“The millennial generation is aging out. COVID changed this generation, by seeing more relationships, houses being bought, and staying in houses.” – Jim Ziminski, President of Crane Renovation Group

Crane Renovation Group, founded in 1947, operates in the residential roofing space as Mr. Roof and Able Roof. Together, they create one of the most respected roof and exterior service companies in the country. Listen to how Crane Renovation Group plans to reshape 2021 from what they’ve learned in 2020. Check out more Built Better episodes on Spotify and Apple Podcasts.

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Intro: Built Better, the podcast for home improvement contractors by Modernize Home Services.

Dom Pucci: Welcome to BuiltBetter, a podcast by Modernize Home Services where we explore and highlight trends and topics around contractor marketing. I’m Don Pucci, Director of Account Management, and your cohost by my side is always is co-founder of Modernize, Mr. Chris Pallatroni. Well, Mr. Pallatroni, it is the beginning of 2021, and it’s our first podcast recording of the year. It’s also inauguration day, so a little political color there. So, we’ll probably release this a little bit after the inauguration day. So, I hope everything went well? But how are you feeling today?

Chris Pallatroni: I’m feeling great. Yeah. I’m out here in Northern California. It’s a sunny day, a little brisk, but, as you said, such a monumental day, so I was able to kind of tuck away a little bit and, yeah, paid tribute to the changing of the president, which was great to see. 

Dom Pucci: Yeah, you know, I think in 2021, it feels pretty much the same as 2020, but it’s interesting how the home improvement industry has fared throughout that time. It’s a little bit different, you know, for this industry versus other industries, fortunatelyso we’re going to dive into that a little bit today. In today’s episode, we’re actually going to talk to the amazing Jim Ziminski.

He’s president of Crane Renovation Group. We’re going to talk all about what we’ve learned from the 2020 breakdown and the opportunities at hand that really flipped the script for 2021 and just to drive growth for home improvement businesses out there. Just to give you a little background on the Crane Renovation Group, for those of you who aren’t familiar, Crane Renovation Group was founded in 1947, and they operate in their residential roofing space as Mr. Roof and Able Roof.

So together, they create one of the most respected roof and exterior service companies in the country. Very fortunate to have Jim Ziminski with us today. He’s got decades of experience in the home improvement industry. Jim joined Crane Renovation Group in 2000 as VP of Sales and Marketing for their siding group. And in 2014, Jim joined Crane Renovation Group as president and with huge success in sales, marketing, and leadership. Jim has helped build a framework for the entire roofing industry. So, I want to bring Jim in. Jim, how are you doing today on this glorious day in January of 2021? 

Jim Ziminski: It’s good to see both of you on the screen here. And, it’s been a while as it has with so many friends in 2020, right? We have zoom meetings, or we have phone calls, but we don’t get to physically meet, and, so, it’s kind of par for the year, but we’ve all learned how to do business under those parameters.

Dom Pucci: That is very true. I will say I do miss going out to meet our customers. Jim, you’re one of my favorite guys to visit. We always have lively conversations over dinner, and you’ve got a great office facility, and it’s always really fun to see the whole group over there. And, I think, pretty soon, we’ll be able to get back to it, but yeah, I do feel pretty good about it. So, I don’t want to harp too much on it, butdefinitely appreciate you being here and, good to see you at least virtually, although the listeners can only listen to you.

So, I wanted to kind of dive into it because we don’t have too much time today. So, you know, COVID-19, it isn’t over, it’s a recurring topic on the show because, you know, it’s affected the entire globe, obviously, but I want to just break down if you could, your experience of 2020 as a leader within the industry.  What would you consider your biggest strategy pivot of 2020, if any?

Jim Ziminski: Well, you know, it’s funny one of my favorite quotes, someone asked me the other day, and I said, it’s from Mike Tyson. You know, everybody has a plan till they get punched in the mouth. And so, we had what we thought was a pretty darn good plan in 2020, and then boom, you know, COVID hit. And it was like, holy moly. What does this mean for our business?

I would say the biggest pivot initially was when we had brought a new person on, at a high level on HR, and we made him in charge of the COVID crisis within weeks of getting here, and it became apparent, we needed one person to be the point person because we operate in about almost 20 States. And so, as you guys know, all those regulations and rules are different in every state.

And we had people calling in, you know, daily, asking, Can we do business? Are we out of business? What’s going on? And some of it was not reality. And some of it was just, you know, the media and wherever they were getting information from everywhere, Facebook, online, Twitter, you name itand, so we had to cut through that and get to reality. And by appointing this person to centralize all COVID communication, that helped us immensely. 

We then hired an agency, legal agency that specializes in roofing, and we said, “hey, we need you to make sure we’re safe in every state that we operate. And in fact, we’d like you to draft a letter for us, that our people can keep in their vehicles in case they are stopped that says, no, we are in fact, an essential business, moving forward. 

And the other thing I think that was kind of interestingly beneficial to us was is our vision. And I’ll read it to you really quickly. It says, leading the evolution of our industry, achieving significant growth and improving a bond, the basic human need of shelter. And we set that out because we don’t think we’re just a roofing company. We think, in fact, we are providing a basic human need, and that is shelter.

I know you guys like the outdoors. I love them. And you watch these outdoor survival shows. And one of the first things I always tell them is, don’t look for food, don’t get water, build a shelter to survive the night.” So, shelter is, in fact, the basic human need. And, when all the regulations came down, it was easy-ish to tell our people, look, we are basic human need, and here’s how it’s falling. 

We are, in fact, safe to continue to do business. So, I think the first thing was to give people confidence that we’re not closing up the shop. I know some people that did, and unfortunately, there are some people that had really great businesses and just top industries, restaurants, entertainment, sports that boy they’ve really suffered. So, we were fortunate to be in a good space. And then we quickly made sure we had a plan to do business in that space.

That was number one. And then it was like, okay, what’s changing within that space, you know? And we started, of course, like most people probably projecting, “oh my gosh, we’re going to have lower revenues,” you know, what does this mean for our business? And the first thing we saw was we’re fairly heavy into show and events. 

We like to do those. They give you localized branding and, you know, tie into the community. And obviously, those things came to a screeching halt. So, all of a sudden, it’s like, we’re not going to get opportunities through shows and events. What do we do? So, we obviously spend a bit more on digital, but we also looked to our friends at Modernize and said“hey guys, we need you to fill a void here. We’re missing a really valuable lead or opportunity source called shows an event. 

So, Modernize really was helpful to us. That’s one of the things we really like about you guys is the ability to shift rather quickly. That was very helpful to us in this process. And I’d say the third thing, just from a general standpoint, that we did was we made a commitment to double down on our core values. 

They’re very important to us. And, in times of chaos, they don’t go away. In fact, they’re stronger. So, we formed what we call “The Core Value Ambassador Program. So, we have an ambassador in each location. I chair that along with some of our key people in HR, and we meet every other week, and we talk about our core values, and we have a core value for each quarter. So, the first one is to respect everyone. And there’s more detail to that. The second core value is to achieve a sense of family. The third one is to give back to the community, and the fourth one is to be forwardthinking. So, some of the highlights we met and said, “hey, how can we give back to the community when nobody can really get out and do anything?” 

And one of our people came up with a concept. They knew someone, and we donated and got involved with Soles for Souls. I don’t know if you’re familiar with that, but they donate shoes to needy people in most foreign countries. And, we felt like, hey, this is an opportunity,” we have over 300 employees. If everybody just got a couple of pairs— they’re at home, this company will come to pick them up from your home. You don’t have to go out in public.

It’s a kind of a COVIDfriendly way to give back. And so, we said, we’ll do that with a target ofI think it was a thousand we wanted to give, — and we ended up giving over 4,000, shoes and items. So that was really a big win. And, you know, we celebrate that, and it makes people feel good, like, hey, we’re doing something, conversely right before COVID. The tornadoes in Nashville rip through. 

And unfortunately, our Mr. Roof facility was torn to shreds, uninhabitable, thank goodness. No one was in it. It was in the evening, but we didn’t have a place to do business. We’re not just Mr. Roof and Able, as you know, Dom, and Chris, we are also Contractors Incorporated as part of Crane Renovation Group, and, so, we partnered with our company, Contractors Inc, and said, “hey, we need to do business. And they said, come over and we’ll welcome you. 

And within two days, we were back in business, putting roofs on and serving the needs of those people who got, you know, kind of decimated in the Nashville market. And then, we later made a large donation to Operation Barbecue. They come in, and they provide hotcooked meals for those in need, not only for those that lost their homes but for the first responders as well. So, we made a very large donation to them and, you know, again, that was a real feel-good thing, so that was important to us. 

You know, I’d say the last thing we did that we had in our forward thinking plan, as you guys know, we always like to be kind of progressive and forward-thinking, we had what we called the Forward-Thinking Fund, and we wanted to give away scholarships to people who had a career advancement, and that might be going to college, it might be going to trade school, it might be someone who was incarcerated, trying to get back in the workforce. It might be someone exiting the military, trying to get back to civilian life. And so, we told people, look, if you have something that you think you’re doing is forward-thinking,” — and we solicit it. 

And we got, I think it was about 60 applicants for six scholarships. And we ended up giving out six scholarships, which was really cool, to a very varied group of individuals. And we feel like that’s important to give back, but it’s also important because, you know, they spread the word about, wow, this is a great company. And we’re like, hey, we want to follow your career. And if it ever crossed paths with us, great, if it doesn’t, we did something good for someone. So that was really important to kind of get people focused and set the tone on the kind of company we are in good times and in bad, and crisis in a not crisis. So, I think that helped us a lot early on. 

Chris Pallatroni: Yeah, Jim, I love the different layers of contribution. I don’t think I’ve heard quite all those stories, so that’s awesome. I can’t help but think, and, you know, I think of our company and just a lot of different companies that I’m pretty close with, and, you know, you had mentioned something early on about your vision of evolvingand kind of staying at the cutting edge and, you know, part of evolving, I can’t help, but naturally think of adaption, right?

Like you have to be able to adapt. And I’m curious if you could just speak to a little bitI see some correlations in the examples you’ve given, — but if you could speak a little bit too, like, how did you as an organization deal with all the emotion of all the people that you work with? I mean, there’s just so much, and it’s continuously dripping on us and probably more so in the last 12 months. 

And I think we’ve experienced that in the previous five to 10 years. And so, I see things you’re doing that touch on that, but I’d love for you to speak directly to it. Cause I think anybody listening is dealing with an overwhelming amount of emotion from people these days.

Jim Ziminski: Yeah, no doubt. No doubt. It’s a good question, Chris. You know, we initially sat down as a leadership group and, you know, —listen, everybody’s got their own personal opinions on politics, on COVID on all this. And, what we said is, look, we can’t allow personal opinions to interfere with how people feel. 

Some people in the company might feel this whole thing is bogus. Some people might be scared to death of this whole thing. And there are most people somewhere in the middle, right? But we have to respect every individual’s feelings. I can’t tell you how to feel. You feel the way you feel. 

So, we said, we have got to provide a safe work environment for our people. So that meant, in many cases, work from home. And we had to figure that out rapidly. Cause there was some skepticism like, “oh my God, are these people going to be working? Are they going to be screwing off?”

You know, the typical stuff you heard. And we figured out that long goal, we can work from home and do it quite well. At one point, we got to the point, and we said, we need to start bringing people back in, you know, cause some things are missing, and we have a safe environment. 

So, we worked really hard to have a safe environment, you know, additional six feet hand cleaning stations, you know, signs everywhere, taking chairs out of conference rooms, so there couldn’t be too many people. You said you like coming into our building. Now one of the things we did last year was building a brand new interior kitchen living break room, kind of this really cool space, but we did the outdoor patio first. 

And I like to tell you; we were brilliant because of COVID. We just got lucky. That was what we had in line first. And it provided an outdoor space that was really important to people. So, we wanted to make sure people felt safe, and we really had to educate our people, and it wasn’t that hard, but we had to say, look, your personal opinions have to stay personal.

You have to respect that different people feel different ways about this. And number one is many people right now in the world are not feeling secure or safe. They need to feel secure and safe when they come to this office and work or do it virtually. And so, we really put a big focus on that. And we doubled down early when, before it was like some federal mandates, we said, listen, we are going to provide, additional hours of PTO to our workers because one of the big things that everybody was worried about early on is how am I going to take care of my kids if they’re homeschooled?” 

And we started hearing this, and we’ve got this vibe, and we’re like, look, some people are going to need additional PTO. We need to provide this. And so we got out in front of that curve and provided it. And I think it gave us a lot of credibility with our people like, hey, we’re not going to abandon them. We’re all in this together. 

Again, I think that’s really important for them to know, and we stressed a lot, “look, we’re fortunate to be in a business that is still doing relatively well compared to these others, and we should be thankful for that. You know, it’s a pain in the neck. There are some things, but you have a job, you know, we’re not cutting your pay. We’re not doing all these different things we hear other companies doing. We’re giving you extra PTO. We’re continuing on with profit sharing.

And so I think that stuff, Chris, was really important, and I guess the word I would use is safe. Just that they felt safe. I got a job, I’m in a good company with good people that care about me as an individual and my family, and I feel safe here. You know, I think that was the keyword for us. 

Dom Pucci: Yeah. Jim, thanks for that. I mean, you know, just kind of backing up a little bit. To me, through these types of relationships that we have with our customers, you know, you get to see all the different personalities and all the different types of ways people go to market and people run their business. Right? 

And it just feels good to be able to talk to folks that, you know, really live out their values, and you know, are pretty consistent. And the point that you made, I think, really resonated with me; it’s this pandemic and a lot of ways, it really just shined a light on how those values are actually likewhat do the companies really care about? And you show it when you meet adversity, you know, and congrats to you guys for living that out. That’s really awesome

Jim Ziminski: We certainly tried our best. I’m not saying we did everything perfectly, but we were pretty overall good. 

Dom Pucci: Yeah. Nobody’s perfect. My wife will tell you that, you know. It’s just one of my biggest takeaways of 2020It’s that man. Ireally just shines a light on how you conduct yourself. If you’re a negative person, you’re gonna be super negative. But if you’re a positive person, you can really help a lot of people with that positivity. And you know, you’ve got a lot of people depending on you specifically to see them through that stuff. Not to bro out with you too much, but it just feels good to talk to a leader like that.

Jim Ziminski: No, thank you. We tried to look at the overall, like what does this mean from our business in the future and trends and all that sort of stuff. So, you know, I always like to look at a macro level what’s going on. And certainly, some trends began to emerge. 

One for sure is that there is more value than ever placed in the home. The home is a safe space. The home is the office. The home is the school. The home is more today than it was 12 months ago. And it is to everyone. And so we recognize that and what we saw, not only that, but obviously we didn’t get to go out and see live music. We didn’t get to go to restaurants, and we didn’t get to travel.

So we had more savings. And what did people do? Let’s go ahead and, you know, put that roof on; let’s go ahead and fix that patio and have a nice outdoor living space. Let’s go ahead and blow out the kitchen, whatever, you know, so definitely the spend on home improvements increased, or I should say the attention to it increased, and we think that’s a trend that’s gonna continue for a while. So that was certainly one of the takeaways. 

Another major one that we saw was thatand we watched demographics a lot— and the millennial generation was a generation that I guess launched later than previous generations, you know, they didn’t form families and households ayoung of an age as previous generations, but they were kind of aging out. And now I think one because of the aging to the, where they were at the point where, you know, they are getting married, they are starting families. 

Some of it’s just pure demographic, you know, aging, but the other piece is what did COVID do to that? COVID changed it. It’s not as probably fun, I don’t know, but to be a single person roaming around in COVID as it was a year ago. So, hey, we saw more relationships form and more households stay.

We saw more young people begin to buy homes partially because of the time, but also they wanted to know. So there was this big movement to downtown urban I can walk and do and everything. And all of a sudden, I didn’t look so attractive because of COVID, and in some cases, people were nervous about social unrest and what have you. And so there was a bit of a flight by the millennials to single-family homes and somewhat to the suburbs.  

And, I’ve been in the industry for many, many years, well I’ll age myself, but 35 years I’ve been doing this, you know, more now. But, what’s interesting is it’s kind of always been the same way. Most remodeling occurs within 18 months of a sale of a home on either side. So if you’re getting ready to sell your home, you start remodeling it, then you sell it. And if you buy a home, you remodel it, right? You do all the work upfront. And so that equates really well for the remodeling industry.

And so we watched that trend quite a bit. And I would say the other major trend is the older generation that was maybe less technologically advanced. So we always watch millennials, and we’re always like, “hey, when are they going to really take over and change the process?”  

That hasn’t completely happened yet, but what has happened, I think almost in some ways more than that, is that the older generation has adapted to technology because they were forced to. If they wanted to talk to their grandkids, they needed to learn how to get on Zoom or Google Meets or whatever the case may be, or they weren’t going to do that.

I saw an interesting interview with Sanjay Gupta, and he was talking about medical appointments, and he’s like, look, the technology to do this sort of thing—like we’re doing talking, you know, be the computer has been there for many years. What’s not been there is humans’ willingness to do it. Now that’s changed. There is a willingness to do it. You know, I had a recent doctor appointment, and the doctor was like, “Hey, do you want to come in?”  

And I’m like, “no, why would I want to do that?” Like, I want to wait in your office for 45 minutes while you’re running behind. I can just do this. And, you know, Zoom in. We give almost a more personal interaction unless you’re drawing blood or something; I don’t need to be there. And so I think there’s more of a willingness. And so you not only have these millennials coming of age that is more technologically advanced, you have this older generation that was forced to become more technologically advanced. And so we’re really taking a hard look and saying, “what does that mean for the future of our industry?” 

Dom Pucci: Yeah. That’s a great point that you make. The millennials are pretty good at technology, but speaking from a millennial myself, my mom, not so good, sorry, mom, but she’s 70 and man, I’ll tell you what, she actually knows how to work her iPhone right now, which is great.  

Jim Ziminski: She is better today than she was a year ago, right?

Dom Pucci: Oh, way better. I used to get text messages or calls, you know, I always say, “hey, can you text first?” Cause I’m on calls all the time at work, you know? But now I get text messages now, less frequently, asking how she gets into her email. So that’s a super win for me, but I think, you know what you just said, I’m kind of the embodiment of that. You know, I’m maybe aging myself, but 35. So I’ve been alive for as long as you’ve been in the industry, Jim. 

But my wife and I were talking about it, and it’s like, man, we bought a house three years ago, and we in October of last year, 2019, we redid our outside. We did our deck, and man COVID happened a few months later. And if we didn’t do that, life would be rough. And we’re talking about, you know, being in a one-bedroom apartment before that 700 square feet.

Granted, it was right on our Greenbelt space, but you know, I mean, what would life have been like, just if we had moved to Austin during the pandemic, or, you know, whatever it happened, right? I mean, we see firsthand the need for home improvement business, and yeah, I’m echoing that sentiment a hundred percent. I mean, we just see that. 

Jim Ziminski: I think about, you know, education, and in my mind, it is forever changed. I’ve got older kids who’ve graduated, and I’ve got seven-year-old twins, by the way, so I’m living that whole, hybrid homeschooling, and now, next week, we are going back to full-time and watching how it works.

They’re young enough that it actually works pretty well. They are computer savvy and all that, but, some of those kids in middle school and up, it’s probably a lot more challenging—the social interaction and all,— and of course, having twins is kind of neat because they have each other all the time. They’re not alone, but I think the educational system will change because more and more things are going to be done virtually and online. And so, you think about that generation that’s high school, even college, that’s all online.   

Now my son works for us, and he got his master’s at John Hopkins in GIS, and he’s never been there. No desire to go there. He did the whole thing online, you know, and I think you’re going to see more and more and more of that. And then you take that population into the workplace, and obviously, they’re going to do things differently in the workplace, but you also take that population and make them homeowners, and they’re going to want to do things differently than previous generations, for sure. 

Dom Pucci: Yeah. I always knew your son, Andrewwas a smarty pants. So now we’ve confirmed that.

Chris Pallatroni: Yeah. You brought up an interesting thing that I just want to kind of highlight. And you mentioned with the change, the kind of the force of the reality of COVID with the will of people wanting to change in some regard. And, I look at that on a more macro level. And once again, we all got forced to do it together, right? 

So the whole planet– and when I say change, change means a lot of different things to a lot of different people, right? And the construction industry it meant virtual sales in some ways. And, change is so different for everybody. I think what I took away from this is that outlook and throughout life, be it the financial crash and the mid-2000’s, or be it this, or God knows what’s ahead of us, is that inevitably there will be obstacles we’re going to face. 

And we’re going to go through hardship one way or another. Like, that’s just the inevitable part of life. My hope is that everybody can look back at this and be it at a construction company or just the general population is that we can face really tough stuff, like really tough stuff.

I remember how I felt two weeks into this. I’m not going to sugarcoat it. I thought we were going down, Dom. I’m not going to say there’s a meteor coming at us, but I was like, “are you kidding me?” I mean, like, everything’s getting canceled. Who had the foresight to be like, well, people will invest in their homes, and this industry will be like—you don’t have that type of foresight.  

But I think the point being is that talking about the older generation and,  we have some family members that are teachers, and I think education is forever changed and in such a positive way. You see people that were very frustrated in the very beginning, I mean, beyond frustrated. I mean, to the point where teachers quit jobs, But then those that kind of got acclimated to it and adapted to some of the technology, and new stuff came on the market.

They can look at that, and they can look back and now have a new appreciation for the current reality. And, the point I’m really just trying to break is that if you can remember in your most trying times, the feeling you have of almost being overwhelmed, and then you can make it through that. And then you can look back at that moment and be like, it’s not something that you shouldn’t be worried, but that you’re capable of dealing with that. And I think that is a really powerful lesson for any company out there listening. 

Jim Ziminski: Yeah. You know, Dom, you mentioned siding. When I was president of the siding company, back in ’06 – ’07, we were grown and going, and we were just the hot stars of the industry with insulated solid core siding and all this great stuff, and then boom, the financial crisis hit.

And, oh my gosh, that was a harsh lesson in reality in what we needed to do to survive. And, you take some of that, Chris, when it comes to this, and you go, “hey, what do we do there that’s similar here? What’s different?”

And what is the same as the leadership teams that remain calm, look at what’s going on and develop a plan and communicate consistently with our people. We were communicating like daily or weekly at the very least, and honestly, I think do the best cause people want to hear from the leaders at that point in time, “what’s going on and do we have a plan?”

And so, you know, you develop a plan. I think we did that reasonably well. In fact, at the end of the year, we just recently promoted Ryan Hugie, whom we brought on about two years ago, to kind of oversee and run Mr. Roof and Able. We promoted him as the president of Mr. Roof and Able. So, that’s been a big move to say, “Ryan, you know, take the reigns and go even further with this business,” which is exciting. And then we did the same on the commercial side.

We had brought in a gentleman, Drew Venommeyer, on our commercial business a little over two years ago. And the same thing, both of those leaders prove their leadership skills and mental through this crisis. And now Drew’s president of Contractors Incorporated. So, you know, that enables me to do more futuristic things, focus on core values and, those guys are more or less running the business now, which is really cool because they have different skill sets than I do, and it was time to let some of those things, flourish as well. 

I’ve been through other crises, and all you’ll learn that we have to, as leaders, have to bring people in that are every bit as good or better than us. And then you got to give them some space because they want some space to operate, right? They don’t want someone breathing down their neck all the time. And so I think that that’s a lesson I’ve learned, and I’ve seen it from Tanny Crane, who’s the CEO of Crane Group.

She’s always giving me space, and I’m sure at times thought, “oh my gosh, Jim’s got another crazy idea,” and most of them worked out and some didn’t, but you know, you have to have some space to be able to try things. And if you’re going to innovate and be forward-thinking, that means you’re going to fail sometimes, and you almost have to reward that, and business, in general, doesn’t reward that. They kind of look down and say, “oh, you tried this and failed.” 

Well, to me, it’s like, as long as it wasn’t a massive failure that puts you out of business. That’s probably a good lesson because you won’t make that mistake again. And so we’re trying to foster that environment.

This last year was maybe a little challenging to do that cause it was in kind of crisis mode, and the plane’s going down, and you have to be a little bit more directive on what you want to be able to do. If you’re familiar with the situational leadership model, it’s different, and in every situation when there’s a crisis, you got to kind of take command a little bit. We have to work on that. Hey, we want to try stuff. We want to encourage that. So, we are trying to do some of those things. 

Now we had a program last year with Ohio State University with their MBAs. We liked what they did for our commercial side, and we asked them to do one on our residential side. And, they’re like, “what are we doing? And what’s the process.” I said, “look, the people on this call, and then you, all have a responsibility, and it’s called to volume and profitability.” You don’t, so you’re not in the innovator’s dilemma.

It’s tough to innovate when you are responsible for results. And so I think it’s important to encourage people who are not innovative to kind of think outside the box and challenge themselves. And that’s sometimes hard for leaders. They want more define models, and innovation can be a little messy. You almost have to allow and encourage that. And it’s taken me a while. I’ve always been a forward-thinking, innovative guy, but I’ve learned that not everybody is. And so, teaching that skill and nurturing takes time. 

Dom Pucci: Yeah, Jim, that really resonates with me. I mean, one of the reasons that I love doing this podcast is because you get to talk to people with different mindsets and different philosophies, but there always seems to be a parallel and a common thread with great leaders, right?

And I kind of think back to something that you said, something that our old CEO, Jason Polka said, at one of our all-hands meetings, when he was describing his management philosophy, he said, “one of the main things that you can do is hire great people that you’re confident in. And then, as a manager, let them work, let them do what they were hired to do, and try to remove all the input, the obstructions from letting them do their job.” And the other thing is, “hey if we’re going to fail, let’s fail fast and let’s learn from it and let’s get back on the road.”

So those two things, I mean, are definitely hallmarks of great leadership. And I definitely appreciate it. I appreciate that about you guys. The other thing that you said, just kind of having that calm hand, and it seems like the common thread also is organizations that seem to be very data-driven, you know, make the decision on objective decisions versus subjective seem to be the folks that have that steady hand and have that calmness because they can really justify the actions more so than just that kind of gut feeling. Do you feel that way? 

Jim Ziminski: I do. And you guys know Kirk Raven, our VP of Marketing, he’s always been that data-driven guy. So, early on, when we got connected with Modernize, there were plenty of people in our organization that was skeptical of the program and the quality of the leads.

And Kirk’s like, “look, here’s the data. This is what the data says. And the data says you have to respond in this amount of time, and you have to take this many opportunities and create them into real leads. And out of the leads you have to close at this ratio. And if all those things happen, then it is a great program for us. If those things don’t, it’s not.” And so, you know, we didn’t listen to a lot of the noise from sellers and other people. I mean, the TV lead is like in the old days, was the cream puff lead someone called it.

Everybody wanted TV leads. The problem is fewer people are watching TV, and the leads are becoming more and more expensive. And so it’s not a reliable long-term lead source. That’s why we diversified and went to Modernize and digital and went to shows and events, and what have you, but Kirk was data-driven.

And we believe that moving forward, as we expand and go to more locations, one of the things we will have as like, maybe a competitive advantage is just more data than other people. If you have data and you’re not analyzing it and making decisions better and faster, then it’s not worth collecting. I think in my opinion, you have to do something with it, and does it cause us to see a pattern faster than someone else? Hopefully, it does. 

And hopefully, we react quickly. We’re still quite frankly learning that is not a natural skill for a home improvement company and for a roofing company. And so we have people that are data-driven. I would tell you, in our marketing group, our digital group is very data-driven than others. We’re getting there.

In fact, I’m in the midst of a project right now on saying, “hey, we want to expand, what data do we look at when we go to markets? What data should we look at when we go to markets?” And so we’re trying to pull that together right now and say, “hey, how can we make the best possible decision?” The same thing goes with hiring. You know, we’re really, really big on this profiling, called the Hogan. 

You’ve probably heard of Meyers Briggs and others. I mean, they’re the good ones that are statistically accurate. And eventually, if you start to look at your higher performers and you say, hey, they fit into this kind of mold, those are the types of individuals that seem to do well in our organization.

You can kind of almost bat a lot of it in the interview process and make sure that you’re hiring people that fit your culture. And that’s the other thing. That’s why we have core value ambassadors. When we talk about that with people in an interview process, you can almost tell if they think this is a crock of BS or this is really exciting.

And I would tell you, the vast majority say, this is exciting because you know, our space, they don’t see or hear as much of that, you know, in your guys’ world, out in tech world and California, and in Austin, there’s more of that in our space. 

There’s maybe a little less of that. And so we think that’s a competitive advantage that we not only talk about with them but that we live those core values. So we’ve actually had people we’ve recruited that they didn’t want to join a roofing company. And once they kind of met our team, heard what we’re doing, heard about our core values, all of a sudden, they’re like I can get over this, you know, and now they want to stay, you know, and it’s pretty cool. So I think it’s data that can drive that. Yeah, I think it does. 

Dom Pucci: That is one of the interesting things about talking to contractors in different parts of the country. You see the different levels that people kind of picked up from different industries.

One of the fun things I love about doing this is just explaining our process and how we hire people. And some of the things that we do to keep our, our teams engaged and man, our process for hiring it takes weeks, literally.

I mean, we have an initial phone screen with a recruiter, then you will phone screen with the hiring manager, and then you’ll phone screen maybe with the VP. And then you’ll do a round table interview, which we’ll have. We’ll put you through like four or five different interviews, 45 minutes each. And then, once that is done, we have you do a demo if you’re on the sales team. And then, we get together, and we score you based on some objective things and subjective things.

And then, at that point, then we’re ready to make the offer. But the cool thing about that process is that you get to touch and meet so many different people in the organization, and you get to see how people live out the values, and you get to kind of interview the company that you’re about to work for. And our retention rates of employees has been probably four or five X. And what does that do?

Well, that reduces our cost of acquisition. The retention saves you money over time, and it keeps continuity in your culture, all those different things. So a lesson for the home improvement industry, if you could take anything from the tech industry, is that really pay attention to the hiring process and revamp or take a look at what you currently do. Try to get people in. And they’re going to last a long time for you, and having those conversations is definitely one of the most fun parts of my job, just because it seems so foreign to a lot of folks in the home improvement space. 

Jim Ziminski: Yeah. And it’s funny because our people are always like, “hey, we need more good people.” We struggle with finding them, and we have work to do there still. We tell a really awesome story at our home base, and it’s not quite as strong as some of the satellites, you know?

So how do we make it every bit as strong regardless of where the person is. And, I think again, doing this sort of stuff is a manner where it doesn’t matter where they are. That’s why, whenever I talked to you or Chris, I’m always like, “hey, what are you guys seeing? What are you hearing? What are other people doing? What’s on the fringes?” Cause that’s where the innovation comes from usually, right?

It’s not from the big boys. Usually, it’s from somebody on the outside that’s entering the space and going, “I can’t believe they do it this way.” So we’re constantly trying to see that. Unfortunately, we haven’t been able to go to some of these events, you know, like Best to Success and others– they’re just not having them. But we did join a contracting group called ECA, which is stands for Exterior Contractor Alliance.

And that’s the largest group of higher-level roofing contractors in the country. I’m a founding member, and I’m on the board and one of the largest members at this point in time. I think what’s important is that a lot of smaller companies that maybe are doing and trying different stuff we can learn from. This organization started 20 years ago in the flooring industryand they were, you know, they have like one in three commercial floors installed. 

And then they got into the cabinets and kitchens and then recently roofing. And so I have high expectations for what this could do for us in the future. The challenge is we haven’t been able to get together and physically meet everybody yet. And that’s kind of where the magic occurs. When you even go out, have dinner, maybe have an adult beverage and learn a little bit about the individual and about their business. And it’s just harder to do online, not possible, but harder.

We’re always trying that sort of different stuff to see what’s the next great thing. And, maybe there’s someone that has a great idea, and they don’t have the financial wherewithal to see it through, or they don’t have the talent depth or something, and they may want to join forces with us. We’re always looking for that. So, by the way, if you guys know anyone in that category, send them our way. We’d love to talk to them. 

Dom Pucci: You got it, Jim, you know, we’re always matchmaking. I think IRE is doing a virtual show this year? Are you all participating in that?

Jim Ziminski: I think they areand we’re not continuing to show or all, but we’ll go to the events and things like that. Sure.

Dom Pucci: Yeah. It’s gonna be interesting to see how much longer this all lasts and just what sticks from this time and this era.

Jim Ziminski: Yeah. We’ll probably see one-third of the amount you’ve seen in the past. Many won’t make it. It’s interesting in our commercial space; so many of our leads are generated through apartment shows and things like that, and they’re not happening. And so it’s like that group, that business development group had to like really pivot.

They were in-person meet and greet people, and man, oh man, you talk about a tough challenge to pivot. And it took a while, and they’ve done a really good job, but it was not easy, you know? Cause they were in-person people, if you will, you know, and you have to pivot because those shows, in many cases, are not coming back.

They’re expensive, you know and think about just all the people who have to fly there and set up booths and hotels. And it almost sounds antiquated, you know, and, and the biggest and the best of those will survive. But many won’t.

Chris Pallatroni: You mentioned a point a minute ago, and it’s been, it’s been on my mind as you’ve been talking for the last couple of questions, and I’m glad you brought it up because you said something to the effect of as you were talking about your team members, that the magic happens when you’re in person.

And I absolutely realized, you know, COVID opened up the door to all this tech. And I think in a lot of ways it’s going to better the world. I pay a lot of attention to corporate development and like working and the future of the workplace if you will. And you know, what I hear a lot of, and it makes complete sense, is for those companies that want to remain innovative in the long run. Innovation is done through proximity.

It’s not done through a Zoom call, or at least we haven’t mastered how to do it through a Zoom call. I talk with Dom about this, and I’m very aware of it with our team and even culture. It’s really, really challenging to develop culture over Zoom. It’s nothing like grabbing a cup of coffee with Dom and, you know, seeing Maryann and, all of that. Like you have to have that proximity. 

So I would just put a caution out there for anybody listening that there are tremendous benefits to being remote without a doubt. We could pull all those benefits forward but not lose sight of what really made life enjoyable, which is being next to people. And especially those companies that want to be innovative and build a really good company culture. Like you can’t, do that remotely. And I don’t know if it can be done in the future. So I’m glad you brought that up in a couple of ways. 

Jim Ziminski: Yeah. It was something, Chris, especially when we kind of got to that point where it’s like, hey, it feels like schools are going back and all we can be safe being here. We kind of had to say to people, “look, it’s time to come back. We’ll allow you some flexibility with kids and everything.

We’ll ensure that the space is clean and neat and sanitized and ensure everybody’s wearing a mask,” and all these things, that some people didn’t want to do, such as not wearing a mask. If it’s just you and me in a meeting, you can’t be like, “oh we don’t need a mask,” you know? It’s like, “no, you got to wear a mask all the time.” So, again we went out of our way to make it safe, but we also had a nudge people to come back because they were a little scared, and once they did, you’re right.

Some of the magic started to happen again. And so that’s why we were carrying on with our new break room. That’s going to be, hopefully, one of the cooler ones you’ve seen. We think it’s important because we know people are going to come back and they’re going to want to be in a nice, clean new space with garage doors to the outside. And that’s exactly where the collaboration occurs. So we’re betting on that.

We’re doing things like when we had MBA students. We’re saying, hey, we want you to sit and watch a presentation. We want you to do this. Here’s some interesting stuff on the web. Take it all in unencumbered by us. You’re the different lens that we don’t have as our own. And one of the guys is in some foreign country that used to be called Czechoslovakia, getting his MBA at Ohio state. It’s amazing. 

Dom Pucci: We’re coming up here at the end of our time here. So I want to be super respectful and not go over. You’re a busy man, Jim. So, the last question. Everybody is approaching the virtual sale differently.

It seems like nobody’s really figured it out. Maybe, it seems like the solar industry, they were doing it a little bit before, so there may be a better track, but just give me your sense of how do you feel about the virtual sale today and what are some of the things that you’re seeing and some of the challenges that you have.

Jim Ziminski: Yeah. I mean, it’s interesting today because a roof tends to be–which is our major product line, we do windows and other stuff, but roofing tends to be need-based. You know, it’s like, okay, I got a problem. I need a roof. And so generally, if someone has a problem, they still expect someone to come out and diagnose that problem.

I mean, we can go online and do roof snap and hover and other stuff and get measurements and dimensions very accurately. What we can’t do is go and see the issues. We can’t crawl in the attic space and see if there are issues and see if there are spongy roof deck boards and all that stuff. So we’re seeing that most people still want you to come to the home. 

Now, the old days of, “oh, is your spouse going to be home?” We won’t run the appointment unless you’re both there. That’s like a complete no-no. Now, if you say that, they just hang up the phone. So it’s like, “hey, what’s convenient for you? When can we stop by?” We don’t put the same pressure on them.

We’ve taught our salespeople that if they’re not comfortable with you in the home, then don’t go in the home. Talk to them through the door, go in your truck or your car, you know, whatever. So the sales team has modified a bunch, and there have been some people that said, “can’t, we just do this all this way?” And we’ve begun to experiment a little bit with that. It’s still very, very small, but do I think that’s going to happen in the future?

I mean, I don’t see how it can’t when millennials really get into the home time. I was looking at a home security device, you know, and my son’s like, use this one, go to this, go to that. He researched it online. You know, like in the old days, you’d call ADP, they’d come out, they’d look at your house.

The young generation isn’t doing that. You know, they’re not calling ADP and doing that. So, to think it’s not going to happen in our space. I think it’s important to experiment with it, to make sure you’re talking to thought leaders that are maybe not in your space that are in another space. We’re trying to look for another space. That’s kind of doing this virtually. We haven’t found the perfect one just yet. 

I know solar does do some of it. Security might be one where there’s more being done online now than there is from those services. So, we’re looking hard and ultimately thinking, “okay, if we do this, do we do this in house? Or do we start like a skunk work operation, not in house?” And we’re trying to wrestle with that. Which is more likely to have success in? I can’t tell you we have the answer yet, but I can tell you it’s on the radar.

And what I don’t want is somebody from outside our industry coming in doing it and doing it to us because we were afraid to take a chance. Again, it is the innovator’s dilemma. So it’s definitely, on the radar. In some places, some companies, it’s not, I got a good model. It works. I make money. I don’t want to go through that. It’s a pain making that.

That’s a massive shift if that ever happened, right? It feels like at this point, it’s probably not a total shift. It feels like, “hey, Dom, you met us digitally. What path would you like to take? Would you want this? Do you want to total this way, total this way, or something in the middle?” Like, let the consumer choose at this point in time. It feels like that’s probably where it starts. 

Dom Pucci: Yeah. I think you’re on the right path there. To me, it always seemed like the car industry was the leading indicator of where the home improvement industry was going to go. So like, for example, the car industry started with digital leads first, trying to get people into the showrooms. The car industry then also went to be able to buy virtually online– you know, they’ve got Carvana. Now you can just get your stuff delivered. They take your car away for the trade-in and all that stuff virtually.

But that doesn’t mean everybody’s going to do it. Like some people want to go in, be able to go and see a showroom, do all that kind of stuff. Like you’ve got the Tesla’s of the world that are hybrid. You’d go to the showroom and do the test drive there. But because of laws, you actually have to do it online, you know, which is pretty cool. When I had that experience, it was really cool.

The sales rep actually went through, and then I finished it up at my house when I paid the deposit. So it feels like you at least just have to have the option for people to choose that path, you know, and like the movie “Big,” right? When with that, the video game where you get to choose your next step, there.

Jim Ziminski: Again, back to data, because we have all this, you know, mass quantity data, we’ve got to measure it and see if the trend is moving? If it is, maybe you start putting more funds there. We think it can be an advantage to us as we just have more opportunities than the majority of people. So we should be able to see trends quicker. 

Dom Pucci: Yeah, absolutely. Well, that’s about our time, Jim. I got to say, I really appreciated all the information that you shared. It’s just a really good perspective here. What I will say is,—I say this every time,—but I can’t wait for COVID to be over so we can get a chance to meet in person and get you back down to Austin. We’ll stay out until 4:00 AM again, do what we do in the crane and Modernize way. That’s going to be it for us. Again, Jim, thank you so much for being on. Hopefully, we can do it again.

Jim Ziminski: Thanks for having me. 

Dom Pucci: As always, thanks for listening. Before we go, definitely show some love to your favorite podcasts by leaving us a review on Apple Podcasts or Spotify Podcasts. And we’ll see you next time. Stay safe.


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