Metalmaster Named Featured in Roofing Contractor Cover Story

The Whole Package

Chris King

PASSION AND COMMITMENT KEEP METALMASTER ROOFMASTER MOVING FORWARD

Metalmaster Roofmaster was founded as a small, family-owned operation consisting of only George and Gloria Smeja in 1977. Today the McHenry, Ill.-based company is one of the largest commercial sheet metal and roofing contractors in North America. Now under the leadership of George and Gloria’s sons, Michael Smeja and Daniel Smeja, the union shop has 150 employees and completed $26 million worth of business last year. It’s ranked No. 33 on Roofing Contractor’s 2014 list of the Top 100 Contractors. According to Mike Smeja, the family’s passion and the company’s commitment to quality are at the heart of Metalmaster’ssuccess. He credits a business plan that makes the most of everyone’s strengths as the secret to its continued growth. “There are different talents for different people — that’s what we’ve found over time,” said Mike.“We try to recognize people’s talents and put them in areas where they can best excel.”The company focuses on commercial roofing, including new construction, re-roofing and service and maintenance. From its 100,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art headquarters and fabricating facility, Metalmaster offers a wide array of services including all types of flat roofing, architectural sheet metal, standing seam, green roofs, siding, metal wall systems and custom sheet metal fabrication. It is divided into three sectors: the roofing division, the sheet metal division, and the service and maintenance division.

“We do almost everything in-house with our own forces,” Mike said. “For each type of system, we have specialists who perform that type of work. They can cross over, of course, but we have crews that excel at single-ply membrane roofs, built-up and modified bitumen roof systems, including all forms of re-roofs — all within our roofing division. And on the sheet metal side, we have employees that specialize in standing seam and roof-related sheet metal systems, as well as all forms of metal wall panel systems.”

The company also manufactures Sno Gem snow retention products. “We’re one of the largest snow retention companies in the country,” said Mike. “Its inception came out of an innate need, as there weren’t a lot of snow guard options out there. We were putting on these amazing Metal roof systems, and we were trying to find an option that was aesthetically pleasing. When you have nine months out of the year with no snow, we wanted something that would be attractive, while providing an increase in strength and functionality. Sno Gem snow guards resemble a piece of artwork, and are designed to be compatible with any roof system, while providing cutting-edge technology only found with Sno Gem brand products. We are proud to say that our Sno Gem products are made 100 percent right here in the USA.”

Company History

George and Gloria Smeja launched the business in 1977 despite a tough economy. “My father was blessed as a craftsman,” Mike said. “All those years back, he had this dream of starting his own sheet metal company, and he did it. He was one of those men who was very talented working with his hands. If you could draw it, he could make it with sheet metal. Anything he did looked like artwork when it was done. He specialized in a lot of ornamental copper work.”

George handled production and Gloria took over the books. “My mom worked hard taking care of a growing family, but she saw the passion our dad had, and she made the commitment to balance that with the business,” Mike said. “It was a great combination, as she was very strong on the business side, and our father was strong on the construction side.”

They started out working on residential homes for some large contractors, and then moved over to handle the commercial side of the industry for some of the same clientele. “We had proven ourselves over time,” Mike said. “We grew the business, tackling larger and larger commercial projects, and before we knew it, the buildings we were working on were 1,000 feet long instead of 100 feet long. The increased contract values were very attractive because as the projects got larger, the dollars proportionately grew as well, so it was very exciting for all of us.”

Mike and Dan eventually joined the family business because they both shared the same passion as their parents. Mike’s son, Rock Smeja, vice president of marketing, represents the third generation of the family to join the company. “There’s nothing like a family business,” Rock said. “Once you’re in, you’re not going anywhere.”

The family’s passion for the business is easy to spot, noted Mike. “You saw and heard it every day at the dinner table, talking about projects and how things are fabricated and installed,” he said. “It’s a family bond, a passion for wanting to be the best out there. You want to put your best foot forward and be unique and more efficient in servicing your customers.”

Rock agreed, stating, “Even on Christmas, Easter — every holiday — we all get together, and all we do is talk about the family businesses and how to succeed and improve.”

Metal has always been a mainstay of the company’s work. In the beginning, they subcontracted some of their roofing work, but eventually brought everything in house so they could exercise more control over their projects. “We had a bit of a struggle finding people with the same commitment to service, quality and turnaround time that we did, so in 1996 we decided we’d do everything ourselves — not only the sheet metal work and all the service work, but also do the roofing work ourselves,” said Mike. “We wanted to be able to service the customer all across the board.”

As a result, sales soared. “In the mid- 90s, we really took off,” Dan remembered.“We were able to give the customer a full package, doing everything internally — including all roofing, sheet metal and service work. We were able to give them the service they were looking for, the quality they were looking for, and offer one source of responsibility. Sometimes when you have different trades involved, it’s hard to locate the source if there is ever an issue. With us there is no finger pointing — you just call our appointed contact for that project, and they will take care of your needs for you. We prefer it that way, and our customers prefer it that way as well.”

This versatility allows the company to tackle all types and sizes of projects. It also allows them to tie all of the elements of the building envelope together. “In roofing and sheet metal, it’s all about details,” said Dan. “There are so many fine details — wall tie-ins, window details, curb details, etc. Whatever it is, we have people who specialize in it. When we take on a project, we can do the wall systems, the roof systems, all of the sheet metal designs and products. Sometimes we can encapsulate an entire project, and we do it all in-house by our own forces. That’s a big value to our customers for multiple reasons.”

Safety and Quality

According to then Smejas, safety and quality workmanship are the twin priorities for everyone in the field, from technicians to foremen to superintendents and project managers. Ongoing training is crucial. “We strive for excellence,” Rock said. “We’re always trying to give the best possible product to the customer. We’re always trying to stay on top of that razor’s edge of the newest technology. We have ongoing training for our personnel throughout the year. There is a lot of time spent with our staff on safety and quality, while also touching on the newest in product details and training.”

Quality workmanship is ensured through a series of inspections. “We have specific quality control people go out during the project and of course at the end, before the walk-throughs with the owner’s representatives or general contractors and again before the warranty is submitted,” Mike said. “We do our own quality inspections. From the beginning to the very end, there are consistent inspections of our own work to make sure we are always providing the utmost in quality to our customers.”

Safety is also a continual focus. “Safety is extremely important in our business,” said Mike. “We’re on roofs, doing both fl at and sloped roof systems, and we work at the perimeters. We have great exposure, so we have to have even greater safety responsibilities. We work very hard at that, and it’s something we take a great amount of pride in. We have a full-time safety director that manages this, and he has responsible people on each crew who are our foreman/ lead people on each project.”

Training for foreman includes the OSHA 10-hour course, as well as courses on additional topics including first aid, fork lift training, crane use and safety, etc. Crews all have ongoing training, supplemented by daily toolbox safety talks. “At the end of the year, we also have an overall safety training summit here,” said Rock. “We have all of our field and office personnel in here for a full day, including the incorporation of a training course in our warehouse.”

Tapping Into People’s Strengths

The company’s philosophy centers on offering employees opportunities to grow. The goal is to determine what people are best at and maximize their talents. “We like to put people on different projects to give them the opportunity to see where their strengths are,” said Dan. “Some people are great in management, and others are great with production, and others show their talent in other specific requirements found within our company. We find out where people work the best, as over time our management staff keeps very a close eye on that. We have specific meetings where we talk about where people are best suited. We give every employee the opportunity to find the best position for themselves.”

It’s a philosophy that evolved as the company grew. At smaller companies, one person might estimate, sell, and manage Projects, noted Mike, but as companies get larger, specializing can help them become more efficient and effective. “The way we do things is we have staff that estimate and sell; we have staff members that do the CAD drawings; and we have employees that then manage and produce the work,” Mike said. “It maintains consistency, and it keeps the people performing on the things they specialize in.”

Mike maintains that this structure ensures consistency and avoids the highs and lows in the sales cycle that can result when salesmen who wear multiple hats are tied up managing projects. “Our method works for us,” he said. “We’re able to accomplish our individual scopes and then hand off the baton to the next department, and the people that shine in those areas are able to produce. It’s good for our staff, it’s good for the company, and it’s good for the customers, most importantly.”

Metalmaster’s longstanding customers are its best source of new business. “We’ve had the majority of our customers from 15 to 37 years — it’s our 37th year in business this year — and some people we’ve been working with since Day 1,” said Rock.

According to Dan, everyone at the company is passionate about what they do. “Every time we finish a project —and we do a lot of very large, highly technical, and high-level projects — we’re excited,” said Dan. “I think everyone still has that excitement every day we’re out there.That’s what is special about our people: everybody has that drive to be the best.”

The company appreciates its accomplishments, but there isn’t too much time to dwell on positive moments, noted Rock. “As a family business, we take pride in what we do, and we are always looking forward.”

Metalmaster has a lot to look forward to. Last year was the second highest sales year in the history of the company, and the Smejas are optimistic they can top that total this year, despite a long winter that delayed production in the first quarter. “Our first quarter began what we believe will be a record year for us,” said Dan. “We’re really encouraged by the work we have seen so far this year, and believe that this could be our largest sales volume in our company history.”

“We continue to grow,” said Mike.“We’re growing and improving on all aspects of our business. We can cover the whole system and tie in the roof to the wall systems — and be able to have that one-source responsibility.”

Mike and Dan credit the dedication of everyone at the company for its track record of success. “It’s the people and the commitment,”Mike said. “We believe the Lord Jesus Christ has blessed us, and we have a lot of amazing people that are very talented. In addition I attribute our success to our family’s commitment — and we consider all of our employees family here. We strive every day to make sure everybody is taken care of and gets home safely each night.”

Chris King is editor of Roofing Contractor.He can be reached at 248-244-6497 or [email protected]