A conversation with … Mark Eaton

12/15/2013 7:27 AM

08/08/2014 10:20 AM

Wichita native Mark Eaton was in the carpentry business when a major storm hit Wichita in 1992 and a friend called him.

“Mark, do you know what just happened?” the friend asked. “You probably ought to maybe try to hone in on this shake shingle business in town.”

So Eaton did carpentry by day, and “in the evening I’d change clothes and simply go out and meet and greet people” to explore the roofing industry.

That’s how his Wichita Roofing & Remodeling business was born. Over the years, he started sister companies in Salina, Lawrence and Topeka, each of which was named for the city in which it was located.

The multiple names became a challenge, though, so Eaton is changing the name of his businesses to Eaton Roofing & Exteriors.

That kind of dovetails with some work he’s been doing on legislation requiring roofing contractors to register with the state Attorney General’s office.

Eaton says the requirement is a good thing.

“The roofing business has a bit of a black cloud over its head.”

Among other benefits, the name change will help him meet the registration requirements a bit more simply.

Is Kansas in general and Wichita in particular a roofer’s paradise?

Well, you know, if you look at what all the weather people say, Kansas is right in the middle of what they call the hail belt, which starts basically in the middle of Texas, goes right through Oklahoma … Kansas, Nebraska, Iowa. The real answer to your question, Wichita’s just right in the middle. … We’re right in it.

Is your business cyclical or is it fairly steady throughout the year?

It is pretty steady throughout the year. Obviously, storm activity gives us big spikes, and that’s not necessarily the greatest thing because all of a sudden, your cup runneth over, and it’s hard to please everybody. … I explained it to a dentist a while back. I said, “Can you imagine that every one of your clients all of a sudden have a toothache at 1 o’clock in the afternoon … and they all need to see you immediately?” That’s what a thunderstorm does. … They need your help right now. It’s almost a triage situation. You gotta assess who needs you first.

Still, come on, isn’t it pretty great when there’s a hail storm?

Sure, it adds to the bottom line, yes. … Our success has been the fact that our main goal is to take care of the insurance industry. We market (to) agents. Agents want their clients taken care of.

Weather is a huge part of your business, right?

Obviously, we’re watching radar in working months. We’re on radar 24/7 for more than one reason. For one reason, when you’re doing projects and a storm approaches, you’ve got some liability. (That’s) our first concern. The second thing we’re thinking is, “Do I need to bring in some help? How many houses are affected?”

How do you keep your 34 employees occupied in the off season?

A large part of this is planning for the next year. We do a tremendous amount of safety training. OSHA’s guidelines are getting tougher and tougher. … You have to be safe.

How difficult is the name change?

It’s actually been a three-year process. We knew it would be pretty difficult. When we started this business in 1993, we needed a name that kind of told people who we were and where we were from. … It was a great plan 20 years ago, but as things have changed and grown, it has become a little painful.

Such as this past week when you were shooting a television commercial?

I made it four times. Everything we did, we did it times four. The bottom line on the change is it’s economics. And we can grow easier, and we are in a growth mode. … It will make our operation much smoother.

So both of your daughters now work for you. What’s that like?

My oldest daughter, Bree, has a degree … in marketing. You know, women in roofing isn’t real common, and she as a youngster kind of thought, “man, Dad, I don’t know if I want to work for a roofing company.” She is now in charge of our marketing. … She likes it. …It’s been fun to watch. … My youngest daughter, she’s 22. … Her name is Sydney. She’s on her eighth week. As we have expanded, we felt the need to (expand front office operations) … Sydney is training in that department and doing a wonderful job.

What’s your most important business advice to your daughters?

They’ve got the company name in their name, so there’s a little bit of pressure for them, obviously. … Our motto at work (is): Character is our main ingredient. My biggest advice is to maintain that character.

Is there anything you’d still like to accomplish in your career?

What I really enjoy doing at this point is doing my fair share of lobbying for the … industry.

What’s one thing few people know about you?

The one thing is still my tremendous love for my father. … Dad’s been gone for 15 years. … As you mature, you think a lot more about the teachings of your father, your ancestors, and he’s been a very important part of getting us to where we are today. That’s always in my mind.

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