Thriving in a Changing World
In the segmented industry of construction, roofing employs a small but specialized group of contractors and technicians. Many companies choose to specialize in either residential or commercial roofing, due to the complications of each area of expertise. But in Florida, one company has the ambitious goal of serving both. From its Jacksonville headquarters, Reliant Roofing has seen a meteoric rise in only five years to carve a significant market niche across northern Florida.
We first interviewed Reliant’s Co-founder and Chief Executive Officer Sean Shapiro in June of last year. During our talk, he showcased the company’s customer-focused business model and how this had propelled it into residential and, increasingly, commercial roofing projects.
As it celebrates its fifth year in business, Reliant employs more than eighty well-trained, experienced contractors and staff across Jacksonville, with an exceptionally high percentage of project managers. This, he explains, reflects the company’s emphasis on customer interactions. He sees Reliant as a “customer experience company,” in which the company can use these intensive interpersonal relationships to build repeat customers.
Five years on, this appears to have been a successful strategy. Reliant delivers all manner of residential roofing components and installation, including shingles, metal roofs, gutters, and skylights. In addition, the company repairs roofs and chimneys as part of its wide range of services for customers across the Jacksonville area. It operates on both single houses and large multifamily residences, further demonstrating the company’s mastery of residential roofing. The Sunshine State is also subject to an annual hurricane season, and the company offers roofing materials guaranteed to withstand up to Category 3 storms with winds up to 130 miles per hour (210 kilometers per hour).
This wide variety of services, combined with its emphasis on project management and customer interaction, has allowed the company to flourish in residential roofing. The Jacksonville Business Journal named Reliant as one of the fifty fastest-growing companies in the area in July 2020, featuring the company’s rapid expansion even under present circumstances.
Now, the team has even bigger plans in mind. Shapiro mentioned in our last interview how the company was then moving more into commercial roofing. Nearly eighteen months later, he says that Reliant has met its goal of an even mix of residential and commercial roofing and hopes the company will continue this shift to concentrate more on commercial roofing by summer 2021. In his eyes, this was a natural progression.
“Residential has been great, but we’ve been building that for five years,” he says, “so now it’s time to focus on our commercial division and really try to get it up to speed with the residential side of things and be a major player in both sectors.”
The company hit the ground running on its commercial sector with a contract for a 600,000-square-foot distribution center in Jacksonville, the largest project in northeast Florida for that year. “Doing a re-roof of a building like that is not an easy feat, and we were able to do it flawlessly,” Shapiro says, elaborating that many large companies are now eyeing Jacksonville as a distribution point for the Southern United States. With this successful project safely under the company’s belt, he imagines others will be not far in coming. Reliant is now bidding on several of these contracts, many on buildings of over one million square feet and hopes to secure these new larger contracts later this year.
Commercial roofing extends into the area of hurricane shutters and other protective equipment, which Reliant already offers on all its residential development contracts. Shapiro sees this as an untapped market. “That division will grow tremendously over the next couple of years,” he remarks, “because we haven’t even looked at commercial building applications for hurricane shutters.” By providing a higher grade of hurricane protection to more clients, he hopes the company can help to distance itself from the stigma of ‘storm-chasing’ companies that move in after hurricanes to give shoddy workmanship at exorbitant prices.
However, perhaps Reliant’s most remarkable achievement has been its ability to survive through the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, the company is now busier than it ever has been. Shapiro attributes this to Florida’s business-friendly environment and the company’s staff. Moving to remote working, typical of most businesses under current circumstances, came naturally to a younger company like this. “We’re a very tech-friendly company, to begin with,” he explains, and this made changes to daily business affairs nearly seamless. Modern videoconferencing software helps the company maintain its face-to-face interactions, albeit virtually, ensuring its sales staff can interact with customers and homeowners.
On the job, Reliant’s contractors benefit from the overwhelmingly outdoor nature of their job. “Ninety-nine percent of the time, we’re outside the home,” Shapiro points out, with staff taking care to inform homeowners well in advance of their arrival and providing very little face-to-face interaction. The company has also invested in full safety gear for its contractors but has still moved to virtual communication whenever possible.
Far from extraordinary measures, Shapiro sees these protocols as part of ‘business as usual’ during this pandemic. “We’re not recreating the wheel,” he remarks. “We’re not doing anything drastically different than anyone else would do. We’re just very diligent about [safety], and we try to be as consistent as possible in that approach.”
This extends to his faith in the company’s workforce. Work can only continue if all employees feel that they have a safe work environment, and Reliant encourages an atmosphere of communication so employees may express their concerns about worksite safety. Thanks to the company’s easy transition to remote work as well as these ongoing safety procedures, work has been able to carry on with little disruption. “We’ve been very blessed,” Shapiro says. “We’ve had a very strong workforce at Reliant, a lot of people who understand that things need to continue, that we are an essential workforce here.”
As a part of its ongoing growth, the company has been moving into solar panel installation and maintenance, which Shapiro views as a natural progression for a roofing company. While growth has been slow due to a change in local utility policy, the company still has high hopes for its solar cell work. Reliant, and other roofing contractors across the United States, are now working with Tesla to install the company’s next-generation solar roof tiles.
Reliant’s contractors and sales professionals are currently undergoing training to install components such as Tesla’s Powerwall battery backup system and are on track to be certified for roof installation by the end of this year. The training has been slow due to its virtual rather than hands-on nature, a consequence of COVID-19, but Shapiro and his colleagues are confident in the product’s viability.
The company also just earned its electrical license, a matter of practicality. “We don’t want to sub anything out that we don’t have to,” he says, and the company is training its contractors while it waits for the market to improve. Once fully-licensed, Reliant will be the first contractor in North Florida to install these new solar components, leading to a cleaner and more environmentally-responsible world. “We’re looking forward to what Tesla can provide us in a partnership,” Shapiro sums up. He places his faith in Florida’s weather which forces property owners to replace roofs regularly, believing that solar panels will be the natural choice in due time.
Amid this activity and even with a global pandemic, Reliant is still able to continue and expand its social outreach programs. Its vaunted ‘Every Shingle Heart’ program, in which less fortunate community members receive pro bono roofing work, has been expanded and simplified. It now includes organizations as well as individuals and caters specifically to first responders and organizations dealing with COVID-19. Shapiro hopes the company’s social outreach programs will expand alongside it, seeing a natural correlation between the two. “The more top-line product we can produce,” he explains, “the more we can give back to our community.”
As Reliant looks to the future, it continues to enjoy remarkable growth under the direst of circumstances. Firmly entrenched in Jacksonville’s residential roofing market, the company now has its attention set on expanding its commercial footprint throughout northeast Florida. It has weathered annual storms and a world-changing pandemic and is on track to grow into exciting new divisions such as solar power.
Above all, Shapiro credits the company’s success to its ongoing customer attention, communication, and interaction. “We’re just unwavering on that approach,” he states, “so hopefully it’ll put us in front of the right people.”