Interview With Eric McClung – President Of R&S Manufacturing and Sales

by | Dec 29, 2022 | Roofing

Q – Kindly give our readers an introduction to your business. Please include what your business is all about, in which city you are located and if you have offices in multiple locations/ cities.

R&S Roof Products manufactures and supplies roof accessories for a wide array of commercial buildings. Our major product categories include roof curbs, skylights, smoke ventilators, access hatches, louvers, and roof walkways. Our factory is located in Santa Paula, CA in Ventura County. We ship products nationally as well as to Canada and Mexico. R&S sells building products to General Contractors, Erectors, Metal Building Manufacturers, Roofing Contractors, and HVAC Contractors.

Q – Kindly give us a brief description of yourself (it should include your brief educational or entrepreneurial background and list some of your major achievements).

I hold a bachelor’s degree in business from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. My career started in the e-commerce industry in a sales capacity. Over the next 10 years, I played a role in marketing and digital advertising, ultimately landing a business development role for the TransUnion Consumer Direct division (financial market). I learned a great deal about what it takes to secure high-revenue partnerships with Fortune 500 institutions including Chase, Citibank, Capital One, and GE Financial. In my next major role, I was hired to drive revenue through a select group of web properties for a large people search company in Seattle, WA. By the time I left that position, I was heading up various teams which included product, customer experience, and user support. With over 150 cross-functional team members under my management, I gained insight into how to build and improve operational efficiency across a wide range of talents. This company was ultimately acquired. Searching for my next challenge brought me to R&S Manufacturing as general manager and ultimately President and CEO of the company. Under my leadership, the company has made several major improvements including the acquisition of cutting-edge machinery, expansion into a facility that is 4x our previous footprint, and reversing sagging sales trends while tripling company sales/profitability. We are now positioned for transformative growth over the coming years.

Q – What inspired you to (start a new business venture) or (make significant changes in an existing business)? How did the idea for your business come about?

Given my previous roles, I wanted to take on the challenge of running an organization. The opportunity to move from selling digital assets to physical products was also appealing. The opportunity came when my father-in-law decided it was time to retire. He had been running the company with a good deal of success over the previous 25 years. I knew my background in sales and marketing would enable us to deploy effective online marketing strategies to grow our footprint. That’s just what we’ve done.

Q – What three pieces of advice would you give to budding entrepreneurs?

Pay close attention to profitability. Don’t sacrifice margin for sales. I know this sounds obvious to some, but when you’re working to get your concept off the ground, it’s easy to lose track of financial performance. If you’re not turning a profit, adjust early to course correct.

Take very good care of your employees. You can’t run the business without them. Make sure they know they are valuable and give credit when credit is due. You’ll be rewarded with their loyalty.

Always treat every customer engagement as equally valuable. When things get busy, it’s easy to put all your focus and energy on the big opportunities while neglecting others. This is often a big mistake. There have been many examples in our business where a seemingly small transaction evolves into a much larger and more valuable opportunity over time or results in multiple referrals. Make every interaction count.

Q – What would you say are the top three skills needed to be a successful entrepreneur?

You must be resilient. While being a business owner offers tremendous upside, the challenges faced along the way will be significant. Keep in mind that almost any issue can be resolved. Your ability to bounce back from adversity will be a critical component of your success.

Ability to recognize talent to build a great team. Don’t assume you have to spend top dollar for great talent. Take time to identify all the critical functions required for success. Make a list of skill sets best suited to meet those requirements. Determine how much of those skills can be trained once hired. I also pay close attention to personality traits to ensure that each hire fits our company culture.

Be open-minded and flexible. Entrepreneurs are generally very confident in their ideas, sometimes to a fault. This can lead to a narrow vision when it comes to company direction and strategy. You build a great team so you can rely on them to help grow your business. Make sure to take time and solicit/integrate ideas from those that are doing the work each day. Some of our best company improvements in productivity and safety have come from the shop floor. Plus, you will also find those employees that are thinking about the business and how to improve it. This is a natural way to find emerging leaders in your organization.

Q – How many hours do you work a day on average?

I don’t believe successful people must work an exorbitant number of hours. Keeping a balanced schedule prevents burnout. Often your best work is done when you are fresh and focused. I shoot for a typical 40–50-hour week but do tend to work on special projects on weeknights or weekends when inspired. We have used this same approach when developing our company culture.

Q – To what do you most attribute your success?

My ability to communicate effectively while being authentic in tone and delivery. This is a skill that has opened many doors, from interviews to handling large clients. It’s also very helpful when negotiating pricing (purchasing or selling) and managing team members. But it is critical to emphasize authenticity in your approach. People will eventually see through someone who can talk but isn’t earnest in their words.

Q – How do you go about marketing your business? What has been your most successful form of marketing?

Word of mouth and referrals drove this company for many years. This has been very successful and largely a result of our focused execution and reliable customer fulfillment. In terms of growth, investing in our online presence has had a major impact on customer acquisition. Since we operate in a niche market, we can achieve favorable SERP rankings using proven techniques implemented by a quality SEO marketing agency. In our business, one quote request can generate very high contract values. For this reason, we put a much higher value on finding the right project/customer, versus on the raw quantity of quotes and orders generated.

Q – Where did your organization’s funding/capital come from and how did you go about getting it? How did you obtain investors for your venture?

We have always employed the strategy of self-funding for all initiatives while keeping a close eye on maintaining a healthy profit margin. We do utilize short-term outside funding for capital expenditures (large machine purchases), but never allow the company to get over-leveraged. We also accelerate payoff whenever possible to keep a clean balance sheet. This positions us to survive the lean months (or years) without suffering any loss of talent. We also don’t hesitate to ask for down payments from customers to help with cash flow.

Q – What is the best way to achieve long-term success?

Always look to make the right moral decision. Ask yourself if it is the right thing to do. It’s been very helpful to me over the years to develop this principle as a guiding force. People will respect you more which will open doors. I’ve always been amazed at how the little things that you do for others have the biggest impact.

Q – Where do you see yourself and your business in 5 – 10 years?

We will continue to expand, gaining an improved position in our core markets of daylighting, rooftop personnel safety, and fire safety products. We will build a highly effective marketing engine aimed at both acquisition and customer retention. Sales will devote more attention to architects and the inclusion of our products in their building plans. Our current factory will continue to grow to accommodate higher volume output with improved efficiency. The company will also evaluate opening new locations aimed to better serve markets in the mid-west and the east coast. I personally anticipate leading this company over the next 5-10 years to fully execute our potential.

Q – Excluding yours, what company or business do you admire the most?

Patagonia. A timeless brand that has generated a loyal following while promoting exceptional work-life balance. I also love that they put an emphasis on quality, even going as far as providing a repair and reuse program. This is everything a successful company should be. For more on the thinking that went into their culture, check out “let my people go surfing” by founder Yvon Chouinard for an inspiring read.

Q – How important have good employees been to your success?

Like many companies, having an excellent team is paramount. But building a good team should also include great chemistry. We put a large emphasis on finding talent that can effectively work together. We’ve learned over the years that poor office dynamics can take a huge negative toll on any company. From the amount of work that gets done to the way customer interactions are handled – a toxic work environment can erode all the positive things that you do for your company.

Q – How long do you stick with an idea before giving up?

My methodology here is to invest only what is required (time and money) to test a concept before committing the company to an idea. By taking this approach, you’ll reduce time-wasting efforts while creating confidence in the execution of those ideas that pass internal tests. To learn more about this approach, I highly recommend Jim Collins’s iconic book “Great by Choice”. He describes the concept of firing bullets, then cannonballs – including several real-world examples of how this is done.

Q – What motivates you?

This is a great question because it makes you think about what you really enjoy doing. One benefit of being an entrepreneur is that you can define your own role to play to your strengths, eventually allowing you to delegate the things you don’t enjoy and focus on those that you do. It’s the opportunity to do the things you enjoy most that will motivate you. For, I enjoy the marketing and sales aspect of the work. I also like to be on the shop floor looking for ways to organize and become more efficient. When I see the results of those efforts, it inspires and drives me forward.

Q – What are your ideals?

Always be honest in your interactions with others. Approach all decisions by emphasizing the best and most just outcome possible. Be open-minded to other perspectives and ideas and be willing to change even your deepest convictions if the evidence supports them.

Q – How do you generate new ideas?

I always maintain a list of strategic company objectives and keep that list fresh and up to date. When I’m away from the office, I review that list and let an unpressured mind free think about how best to achieve those goals. It’s amazing how ideas can flow when you are free from distractions. These sessions are short though, never exceeding 15-30 minutes for me personally.

Ask team members for their ideas. Sometimes people will surprise you with great concepts that can act as building blocks in the development of groundbreaking ideas. Make sure they get the credit as that will generate more feedback from them as well as others.

Q – How do you define success?

Creating a life that is sustainable. Find that balance of what it takes monetarily to create happiness while placing a high value on personal time away from work with friends and family.

Q – How do you build a successful customer base?

Always deliver on your promises. Don’t assume to minimize effort purely based on the size of the opportunity. At the same time, don’t be afraid to lose a customer if they aren’t a good fit.

Develop feedback channels to evaluate and track customer satisfaction. Make sure to define how you plan to address and act on this data. It’s also important to evolve your approach to continue generating value from these efforts. We use both automated tools (i.e., email) as well as follow-up calls to solicit direct and interactive feedback. We have also found success by nurturing rapport through consistency, earning our place in their trusted circle.

Q – What is your favorite aspect of being an entrepreneur?

I find it rewarding to provide a means for families to build good life. There is something particularly satisfying in knowing you are creating an environment that yields the greatest amount of happiness possible, along with the compensation necessary for a happy and fulfilling life. These benefits offer rewards that go beyond pure personal financial gain.

Q – What has been your most satisfying moment in business?

Managing the move from a smaller facility to our current larger space. It was a lot of work to coordinate, given the amount of equipment we have, and the build-out required to set up the office and shop floor. Finding a space to meet our requirements took over 2 years and carried a significant cost. We are seeing tremendous benefits including production efficiency gains, improved worker safety, and an overall upgrade to employee facilities and morale. Employee turnover has reduced significantly which has led to a more productive and knowledgeable workforce. This is particularly satisfying given that much of the effort took place during the midst of the pandemic.

Q – What do you feel is the major difference between entrepreneurs and those who work for someone else?

Entrepreneurs understand that they are (and should be) the last ones to benefit from company success. They take on all the risk but have the highest long-term opportunity for reward. When the company is faced with a challenge, it’s the entrepreneur/owner that takes the pay cut. It’s the owner who deals with legal issues when they arise. They carry the burden, and it takes a certain kind of person to want that kind of life. There is absolutely nothing that makes an entrepreneur better in any way than those that work for someone else; being a business owner is simply not for everyone.

Q – What kind of culture exists in your organization? How did you establish this tone and why did you institute this particular type of culture?

We focus on providing a relaxed and flexible work environment that is rooted in the contribution of ideas and involvement in the company’s success. We subscribe to the idea that the best innovation comes from those that are doing the work each day. To push this concept, the company holds regular brainstorming sessions, encouraging involvement and making sure to recognize those who contribute. This drives a sense of pride among the team and ensures that everyone has an opportunity to make a difference.

Q – In one word, characterize your life as an entrepreneur.

Humbling. Coming up in my career I often questioned (often criticized) executive leadership and decision-makers. But I quickly learned that it is much more difficult to make those decisions when the weight of the company rests on your shoulders.

Q – How has being an entrepreneur affected your family life?

It has been largely positive. My wife and I don’t have children and we also work together. I know most people would have a hard time with that, but it just works for us. There have certainly been stressful moments, but overall, I don’t feel it’s been detrimental to our family life.

Q – What is your greatest fear, and how do you manage fear?

My biggest fear is that sales will slow down due to market conditions or competition. I don’t have any specific reason to have this concern given the company has been successful over so many years, but it is something that is always in the back of my mind. I feel this is a healthy fear. I manage this by relentlessly seeking ways to fuel growth, even when sales are strong. We also keep a very close eye on the competition and make sure that our brand remains prevalent in our marketplace. Lastly, we work hard to ensure our customers know when we take positive steps to improve lead times or pricing.

Q – Do you believe there is some sort of pattern or formula to becoming a successful entrepreneur?

You must learn to enjoy the journey. If you are unhappy in your day-to-day work life, it’s tough to show up motivated and give your best each day. This may sound obvious, but I feel there are many entrepreneurs that just keep on pressing out of fear of giving up on the idea. That doesn’t mean that you abandon your business at the first sign of difficulty, more that you go to work each day asking yourself if you love what you do. I feel success follows those that feel inspired to do their best every day.

Q – Who has been your greatest inspiration?

Again, I must give this to Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard. You’ll find that so many of my answers in this interview are firmly rooted in his approach to business. As a leader, he had an incredible way of balancing his personal beliefs and business pursuits, and he never wavered from these ideals. Truly a remarkably authentic individual.

Q – What book has inspired you the most? (OR what is your favorite book?)

Good to Great by Jim Collins. So many concepts were meticulously assembled, studied, and proven. Applies to almost any kind of business. A must-read for any business owner.

Q – What are some of the biggest mistakes you’ve made in business?

Most of the major mistakes had to do with the way I interacted with colleagues early in my career. There have been several occasions where I just didn’t handle a situation correctly and said something that burned bridges. It’s well-documented that one negative interaction requires many positive ones to mend a relationship. Keeping a cool head along with measured responses will reduce friction and allow you to be more productive overall.

Q – How can you prevent mistakes or do damage control?

I feel the approach to handling mistakes is most important. First and foremost, if the mistake affects your customer, make sure they are made whole. Put that first and then deal with internal damage control. Second, investigate to find the root cause without calling someone out specifically (whenever possible). The third is to make sure and document what went wrong, what was done to address the issue, and how it can be avoided in the future. We also use these opportunities to evaluate other risk factors (related or otherwise) that require procedures to avoid them from occurring. As many have said, you can’t avoid mistakes, but you can certainly learn from them.

Q – What are your hobbies? What do you do in your non-work time?

I am an outdoor enthusiast. Hiking and mountain biking represents most of my outdoor time. My wife and I also enjoy traveling in our small RV, exploring national parks whenever possible. I also really enjoy a great cocktail or glass of wine and a great meal with family and friends!

Q – What makes you happy?

I love seeing a team member develop and execute an idea of their own. It makes me happy to see them take pride in contributing to the company’s success and be recognized by their peers. Absolutely the best and fills me with pride and admiration.

Q – If you were conducting this interview, what question would you ask?

Looking back on your decision to become an entrepreneur, would you do it again?

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