In today’s interview we have Chris Dyck, president and CEO of August Roofing & Solar.
| Can you please introduce yourself and maybe tell us a bit about yourself?
I’m Chris Dyck, president and CEO of August Roofing & Solar and I’ve been in the roofing business for almost 40 years. The week after I graduated high school, I started my roofing career, working on roofing homes for probably four or five years before I got my own contractor’s license. From there I kicked off my business, which I’ve been in for 32 years!
| What made you think about starting your own company? What was that initial process like for you?
Ever since I was a child, I had a dream of owning my own company. While some kids wanted to be firefighters or police officers, I simply wanted to be an entrepreneur; the industry didn’t matter much to me. When the opportunity finally arose, I was working with a large company and I approached my boss. I asked him how I could advance in my career, and he, as my superintendent, suggested getting a contractor’s license if I wanted to start my own company. So, I embarked on the journey to obtain it.
I actually held the license for maybe a year and a half before taking the leap to start my own business. It was during the midst of a recession when I decided to make the move. The company I was working for was hit hard, and work became scarce. As things slowed down, I saw an opportunity to start my own venture.
Sometimes ignorance is bliss. When you’re young, you often dive into things without overthinking, and that can lead to valuable experiences you will learn a lot from. Being small and operating at a slower pace can make you more adaptable and resourceful. I was basically a one-stop-shop – I handled the bidding, project management, and even got my hands dirty on the roof. In the beginning, it was only me and three other guys, forming a four-man crew. Those circumstances can push you to really hustle and work competitively. So sometimes, that’s the best time to take the plunge.
| How did that initial process look like for you, before you grew bigger and felt more relaxed?
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Yes, it’s hard. Running a business, whether small or large, involves a wide range of functions and responsibilities. Marketing, bidding, contracting, project execution, and billing are all integral parts of the process. It was an intense crash course for me, learning the ropes in all these areas. My background in installation of the work provided a solid foundation, but I had to teach myself the intricacies of contracts and delve into the world of marketing to generate leads. The early days were like a trial by fire, driven by the pressing need to make things work. There were times when work was at its lowest, and I remember hopping in my truck to scout for opportunities. During the initial stages, you do whatever it takes.
Even now, challenges continue to arise within the organization, and in my opinion, the true measure of leadership is defined by grit and humility. It means being willing to roll up your sleeves and take action, even if it means driving around in your truck to find new business opportunities. There’s no room for pretense; it’s about doing what needs to be done to ensure the success of the entire company.
| What about the history of the company? You must have had some ups and some downs… How did you manage to survive for so long?
Absolutely. It’s that resilience and grit that has carried me through. There were two significant downturns in my journey. After establishing my company, I experienced rapid growth, thanks in part to builders who appreciated my work from my previous job. However, I soon found myself in over my head, as most of this work was in production building with slim margins. I learned a lot during that time, and eventually, I realized I needed to shift away from that market. It wasn’t easy, and it took a toll on the organization. I had to make tough decisions, including laying off some employees, which I hated. But I rolled up my sleeves and rebuilt.
Then came the recession around 2007, the great crash, as they call it. I had just invested in a new office, set up for a team of about a dozen people. But during that recession, I had to downsize significantly. It was challenging, but it taught me valuable lessons about adaptability. Now, we’re in the process of expanding again, remodeling another office condo, and growing our team.
Life is all about experiences that teach us the next thing. While I didn’t attend college, I see myself learning every day by taking on new challenges. I also do a lot of reading to improve my leadership skills because there’s a wealth of information out there that I cannot miss. It’s a combination of grit, humility, and a commitment to constant learning that helps us defeat those setbacks that inevitably come.
| How big is your team right now?
We have a team of 60 people, including 35 field installers, three superintendents, two project coordinators, eight salespeople, and four admins in the office. We also have a production manager who handles materials and such. Additionally, I have an executive team that covers roles like sales manager, director of HR, and CFO. Javier, who has been with me for 32 years, plays a key role in the field, helping ensure everyone is performing at their best.
The goal is to make the company less dependent on me. We’re working on creating scalability in each department, so we can have marketing, sales, production, HR, and operations functions that run independently. We’re certainly achieving it in some of the areas, and striving to see that success in all of them. Growth is like surpassing layers of plateaus – you work tremendously hard to break through each one and reach new heights every time.
| Would you say you’re a big or small company? How hard is managing all these people?
It can be challenging to let go and allow others to take the reins sometimes, but it’s also a very rewarding experience. Over the past four years, I’ve had the privilege of building a great team of directors. While I’m not perfect at it, I’m improving at delegating and letting them manage their areas without me.
One of the interesting aspects of bringing others onto your team is that they often don’t do things the same way you would. It’s what makes the team stronger. I firmly believe that your greatest strength as a person can also be your greatest weakness. It’s all part of the learning and growth process.
| Talking about the company, what is it that August Roofing & Solar does?
Our primary focus as a residential roofing and repair contractor is on high-quality work for homeowners who prioritize craftsmanship. We don’t primarily engage in the production home market, which often prioritizes cost over quality. Instead, we’ve learned that our niche lies in serving customers who truly value a job well done. While we may not always be the cheapest option, we take pride in delivering exceptional results.
Our core belief centers around people – both our employees and our customers. We understand that every organization revolves around its people. Our employees play a vital role in creating a positive experience for our customers, who, in turn, provide us with the opportunity to continue doing what we do.
One of the ways we show our commitment to our team is by introducing paid days off for our installers, which is unheard of in the residential construction industry. Additionally, we began offering health insurance to our installers about a year and a half ago. We’re determined to redefine professionalism in the construction industry, even in areas where it’s not commonly practiced.
Our approach to customer service emphasizes professionalism as well. We aim to rectify common issues in the construction industry, such as discrepancies between what customers expect and what they receive. We consider our work as critical as that of doctors or lawyers because we keep your loved ones safe and protected from the elements, preventing issues like mold growth and water damage to your home. Our goal is to provide top-notch service and redefine standards in this industry.
| So, can we say that’s something that separates you from the competition? That’s something customers might choose you for, over someone else?
Absolutely. I’ve learned a fundamental truth in the construction industry: there’s a customer for every type of contractor. Contractors range from those who prioritize cost-cutting to those who focus on delivering a premium product and peace of mind. Customers also vary in their preferences, with some seeking the lowest price and others valuing quality and reliability above all else. Recognizing and understanding your niche, committing to it, and feeling confident in your approach is key. It allows you to align your services with the right customer base, those who appreciate the quality of service you bring to the table. Finding those customers who fit your niche is essential for long-term success in any industry.
| I see on your website, it says that in 2019 you started adding the solar system design. Is that something customers told you they wanted? Or is it something that you wanted to try?
Our journey into the solar industry began before 2015, but it wasn’t until then that we fully embraced it. Up until that point, solar and roofing were typically separate services. However, in 2015, we experienced a significant influx of calls from customers with solar systems who were dealing with roofing issues due to heavy rain and defective installation. This prompted us to consider getting involved in the solar business.
Around this time, a close friend with extensive experience in the roofing and solar industries joined our team. He had worked in various roles within the solar sector, including sales, design, manufacturing, and contracting. He had grown disillusioned with how some solar contractors treated their employees and customers. Given his expertise and dedication, we encouraged him to come work for us. This marked the birth of August Roofing & Solar, where we not only handled existing solar systems but also began marketing and installing new solar systems. Our goal was to provide a complete package, addressing all roofing and solar needs for our customers.
We’ve gradually built up our solar installation capabilities, including a dedicated van and multiple crews. We even started cross-training our roofing teams to handle some solar-related tasks. Our expertise lies in properly attaching solar systems to the roof deck and executing proper flashing to ensure the longevity of both the roofing and solar systems. While our roofing division is larger than our solar division, we excel in both areas, offering customers a valuable one-contractor solution. This means that customers have a single point of contact for both roofing and solar services, creating a seamless experience.
Additionally, we take pride in being able to handle customers with existing solar systems. In the early days of the solar boom, little attention was paid to the condition of the roofs that solar panels were being installed on. Today, the industry is more aware of the importance of a solid roof. We’re among the few roofers who can confidently say, “We’ve got it all covered. We can handle your roofing and solar needs.”
| What are your plans for the future of the company? Do you want to grow the solar side a bit more or just want to grow overall?
Our focus on growth is aimed at our roofing and solar divisions together, given the vast market opportunities in Southern California. With such a large population and numerous homes in the region, there’s ample room for expansion in both areas. While we aim to grow both services, there’s a particular emphasis on accelerating the growth of our solar division. Over the past year, we’ve made significant investments in building a process-driven solar installation team. This includes acquiring trucks, tools, and other resources to enhance our operations. We’re now well-prepared to handle increased sales and installations.
We want to pave a smoother pathway that not only uplifts our team but also offers unparalleled value to our customers. With a foundation built on expertise and a commitment to quality, we’re actively establishing a more streamlined process that will benefit everyone. At the heart of it all, we plan to continue delivering excellence while strengthening the infrastructure and strategies needed to support our growth, especially within the solar industry.