Business Spotlight: Roofed Right America

Gateway To Milwaukee’s Executive Director, Jim Tarantino, interviews business owners about working in The Gateway.

Roofed Right America Lives the “American Dream” in The Gateway

Roofed Right America is not your typical roofing company, having completed projects as diverse as the historic renovation of Pewaukee’s Village Hall as well as stores including Home Depot and Sentry Foods. When I visited Roofed Right America at 429 W. Boden Street, I walked to the conference room past designers working on advanced computer design software and a buzz of sales activity. CEO Ricardo Herrera and President Khary Penebaker shared the unique story of Roofed Right America’s history, successful model for growth, philanthropic goals, and how Ricardo lives the American Dream in the Gateway to Milwaukee.

How did you get started in business?

Herrera: “I came to this country with twenty dollars in my pocket and no education. In my first five years here I worked three jobs. I was a paper boy and had three routes, I worked roofing and construction during the day, and I did web development at night. I was literally sleeping 2 to 3 hours a night for 5 years.”

Herrera is originally from Panama, where he had a typical if troubled youth. That all changed when he met and married his wife. Her young daughter was diagnosed with cancer and the new family decided to come to Milwaukee in 1998 to seek the best care for her. The Herrera family reached the United States as many do, with just a few dollars but a lot of hope. Ricardo believes that this experience built his character, and the lessons he learned during that time have shaped the way he does business today.

“I believe in helping others because when I got here I have people who believed in what they saw in me,” said Herrera. “In the beginning, Adam Brisman helped me when I started in business, and Khary is a huge part of my success today. I do also have a mentor, Josh Sparks, a friend of mine who advises me in business and sometimes supports me with capital. When I have questions or need support we help each other out.”

Roofed Right America started as a crew of ten workers doing small jobs and has since become a significantly larger company with contracts throughout the United States.

What is your philosophy for growing your business?

Herrera: “We are accidentally growing because my goal was never to be the biggest one but to do the right things and do the right work and eventually that pushes to the next job and to another job. It’s just one good thing pushed the rest.”

Roofed Right America grew organically from 10 employees to more than 75 employees working in diverse fields, including design, construction, sales, and marketing. Herrera and Penebaker are proud of their business model, which has experienced a 40% growth in 2014 and supports high wages and good benefits for employees.

Penebaker: “While it might be rather accidental that we have grown at the rate that we have, what makes our growth work is that we select the people that we work with. Money isn’t everything, we are selective with who we work with and it keeps us sane.”

In recent years, Roofed Right America has accepted larger contracts from clients like Home Depot and 1000 N. Water Street in downtown Milwaukee. Several jobs have led to work in Texas, Pennsylvania, and Colorado. When asked about the challenge of taking on large corporate accounts like Home Depot, Herrera said, “everything is a challenge but we have the right people to do anything.” He credits his success to people like Brisman, Sparks, and Penebaker who fill in the skills that he needs to make his business exceptional. “I can’t be me without the rest of the people around me,” said Herrera. Herrera does not just pay lip service to the gratitude he feels for the people who have helped him succeed, he pays it forward. One of Roofed Right America’s social policies is a commitment to hiring and training ex-felons and imparting the skills and experience on these individuals so that they can help themselves and their families.

Roofed Right America’s philanthropy extends beyond their hiring practices. Earlier this year, Herrera and Penebaker donated a new roof to Meta House, a rehabilitation center and shelter for women.

Penebaker: “It’s one time in our lives when we actually get to do something good for our community given what we are good at. We may not have all the money in the world, but in this moment for one group we can fix that and it felt good to do something good for an organization that does so much for women that are going through a nightmare.”

Where does the desire to help people come from?

Herrera: “It comes from my background. I believe that I am a wakeup call to some people. They can take the message in the right way and use it as an inspiration. This country is made for people to make things happen. If I can do it, anyone can.”

What do you like about operating in The Gateway to Milwaukee?

Penebaker: “Both the business and the employees, who are 95% Milwaukee residents, appreciate the location’s proximity to the city and major roadways. This makes it easy to get crews and supplies where they need to go.”

Penebaker and Herrera are pleased to have a very responsive alderman in Terry Witkowski, who responds to their emails and has visited the facility. Herrera likes that the surrounding neighborhood has an industrial feel but without the look of a true industrial park. Herrera said, “We have experienced very low crime, which is something that isn’t always available.”

What’s next for Roofed Right America?

Herrera: “The sky’s the limit. Our life has been getting better and better because everybody around us is getting better and better. So every day I speak to them [the employees] and motivate them and try to inject them with my energy. I say, ‘you could be me in the next couple of years. If I did it, then you can do it, you never know.’”

Roofed Right America has grown by leaps and bounds in the past few years and plans to continue that trend in an organic way.

Penebaker: “We try to let our customers take us where they are rather than going to search for the next job out of state. Now if one of our clients wants to take us to Louisiana, we’re going to go. If we can’t succeed at what we’re doing today and grow, we’re not going to do it. We are growing at about 40% per year, that’s not slow. I would like to see, in some cases, some of that pared back to get to a point where if there is a market disruption like there was in 2008-2009 we wouldn’t be affected by that at all.”

Herrera: “I don’t base my success on anyone else’s success. At the end of the day you are the one living your own life, nobody else is living for you. So if you don’t focus your energy on how to change and be yourself better, no one else is going to do it.”

In preparation for national growth, Roofed Right America rebranded from their former name, All American Roofing. Herrera and Penebaker look forward to the continuation of the growth they have had over the last few years. Herrera plans to add more office space in their newly acquired 2,300 sq. ft. building and add more warehouse space as well. Herrera said it best: “Find people who can broaden your horizon, and always compete with yourself.”