Editor's note: This article was published in Grand Traverse Business magazine's Fall 2018 issue. For more stories from the magazine, click here to read GT Business in its entirety online.
WILLIAMSBURG — There’s a wall in the Mariage Roofing showroom filled with handwritten thank you notes from appreciative customers.
Owners John and Sally Kolarik say it’s a reflection of the consistency and quality of the residential and commercial work that they do in the Grand Traverse and Antrim counties.
Mariage was founded nearly 50 years ago by Tracy Mariage and purchased by Dave and Randy Hendges in 1993. John and Sally bought the business in 2011.
John Kolarik was a 21-year-old looking for work when he joined the team at Mariage. He liked the work, liked being outside and working with his hands. He never dreamed that that nearly two decades later he would own the business.
“It definitely wasn’t what I originally set out to do,” he recalled. “Dave and Randy were the owners when I started and I thought they were super great guys so I stuck with it.”
When the Hendges’s foreman left to make a career change, John says he was in the right place at the right time.
“I walked in the office one day and they threw me the keys to the truck and said, 'You’re the new foreman and good luck.'”
John never looked back. When he and his wife, Sally, had the opportunity to buy the business in 2007, they jumped at the chance.
The owners were ready to retire and gave the couple several years to purchase it and learn the ins and outs along the way. John brought his extensive knowledge of the roofing business and Sally, who had owned her own gardening business, brought bookkeeping skills to the table.
“I knew how to use QuickBooks, and Randy had me start taking over payroll before we took over completely,” said Sally.
When the couple finally took the reins, they had a good idea of what the future held — but there was still a learning curve.
“As good a job as Dave and Randy did getting us prepped, I think having them gone and the training wheels off those first couple of years I felt fairly confident. But there’s still more learning to do and it’s still going on for sure,” John said. “There are a lot of moving parts to this business.”
Sally agrees, “Just everything being in his hands, from the estimating to the training to finding the employees, was what shocked us a little bit.”
There was never any question about leaving the name the same, they both said.
“We were buying the name, a company that had been around since 1971 and had a really good reputation,” said John.
Seven years in as owners, John says he still looks forward to coming to work every day. He’s the first one in and the last one out.
“I like the challenge of it, I like organizing the crew, working with the guys. I like to be the one ultimately in charge of the way things happen here, whether they go good or badly, I know who to blame,” he said.
The couple says that their nine employees are at the heart of their success. They have structured the business so that they hire their employees rather than using subcontractors. It’s an unusual choice in an industry that is increasingly using subcontractors to curtail costs.
Despite the added cost, it’s ultimately worth having their own staff because it gives them a greater control of the business — from the install to customer service, they explained.
“I think it’s important having our own employees,” said Sally. “We have consistency and quality and the biggest compliments are about our employees — how respectful they are, how hardworking.”
The couple starts each morning with a staff meeting at their Williamsburg office, where they share any kudos they’ve received with their employees.
They extensively train their staff often using a on-site mock roof.
“We prefer to train our employees. That way we know what we’ve got and how they’re going to do it every time,” said John.
“We also have a few things that only we do — trade secrets — that’s the way we like to do it,” said John. “I can spot a Mariage roof pretty quickly.”
He acknowledges that roofing is tough work. So when he finds someone who works hard, he believes in taking care of them. “I see the customer maybe 20 or 30 minutes. But our employees are spending all day with them and are the best representation of our company.”
“We tell them to work like you’re being watched. They’re advertising for us — wearing our shirts, driving out vehicles," said Sally.
John has seen roofing products remain relatively the same over the years. Asphalt shingles are still their bread and butter. They come in an array of colors, are affordable and last a long time.
Metal roofs are creeping in a little, said John. They install some steel shingles as well.
The company's typical job is done in a day or two.
“We bring a small trained army,” said John. “We’re there to get it done, so we don’t mess around.”
These days John doesn’t get up on the roof anymore. He’s working full-time keeping his employees busy, lining up jobs and materials.
Most of their business arrives via word of mouth, said Sally.
“Our reputation is good, so phone calls come to us,” added John.
The couple said that their company is big enough to handle most projects, but small enough that they can provide solid customer service.
“When you call, it will be Sally or me who answers the phone every time," John said. "There’s not a constant rotation of office staff and we pride ourselves in retaining the guys that we have."