Editor's note: Following is the transcipt of the Stories From The Roof podcast featuring RCS Influencer Mike Hicks. You can listen to the podcast here or read the transcript below.
Welcome to the latest edition of the RoofersCoffeeShop Podcast. I'm Vickie Sharples, founder of the Roofers Coffee Shop, and today we hear from Mike Hicks, owner of Hicks Industrial Roofing in New Philadelphia, Ohio. We interviewed Mike at the International Roofing Expo in New Orleans, so don't mind the background noise.
Who taught you to roof?
Mike Hicks: Who taught me to roof? My dad, more than anybody. Sometimes I feel like I was born on a roof. I started painting installation caps for a business that they had on the side and that was six or seven years old and used to pay me a nickel a piece.
I started bending metal with my dad at eight and the first time I was allowed on the roof and a torch put in my hand, I was 16 years old and dad was right with me putting that roof on.
Vickie Sharples: What was the most valuable lesson you learned about roofing?
Mike Hicks: The most valuable thing I've learned about roofing is that it takes almost a generation for bad habits to show up. You don't often learn what works and doesn't work in a short period of time unless you're a total hack, but real quality takes 20-30 years to prove itself and if you don't want to hand your children a disaster, you've got to work a lot harder at doing things right then you think you do
Vickie Sharples: Best thing you ever did for your business.
Mike Hicks: The best thing I ever did for my business was going drug free. We had this horrible attendance problem. We had guys selling drugs on the roof. We didn't know where we'd be able to go in the morning until we saw who showed up and several key people in my company told me that we would go bankrupt if I went and drug free but it got to the point where the hassles I had to deal with on a daily basis simply weren't worth it. We did that in 1997, long before drug free was something that was commonplace.
Our drug policy had some real teeth on it to start with. I didn't want to eradicate drug users, I wanted to eradicate drug use. It was really important to me that I tried to protect the people in the company while protecting the company. I had a lot of talent and when we went drug free, I lost a few guys right up front, but by and large, most of them embraced it. Some of them tried to cheat it. We caught more people over a period of maybe about five years, but originally I sat down with top quality consultants and I sat down with another roofing contractor, Bryan Patton, of Branch Roofing in Akron, who was the first roofer in Ohio to try to go drug free. He went bankrupt in that process and he helped me immensely.
I have over the years tried to pass that on down to several other roofing contractors because it just did that much for my business. The key part of our policy was it had all of the testing that the randoms, the regulars, the injury tests, et cetera, but if a guy got caught, I didn't want to see him out the door. I wanted to see him get fixed and we pay every penny of rehabilitation. If a guy is willing to complete the program, we get them back to work on a light duty. They won't be on the roof until they finish, but we'll get them back in the shop doing other things that need done as soon as they can pass a clean test and I think that's been the real key.
I've had people thank me for the program and I'm sure we've spent a couple hundred thousand dollars over the years on that program, but one handshake it says thank you, made it all worthwhile and I don't have any of the problems today that we had back then.
Vickie Sharples: What is your biggest concerns about being in business today?
Mike Hicks: I think my biggest concern about being in business today is workforce. I don't know anybody in the service industries that won't put that in the top one or two because the millennial generation has changed so drastically, when we don't even have to leave the house to go shopping, well, why do we have to leave the house to make money? Why do we have to get dirty to produce an income?
Manual labor is just become something that the video game generation almost looks down on it. There seems to be a generation of people that no longer appreciates craftsmanship. They embrace technology, but what we do with our hands, what we can build, seems to be non-existent. It's it's what can we do on a screen and finding good quality people who are willing to sweat and work with their hands is becoming more and more of a challenge.
The work ethic is hard to find and so often what we as roofers or landscapers or whatever manual kind of business you're in, I think we're left with a pool of people that have run out of options. They're out of prison. They've had drug and alcohol problems, et cetera, and for whatever reason, they're in a place where finding the job everybody wants is hard. When you can find that person that doesn't want to work in a factory, that doesn't want to just stand still on their feet in front of something that goes by them every day, who takes pride in what they make with their hands or finds stimulation from the different things that you do every day, the fact that each roof is different from the last one and you want to hang onto those people. They are, even if they aren't everything you want, that's something that you can build on as long. As they're teachable, if they like to use their hands and they have pride in what they do, don't let that person out the door.
Vickie Sharples: Do you belong any associations related to your business?
Mike Hicks: I belong to three trade associations. The National and the Midwest and the Ohio Roofing Contractors Associations. I also belong to several other things like the National Federation of Independent Business and things that are business related but not necessarily trade-related, but the NRCA I think offers a lot to contractors that really want to grow their business simply because of the educational resources that are available and it's the only voice that we have in Washington.
For years, roofers were completely ignored by Washington DC, and I give Reid Ribble and the leadership a lot of credit for their new initiative to form a group that has a voice and we're starting to accomplish some things.
So if you are a roofing contractor and you don't like to pay taxes or you don't like the government in your face and the regulations that bog you down, the only way that you're going to affect anything, is to join an organization like the NRCA and I think the NRCA is the right one to go to.
Vickie Sharples: In one word, describe your most important trait in an employee.
Mike Hicks: The one word I would use to describe the best trait I look for an employee would be integrity. If they've got integrity, you can build on the rest of it.
Vickie Sharples: What makes you smile when you think about your job?
Mike Hicks: I really enjoy solving a unique problem or finding a way for a customer to achieve something below a budget that they were told was impossible. I get a lot of satisfaction out of that.
Vickie Sharples: This is a hard one. Any tips for the new guys starting out?
Mike Hicks: It would tell you, number one, treat people the way you want to be treated. Not everybody is an entrepreneur and you need people and if you think they all should be like you, or should work like you, or think like you, you know what? It's always going to be just you because you're the only you that's out there, but once you get past that point, I got to tell you, keep your books right.
The bookkeeping is the foundation of your business. It doesn't matter how good your workmanship is. It doesn't matter how big your job is or how fancy your car is. If you don't keep the books right, eventually the government's going to breathe down your neck and you're going to have yourself a real problem, and I know most of us in the roofing business, that doesn't come natural. We didn't get into the roofing business because we had 15 other options or this was our lifelong dream.
Oftentimes, it's just something that we fell into and when you don't know the difference between a debit and a credit or what a balance sheet means or an income statement is, you've got to learn that. If nothing else, go to your local community college and sign up for an accounting class and go for the first three weeks before you drop out. You'll learn just enough that when you talk to your accountant, you at least know what he's talking about, but you've got to take the time to bill when the job is done and you've got to take the time to collect those bills that aren't coming in. If you don't do those two things, the rest of it's just going to fall apart.
Vickie Sharples: Talk about why you love RoofersCoffeeShop.
Mike Hicks: I love the RoofersCoffeeShop because I have met wonderful people and I have made lifelong friends. Friendships that in a lot of ways are tighter than the people that I see every day. Friendships that even rival family. They're right there. They're that important to me and that didn't happen overnight. It happened because I participated in the forum and over the years got to know people and I mean I have traveled this country from shore to shore and I've got friends on both sides, top and bottom, and it has been just a wonderful experience to get to know people that think like me, that feel those same frustrations, to know that there's a kindred spirit out there that if you need to pick up the phone, they're there no matter what.
That's been the greatest thing about the RoofersCoffeeShop to me; so thankful to Vickie for her vision for it. [inaudible 00:10:09] that side of it has never made her a dime and that's not much of a business there, but it's been immeasurable value to me. So that's what the coffee shop is to my kicks.
Vickie Sharples: Thank you, Mike, very much.
Tune in next time for another edition of Stories From The Roof Podcast.