Balance Above All
‘Life Balance’ Formula Builds Quality Team and Corporate Success at Franciscus Inc.
Lee Franciscus, CEO of Franciscus Inc., built his roofing business on the philosophy that a rewarding work relationship is one that allows people to have family time and successful careers in which they’re well compensated. This formula has allowed his business to grow and maintain the high-quality craftsmanship needed to succeed.
In 1991, after three years of working for a contractor who was not keeping up with market demands, Lee decided to start his own roofing business in Westlake, Ohio. He began with a focus on new construction but soon realized that new construction ran in cycles and would not offer sustainable business. So, he changed to residential tear-off to keep his crews consistently busy.
Now the company is one of the biggest residential tear-off companies in northern Ohio. It averages $7 million in annual business but peaked at $13 million after hail storms caused extensive damage in the area. New construction remains less than 5 percent of its business and it now offers siding, windows, insulation and insurance remediation.
In 2002, Lee hired Tom Schlund to handle sales and marketing. Tom had experience in setting up and running franchise roofing companies in Southern California from 1998 to 1999. In 2001 he was introduced to Lee through a mutual friend who is a roofing professional.
“When I was brought in, I knew only two types of roofing companies—ones that had excellent tradesmen but didn’t know how to market, and [those with] marketers who had no roofing experience,” Tom says. “But Lee was different. First, he explained the set up. ‘You make the company money, don’t bring me any headaches, and I’ll pay you well.’”
Lee’s vision worked, Tom says, drawing on the unique strengths of the company’s leadership: Lee’s roofing experience, Tom’s marketing experience and Angie Franciscus’ financial background.
“Lee is a risk taker, Angie is conservative and I’m in the middle, always looking at both sides of the conversation,” Tom says. Angie, Lee’s wife, is the company’s Chief Financial Officer, and Tom is now the company’s Chief Operating Officer and a 30 percent owner.
The team built the business by bringing in top-notch installation crews that were struggling because they lacked business expertise. The rest of the workforce has grown through referrals from a network of people that the Franciscus leadership knows and trusts.
Helping the Community
For Tom, it wasn’t just Lee’s approach to business, but his connection to people, that kept him on board.
“About six months after I joined, I had a proposal to install a roof for a young couple with a growing family,” Tom remembers. “This was in March, and I was due to call back in June. In the meantime, I learned that the husband passed away. It hit me hard because we were the same age and we both had infants. When I mentioned this to Lee, he decided we would do the roof for free. I knew then this was the company I wanted to retire with.”
With the first roof giveaway, Lee felt it was the right thing to do, but not something to promote. When Tom mentioned the pro bono work to a radio station while setting up advertising, the station encouraged the company to turn the concept into an annual community event. Listeners would send Franciscus an essay about why they or someone else needed a roof, and the station would pick the winner.
“They said the story should be shared because people need to hear good news,” Tom says. “We agreed and had some opportunities to call the person on the air to make the award.”
Since its start, the project has grown beyond just a roof, as other contractors asked to provide services, such as drywall, carpentry or plumbing. Franciscus, of course, has received many referrals through the program.
The company also encourages its project managers to be involved in the community by choosing a youth sports team to sponsor. It also runs referral programs that help sports teams or church groups raise money. Franciscus gives a group certificates to distribute and when someone presents the certificate and buys a roof, the company donates $100 to the group. One church group recently earned $1,000 from Franciscus to buy iPads for kids.
“If someone wants to coach a team or be at a child’s game, that’s OK. We’re one big team where we fill in for others.”
Tom Schlund, Chief Operating Officer,
Tending to Customer Needs
The personal element extends to customers with attention to details. With each prospect, the salesman reviews a checklist of things to evaluate, such as any ceiling or wall stains, age of insulation, or new windows. “This helps them take a good look at their needs and more often than you’d think, it’s not a roof but something else causing a problem. If we just put on a roof and the leaks continue, it’s not the roof. Going through this list first prevents any misconceptions,” says Tom.
Before it starts a job, the company sends letters to neighbors about increased traffic, noise and potential debris in their yards. This courtesy to neighbors also becomes a marketing piece. Its “impeccable clean-up” program guarantees that 99 percent of debris will be removed from the property after a job is done and allows a refund of $1 per nail for every roofing nail greater than 50 that the homeowner finds within two weeks of the final clean up. Even with tens of thousands of nails coming off a typical roof and clean up being the most difficult part of its business, the company has had fewer than five calls since the program began.
Creating an Ideal Workplace
Concern for people is intrinsic at Franciscus. The company’s leadership wants everyone to enjoy work-life balance, so all employees set up working hours on the company calendar. Tom plugs in sales appointments. Crew members block out when they’re unavailable—for whatever reason—and work schedules are made around availability.
“We let them run their own groups,” Tom says. “If someone wants to coach a team or be at a child’s game, that’s OK. We’re one big team where we fill in for others—even Lee and I are relief persons. We let them stay in charge of their own lives. If we have to micromanage someone, they don’t fit into our system.”
The emphasis on work-life balance includes a commitment to safety for employees, with access to proper safety equipment and ongoing training and certification programs. This helps to ensure that all crews follow OSHA standards and give customers top-quality workmanship. Manufacturers also train and certify the Franciscus teams.
Securing the Future
The company is taking steps to address one of its biggest current challenges: a growing shortage of workers.
“We’re starting dialogue with trade schools to give kids experience,” Tom says. “At a recent open house at a local vocational school, we found many kids who wanted to work with their hands. They are in the driver’s seat. After vocational school they’ll be making good money right away and not have debt. A roof is a need, not a want, so there’s security here, plus roofing will never be totally automated.”
The company is currently evaluating new opportunities and ways to keep an aging workforce busy with solar installations. “It’s much easier for an aging roofer to install solar than put on a roof,” Tom says. “Plus, solar is not out of the realm in any climate, and there now are better ways to store the power.”
More insurance work is also on the horizon.
“We’ve never been a storm chaser, but we learned a lot from an insurance company that approached us in 2010 to help with the damage from the hail storms that swept through Ohio,” Tom recalls. “They taught us the ins and outs, and we find it to be good business. It also made us change systems to do more volume. Now we can do 40 to 45 roofs a week if we have to. Some small guys do that in a season.”
The company is establishing an office in Florida this year to serve its local clients who own properties that were damaged by Hurricane Irma and to help Florida roofing companies that can’t keep up during the winter.
Reaching out to help in this way also creates new opportunities for the company. It’s another way of showing how Lee Franciscus’ idea to pay it forward has reaped rewards for his company, its employees and customers, and the community. Most of all, there is a sense of personal satisfaction for Lee, Angie, Tom and their entire team to be part of this successful work-life balance.