Editor's note: The following is the transcript of an interview with John Kenney with Cotney Consulting Group. You can read the interview below or listen to the podcast here.
Heidi Ellsworth: Hello, this is Heidi Ellsworth with RoofersCoffeeShop and we are here again today for another Roofing Road Trips with Heidi podcast. Even though we can't travel and we are sheltering in and working in our homes, I kind of feel like I'm in Florida today because as our special guest we have John Kenney with Cotney Consulting Group. Good morning, John.
John Kenney: Good morning. How are you?
Heidi Ellsworth: I am good. How are you doing in sunny Florida?
John Kenney: We're doing good. The weather is nice down here and we're getting through everything like everybody else is, but we're doing okay.
Heidi Ellsworth: Yeah. Yeah. It's been a little bit of a change in pace, but we're all still really busy. So, I'm very thankful for that every single day. And you've been a bit busy lately too now on the technical director and operations COO of Cotney Construction Law, plus launching Cotney Consulting Group. Can you tell us a little bit about all of that? That's pretty exciting.
John Kenney: Sure. Yeah. Well, as technical director, my responsibilities in the firm are answering any technical questions that come up either in-house or from our clients, or throughout the industry. So, I really, really enjoy that part of my job a lot, just with all the years I've been in the business in roofing and I love to give back, so I enjoy that part. COO part of the Cotney firm is like COO in any other company, you're responsible for day-to-day operations and making sure everybody has the support that they need to do their jobs. So, I do that. Then we have the Cotney Consulting Group, which is a really great thing we've started, Trent and I, I enjoy that immensely, working with other roofing contractors around the country. And we do all different types of aspects with that from business analysis, to training, to estimating training, to safety, all the different aspects that they may possibly need throughout the business, plus also software integration. So, we're really enjoying that.
Heidi Ellsworth: Wow. I talk about the industry needs that right now. There's a lot of contractors who are like, "What should I be doing? Things are a little bit different now, how do I sustain and grow my business through these hard times?" So, the fact that you and Trent are offering that, that is so critical right now.
John Kenney: Yeah, most definitely. We're finding different questions in different areas, but it's hard on a lot of people out there and we think it's going to get harder, even though we all stay optimistic, but we've been through a lot with this shutdown and it's going to have its effects one way or the other. And our goal is just to make sure we can get as many people through this and come out the other side even better than the way they went into it.
Heidi Ellsworth: Exactly. And I would love it, John, if you could share some of your history because you've been through the recession, 9/11, you've been through these kind of times before and you have an amazingly distinguished career. So, I would love it if you could maybe just share real quick with everyone listening a little bit of your history and thoughts on that.
John Kenney: Sure. I started out in the Northeast and I'm from New Jersey and worked in a family business, a third generation in the roofing industry. So, yeah, I started out early as a kid. There's some pictures, if everybody's watching me on LinkedIn or Facebook, of me being four or five years old, standing next to a 1962 truck, so enjoy that. So, it goes all the way back to the time I've been able to walk. But started working even in the '70s. So, we once remember we couldn't get gas and it was every other day. So, yeah, we've been through a lot and we learned a lot through the way, seeing roofing change from pretty much 99% built-up hot asphalt, coal tar pitch all the way up to where we're at today. Worked in New Jersey till about the 90s and moved to Florida in '99. '99 I came down here and I worked for a few different companies, mainly New Tech Roofing's where I started. And I went from there over to RAMCON and did everything from chief estimator all the way up to project management at those firms. And then after that, I moved to Sutter, which I spent 10 years at Sutter Roofing and worked my way up through COO at that firm. And after 45 years of doing it, I decided it was time for a personal change and I wanted to give more back to the industry. And that's why I came over to Cotney, to do that.
Heidi Ellsworth: You are in the right place, talk about a company that gives back every single day. And you all have been doing so much during this COVID in helping to educate the industry. I'm just so impressed with you, Trent, and all the lawyers and people at Cotney Construction Law, and now Cotney Consulting.
John Kenney: Yeah. And I can tell you, as Trent said in many podcasts and on the webinars, that we're around the clock, 24 hours a day, he's not kidding about that. It's been a full round the clock job, making sure that we keep everybody informed and protect our clients and plus all the stuff we do for the different roofing organizations and other organizations out there as well. And wouldn't change it for the world, it's so great to be able to help people out.
Heidi Ellsworth: That's what I love too about being with RoofersCoffeeShop and working with friends like Cotney, we all are passionate about the industry. And you and Trent, and I want to add this in there because I just think it's a little bit of your history and it's something really cool that you and Trent are doing too, but you both collect roofing memorabilia, right? And historical.
John Kenney: Yep.
Heidi Ellsworth: Just while we're talking a little bit about you and what you've done, tell me a little bit about that, because I just think it's so cool.
John Kenney: Well, we both have a passion for preserving the history of our industry. I probably delve a little more deeper into a lot of the historical data and the different companies and that, but both have a very vast collection of items throughout history. I have stuff that date all the way back to the early 1800s, whether it be sales manuals, samples, tokens, and also another big part of my collection is original historic construction photos of different places around the world, actually. I feel it's so important to preserve our history. I mean, we have museums, we have documentation of a lot of other things, but at somewhere my fear was always at the roofing industry would be forgotten, of where it's come from and where it's heading. So, we have everything from letterheads, billheads, like I said, business cards all the way back to original ledgers, to you name it, we have it, signs. There's nothing off the table that we can find. If it's roofing related, we try to pick it up and preserve it.
Heidi Ellsworth: Well, I tell you what, Vicki and I were just talking about this yesterday. And so we want to start sharing some of your on pictures because I see them on Facebook and social media all the time. We want to start sharing some of those pictures on RoofersCoffeeShop too. So, we'll have to talk about that more after on this podcast, but yeah, it'd be fun.
John Kenney: Sure. Be happy to.
Heidi Ellsworth: I do want to really get into the consulting, that this is, I just think, like we already said, it's going to be so important for the industry. Can you talk a little bit, walk us through what's the process of if a contractor wants to get this kind of business consulting, what do they do, and then what happens?
John Kenney: Sure. Well, easy of course, is you contact us, that's the first step or email, phone, text, or however you want to get to us, through the website, we're there. So, the process, what we like to do is, is first do a consultation and find out where the contractor is and where their hotspots are or what their goals are and go from there. But usually, as in generalization, it starts out with a financial review to see where they're at, as far as their KPIs and numbers, and where they stand as far as profitability and type of work mix. So, once we do that, then we're able to work with them on either operating procedures for different departments or implementing new systems that they may want. And the biggest thing that we work on and have been very successful with and we get great contractor feedback, is we work on the efficiency of the actual contractor. And that's a little bit, even if it's on the operation side of the business or in estimating, it's not productivity, it's not closing on sales, it's the efficiency part of that, that all comes with efficiency. So, what would we show them is by working and getting your departments to be as efficiently in processes as they possibly can, the profit comes along with it. And you're running at such a better level of getting things done and people are less stressed. Your team gets to concentrate on what needs to be done and not trying to just get out of the way to get the work done. And once you start doing that, even if you put that into your field operations, you find out that if you're, say, a 75% efficiency rating and you even get that up to an 80, 85%, which is really efficient, no one can get to a hundred. It's just mathematically impossible for the cost they would do to get there. But you start to find out your bottom line, which is the most important number of any contracting, or any business for that matter, gross and everything else you have to have, but it's what's left over at the bottom that shows your success and where you're at. That goes up by a point, fairly good percentage and multiple points. So, that's where the big payback comes in and then they're able to run a better business from it and everybody benefits.
Heidi Ellsworth: Yeah, that's great. And to have the ability for that third party, you and your team, to come in and really, it's hard sometimes, I know for myself, when you're looking at your business, you have built in biases. So, it really helps to have that third party or somebody else come in with fresh eyes, with a lot of knowledge and really be able to look at that. So, have you started, do you have some examples of how this is working?
John Kenney: Yeah. I mean, we have clients in multiple parts of the country, as well as here in Florida, it depends on what they need. I mean, we're working with one company now up in the Northeast, it's pretty much from soup to nuts, as they say, right from the beginning, all the way to the end. And we're about a third of the way through the process with them and getting all their processes in place and taking them to the next level. We have a few startup companies around, that we're just showing them the basics, how to keep a watch on everything. And we have a few clients that we're doing, we do Smartsheet implementation with them as well, which is a great software for tying in all your other systems and giving you a dashboard view of how your company's performing on a daily basis, live time data. So, one of the things that I think we really bring to the table is the real world knowledge and ability of how to do this, we're not going out and trying to show another industry that we know nothing about bookkeeping or whatever, how to do their thing. We're in this, I've been in it 45 years, run companies, I've done everything from the running the kettle on the ground to labor work, all the way up to being COO and handling multiple operations in 50-plus million dollar companies. So, we've seen it, we've done it, and we know where it needs to go. So, all we want to do is take that company and not reinvent them. We want to see how they operate and we're designing a system that fits best for them, to get them where they want to be, because one thing does not fit all.
Heidi Ellsworth: Right, right. That makes so much sense. And with your experience in all these different companies, your positions running and this ... You really can, you're right, look at it, because every consultation ... I know I've done a lot of marketing consulting and the first part of it is just all questions. You have to ask a lot of questions before you can really start putting things back in place.
John Kenney: Right. And the other thing we find, like we said, one thing doesn't fit all. I've read throughout my life all kinds of books, sales, marketing, consulting, operations, and the problem with when you're not deeply involved in industry, you know doing what you do, you're deeply involved, you understand the industry. So, the services that you bring and the marketing and all the things that you do, you get what the roofer needs to do, same way with me. Problem with a lot of the other stuff that you go and buy off the books, off the shelf books and that, and learn from, and classes. They're so generic. They're trying to cover the spectrum, from whether you're a restaurant owner all the way up to somebody that may be grooming pets or whatever the deal is. So, we're really pinpointing on just what is specific to the industry.
Heidi Ellsworth: I love that. But then, of course, I know you feel the same as I do, we love roofing, so that why not stay in-
John Kenney: Yeah, we do.
Heidi Ellsworth: Yeah. We love it. Well, okay, so how does the consulting part ... Is there going to be some connections with construction law with ... Because I know Cotney Construction Law has an awesome subscription plan. I mean, you guys have been saving businesses throughout this whole COVID, I can tell you I've talked to a lot of contractors and they love you. So, how's the consulting and the construction laws, have there been any connection?
John Kenney: Yeah. We actually look at it as a partnership, especially our subscription plan holders on the law side, they get access to some of the things on the consulting side. And then we also, on the consulting, have plans as well, even though a lot of our work is customized, proposal type based upon the customer's needs. But the advantage to it is, if we have a client on the consulting side that is using us just for consulting, it usually runs hand-in-hand, they're going to have a legal issue somewhere along the way. So, it's an easy handoff to take our consulting partners over to our legal side and they get the expertise that you know so well from Cotney Law. And at the same token, the law side, when they have the customers, we're getting a lot of referrals back over onto the consulting side because usually what turns out to be a legal problem can be fixed through doing something differently in the future, or they find out, hey, I really want to expand upon different parts of my business to make them better. So, we have a great partnership between both.
Heidi Ellsworth: Yeah. And well, as you know, I've worked with Trent a lot and then I'm a big fan, but one of the things that ... Early on, I was really honest in the fact that I'm very scared of anything legal. It's one of those areas where I'm like, "Oh, I don't know." And Trent made it so easy, he makes it easy, and what I really love is the proactiveness, right? It's not just about when you get that scary lawsuit or problems with liens or whatever it may be, but it's about actually putting your business together in a way that you're being proactive to hopefully never have those problems. Whether that's good employee manuals or immigration, or whatever it may be that you're working on. So, this makes a lot of sense with what you ... Doing the consulting in conjunction with those great subscription plans where, really you're building the tools that you need for the processes that you're talking about in the consulting side.
John Kenney: Exactly. And that's what we're out there to do on both sides of the house. It's not to be there ... I mean, we're there if you're in a 911 situation, of course, we're with there on both consulting and law, always. But the whole goal, and that's where Trent and I, we've been friends for 20 years, that's why this was a good fit for us to come together. I have more respect for Trent Cotney than probably anybody else that I've ever met. And I'm so fortunate that him and I ran into each other 20 years ago, and it was at a West Coast Roofing contractors meeting. It was when he was new in the law industry and came in to one of our meetings and we hit it off from there since. But that is our goal. Our goal is to keep you from getting into trouble, giving you the guiding light to do your business the way it needs to be done, without going off the road. And if we can do that, that makes us both very happy. But like I said, we are there, if you are in a 911 situation as well, but the goal is so you never are in one of those situations.
Heidi Ellsworth: Yeah, that's good. I love that. I've really tried to live by that too, like what can I do to not get myself in that position? And Trent's helped a lot and I'm so excited that you're there working with him on this. And I love the fact that you two are constantly coming up with new ideas, and one of them that you just put out there, were those really cool trucks that were wrapped and you're planning to do onsite visits in the fall. What's up with that?
John Kenney: Yeah. We we're hoping it's still the fall, reason why we're saying that we have no idea where we're going to be social distancing or even with the COVID at that point, but that was our game plan, and we're still proceeding with that. We are going to complement that with, we're currently working on the online training as well, a little bit different than what you're used to seeing. This is going to be, again, real-world training. So, at minimum we'll at least be able to get the real world video training up and running, if we do get delayed. But we also feel, at the same time, it's a great complement to go along with that when we do onsite training. We're able then to provide the others, and part of our subscription plans, will be to provide the continuing training in different modulars, which we think will help our clientele immensely in there. But the trucks, we're excited about it. I mean, we're going to actually come out and be able to work with our subscription clients and train them. And the other part of it is we're working with, starting out here in Tampa with the West coast, they have a 501(c), which is training and education. We're going to work in conjunction with them to assist and we're going to start going around as soon as we're allowed to do that, of course. To the vo-techs and the high schools in the different areas, and start to introduce roofing specifics to them, so that they understand more about roofing. What it is, a little hands-on, like they do with other trades. And we're really going to try to do our best to promote the roofing industry at that level and get some excitement coming out of school to see what a great trade we all have.
Heidi Ellsworth: I love that. I mean, there's pockets of people who are working with the vocational schools, but as an industry, that's really just finally starting to hit with all of us this last year and the fact that you're already on it, going to do training in those vocational schools. That is awesome.
John Kenney: Yeah. And our long-range goal is to get started in the fall. And then we will have, we have offices all over the US and we will have a training center with these trucks, in every one of our offices to reach out in those marketplaces. So, again, the goal will be very good for our subscription clients in any area because we'll be able to generate that. Hopefully, that's our goal, is to generate the excitement into the roofing industry, where we can work on the workforce training and be a benefit to our clients, and getting more people interested in becoming roofers and eventually extend that out to, we're going to have an estimating academy coming soon and training estimators in the industry. And we've got to, like you say, there's never a dull moment in the Cotney organization, we're always trying to come up with new ways to get people into the roofing industry.
Heidi Ellsworth: I love that. I love that. And you know what? I've just talked to so many contractors out there who were like, "We want to get involved with our vocational schools, or our community colleges, or our construction management. We just don't know how." And by you and Trent bringing the how, this is what we've done in Florida, now you can do the same in your area. That's going to help a lot of contractors take that initial step.
John Kenney: Yes, most definitely. There's a lot going on in different segments of the industry, but I think to try to get this uniformed and really become a benefit to the clients, which we represent a huge amount of roofing contractors. We do have some others, but they're our main base. And we're looking forward to it and we have a lot of things, and I'm sure you saw too, we just got our ad out, finally, we're opening in Toronto. So, we hope to be up there working with our Canadian friends here very shortly.
Heidi Ellsworth: That is so awesome. I know. I was actually talking to some folks up in Canada just recently and I said, "Cotney's on the way, they're going to make it up there." So, I know our Canadian friends have really been looking for the same great opportunities that Cotney's provided in the US, so that's exciting. Congratulations.
John Kenney: Oh, thank you. Yeah, we're looking forward to it. Like I said, everything's in motion. We're currently seeking our team up there right now.
Heidi Ellsworth: That's great. That is great. So, along that lines, I know you have your team and I just love online estimating, online training, doing all those kinds of things. One of the things that I know you're doing right now with RoofersCoffeeShop is, you're on there, you're giving us articles, we're talking through things, which I love. You and Trent were our first Coffee Conversations, which went so great. What are you doing right now? I know on site, on the RoofersCoffeeShop, you are giving out 20 minute consultations for free, basically. Talk to our listeners just a little bit about how does that work? I mean, I know they sign up through RoofersCoffeeShop and then you get ahold of them, but what kind of things do you talk about in those consultations? Because everybody hears about them out there, right? They talk about them, but really, how does it work for you, John?
John Kenney: Sure. Yeah. And like you said, the easiest way to get ahold of us that way is on RoofersCoffeeShop and we're very pleased that you have us on there. And we did too, enjoy the first webinar that we did. That was great.
Heidi Ellsworth: Yeah.
John Kenney: What I like to do is when they contact, it's a 20 minute ... And I like to think of it as a therapy session, get to know session. A lot of times, I know if people look at it as an intake and a lot of consultants have a checklist, you got this, you got that. I don't believe in that. My thing in that 20 minutes is, I want to get to know the person on the other side of the phone or video call, we do it either way, to hear what their problems are and open up. And maybe their problem is going to be different than what I'm going to ask on a form. So I basically like to ask a few questions to get the conversation rolling, and then let them speak to me and get a lot information out of it. And then at the end we kind of close it with, "Okay, these could be your next steps. What do you think?" And they're like, "Yeah, that sounds great. Let's let's move forward." And then from there we put up a little proposal together, outlining what we feel should be the next steps. And that's where we take it from there. There's no strings attached, there's no commitment. So, it's basically, you got 20 minute, a nice conversation and I'll answer any question you ask.
Heidi Ellsworth: Yeah. I love that because I do consultations like that also, and I'm the same way, John. I want to learn, I want to hear where the pain points are. And I think also in the past, when I've talked to people, like other consultants, I want them to hear me and I want to make sure I have a good relationship. That I feel good, that they really know what they're talking about and they really know the industry. And I think everyone should do this, I think they should take advantage of these free consultations because that's how you gauge chemistry, you gauge knowledge. You just see how you feel about that person you're talking to. So, I really think they're important.
John Kenney: Right. I couldn't agree more. And to look at it more, consultant's such a scary word. People look at consultant as a lot of money, a lot of this ... And there's a lot of negativity towards it. And that's why you see in the advertisements [inaudible 00:26:21]. I'd like to be known as coach John and that's the best way ... I like to be the coach, I'm there to help you. There's nothing scary about it and it's just an open format. And I think people feel more comfortable that way. I know I do, myself, I like to have a conversation. I don't like to be rigid going down a checklist. I don't think anybody does. You don't want to feel like you're at the doctor's office filling out a medical form.
Heidi Ellsworth: Right? Exactly. No. And you don't want to ... And I agree, there's a lot of times I think the word consultant is overused. So, I agree with you a hundred percent, but I can tell everyone who's listening, John Kenney is the real deal. I am so proud to be your friend and also to work with you. You just bring so much to the industry and have given so much over the years. It's just, it's so appreciated. I'm really excited for this next step in your career and this next stage with Cotney, it's just, what a blessing to the industry.
John Kenney: Well, thank you. I appreciate the kind words and I feel the same way too. I love working with you guys and RoofersCoffeeShop and you personally, and we've known each other for a few years now and it's been great. I mean, we both have the same mission in mind, and that's given the roofing industry everything we can possibly give them.
Heidi Ellsworth: Yes, yes. I love that. Well, John, we are coming to the end of this podcast, but I just want to say thank you so much for spending time with me today, for sharing this new, exciting initiative with the industry. And I want to encourage everybody who's listening to go onto RoofersCoffeeShop. We have a Cotney Consulting directory. We have the promotions for the consultations. If you're an R-Club member it's actually 30 minute consultation, which is even cooler. And also check out, just there are so many amazing articles on the coffee shop that both Cotney Law and Cotney Construction bring to us all the time. And so, it's just a wealth of knowledge. John, thank you so much for being here today.
John Kenney: Well, thank you very much. It was fun and I enjoyed it.
Heidi Ellsworth: Thank you. And thank you everybody for listening. Please check out all of our podcasts on the Read, Listen, Watch section of rooferscoffeeshop.com. You can find Stories from the Roof, Roofing Road Trips, like today. Plus our Read, Listen, Watch podcast and our partner podcast. There are many, many ways to learn by listening and hopefully you've enjoyed this podcast today. Have a wonderful day and thank you for listening.