Doors, Doors Everywhere
R&S Erection, Inc. builds network of companies
In 1963, when the late Robert Smith launched his commercial door repair business in Oakland, California, few could have predicted the company’s expansive growth. Today, Robert’s son, Kevin Smith, serves as President of R&S Erection, Inc. (R&S), the company his dad established, now in San Leandro, California. R&S functions as a business services office for 19 independently owned and operated R&S door service and installation operations throughout California. Its central accounts division serves as a hub for service call dispatching and centralized billing for corporate accounts.
When the company was young, a growing market demand led to the production of rolling door products. With a 5-acre manufacturing facility in Union City, as well as operations in Southern California and Portland, Oregon, R&S now manufactures and distributes a full line of high-quality rolling door products, garage doors and openers for all applications. In addition, R&S has four distributors—three selling commercial door operators and one selling commercial and residential doors.
The number of R&S locations enables the corporation to promote from within and to provide 24/7 service and repairs throughout California. While new installations are important and account for 30% of its business, the remaining 70% comes from service and repair jobs, as well as maintenance.
In fact, it was the repair business that helped start the R&S family of businesses in 1963. Robert would work out deals with demolition companies for the old doors from buildings about to be razed. He took those doors, brought them back to his carport, straightened and fixed them, and then sold them as reconditioned units.
The Training Imperative
One attribute that distinguishes R&S from its competitors is its fierce emphasis on training. The company maintains a 5,000-square-foot training facility inside a San Leandro warehouse. There it has displays showing a wide range of commercial and residential doors. New employees are given one-day crash courses on the different door types as well as installation and removal techniques before receiving on-the-job training. After six months on the job, employees return to the training center to assess whether they need additional training. After a year on the job, the company’s trainers run them through the Institute of Door Dealer Education and Accreditation (IDEA) certification process to see if they’re ready to test for certification. In addition, all R&S locations provide consistent and regular safety training and follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines for sanitizing equipment and offices, distancing, and the wearing of masks when necessary.
This continuous investment in employee training, coupled with an emphasis on team-building, contributes to an extended-family culture. The company brings all of the operations team together for annual employee appreciation events, monthly get-togethers and shop tuneup projects where team members from different areas pitch in to help paint or perform tasks at one of the R&S locations.
To understand R&S, let’s look at one of its key firms, R&S Overhead Garage Door, Inc. of San Leandro, the largest of the R&S network companies. Shawn Trask is President and Co-Owner and his son, Scott, is a Field Supervisor. This firm employs 50 of the corporate total of 350 employees and was founded in 1972 by Shawn’s dad, Gerald, retired past President and current Co-Owner. Shawn’s brother, Gerald Jr., serves as General Manager and Co-Owner of R&S Erection of South Alameda County, Inc.
“Today, a lot of companies just want to do new installations and don’t want to be bothered with repairs and retrofits,” Shawn says. “That’s not us; we take pride in performing jobs that no one else wants to do.”
That attitude is exemplified on a recent project for the Port of Oakland. The port authority reached out to five companies to bid on a repair job, but only one was interested: R&S Overhead Garage Door, Inc. As a major container-ship port in Oakland, California, in the San Francisco Bay, the Port of Oakland regularly performs maintenance on its 40-foot-tall machines used to unload containers from cargo ships. Tall machines require tall buildings, and tall buildings require tall doors. In this case, a 35 x 45-foot-high, 50-year-old rollup door had springs that had crystallized over time, causing them to break. This problem left the Port of Oakland without access to its maintenance building.
“Just accessing the building was a challenge,” Shawn says. “It required a metal roofing contractor, boom lifts to remove the roof, a crane to remove the door’s pipe-shaft assembly and curtain for repairs, a trucking company to haul the parts to our service facility, and a crew of six to make the repairs and do the installation at extreme heights.”
It also required an on-the-job modification. “After installation of the door’s new 5-horsepower motor,” Shawn says, “we discovered that the motor shaft traveled just 35 feet, preventing the door from raising fully; so we modified the motor design with a longer shaft. These are the kinds of jobs that set us apart.”
Plans for a Win-Win Future
Looking ahead, Shawn says the R&S network of companies has experienced year-over-year sales growth of 5% for the past five years and is poised for expansion into other markets. “We recognize that we haven’t aggressively pursued the new construction part of our business,” Shawn comments. “Gains in this area would contribute to the service side of our business, giving us a definite win-win.”