Sam Boak started his company, Boak & Sons Inc., in 1974 when he was 18 and entering Youngstown State University to study business.
The construction company, based in Austintown, has since grown to about 190 full-time employees with annual revenues of “close to $20 million,” Boak says.
Boak & Sons specializes in roofing, insulation, siding, gutters and windows.
“When the weather is good, we’re typically between 25 to 32 job sites a day,” he adds, with 60% of the company’s work commercial and 40% residential.
On a typical day, “We’ll do a repair on someone’s house for $200 or $300 and we’ll put a roof on a school for $1 million,” Boak says.
Boak is active in the community and is the first vice president of the Builders Association of Eastern Ohio and Western Pennsylvania. We posed a series of questions to him about his industry.
What do you advise commercial and residential customers who may be in the market for services like your company provides?
Boak: Buyer beware. A lot of the repairs that we do on structures are where someone else did the work. In Trumbull County, there’s a roof we’re looking at right now that we bid eight years ago, and didn’t get the job. Someone was a little bit less expensive than us and here we are eight years later putting a new roof on.
This customer thought they bought a roof that was going to last 10, 15, 20 years on a commercial building and didn’t get what they thought they paid for. And now that person’s [the contractor] is gone.
We try to explain that when it’s a little bit less expensive, you’re not getting the same thing. It comes back to that old saying, “When it sounds too good to be true…” You know that answer.
Is it because of substandard materials?
Boak: Sometimes. Most customers don’t understand the terms of their warranties. Manufacturers warranty the materials. But what you also want is a systems warranty where you’re getting it installed. That means the workmanship and everything else has to meet the manufacturer’s criteria.
Manufacturers will sometimes come out and inspect a job site. But they can only see the roof from one side. They can only see what there is until a few years down the road when they find all kinds of problems, open the roof up and find out it was never installed properly. Therefore the warranty is voided.
There could be a lawsuit but people are afraid they’re going to lose in a lawsuit and they call us crying the blues.
So what do you do?
Boak: We do the best we can to help them. But once again, we try to redirect them a different way to get it done properly. For instance, we have a customer in Mahoning County for whom we put a roof on 27 years ago, and at that time the manufacturer only offered a 10-year warranty.
When this company put out for bid a new roof a couple of years ago, they had six bidders. We were next to lowest. There was about a $5,000 difference in price on $500,000 project. Someone in purchasing was ready to give the bid to that other company for a $5,000 difference.
The company said to me, “Why don’t you come down $5,000?”
I said, “Wait a second. That roof that I put on for you 27 years ago actually gave you double the life of the warranty, almost triple. It was a 10-year roof. It’s not really leaking that bad and it’s been 27 years. Can that other company show you a roof they did that’s still in the shape of yours and also is 27 years old?”
It is about the installation. It’s about having the right people do the right job.
Do you believe a lot of commercial businesses are ripped off?
Boak: I think a lot are taken advantage of, that they don’t get what they believe they paid for. My name is on every one of those trucks you see driving around town.
We have a policy book, but we only have two rules for the whole company, and they’re rather simple. The first one is safety first and always should be, and the second one is never ever, ever cut a corner.
Unfortunately I had an employee who was with me for about 15 years and he cut a corner, and I had to let him go. They all know better.
What should consumers and companies look for when selecting a roofing contractor?
Boak: Basically, talk to the public. Talk to your architect. Talk to construction people in the community. The general contractors know what roofers will do a great job. And they know the ones that they do not recommend. Do your homework like we do with everything else.
When we go to buy a car, we pull up the information about the safety audit, about the wear and tear. It’s not so easy to do in roofing because there’s no directory to go to. But there are good contractors out there, general contractors who build buildings, and they know who they use to do their roofing.
What should a company look for in a proposal?
Boak: With today’s technology, these proposals all look like Ernest Hemmingway wrote them. And they’re not going to alert you to a potential problem. I’ve seen some of my competitors proposals that look so much better than mine. From the common eye, it looks like they’re giving more than what I am. I still say it comes down to communicating with people in the construction business.
What types of guarantees or language should be in any type of agreement that would indicate the customer is being protected in terms of materials and installment?
I don’t have an easy answer for that.
Whenever you tear a roof off, you should always tear it off down to the deck. You want to make sure that the deck is in good shape, because no one’s seen that deck for the last 10, 20, 30 years – depending on how old those roofs are on top. You need to make sure that it’s solid.
Part of the reason you’re getting a new roof is because water has migrated in. Well, if it’s migrated in, it’s rotted part of that deck. So we always recommend, tear that whole roof off down to the deck so that can be seen.
That’s a big red flag for me.
What’s another red flag?
Boak: Look for a total systems warranty, not just a manufacturers guarantee. That means they’re warranting the membrane of the product as well as the contractor that’s doing the job. It’s warranting the workmanship and the manufacturing of that product.
All material companies offer that, but not all [roofing] companies give that. They sell it making you think that you’re getting a 10- or 15-year warranty. But they’re not telling you that a systems warranty from the manufacturer includes labor that the job was done properly.
There’s another part people don’t understand. They may have had the job done but the contractor never submitted to get a warranty for the systems. We’ve seen jobs where people thought they were getting a systems warranty but did not. Again, no one’s read the fine print.
It still comes back to doing your research by reaching out to local people in the business. That speaks 10 levels above everything else. Ask for the projects they’ve done during the last 10 years. Ask for the reference list of jobs that are 10 or more years old. You’ll want to be able to call some of these past customers.
Copyright 2019 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.
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