was getting their base tie-in underneath the rubber instead of over the top of the rubber. 


WR:  Any interesting or unique problems you're seeing now?


Baker:  Most of the time the problems that we hear about surface from information circulated within Western States.  I always ask people, “How many different types of roofing do you do?”  We do about four exclusively and when you do it so much, you don't really have problems.  I know a lot of guys do 10-20 types of roofing and eventually some of it gets them into trouble.  The foreman's always asking, “Is it this way or that way with this company’s product?”

WR:  What about business goals?  Do you want to expand?  Do you want to stay where you are?  Where do you want to be ten years down the road?  Do you want to retire?  Pass this business on? 

Baker:  In the early years, I went in at 6:00 a.m., loaded the trucks, and went out with the guys on the crew until 1:00 or 2:00, then come back in the office and answered messages on the answering machine.  You still have contact with people in the afternoon and then work on bids and office work until late in the evening.  It's like moving a boulder; once it starts rolling you just keep pushing every day because if you stop, the boulder has a tendency to come back and roll over you.  I've always been fortunate enough to have people who supported me and gave me opportunities.  Once you get an opportunity you work hard to make sure you don't fail.  Pat Large brought me onto the Western States ’95 board, two years after I bought the company.  So there's always been that strong mentorship; the older guys mentor the younger guys.  In the past, a lot of guys saw opportunities in taking someone young, who has a future, and helping him.  What's difficult in this industry is letting the younger generation know that a lot of us have had to work hard to get to the point where we can work regular hours.


WR: There's been a lot of talk about more federal, state, and local regulations as well as OSHA enforcement.  Any comments?


Baker:  I think that's been pretty consistent.  If you've been following Western States information and bulletins and the website forum online, it won’t take you by surprise.  It’s a matter of keeping on top of it.  I haven't seen much of a difference; they've got it pretty well hammered out.  We had two or three inspections this last year with OSHA and you learn how to deal with the inspections, negotiate the fines, and keep citations minimal. 


WR:  What makes the WSRCA unique? 


Baker: I think our association represents family and in my term, that's going to be one of my goals.  People don't realize what makes Western States so strong.  Everybody makes each other feel like family and we will grow our membership. 


WR:  Are there any special WSRCA projects going on at this time?


Baker: We’re currently testing synthetic underlayments and are ready to issue our first findings.  We've pulled all the samples from the test farms in Las Vegas and San Antonio.


WR: How is synthetic underlayment going to help the industry? 


Baker: When I came on the board, it was Don Bosnick and Don Summers who brought the shingle problems to light.  Then came the TPO test farms.  A couple of years ago, Jim Carlson, our technical advisor, came to one of the board meetings and brought two years of synthetic underlayment information.  He's on the leading edge of this work and sees it in the field, whereas a lot of us don't see it until you're having problems with your own jobs.

The synthetic underlayment issue has Jim bringing in all of his input and testing

experience.  He talked about the country of origin, product makeup, and private

labeling.  He ran the specs up against 15 lb. and 30 lb. felt.  That's what the

synthetic underlayment is supposed to be replacing.  We need the hard test data,

and that’s where Jim comes into the picture.


WR:  Are there enough properly trained roof workers to fill the demand?


Baker:  There aren't.  We just came off our best year in 25 years.  A lot of it was

pent up demand from after the 2008 downturn, so it's that perfect storm of having

everything bottled up for four or five years and then once people think that it's time to rock and roll, they all start spending money.  I know everybody in the Western Roofing market survey has said they look forward to another good year. 


WR: Most of the people who worked on the roofs and who were trained for it have moved onto other jobs when construction tanked.  Is that a correct statement?


Baker:  As far as the people shortage, it's hard to bring new people into the industry and that's a concern for NRCA and WSRCA.  How do we get new people in the industry?  If you're going to see a future in this, you've got to start working from the ground up.  The Davis Memorial Foundation scholarship is one way.  Another fact is in Sun Valley, Idaho, we've got a large number of Hispanic workers.  If it weren't for Hispanic workers, I wouldn't have a roofing company. 

WR:  What about the membership for the WSRCA?  Is it up or down?  Do you expect an increase in the future? 

Baker:  The goal is to get the membership up to 700 - 850.  However, my goal is to get it to 1,000 before I am gone from the board.  I had two terms on the board, the first term being back in 1995 to 2005, then my dad passed away and I took a five year break and came back on the board in 2010.  When I came back I was asked what committee I would like to be on?  I was told there was a struggle in the membership department.  I thought to myself, if we all pick things we're comfortable with then we'll never learn anything new, so I thought, "What the heck?  I’ll do membership."  With Tom and Alec's help in the office, and Ed Rigsbee's ROI help, Rod Menzel and I look to make membership the number one priority. 


WR:  What do you think is the most pressing problem facing a Western roofing contractor today? 


Baker: For a lot of us smaller companies, or the companies who have been in the business one to five years, it's getting the right information.  The information comes hand-in-hand with Western States membership.  People have been with Western States since the beginning in 1974; 80% of them are still with Western States.  The younger companies have to learn that there are a lot of people who like roofing and have a passion for it.  If you're going to be good at what you do, Western States fills that need for passion.  Once you get past the roof and you start branching out

to bigger and more technical jobs, you have to have that expertise, and that

expertise comes from an association like Western States. 


WR:  What do you feel the biggest problem is that the WSRCA faces as an

association?


Baker:  Probably keeping our membership up.  Our show has really been wonderful,

especially the last 10 to 15 years…it's been our shining jewel.  But the association

has to be more than our Expo Show; we have to get people involved and be part of

our WSRCA family. 


WR:  So there's still a lot of growth potential? 


Baker: I checked online for roofing contractors in our 14 western states.  We have about 270 roofing contractor members and there are 25,000 roofing contractors in that area, so yes, there’s a lot of room to grow.  We want our members to be the top of the pyramid. 


WR:  What does the association have to offer the roofing industry and roofing contractors? 

Baker: When I bought my company, I wanted to learn.  There are a lot of Western States roofing contractor members that have a family history; a lot of the board of directors had a family member who was involved.  For people who don't have a family history, Western States fills the need that most people would get from a dad or grandfather. 


WR:  What about tools to help the Western states contractor improve their business?


Baker: We're bumping our nine seminars to 17 seminars this time.  All the information is there, if you want to come and use it.  People have to have that desire to fill that void.  Sometimes I think we have to do a better job of preparing contractors for possible problems.  When something goes wrong, that's when you start leaning on the association.  We have the information they need.  One of the best information access points is the Las Vegas Western Roofing Expo.

WR:  What does the WSRCA offer that other local and national associations can't offer? 

Baker:  Again, it comes to that family dynamic.  Once you get to know everyone you'll see we all stay together.  Every time I've had a traumatic event happen, 14 or 15 people on the board have turned into my sounding board.


WR: Why did you join the WSRCA? 


Baker: We don't have an Idaho state roofing association; they've tried and it's never held up.  I will be the fifth president from Idaho, and we've got probably one of the smallest state populations.  From the ten roofing contractors that represent Idaho, five of them have been WSRCA presidents.  When you have that energy and the passion and you don't have a state association, you turn to Western States.


WR:  As the new president, what are your immediate goals?  What do you hope to accomplish? 


Baker: My biggest goal is going to be working on membership.  I'm going to take that family dynamic from Western States and try to use it to get new members.  We want to get the membership to 850.  There's no use in having an expo if there are no roofing contractors on the floor.


WR:  What about long term goals?  Do you have any special programs or anything you'd like to see adopted during your term that will go beyond your term? 


Baker: It comes back to membership.  We have a strong ASTM presence and our technical staff is top of the line.  Jim Carlson's involvement has been going on for 20 years or more and that's become a consistent factor.  People rotate through the board and different chairs, and you can get through the whole system in ten years.  Well, ten years isn't that long of a time before you're gone.  A few of us like Bill Balet, KC Barnhardt and I, have had the opportunity to put in 16, 17, 18 years, and that’s a real benefit.  We're now seeing a new generation of past board directors who realize that benefit and who don't want to let go.  We're analyzing how we can get the past presidents into a mentor group, maybe taking one or two of them back on the board.  We're always strong on the top end.  Most of the presidents have upwards of 15 years experience and we can put that to good use.  By mentoring, in six years, we'll have a stronger board director.  The same thing happens with Western States.  I think what drives people to Western States is having that leadership and passion, but you have to know how to bottle it and sell it.


WR:  What can you tell us about the Western Roofing Expo Trade Show this year?


Baker:  It's sold out.  The goal this year is 3,000 attendees.  Last year it was 2,850 so that's going to be a big goal.  We've increased our seminars and we're really trying to schedule a nice, tight two-day event.  Trying to get everything in on a two-day timeframe can be tough, but it can be done.  Just about your whole day is filled from early in the morning until the tradeshow closes in the evening.  We have to do a better job of selling what the board does and what the association has to offer.  If we can accomplish this, it will drive membership.  We say you haven't really experienced Western States until you get on the board as a director.  We’re looking at the possibility of having a board director for a one-year term instead of a three-year term to see if they like it.  We would then pick the most passionate and have them go into a three-year term.  We’re looking for roofing contractors who want the benefit of saying, "I want to be that person who gets to be at the top of the pyramid and who is a leader rather than a follower."


WR: Anything new for the convention this year? 


Baker: Western States has a seminar scheduled Sunday afternoon for Women in Roofing.  My wife, Kim, has always been involved in the business with me, and Western States is proud of our spouse involvement on the board.  My daughters have grown up with the company and I'm always trying to get one of them to ask, "What's Dad going to do with his business?"  We need more women business owners and roofing is a wonderful career.  Also, as I mentioned earlier, I wouldn't have a roofing company if it weren't for my talented Hispanic workers.  So, having a strong Hispanic influence and a strong women's influence in the business is key to making it happen.  They involve that family concept of Western States. 

WR:  What's going on with the Davis Memorial Foundation scholarships? 

Baker:  There will be seven scholarships this year, one more than last year.  Chuck Chapman and Bill Baley do an excellent job at the auction.  That, coupled with the great turnout at the sporting clays and golf tournaments, allowed the foundation to increase the number of scholarships this year.  That lady at the auction always making noise, of course, is Kim doing her part. 


WR: A year from now, what do you want people to say about your term in office? 


Baker: Mike Tory did an excellent job this year.  He's given credit to his family and it goes back to my family too.  My dad, Wayne, worked in roofing, but he couldn't read or write very well.  When he became a foreman, every Sunday night he would take his chicken scratch out and we would fill out six timecards.  He would tell me what he wanted to say, so I would write the sentences and then he would copy them. 


WR:  Anything else you want to add? 


Baker: I've been fortunate enough to have people like my dad give me the work ethic and passion, Bob Berg giving me the chance to find and own a roofing company, and people like Pat Large introducing me to the Western States.  I believe given a chance, I'll be a pretty good Western States president; having longevity, learning experience, watching others, picking the good parts, and being that shining star will help to continue the tradition.  I hope in the future we have more Bob Bergs, Pat Larges, and Marc and Marcus Dodsons.  It's all about family, and to me, that's what Western States really stands for.

Reprinted from May/June 2016, Volume 39 Number 3