Business In Focus Magazine – A Family Success Story

Our parent company, Metalmaster Roofmaster, Inc. was recently featured in Business In Focus Magazine.  See below for the entire story.

A Family Success Story – Metalmaster Roofmaster

-Written by Claire Suttles

Metalmaster Roofmaster is one of the largest commercial sheet metal and roofing contractors in North America.  The company’s remarkable story begins in 1977, when husband and wife team George and Gloria Smeja decided to take their chances on starting their own business…

It wasn’t an easy decision.  “They didn’t have much money,” explains third-generation family business member and Vice President of Marketing Rock Smeja, but “he had a talent in this industry and she was very business savvy.”  The late couple scraped together what resources they could and launched a modest gutter and downspout business out of their basement.

The one-truck, family run business struggled to survive at first.  Small, residential projects provided little opportunity for the company to make a name for itself.  “It was really hard to prove ourselves,” Rock points out.  “We started out doing local houses in the area.  Then we worked our way up to bigger houses and gradually, over many years, worked our way up to small commercial projects.”

Those years of steady growth required dedication and effort from all generations of the Smeja clan.  Gloria and George’s sons Michael and Daniel have worked alongside their parents since the company’s inception, and grandson Rock has been a part of the business since he was a teenager.  “When the company started, it was either make it or break it,” Rock said.  “But, if you rely on your family, you can put time in during the day and night, whatever it takes to succeed.”  Michael, Daniel, and Rock grew up with the business, becoming industry experts along the way. “My father and uncle would consistently work long hours and put extra time in to help grow the business. They educated themselves on the job doing everything, from bidding to fabrication and installations to maintenance and even collections.”

The family remains hands-on to this day.   “The owners of businesses this size aren’t typically involved in the everyday operations,” Rock points out.  “We are here every day, at night, and most weekends.  We work directly with the employees and are not removed so day-to-day operations can run efficiently and any problems can be solved without delay.”

By the turn of the century, the Smeja family business had moved far beyond gutters and downspouts, mastering sheet metal, industrial roofing, and more.  Now, the basement start-up occupies a state-of-the-art, purpose-built 100,000 square foot facility in the Chicago suburb McHenry, Illinois.  These days, the team only takes on large commercial and industrial projects and has worked on everything from big box stores, medical centres, and car dealerships to mega churches, government projects and the Six Flags theme park.  The company has also been involved in numerous high-profile projects including renovations to Soldier Field, home of the National Football League’s Chicago Bears; Chicago’s landmark Buckingham Fountain, which is one of the largest and most well-known fountains in the world; and the home of former Chicago Mayor Richard Daley.

As the business grew, so did the recognition, and Metalmaster Roofmaster has earned a slew of awards for quality and excellence over the years.  A few of its most notable awards include Firestone’s President’s Club Award, Platinum Council Award, Master Contractor Award and the prestigious Inner Circle of Quality Award, which is given to fewer than 32 contractors throughout the United States for achieving the highest level of quality. Since its inception, they have also been bestowed the Berridge Manufacturing Customer of Distinction Award,

As Metalmaster evolved, the Smejas took advantage of every opportunity, adding additional business streams along the way.  Roofmaster was added in the mid 1990s as the company expanded its expertise, rebranding the business as Metalmaster Roofmaster.  In 1994, the team incorporated Sno Gem in order to produce their own snow guards, which are a necessity in the upper mid-west’s snow filled winters.  “Snow and ice are susceptible to sliding off any roof out there with a slant to it,” Rock explains.  “It actually kills multiple people a year.”  Snow retention systems have been on the market since the late 1800s, he adds, and the modern day designs were not much better than those produced decades ago.  “Many were poor quality.  We didn’t like the way they installed.  They would fall off.”  Furthermore, very few companies manufactured snow guards, so consumers had no choice but to use what was available, even if the product was substandard.

The Smejas knew that something had to be done.  “My father, being an inventor, decided that we should make our own,” Rock recalls.  “Now we have over 150 products [produced by] Sno Gem.”  Sno Gem has also recently diversified by adding a brand new product line designed to attach virtually anything to a roof, from signs to solar panels.  “That is going to skyrocket the business,” Rock predicts.

By 2003, the Smejas’ companies had grown so large that the family launched a real estate investment business to manage the properties that their businesses used.  Smeja, LLC now owns multiple lots in one of the Chicago area’s premier office parks, an arrangement that will allow Metalmaster Roofmaster and Sno Gem to increase their warehouse, office, and manufacturing space even further as the need arises.

The Smejas’ most recent new venture is Limitless Innovations, which was launched in late 2012.  Limitless Innovations’ debut product was CableHub, a clever cable management system.  The team followed up with ChargeHub, a universal charging station that can charge seven products from just one outlet and is already enjoying major buzz.  The product just won Best of CES in January’s International Consumer Electronics Tradeshow (CES) in Las Vegas.  With over 3,200 exhibitors and 10,000 products at the show, it was an extremely impressive win.  Limitless Innovations is already in negotiations with major retailers including Wal-Mart and Sam’s Club about carrying ChargeHub; Warner Brothers is even considering adding ChargeHub to celebrity gift bags.  “It’s unbelievable.  This [product] is going to be huge.”

The Smejas have recognized – and seized – multiple business opportunities, from sheet metal to charging stations.  While this has certainly taken hard work and a keen business mind, the family believes that there is also something more at work behind the scenes.  “We are a Christian company,” Rock says, and the entire family credits God for their success.  Rock explains by telling the story of when the family was struggling, back when Metalmaster was nothing more than a shaky start-up..  “There was weeks where our family couldn’t even take a pay check,” he recalls.  And then, Rock says, the family experienced a dramatic turn of events.  “We became Christians, and ever since our family believed that God would take care of us, we were blessed unbelievably.”  He remembers that things really began turning around when his family started to give what little they had to the church and those less fortunate than themselves.  “The business began to grow.  And ever since then it kept growing and growing and growing.  Now, we have 150 employees and four businesses.”

The company faced some rocky times during the recession, but the family remained committed to putting others first.  “Even during the bad economy we were able to pull through and not lay anyone off,” Rock reports.  “It was difficult to make a profit, but we consider our employees like family, and were fortunate enough to not have to cut any salaries.”  Today, business is booming again and Metalmaster Roofmaster is getting more than enough work.  Green roofing is doing particularly well, and the team is eager to expand that aspect of the business.  In fact, Metalmaster Roofmaster was responsible for putting up one of the first green roofs in Chicago, which was installed atop the Apple store on Michigan Avenue.  In another green initiative, the company is working hard to have more employees become LEED accredited.

The Smejas are particularly motivated to continue expanding their companies in order to help boost the local economy and create jobs within their community.  “We want to bring more businesses to our area,” Rock explains.  Armed with a strong work ethic, a savvy business sense, and an unwavering faith, the family feels well prepared to meet their latest goals.  “The sky is the limit.”

Pull quotes:

“Now, the basement start-up occupies a state of the art, purpose built 100,000 square foot facility.”

“The company has been involved in numerous high profile projects.”

Roofmaster was added in the mid 1990s as the company expanded its expertise; in 1994, the team incorporated Sno Gem in order to produce their own snow guards.”

Metalmaster Roofmaster was responsible for putting up one of the first green roofs in Chicago.”