Roofing Company Becomes Its Own Incubator

Most roofers stick to the job at hand.  But Terry Umlor’s entrepreneurial savvy took him through the roof.

When Umlor, an Air Force vet, bought Springfield, Inc. in 1995, it was a traditional roofing business. Umlor’s team tore off old roofs and put new ones on. But then he started noticing how he could provide other related services and products.

Ladder Anchors

Initially, Umlor just wanted a safe environment for his employees. He noticed that getting on and off ladders was when many industrial accidents occur. He also noticed that ladders slipped out from under workers.

Umlor designed a simple, permanently attached ladder anchor. The product worked so well, he began selling the equipment to customers and just last year received a patent. The anchors are produced by Great Lakes Stainless, Inc. and then powder coated by CRM, Inc., both based in Traverse City.

High Wire

Umlor also thought more broadly about ways to increase safety, not just for roofers but for anyone who works more than four feet off the ground, a height that initiates federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations. He reasoned that many accidents could be prevented. So he expanded Springfield’s portfolio of services to include installation of all sorts of fall protection equipment – steel anchor points, cables, lifelines and guard rails – that can be used on roofs but inside industrial facilities as well.

Industrial Insulation

Umlor and his staff noticed that some of the company’s biggest clients – food and fruit companies in particular – were complaining about the cost of installing insulation and pipework around refrigerators and freezers. The insulation did not work well. And it didn’t last long.

After two years of experimentation, Umlor found a solution. The technology, which he dubbed SmartShield™, reduces costs by preventing contamination and protecting against the ammonia vaporization that degrades pipes and insulation.

Roofing Still Important

At its core, Springfield is still a roofing company based in Kingsley. It specializes in industrial projects big and small, and uses exclusively a PVC-based roofing product made in Saginaw by Duro-Last Roofing, Inc.

“It’s the best product we’ve found,” said Springfield’s president, Nick Jacqmain.

At present, about 70 percent of the company’s business is in roofing, with the remaining 30 percent in fall protection-related services and equipment.

But Jacqmain believes that might change over the next few years.

“Safety is becoming more and more embraced by construction and manufacturing businesses,” he said. “For example, our largest customer actually exceeds what they have to do under OSHA rules. They provide fall protection even if an employee is just six inches off the ground.”

Springfield has also begun selling training services for safety.

Hiring Challenges

Jacqmain said the company’s 30 employees are cross-trained to work on the roofing side of things but also on safety related projects.

But like many companies in northern Michigan, when the time comes to find new employees, Springfield faces a challenge.

“Many high school students have been pushed into college prep even though there are good jobs to be had working with your hands,” Jacqmain said. “We need to get that message out. Everyone is having the same problem – electricians, [heating, ventilation and air conditioning] companies, masons.”

Jacqmain praised business courses offered by Northwestern Michigan College’s (NMC) training services division. A Lean Office class from NMC, he said, helped streamline Springfield’s proposal process from 18 steps to eight.

The company has found other ways to stay competitive. Chief among them is to train existing employees and hire veterans when possible, said Jacqmain, adding that Springfield now has a four-person engineering team.

“That makes it possible to offer a custom design service, which is an advantage since nearly every fall prevention job is unique,” he said.

Jacqmain said that he is “optimistic” about Springfield’s future.

“We tell everyone here we want to be the friendliest and most dependable service company that our customers experience,” he said. “Our employees have made that an internal and an external thing. They’re not smiling and friendly just when dealing with customers. They’ve made this a pleasant place to be.”