A leader’s spirit of integrity keeps Spirit & Sons, Inc. afloat for 36 years
Spirit & Sons, Inc., a family-owned and operated roofing contractor based in Brighton, Michigan, specializes in installing and maintaining flat commercial roofs and standing seam metal roofing systems. It was founded in 1983 by Dan O’Neill, an experienced roofer who started the business with $50, a beat-up pickup truck, a few basic roofing tools…and faith that God would bless the company.
“I got into the roofing business when I was 21 years old. Before that, I worked at a second-tier automotive manufacturing company. Then my brother-in-law offered me a job to be a sheet metal worker at a local roofing company, and I took him up on it,” Dan says.
He found the work to be enjoyable and the pay was good, so he stayed and developed his skills and knowledge by learning from seasoned industry experts like Gene Duke.
“Gene was the owner of Duke Roofing, the first roofing company I worked for,” Dan says. “He was a very intelligent roofer who taught me a lot about the industry.”
With support from Roofers Union Local #70, Dan continued building his expertise and eventually became vice president of the union of roofers, waterproofers and allied workers. He also gained experience working for other roofing contractors over the years.
But though he had a well-paying job and industry clout, Dan often felt unappreciated at the last company he worked for. So, he decided to build a business of his own.
“My parents thought I’d lost my mind when I told them about my decision. Everyone did, actually. I was a high school dropout who didn’t have any work lined up. But I really believed I could do this,” Dan says, adding, “What you want, and what you push for and believe in—with the help of God and prayer—you can get there.”
Holding fast to his faith and belief in his abilities, Dan says he “learned business on the streets” and in the beginning managed every aspect of his company—from accounting and office management, to estimating and bidding, to scheduling and working in the field, and more. His personal philosophy on building trust with clients is simple, yet effective: “Do what you say you’re going to do, for the price you quoted, and do a good job.”
He adds, “If you follow this basic concept, clients will think you’re spectacular!”
Today, Dan captains a thriving roofing operation that’s been around for 36 years, performing work in the southern half of Michigan and northern part of Ohio. He’s primarily focused on restaurant, church and strip mall jobs (but has also done industrial projects) and is quite proud of having worked with well-known franchises such as McDonald’s, Burger King, Taco Bell, Wendy’s and Tim Hortons.
“We appreciate all of our customers because they are the driving force of our company,” Dan emphasizes. “Without them we do not exist.” Spirit & Sons, Inc. offers routine maintenance services and installs both mechanically attached and fully adhered roofing systems, as well as standing seam metal roofs.
“Our team members are certified to install a multitude of single-ply roof systems provided by reputable manufacturers, one of which is Duro-Last, a leader in the field with its world headquarters office in Saginaw, Michigan,” Dan says. “The metal we use for standing seam and other metal-edge details are provided by Berridge Manufacturing Co., Petersen Aluminum Corporation (PAC), Atlas Roofing Corporation and others.”
Reflecting on his company’s diverse portfolio of projects, one that stands out in Dan’s mind is a job performed in 2017 for The Harrison, which offers luxury loft apartments in Royal Oak, Michigan. He remembers the construction process as a “phenomenal feat.” “The project team brought in hydraulic lifts and cut the supports to raise the existing roof and trusses of the building to produce a second floor,” he says. While carefully coordinating activities with the contractor lifting the building, the roofing crew installed over 81,000 square feet of a mechanically attached Duro-Last PVC roof system.
Another complex job took place in 2006 at Macedonia Baptist Church of Detroit, where the team installed 29,000 square feet of standing seam metal roof. Properly measuring and installing curved sheet metal to a concaved frame with ever-changing pitches was, quite literally, a puzzle that had to be pieced together throughout the installation process.
“The panel dimensions changed at every foot, and we had to make each individual piece fit into its corresponding spot, like a puzzle. We had to figure out everything on-site as we went along. It was a feat many contractors wouldn’t have had the patience to handle, but we did it—and the job turned out beautifully,” Dan says.
The projects described above provide only a glimpse of Spirit & Sons, Inc.’s broad capabilities. The company, which handled over 100 projects last year, stays busy performing jobs of various scope and complexity. Dan is looking forward to another robust work season in 2019.
A First-Rate Crew
Spirit & Sons, Inc. is supported by a staff of about 15—many of whom have been with the business for decades. Dan says his employees’ dedication and loyalty are what makes the company truly special.
“Everyone working here is of one accord; everyone wants this company to do well,” says Dan, who compares himself to a ship’s captain tasked with steering his crew toward a success-filled destination. “Our employees work hard and even make personal sacrifices to grow this company. They do this not just for the money, but because they know how much we value them. We treat each employee like family and strive to make sure they are provided for.”
“Do what you say you’re going to do, for the price you quoted, and do a good job. If you follow this basic concept, clients will think you’re spectacular!” Dan O’Neill, Founder and President, Spirit & Sons, Inc.
The company has many ways of showing it cares, from providing a full medical benefits package to giving out bonuses to hosting annual Christmas staff parties. This year, Dan plans to add a 401(k) program to the list of perks for his employees.
When asked to identify some of his key people, the first to pop into Dan’s mind are his wife, Joelle, and his son, Dean.
Joelle has handled bookkeeping and accounts receivable/payable for the last 30 years. Dean, a graduate of Eastern Michigan University with a degree in business marketing, has worked at the company since 2009 handling office management, estimating and scheduling. Another son also used to work at the company, but has since moved on to “greener pastures.”
Other notable staff members include project manager John Rutledge and roofer Rick Deviley, both of whom have worked at the company for 30-plus years.
“John thinks like I think and knows me well enough that I trust him to make decisions for me, whether it costs or saves me money,” Dan says. “John’s right-hand man is Rick, a very dedicated, hardworking guy who is also a respected leader among the crew members in the field. Both of these individuals really understand that my vision is to be totally honest with our customers, which is a crucial focus of our operation.”
Vision for the Long Haul
The company founder, now 60 years old, is happy with continuing in his role as President for the foreseeable future.
“Our vision for the future is to continue being a faith-based company that people and businesses can count on to be honest and fair. We will also continue to provide the quality and service that we have committed to for nearly four decades,” Dan affirms.
According to his son, Dean, the company crew is always on board to follow the course set forth by its “captain.”
“I think what makes him such a great leader is his vision. He’s always looking down the road to build the company’s strength and position,” Dean says. “And my dad speaks with such conviction…what he says you can pretty much take as the gospel, because it’s what’s going to happen.”
Dan’s above-board perspective about being honest and fair has helped him achieve much in his now 40-year roofing career. His accomplishments have also removed all doubt that he sailed in the right direction when he chose to become an entrepreneur.
And while Dan’s parents are no longer living, he knows they would be pleased to see how far he’s come. “Unfortunately, my dad died just two years after I started the business, but my mom lived long enough to see my success, and she was extremely proud of me. I know that my dad would have been, too,” he says.