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Les Burch - Sharing Knowledge about Family Run Businesses - PODCAST TRANSCRIPTION

Les Burch - Sharing Knowledge about Family Run Businesses
May 19, 2021 at 10:43 a.m.

 

Editor's note: The following is the transcript of an live interview with Les Burch from Sashco and Les's Corner. You can read the interview below or listen to the podcast.

Announcer:
Welcome to Roofing Road Trips with Heidi. Explore the roofing industry through the eyes of a long-term professional within the trade. Listen for insights, interviews, and exciting news in the roofing industry today.

Heidi Ellsworth:
Hello and welcome to another Roofing Road Trip from RoofersCoffeeShop. My name is Heidi Ellsworth and this podcast is all about finding out more about roofing, what's going on, kind of taking that virtual road trip all around the country. And today we are here originally in Colorado with Les Burch of Sashco. I met Les at a couple of trade shows over the years and I've always, always loved the conversations we've had so I know today's podcast will be great. Welcome to the show, Les.

Les Burch:
Okay. Thanks, Heidi. Yeah, I know. I remember those conversations and we kind of get wild with our ideas, but it's a fun road trip just to dream about what's possible. So really happy to be with you today.

Heidi Ellsworth:
I am really happy too. I know. I love this big picture ideas and where are we going to go. And so you have made one of those big picture ideas happen with a new show from Sashco called Les's Corner. That's pretty dang cool to be able to kind of start sharing your wisdom with the world. Before we get to Les's Corner, oh, I would love it if you would share just a little bit about you with everybody out in the audience and also a little bit about Sashco.

Les Burch:
Okay, yeah. I'd love to do that. And I know as part of our theme is and we'll get to that later too is we're a family-owned company. I'd love to hear a little bit about yours as well, but so I'll try to weave a little bit more of the family history in this. We got to start 1936 when my dad officially filed the company name and everything. So that's when it started. And along the way, my mother happened to move into Denver from Cheyenne, happened to get a job at the company. So that was kind of the first family thing is my mom actually originally was a secretary to my dad.

Heidi Ellsworth:
Oh, I love it.

Les Burch:
And then I came along, but tragically in 1954, my dad died in an airplane accident. And just to explain the airplane part is that he was a real innovative guy and he actually had a sales force that was airborne. So he would not hire a salesman unless they could fly a plane or he would teach them to fly the plane. And that allowed them to go from distributor to distributor all over their territory very rapidly. That's in the days when there were a lot of distributors, but unfortunately we lost him and then the company kind of stumbled along for several years for like a decade.
And so my mom took it over eventually in 1964 herself. So she stepped in as management having exposure to the company just as being a secretary for a while, but she really did a great job. She literally saved the company. And then I graduated in 1972 and I actually came down to work and about a year after I came down to work and reformulated a few products as a chemistry graduate. She said, "Well, hey, I want you to be president and I'll sit out here in reception and you do that." And I said, "I don't know how to be president." And she said, "Sure you do." That was my training program. Sure you do.
So I've been trying to figure that out ever since on how to be a president. But along the way, I had worked in the company in high school and so we've had our cousins, my aunt was a bookkeeper. My sister worked down here. So we've had a lot of family over the years and now actually today, my sons are here. And so both of them work in the company as well. So yeah, we've had a great time. We like to say we're 85 years young. So we're still looking for that new idea around the corner.

Heidi Ellsworth:
I love it. I love it. And you know what? I'm pretty sure the majority of folks listening know who Sashco is, but why don't you tell him just a little bit about what Sashco manufacturers and your product.

Les Burch:
Sure. Yeah. We manufacture caulks and sealants. So we basically are in the housing steep slope stuff. So whether that's multi or individual residences, single family. And we do a lot in maintenance. So our products are available across the country at Lowe's, Ace Hardware, True Value, a lot of lumber yards, building materials centers, that kind of thing. And so what we like to do is we like to make the highest performance products we can and for each project in the home. So we won't have a good, better, best for siding. We'll make the best thing we possibly can or for roofing or for the kitchen or for concrete. So that's kind of our lot in life is to try to make the best products we possibly can.

Heidi Ellsworth:
And you do. That is awesome. That is great. And I have to tell you, I love the part about your mom and what you're saying about her really saving the company because there's so many families out there where my dad was a contractor, my mom did the books, but they never really referred to it as mom's company too. It was always my dad's company. And so to hear you talk about that culture, that's really cool.

Les Burch:
Yeah. It really is. And that was a pretty daunting task to learn from scratch and to realize, "All right, what's wrong? What's going badly here? And there were some things and for her to turn that around was quite a feat. So I inherited a going business from her and so that gave me a boost.

Heidi Ellsworth:
That is great. That's great. Well, I can see how the whole family has that big picture. So let's talk about Les's Corner, which is your new video podcast, webinar, everything. It's a big multimedia production. Tell us a little bit about it.

Les Burch:
Yeah, we started this. Well, actually our marketing team prompted this and they said, "Well, hey, you got a lot of background here. Why don't we begin to share that?" And because we're a family-owned business, we looked around said, "Well, look, we've got a couple of business segments. We sell to hardware dealers. Most of those are family-owned." And then when you look at roofers and remodelers, I mean, their average sized business is six to 10, they are family-run businesses.
So we thought, "Well, not only can we share technical issues and look at the various technologies and approaches to solving problems, installation of different things, but we can also talk about the family issues, the things that are unique to family businesses." So we're just hoping to add value to anybody who will tune in, but certainly that's our customer base.

Heidi Ellsworth:
Yes. I see that every single day, all of the families, the generational families in roofing. It's a beautiful thing, but it also has a lot of challenges. So what are some of your suggestions? Give us a little sneak peek into those episode one and two when you're talking about hiring family.

Les Burch:
Okay. Yeah. And you probably have some experiences, so I'd love to hear yours too. So number one, I mean, we think of family and you kind of think of your kids as well. Are my kids going to get into the business and that kind of thing. So our first advice is to hold it loosely. Don't start talking to your kids about, "Well, of course, you're going to run the business or you're going to be in the business." Because, quite frankly, they may rather program computers. And that may be what they're good at or they want to be a biologist or whatever.
And so we held it pretty loosely. I never really talked with our children about, "Well, one day you'll be in the business." So I think allows them the freedom to come in, if they wish under their own steam. And then here's the biggest thing we see. I belong to a CEO group and around the table, smaller companies. So I think 75% of them through time have voiced pretty challenging family issues. Well, it starts at the beginning.
So the first thing you want to think about is that you have to make a separation between ownership and employeeship. So if family members happened to own some of the company by inheritance, that is very different from them working in the company. So sometimes what we see is people are paid in a scale that's not part of what the company uses. They're paid because they're owners rather than they're paid because they're employees.
So if you want to make a distribution as an owner, great, make a distribution. But if you're an employee, we pay family members on the scale we pay everybody else. So that's one really important one we've seen a lot of problem with. And then the next is really grit your teeth, but don't hire because their family. Hire for culture and job fit. So if they don't fit the job, if they can't do it well, what does everybody else think of that person?

Heidi Ellsworth:
Exactly, exactly.

Les Burch:
Heidi, you know the answer, right?

Heidi Ellsworth:
Yeah.

Les Burch:
People know when a family members is there because they're family, not because of doing a good job. And that doesn't give them the kind of encouragement and reinforcement about their own skills. It's really a disservice to the family member to keep them on when they're not a good job fit. So hey, hire a good job fit to begin with, you don't get into that trouble. And I was going to give you three, I got another one. I got a fourth one.

Heidi Ellsworth:
Okay, perfect.

Les Burch:
And if you can now, smaller companies sometimes have a real challenge with this and you just can't do it. But if you at all can, have your family member supervised by somebody else and don't interfere with it. So that's some of the lessons we've learned and we've been very careful when I hired, we hired our sons. I didn't even interview them. We had different interview teams and I've never looked at their job reviews. Sometimes they haven't been that good. Everybody grows and learns on the job, right?

Heidi Ellsworth:
Right.

Les Burch:
But that's what we've learned. You said you kind of a family-run. So what families in your business and how did that happen?

Heidi Ellsworth:
Well, Les, thank you. It's nice to have a question come back. That's pretty cool. My partner is Vickie Sharples and she she actually was the one who started RoofersCoffeeShop in 2002, but in 2015, she asked me to come on as her partner. And so we had a five-year plan just like when you're doing your business planning and everything, we had a five-year plan. And at the end of five years, Vickie retired. And so I was like, "Oh my" and-

Les Burch:
Well, you're kind of like my mother. You got left holding the bag, right?

Heidi Ellsworth:
I know, I know.

Les Burch:
So you run it.

Heidi Ellsworth:
I kind of knew, but you know you always think, "Oh, they'll never do it," but she did and I'm thrilled because she's still my partner. She's just retired, but she had hired her family Vickie's niece works for the company. Her sister-in-law did work in the company, but she also retired, and her sister works in the company. And so we kind of had a tradition of that already. And it's always worked out great, awesome people, perfect for the jobs just like you were saying. And then we needed a podcast, this podcast and for what we were doing with our video and everything else.

Heidi Ellsworth:
And my daughter, Megan, was in school. She's a singer-songwriter in Denver and she also has all the technical for podcasts, video, all those kinds of things. So I said, "Hey, do you want a part-time job while you're in college? Can you be our podcast producer?" And so Megan came on and she's since graduated, she's got an album out, and we're still keeping her working for us. I don't know how long, Les. We may lose her to the music industry.

Les Burch:
Yeah, that's right. Yeah, you got to compete for them yourself, right?

Heidi Ellsworth:
Yeah, you do. Just exactly what you said, they have to follow their passion. Our oldest, James, was in politics and he was the chief of staff over in the Oregon Legislature and decided he wanted to make a change. And so same thing, he came to me and he says, "I've been watching what you've been doing. I'd be interested in getting involved and seeing how this works. What do you think?"
It was right when Vickie was retiring. I said, "You're exactly what we need. We need someone who should be a chief of staff basically." So that's kind of how it happened with us. And we have our niece also works here. She's interning at University of Oregon. Vickie's sister and niece still work here. So we believe in family and so far so good.

Les Burch:
Oh, that's great. That's great to hear. And there's a lot of advantages to family and they tend to be more engaged. They get on board with a real sort of ownership perspective and this is our company, we're going to make it work. But you make a good point too because you came in as a partner and this is a good recruiting reason why you want family in good spots because when you're recruiting or you're bringing in a partner, what are they looking at? What kind of family am I getting into? What does this mean for me if I come in as director of sales is one of the family members going to override what I do?
There's all these questions. So it sounds like you guys have really done it well and so congratulations. We're really a fan of RoofersCoffeeShop here for sure.

Heidi Ellsworth:
Oh, Les. It's one of those things where you really just put it out there like you're doing, you put it out. I love hearing your story. I think that's what makes RoofersCoffeeShop is that we love to celebrate the trades. We love to celebrate people like you and your sons and your family, just like our family does too, and all the roofing contractors out there. And that kind of leads me actually to my next question because in the description of the show, you had said high performance, community, knowledge, sharing. I would love for you to kind of explain that and kind of talk to that a little bit.

Les Burch:
Yeah, because we make them the higher performance items. We're really interested in people who seek high performance themselves and who have a passion for it. And those are usually people who are just constant learners, they're looking at new ways of doing things and we just love to surround ourselves. So what we're looking forward to doing is bringing folks like that on to Les's Corner sharing those podcasts and video webinars and stuff with people because you learn so much.
And we can kind of centralize that knowledge and be a place where at the end of the day, no matter if you're learning and technology or a new technique, we're interested in people being able to improve their business. That's really at the end of the day what this is about. And can you make an improvement where your quality goes up, your reputation goes up or you've made a change that kind of de-hassles your work. There's all sorts of people who have solved all those so we like to talk with them.

Heidi Ellsworth:
I see that. Obviously we're focused in the roofing industry, but we work with a lot of exterior contractors, siding, windows doors. But in the roofing, it's exactly what you're saying. When contractors are sharing their business and they're sharing kind of their success, they're giving back to the community, you see such a huge... Sorry, a little Oregon here, but it's just good karma. It comes back to the company. And I think you being able to share that really from that level because I'm having a construction company no matter what you're doing and especially one that really brings your family in, it's a different beast.

Les Burch:
Yeah, it really is. And when you have family as well, you need to make sure that your focus is still on your customers and that community. When we say community and we see it in front of our eyes because we have a class, we bring contractors in, it's called Zero Failures. We train them how to apply the products, be successful. And what's the most important thing they like the most when we survey the class? Getting with each other. So we think we're restoring all this great knowledge, but it's really them talking with each other because they learn so much more than they do from us. But you got other people working all the roof angles, so to speak, and people who solved problems already, right?

Heidi Ellsworth:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Les Burch:
They love getting together. So we want to be kind of a focus meeting point for that as well. And obviously we're going to be talking around our particular area of sealants, but the community is what really gives it the juice.

Heidi Ellsworth:
Yeah. And I think you have a real opportunity to bring the different trades together. As you were talking about with your sealants and caulking throughout the whole house, everywhere top performance. So now all of a sudden you are bringing these contractors together who maybe this company is roofing, maybe this company is plumbing, maybe this company is siding. Who knows? And you can start sharing best practices and just getting to know each other networking-wise.

Les Burch:
Yeah. And you can borrow things from other trades, little tips and tricks too of this is how I do that. Right now we're on a quest to learn a lot more about siding and installation in that. A lot of our products are used there, but we're trying to get more in-depth. Well, we did exactly what you said, Heidi. All of a sudden, you start talking siding, you ran into the window. Oh, well, now how do I install the window and what's the best practice there? So I don't know that there's any end to the depth of the knowledge in the industry. It all looks simple, but when you start really getting into it you need the experts.

Heidi Ellsworth:
Yeah, you really do. You know it's funny. I can remember one time visiting with this exterior contractor, great business. They did everything. And he was like, "Yeah, those garage doors, they're really something trying to figure that out." And I thought, "Who would have thought of garage doors?" But you're right. It all leads into each other.

Les Burch:
Oh yeah. I mean, we just had a contractor use our material around his garage door because he had brick abutted against some trim. Well, he didn't know there were some other ways to look at that, even from an aesthetic standpoint. And so we were able to supply them. "Oh man, that looks great and I've never thought of using that there." So yeah. There's always opportunities.

Heidi Ellsworth:
That is great. So on Les's Corner, I know your first two were on hiring family. What are some of the topics that are coming up?

Les Burch:
Oh yeah. We had a lot of great stuff coming up. One of them is we're going to be interviewing Matt Risinger from the Build Show. So he's one of the high performance contractors. We really love Matt. He searches into all kinds of things and he comes up with some really neat stuff. We're also going to go out into looking at lean principles. We use lean manufacturing, but how do you apply that to the contractor arena, right? And so we've had contractors go back and actually improve some of their processes as a result of that. And we're really excited about that because, hey, if you could save even 10 minutes a day times 200 days, that's 2000 minutes you've just saved. So it's worth looking at.
Then we got a guy that does a little training for us as well as other people on business focus. So it's taking a little time out to say, "Okay, I work in my business, but how much time do I spend working on my business? And what are the kinds of things to pay attention to when we're working on our business?" And then another one's coming right up in a couple of days is we did one on technology swaps, which is really kind of interesting. And it's in the light of all these supply chain disruptions. We've all felt it.
So what happens when you go to the shelf to pick out your favorite sealant and it's not there? What technology swaps can you do that will still give you the performance you need, but help you finish your job on time? So that's a range of kind of some of the subjects and we're pretty excited about those.

Heidi Ellsworth:
I love that. Every day we're having discussions about working on the business. So I'm watching that one. It's just so important and the material shortage, great topic, Les. That is top of mind to everybody right now and being able to find solutions.

Les Burch:
Yeah, it really is. In our industry, we had kind of this surprise attack with the Texas freeze back in early February. And they had, I think under 10 degrees for several days in a row, just that doesn't happen. Well, what did it do? It froze the refineries. So so many raw materials for sealants and paints and coatings are interrupted. And that just came out of the blue. Everyone's dealt with the COVID thing, shortage of workers. That's another one we piled on so .there's a lot of landmines out there just to navigate.

Heidi Ellsworth:
Yeah. Just to keep business going. And then let's talk about the increased demand. Everybody wants to remodel their house. Everybody wants to make improvements.

Les Burch:
Well, you're right. Yeah, the increased demand. So just to give you an idea just on the sealant side. Once we get through some of the chemical supply, well, we've got cartridges we put our product in and we're on a 90% allocation from last year. So we got a cut back and we said, "Well, that's only 10%." Oh no, like you said, Heidi, we've got a 20% increase in demand. Now I've got a 30% gap to be able to fill the sealant shelf. So there's some significant challenges ahead.

Heidi Ellsworth:
Yeah, that I see it. And then what's obviously consumer behavior, what's going to happen once people can travel again, they can start using their money towards vacations and not home improvement. I don't see an end on the home improvement front for quite a while, but it is a turbulent time. So I think having something like what you're doing with Les's Corner, things that we're doing on RoofersCoffeeShop trying to kind of just be in that conversation and helping to bring the information. I think it's one of the best things we can do. It's the most important thing right now to have these conversations.

Les Burch:
Yeah. We're going to interview another guy in a couple of months. I just talked with him this morning, had breakfast and he's a management consultant and he was talking about this ratio in our businesses between order and disruption. And how do you plan for the disruption and how do you keep it from overwhelming the order in your business? And we're all dealing with that.

Heidi Ellsworth:
Yes, we are. We are. Everybody is. And the destruction can be incredible growth. It's just so much. Yeah. It's crazy.

Les Burch:
That's right. Shortages and growth at the same time is I don't think we've experienced that before.

Heidi Ellsworth:
I don't think so either. I'm like, "Okay, it's a whole new world for all of us." Well, Les, this is delightful. Thank you so much. And where can... I mean, besides we know everybody can find all of your information and links and everything on RoofersCoffeeShop, but also how can people tune in to Les's Corner to be able to watch it live and then to be able to watch it on demand?

Les Burch:
Yeah. So that's pretty simple. So you can go just search Sashco. So you've got to spell it right. That's the trick. S-A-S-H-C-O like a window sash. Sashco YouTube and and all that stuff will come up on the YouTube channel. And the Les's Corner has a certain logo style, but if that doesn't pop up right away, just put in the word Les and that will come up. And then you can sign up so that you'll get information and prompts for the next episode. So you can sign up there.

Heidi Ellsworth:
Excellent. That is great. And all of that information, where to go, how to watch it is also on the Sashco directory on RoofersCoffeeShop. We're also going to have links in the video and in the webinar section so that you can go to that YouTube channel. So we want to make it easy for everyone to find you, Les, and to be able to gain some of this wisdom. I'm excited. I'll be watching.

Les Burch:
Yeah, we're excited about it. And the best thing for us is when we hear the stories of success that people made some changes, what they heard, they took and used. That's really the payoff. We love to hear those.

Heidi Ellsworth:
That's great. That is great. Well, Les, thank you for sharing your story today and we'll do this again because I want to hear how this all goes. So we're going to actually maybe at some of these upcoming trade shows, we'll get you in for a recording there too because we're going to be having some live podcasts and coffee conversations at the shows this year.

Les Burch:
I can't wait to get back to a live trade show so I'm looking forward to it, Heidi.

Heidi Ellsworth:
Okay. We'll do it. Thank you so much. Thank you everyone for listening. You can find all of the Roofing Road Trip podcasts under the Read Listen Watch section at rooferscoffeeshop.com. Please share them. Please go to your favorite podcast channel and subscribe because you don't want to miss any of these podcasts that are from the road. Thank you so much and have a great day.

Announcer:
Make sure to subscribe to our channel and leave a review. Thanks for listening. This has been Roofing Road Trips with Heidi from the rooferscoffeeshop.com.



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