Raising the Roof With Pride and Craftsmanship
Sentry Roofing, Inc. empowers employees to new heights
Gene Fowler, President and CEO of Covington-based Sentry Roofing, Inc., emphatically believes that employees are capable of great things—if you give them the space to breathe. “People are amazing and can do so much more than they think they can do. They work best when they have responsibility and authority to make decisions in their jobs.”
It’s a philosophy that has served as a cornerstone of the company since its formation in 1987. Sentry Roofing installs, repairs and maintains flat and low-sloped roofing systems for commercial and industrial customers in Indiana and Illinois. With a team of 35 employees, the company takes on roofing projects that can cover several million square feet. The company is an award-winning Duro-Last Platinum Contractor and has more than 33 years of experience installing and maintaining the custom-fabricated, single-ply PVC Duro-Last® commercial roofing system, as well as other roofing systems.
Inherently Good and Intelligent
In fostering a company culture that empowers employees, Gene cites a common example of a newly promoted foreman. “Invariably, on that first questionable weather day, I’ll get a call from a new foreman asking me what I think they should do. I turn that around on him. You’re in charge of the job. You’re the person in the field. If you decide to shut down work for the day, I support you. If you think you can go ahead, I support you. I believe that people are inherently good and intelligent. We give people boundaries, but we empower them to make decisions and we support those decisions.”
And when things do go wrong, as they inevitably will, the company addresses those issues as a team but keeps individual criticism private. “My people are special because they are special, and I do my best to treat each person in that light, helping them where I can and constantly encouraging them. If something is done wrong, we address the issue, discuss what could have been done differently and proceed. I never, under any circumstances, belittle a team member or correct them in front of anyone else. Compliments are shared openly. Criticism, when necessary, is done privately,” Gene says.
This approach draws out the best in employees and leads to high-quality work, according to Gene. “Employees at Sentry Roofing are hard-working professionals who keep the client’s best interest as their first priority. They can be trusted completely to do the job right, every time.”
Repeat business and referrals are at the heart of Sentry Roofing, accounting for about 75% of the company’s business. “This year so far, we have 39 projects on the books with 87% from repeat clients or direct referrals,” he says.
Gene believes that kind of customer loyalty is driven by doing what you say you’re going to do and taking ownership when things go wrong. “A few years ago, we had a foreman who made a serious mistake in not properly making the roof watertight before a big rain,” recalls Gene. “The next day, I met with the president of the bank and told him that as president of Sentry Roofing, I and I alone was responsible and that I would resolve the situation to his satisfaction. The next year, when the bank needed maintenance on another building, the president of the bank told his building manager to get us on the job. I called the president to thank him for the opportunity to continue to be of service. He told me that it wasn’t such a big deal that there was a problem. What was a big deal was how we took care of that problem.”
When it comes to serving customers, the Sentry Roofing team believes that communication is key. “We work hard to understand the needs of our clients upfront, providing a clear, concise proposal that’s fairly priced and directly meets those needs. Before a job begins, we go over the installation details and address any concerns,” Gene says. During installation, the company keeps those lines of communication open, closely monitoring the quality of its work and making sure the job site is clean upon completion of the job. “We then verify that the client is satisfied with all aspects of the job and move on to the next one!”
From Cornfields to Rooftops
While Gene may be at home on a rooftop, surveying the towns and fields of the Midwest, there was a time when his work was decidedly earthbound. “After college, I went to work with my brother and father-in-law at a new seed company. I spent eight years marketing seed corn and beans to farmers. Though I loved working with family and really enjoyed the farming community, I found I sincerely hated working in cornfields.”
After a classic midlife crisis—at the early age of 30—Gene joined a home improvement company, promptly becoming their lead salesperson. Soon after, he joined two managers to form a residential remodeling company. “I was the junior player in the business. The two lead partners mismanaged the company and before I knew it, I was left as the sole proprietor of a company up to its nose in debt.”
Not long after, Duro-Last came along and commercial roofing became Gene’s future. He and wife, Luann, formed Sentry Roofing in 1987 and never looked back. “We knew nothing at first and learned the business with the assistance of Duro-Last and the incredible contractor team they put together,” he says. “Duro-Last has been a wonderful relationship for us all these years. They have provided consistent support with quality products, technical services and practical advice every step of the way.”
“My pride for my employees is unbounded. We work hard to draw out the best in our staff. We believe in them, trust them, empower them and let them do their jobs.” Gene Fowler, President and CEO, Sentry Roofing, Inc.
Paying It Forward
Over the years, the company has been a consistent award winner with Duro-Last. “We had support from other contractors who were willing to share their stories and help us avoid pitfalls. And today, I’m paying that forward, encouraging the next generation and helping them in the same way we were helped,” Gene says. In addition to paying it forward professionally, the company also lends its support to community nonprofits. “We like to give, but we’re not out for publicity. Donations are always done privately,” Gene says.
In the company’s early years, Gene credits his wife with taking the reins on bookkeeping and office management. “She has always been incredibly supportive. When I was having my midlife crisis at age 30, she supported us in her work as a nurse. When I was left with the mismanaged remodeling company, she stepped in and taught herself how to do the accounting. She has always been an integral part of this company.”
The couple had their first date at the age of 16 and now, after 50 years, they remain “crazy in love,” according to Gene. The two have six children and 15 grandchildren. “When my wife and I got out of college in 1975, my dad encouraged us to move onto a piece of property he owned. The house was shot and before long, we were up to our knees in children,” he says. The couple started building a new house onto the existing garage. “That’s where I learned roofing, home remodeling and woodworking,” Gene says.
Out of their six children and spouses, two sons, a daughter and a son-in-law have come to work at Sentry Roofing. “When my son, Dan, got out of college, I asked him if he wanted to go to work with me. He told me, ‘Dad, I want to be just like you,’ “ Gene says. “Dan’s been working here for 20 years, and Tim started 13 years ago. My daughter, Rebecca, works here part-time and my son-in-law, Brian, is a phenomenal project manager. We hope to have another daughter and son-in-law join the company within the next year. Our family is close, works well as a team and enjoys being in business together.”
Let’s Rise to the Challenge
Though Sentry Roofing primarily works in Illinois and Indiana, projects take them to places beyond. “We have customers who own properties across the country so we routinely work out of state. We just finished up a project in Michigan and another in Kentucky. Last year, we roofed a 1.3 million-square-foot warehouse in Sparks, Nevada. We’ve worked in 40 states over the years.” The company has roofed nearly every type of commercial building, including hospitals, schools, manufacturing facilities, warehouses and apartment buildings.
According to Gene, his team loves taking on a new challenge. “A few years ago, we were working on a 1.5 million-square-foot roof installation on a warehouse in Manteno, Illinois. The project offered a huge logistical challenge with nearly 70 semitrailers of roofing material. We had to work around customer freight docks and there was no ground space available to store our supplies,” he says. The company staged loads on a nearby prairie and carried out installation at a rapid pace. “During installation, a severe storm blew over two semitrailers and blew in the overhead warehouse doors,” Gene recalls. In spite of these challenges, Sentry Roofing’s project manager and salesman coordinated seamless deliveries and installation, and the crew carried out a successful project.
In Danville, Illinois, the team took on an installation project that featured several round roofs of different diameters with parapet walls. “The project was challenging from a material design standpoint,” Gene says. “The edge detail metal had to be custom-made to fit the arc of each roof. The installation offered challenges, but once again, because of the close coordination of our team, we accomplished the project with no problems.”
Making More with Less
Gene explains that because of Sentry Roofing’s team approach to projects, the company is able to produce far more work with fewer people. “We’re not driven by org charts here. We’re driven by a team philosophy. Employees are empowered to make decisions and manage their work effectively. We cover each other, adapt to changing conditions on the playing field and work for the common goal of having satisfied customers and creating a profitable company. Every member of this team gives 110% to make sure we deliver quality work on time and on budget.”
In addition to providing excellent wages, Gene explains that Sentry Roofing rewards employees in many ways, including an annual attendance bonus of $1,000, $100 per quarter for work-related clothing, family medical insurance, a 401(k), and project and annual bonuses. “We take care of our people,” he says.
“My pride for my employees is unbounded,” Gene concludes. “We work hard to draw out the best in our staff. We believe in them, trust them, empower them and let them do their jobs.”