Gary Harvey is general manager of Wedge Roofing, a California-based company that has earned recognition at the CoatingsPro Contractor Awards for five straight years. In this podcast, he discusses many of the keys to success for Wedge over his 25 years with the company, headlined by their most recent award-winning project (Mariners Landing).
Other topics include environmental trends and becoming a Green Roofing Contractor; unique coating considerations in the Bay Area near San Francisco; the importance of safety and training procedures for crews and personnel; tips and tricks for industry newcomers and other contractors; and much more. See below for a complete transcript of the episode.
For more information, contact: Wedge Roofing, (888) 763-7663, www.wedgeroofing.com
Ben DuBose: Gary, welcome to the podcast. How are you?
Gary Harvey: I am well. Thank you very much for having me here today. It is an honor.
BD: We’re glad to have you. Certainly, you’ve been a longtime supporter of CoatingsPro, which we appreciate. And, of course, you’re doing great things, which has been independently recognized with the Contractor Awards year after year. Before we go into some of your keys to success, I think a good place to start, if you could, just give us a little bit of background on yourself, your career in the industry, as well as Wedge Roofing and what your niche in the market is.
GH: Absolutely. I’d be pleased to. Wedge Roofing was founded in 1976 by Ralph and Jennifer Wedge. Ralph and Jennifer are still actively involved in the company. We certainly benefit from that leadership. We’re a residential and commercial roofing company. We hold multiple licenses, including roofing, sheet metal, general contracting, insulation, and solar. Our philosophy is that we’re able to provide our client all of the service that they would need for the exterior of their building. Although that certainly benefits them, from kind of a one-stop shopping approach, it also enables us to control our workstream, our revenue, and also our quality, as there are a lot of ancillary trades that impact our product and we like, when possible, to be involved in all of them.
On a more personal note, I entered the trades a long time ago. Let’s just call that the mid-1980s. Started with the company in Palm Springs. I have been here at Wedge Roofing since 1996. In fact, in one month will be my 25th year.
BD: Wow, congratulations! That’s pretty great.
GH: Thank you. I’m happy to be here. It’s a great industry to be in. Thank you.
BD: How have things changed over your 25 years with Wedge, but I guess it’s closer to 35 or so with the industry at large? What are some of the new roofing trends as far as what you're seeing from clients out in the field and what they want or perhaps what they need?
GH: I tell you, it’s been an incredible progression that I’ve witnessed over what I call the past 30-plus years because 35 sounds like a long time. Most notably, probably the last decade or even 15 years. From an industry perspective, I sum that up in three words: technology, technology, and technology. What I refer to as “the olden days,” just to give you an example, our presentations were done with Polaroid cameras and instant developing pictures. Obviously, today, we’re utilizing satellite imagery for measurements, for project depiction. In house, we utilize FAA-licensed drone pilots for capturing jobsite imagery and documentation that way. All the way on down to the ubiquitous, indispensable smartphone that takes pictures, and it does infrared, and it has quality similar to a 35-mm camera. From my perspective, the tools in the toolbox are technology.
With regard to our client needs and trends that way, especially here in the San Francisco Bay Area, our clients are probably focused on two things. First and foremost is rooftop solar. Whether you attribute that to the high cost of electricity or whether you attribute that to the potential power outages from the wildfire events we’ve experienced the past several years, which have been devastating, our clients are looking to capture the sun’s energy. Most cases, we want to store it and then either use it during the brown-out or use it to get us out of some of our top-tier electricity rates. That probably the main focus. That is utilizing all the rooftop areas we can for solar, whether that is mandated by local statutes and building codes for new construction or whether it’s driven by our clients’ needs on restorations and replacements.
The second one, we have a limited geographical area as far as landfills and building space, and they’re focused on, as we are, maximizing the life expectancy of their existing components, whether that’s through maintenance, restoration, or even building on a suitable substrate. Again, for me, both of these trends, whether they’re driven by consumer desire or by regulatory statutes, we believe they’re of strong benefit to our environment, specifically within California. There are even pockets, which I happen to be in one, that are even more constricting on the products you're able to use, whether that’s the result of VOCs or solar reflective index, even on residential products. Our little portion of the world is driven by the environment.
BD: One of the things that I noticed, looking at your company’s bio, was that you're a certified Green Roofing Contractor, which certainly is important in the Bay Area. For our audience that might be a little unfamiliar, what specifically does that mean? What are some of the green practices that you all use?
GH: Unbeknownst to us, we were a green roofing contractor, I think before there was a label made for it.
BD: Oh, wow.
GH: Our mantra, if you will, has always been to maximize the return on what you have. Again, whether that’s through maintaining, restoring, in some cases removing, but most of the time building on top of what is there. This approach has a couple of benefits. First and foremost, from the green roofing perspective, our footprint at the landfill, the amount of materials that we dispose is extremely low in comparison to the amount of square footage of roofing and waterproofing products we install.
Building on that, when we do have materials for the landfill, we have various diversion programs, which enables us to separate materials and put them in the appropriate repository for their reuse most of the time. In the times when they do go to the landfill, to be put in an appropriate place. We have what’s best known most recently as a Roof to Roads program, where asphalt roofing material was ground up and used in part of the base material for roads.
Something that we’re proud of here, especially working at lot in the city of San Francisco proper, there’s a lot of historical roofing materials. When those materials are removed, not reinstalled, we take them into inventory, categorize them, and utilize them in upcoming projects and also to be used amongst our “competitors” so that they are repurposed, whether they’re by us or somebody else.
BD: Aside from the needs from a green perspective, what else is different about jobs near the Bay Area? What are some of the unique coating factors that you typically have to consider when you’re doing work in that type of environment?
GH: For me, the Bay Area is dominated by an influence significantly by the weather. I’m a firm believer that regardless of what segment of the industry, what title, what role, we all pretty much do the same thing. It’s adapting to and understanding the traits common to your area that are important. Here it’s weather. It’s wet in the morning, it’s wet in the afternoon, there’s a few hours in between when things are about as perfect as they can get. So it’s understanding the substrate, understanding the interaction of your products with the weather, whether that is preemptively protecting the substrate the day before or some period before so that it is in an acceptable condition when you arrive. Then you reveal or unveil it and you're able to expand or extend your working day. Or whether, if that is not possible, depending upon the time of year — selecting a product that has a cure rate that works within our narrow window of opportunity.
BD: When I talk to contractors about building trust with clients and building a name in their community, one of the questions I typically ask is, “How do you secure yourself a given job? How do you convince a client that you're the right choice?” Obviously, part of that equation is having the low bid. Certainly, cost is important for everyone. I get that. But aside from just coming in with the low bid, what are some of your keys to success when you're trying to build trust with a client or with a general contractor? How do you all at Wedge convince people that you're the best fit for a job?
GH: That’s a great question because what it comes down to, ultimately, is a relationship. We’re all producing a similar contract document that has words on it. That professionalism and trust begins with the first person that answers our phone. It’s the quantity of rings before it’s answered. It’s the information we gather, the time spent on the phone. It goes all the way through to our professional sales staff, our mechanics and applicators who do the work.
But I will tell you, we are able to compete on price. Most people are looking initially for price. Price, quality, and value oftentimes can be mutually exclusive. We focus on value for the dollar. Whether that is life expectancy, whether that is warranty length, whether that is the information and educational process that most of our sales staff and estimators help our client get them to the right decision — it’s all part of the package, if you will. We have roughly 60 people at our company, give or take, and they’re all focused on the same thing, and that’s establishing trust, delivering a superb product. Most importantly, that comes from knowing your craft, being able to convey accurately to your client, whether that’s residential, commercial, or industrial, and being believable and not selling on price but on the benefit of the value of what you're delivering.
BD: I teased earlier to the 2021 Contractor Awards, which of course are hosted by CoatingsPro and judged by our Editorial Advisory Group, which consists of a lot of key people from the industry at large. It’s not just the editorial staff, so it’s a really quality recognition. I mentioned that you guys have won five years in a row, which is fantastic. As far as 2021, you all won in the Commercial Roof category for the Mariners Landing project, correct?
GH: That is correct.
BD: What was memorable about that? For anyone who may have missed the ceremony — shameless plug, you can go to the CoatingsPro YouTube page and watch it —but for anyone who missed it, what are some of the innovations that made that work, and what really stood out making that a very distinctive project?
GH: For me, I’m a little bit of a history buff, and I appreciate a lot of things about the olden days. This area in Sausalito, was originally built hastily to support the Liberty Ship fleet for WWII. This grouping of buildings was just a shell, thrown quickly to support the war effort. Now fast forward 70, 80, 85 years. These are now fashionable office space and light industrial space. How do we bring that shell of a building that had no thought or consideration for energy and comfort — how do we bring it into this century? That’s where the excitement is for us. This had a traditional tar and gravel roof on it. Perfectly flat. Arguably even a little bit of settling. Through the utilization of multiple licenses, we are able to remove the roofing system, fabricate and install a tapered substrate to provide grate drainage, and then install spray polyurethane foam over that, all the while being able to incorporate, I think, about 120 or so stanchions for the solar that was coming after.
Our philosophy on solar — and a little disclaimer, the solar on there was not ours — but our philosophy is still the same: Generating power from solar is great, but the perfect combination is to save what’s already there in the building and simply adding to that. By putting a highly energy-efficient roofing system, combined with a silicone coating that we expect to probably outlast 25-30 years, we think it’s a great pairing. Taking that significant structure from the past and brining it up to the current day, that’s kind of where my excitement is in this industry.
BD: I mentioned a couple times already that you guys have won five times in a row at the Contractor Awards. As someone on the editorial staff, I can definitely promise that it’s not for lack of effort by many other contractors. What is it that allows many of your projects to stand out? Certainly, you guys seem to see the value in being recognized by an industry panel, and I’m sure that helps, as we mentioned earlier, with building trust. What is it, when you're going through a job like that, that has you all, I suppose, remembered for going the extra mile? What is it that makes you all stand out to where you don’t just do a good job, you end up clearly doing an exemplary job? Because, you know it’s not just us. Clearly, you guys have gotten strong feedback from the clients as well. What’s the keys there?
GH: Man, I almost don’t want to answer that question because I think, for me, it is so simple. We all, in essence, do the same thing. We arrive at a structure. We prepare it. We apply our products. We clean up and leave. Those are really only the three things. When looking for a project submission, what is the hook? What is the unique characteristic? What is the challenge? In that, for me, lies the success. That is taking the time to explain to the panel, the judge, the industry peers, what was significant about the job. Again, listing out the materials, listing out the tools, listing out the safety. All of that is things we all do.
But the hook, for me, or the draw comes with the unique characteristics. And there are unique characteristics in every job. In this one, it was that older building, it was the slope, it was the integration of the solar. Again, all things that we all do. It’s explaining that draw, that interest, that unique quality. As a matter of course of action on every job, we document every day’s work with hundreds of pictures. So having those before, during, and after high-resolution pictures we have anyway. But I would encourage anybody who wishes to do an industry submission — and I will tell you, there are great benefits to it, which I’d love to discuss with anybody — document your project, your work, your craft through photographs.
BD: We’ve talked a lot on the podcast about the technology, specifically materials, equipment that have evolved over your 25–35 years in the industry. Clearly, that’s a big part of success for Wedge and your crews. But the other part, you can have all the technology in the world, and it doesn’t really matter if your crews aren’t trained on how to use it an specifically how to use it not just efficiently but safely. If you could, talk about, with Wedge, what you all do with regard to safety and training for your crews, the types of procedures you have in place to ensure safe work practices. Again, we can talk about the technologies, the materials, the equipment all day, and even if you have the right tools and you use it efficiently, it’s not going to matter, at least in terms of being exemplary, which you guys have been, without going the extra mile when it comes to training and safety. What’s your emphasis? How do you guys go about those initiatives?
GH: Safety has to be key. It has to be paramount. We can have all of the equipment, all the materials, all the knowledge, but your boots on the ground, your employees are by far your most valuable asset. We spend years to train them, teach them. Nothing works without a safe, qualified staff. That begins, basically, with all of my management staff completing OSHA 30 training. All of my foremen are OSHA 10 certificate holders. We have daily pre-job, what we refer to as tailgate meetings. We have the first person up the ladder to set up equipment or the first person in the lift — whatever that may be. Our foreman is responsible for maintaining, establishing, and overseeing all of the safety requirements on each particular jobsite, whether that is hanging from a bosuns swing 100 feet up in the air or whether it’s walking on a flat roof surface or whether it’s in a tank. Each jobsite has its own unique challenges for safety.
But I’m going to come back to one other thing that I think we do that is, in fact, common in our industry. Every one of our jobsites has a live streaming camera that oversees the roof. Oftentimes, the foreman may be working, may have his/her head down, and may not see a potentially dangerous condition that may develop or evolve. We have three trained administrative assistants, all who have their OSHA certificates, who monitor these cameras continuously. In the event that they see a condition possibly developing, we will notify the foreman and make sure — kind of a “heads up” over the horizon, if you will.
These cameras are not for production quotas. They are not for quality control. They are simply to assist the jobsite safety. For me, that’s another technological advancement. I would be glad, kind of ex parte, to discuss with whoever would like, some specifics of this system. It’s a game changer for me, being able to go home at night knowing we have done everything we can to ensure our most valuable asset safely.
BD: I’m sure, as a follow-up to that, there’s going to be some contractors listening and agree with you in theory, but in practice, of course, there’s added costs to having that type of equipment in place on a precautionary basis. I’m assuming the benefit for you guys is that, because you have those systems in place as safeguards, you don’t fear an event that can potentially not just derail a given project but sort of harm your company’s reputation for years. I’m guessing the way you all justify it is it’s a proactive investment in which you know, going in, there’s not going to be some sort of unfortunate event that hangs over Wedge Roofing for a long time. Is that the way that you justify it?
GH: That is 100% accurate. Clearly, in our industry, it is a dangerous industry. Accidents happen. By putting all of the engineering controls in place that we can see and utilize, we feel we’re minimizing that risk mainly to our employees but certainly to our industry, our reputation, and all of the other components of it. Yes.
BD: Also, when we’re talking about training, I know we were initially talking about safety in regard to procedures, PPE. Less about safety, but another thing I’m assuming that you guys emphasize through the training process is the importance of surface prep. We mentioned earlier some of the trends in regard to roofing, the new technologies, materials, what have you. How important is it to emphasize with your crews that it’s not just about the new system you’re putting down, but it’s also about making sure that the substrate is prepared to where it needs to be for that new technology to perform as it’s intended?
GH: Old technology, new technology. A house is only as good as the foundation it’s built on. You couldn't speak a truer thought or truer words. That substrate has to be correctly attached. It has to be a specific type of material to receive your product. It has to have a surface condition ready. Through our process of documentation, whether those are IR readings, moisture readings, preparatory steps, photographic documentation, nothing works if the substrate isn’t prepared correctly. On most jobs, that is a particular task that is signed off by both the foreman and superintendent on the longer, multi-week-duration jobs as it is that critical to us.
BD: When I talk to contractors about — well, I suppose it’s not just surface prep but also application phases as well — many times you're using highly complex and powerful pieces of equipment. You have someone that might be on one end of it. You have another that’s operating the machine at the source. The common theme in how I think this ties into safety and training — certainly, you want to use it safely, but also the training, you need these guys, your crews on the jobsite, to work together. I think some of that comes with experience, that you can trust that the guy that’s on the other end of the machine is doing what he needs to do.
What it sounds like, from looking at Wedge’s background, you have a lot of guys in your crews — certainly, you have newcomers, but you have a lot of guys that have worked for years and know the importance of teamwork but also their trust within the crew, that again, you can work in collaboration and there’s 100% trust that the guy on the other end is going to be holding up his end of the bargain. Talk, if you could, about how you guys install the teamwork to where, when you're doing surface prep, you're doing application, you're using the various technologies when it comes to equipment, that your crew is able to pull it off by working together.
GH: We have a company philosophy. Kind of a “see something, say something” philosophy. I’m not concerned if you're the newest person on the crew or the most senior person on the crew. We all have the ability to see something and have a feeling if it’s right or not right, and we want that called to our attention. A lot of aspects of our trade require what I call a combination of a computer scientist and an artist. Although a lot of what we do is artistry in the application, understanding and operating the equipment, in a lot of cases, requires a degree, in my opinion. Each employee brings a different aptitude, a different focus, and a different talent to the group. It is through fostering each individual’s strength that we’re able to come up with a great working group. We encourage that strongly.
BD: As we’re winding down now with Gary Harvey, general manager of Wedge Roofing, a five-time winner of the CoatingsPro Contractor Awards. I want to do these rapid-fire personal questions. For anyone that listens to our podcast here at CoatingsPro, we’ve been doing this the last few months to try and humanize our guests a little bit more and their stories from their time in the coatings industry. Gary, I’ll start you with this. We’ve talked a lot on the podcast about your progression through the industry, and then the last few minutes about training for newcomers to your company. What’s something that you would say to people that are just entering the industry? They’re not even with Wedge yet. They’re just getting out of whatever school or training, whatever the procedures may be, and they’re looking to get involved in roofing or in coatings contractors, whatever it may be. What’s something you would say to somebody young that’s getting into this industry?
GH: My industry and my life philosophy are very similar, and that is: Pick what you love and do it. Learn all that you can about it. Embrace it. Understand it, and know that every interaction with somebody is an opportunity to learn something. Whether you see a trait that you do not wish to emulate or one that you wish to add as an arrow in your quiver, just learn, learn, learn at every opportunity. But be upfront, be honest, be professional, because at the end of the day, you have your reputation and your word. That’s all you can control.
BD: Let’s go to the other end of the spectrum. That’s sort of the priorities, in a good way, what you need to do to set yourself up for success. What’s a pet peeve to you? What’s something that you see at times? I don't want to say you see it at Wedge, necessarily, but something that ticks you off, when something in this industry can go wrong.
GH: Sure. I will tell you, I’m guilty of it sometimes too. Doing something just because that’s how it’s always been done. Our industry is evolving so quickly that something we did maybe 10 years ago is antiquated, outdated. We’ve learned why we don’t do that anymore. That kind of hearkens back to just understanding your craft, your trade, your profession, and constantly learning and reinforcing it. Don’t do something just because you’ve always done it that way. Learn about it and evolve.
BD: Let’s end with something more positive. Who’s someone, when you were in the shoes of an industry newcomer, who’s someone that was a mentor to you, that helped you get acquainted in this industry?
GH: Can I pick two? There’s really a demarcation between the two.
GH: I have to tell you, my first person that made an impression on me was a gentleman named Richard Winkle out of Palm Springs, California. What did his company teach me? Appearance, cleanliness, attention to detail, gave me the opportunity to really know this is what I wanted. Fast forward. I’ve been alongside, behind, working with Ralph Wedge, president of our corporation, for 25 years. It would be arrogant of me to not name him as a mentor. He’s given me the ability to take what I think I have as a positive ability to jump in, assimilate information quickly, make a decision. He has tempered that with a, “Do you have all the information? Is the information and circumstances going to change slightly? Why don’t we just step back a moment?” That, for me, has been the greatest quality in mentoring I’ve received from him, is that ability to just slow down and think a little bit.
BD: We’re finishing up with Gary Harvey, general manager at Wedge Roofing out in the Bay Area of California. Gary, for any of our listeners that might want to learn more about what you guys are doing at Wedge Roofing or just get to know you better specifically, what resources do you guys have available? How can they get in touch and/or learn more about Wedge?
GH: You may contact me at my email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Or you may go to our website: www.wedgeroofing.com. I will tell you, I’m a strong advocate, a strong proponent of building relationships within our industry, whether that’s across the country or even direct competitors. I think when we lift one up, the whole industry lifts. I’m a firm believer in helping, in giving back to our community. I would welcome the opportunity to interact or answer any questions anyone may have.
BD: I think that’s a great perspective, and hopefully some of our listeners will take you up on that, because I think it’s pretty clear you guys are doing a lot of good things, and I think you could potentially be a very valuable resource, especially to some newcomers that are trying to get their footing in this industry.