Roofs are the Cinderella of the architectural world. While facias and facades garner attention and praise, roofs rarely get so much as an honorable mention. Only those in the trade can testify to the technical complexities involved in fabricating what is arguably the most integral part of any build; the part that provides shelter. So, it takes a special type of person to become a roofing contractor, an unsung hero – someone who, in many ways, is like the roof itself; unassuming, hard-working, out in all weather, busy ensuring the safety of those underneath. Roofing requires someone who doesn’t need accolades, who can work without fanfare or public recognition. Someone like Jim Hoselton.
Coming from a long line of roofers going back three generations to 1931, it’s fair to say that roofing is in Hoselton’s genes. With a pedigree like his, it seemed inevitable he would follow in his grandfathers’ footsteps, one way or another. But while good genes make a good start, roofing is a notoriously tough business and it takes a lot of courage, stamina and determination to succeed in it.
“My college experience was simply this: I learned the hard way. I didn’t do the work, and then I’d worry about not doing the work. Finally, I got kicked out and I began to realize that it’s probably easier to just study. I went back and I worked hard. I got As and Bs and graduated with a degree in Economics and Business Administration. When I left college, I worked for the family business, doing office stuff, but by the time I was 36, I realized I didn’t want to do that anymore, so I went to Chicago. I worked for a guy, then I worked for another guy and eventually, I bought a roofing company and went into business for myself.”
Leaving the family business, he says, wasn’t easy and it caused a rift, but Hoselton, a half twin, was driven by a desire go it alone and stand on his own two feet. He set up Preservation Services in 1992, a roofing company with an enviable reputation for its expertise in a niche market. The company employs forty full time staff from of its office in Romeoville, clocking in an annual turnover of over 10 million dollars. The business is now considered Chicago’s most unique and efficient commercial roofing firm. They don’t shy away from difficult jobs. Instead, they embrace them, hence their much-deserved reputation for being the best at tackling monumental assignments, heavy on logistical challenges. A recently completed project, re-roofing the Evoque Data Centre in Lisle, Illinois, is a case in point.
The roof covered an area of 360,000 square feet. The job involved eye-watering amounts of materials and was completed in 100 days, for a price tag of four million dollars. Roofing is not totally without reward, it seems. Your price point, Jim explains, makes all the difference when attracting the right sort of client.
“For 80 per cent of our work last year, we weren’t the lowest bidder. Our business model is not to come in low. Nobody trusts anybody in our industry because we’re roofers. If you have a job, and you expect to have a terrible experience, you think, hey, I might as well put it out to six guys. I’ll take the cheapest guy, because then I’ll have a cheap terrible experience instead of an expensive one. People who want a terrible experience will always find each other and that’s how their business models are built. I charge more but I do things right. I filter out my clients because I don’t want bad experiences. I want someone that has 15 buildings, and they’ve already had 30 good experiences with me and they realize that 10 per cent more is probably justified. Really, what I do is data centers, telecommunications buildings, highrises, difficult tricky stuff and everything we do is very, very detailed.”
“He’s not afraid to go big if the situation calls for it, like when he needed to swap a truck for a helicopter, for instance.”
Attention to detail is vitally important for jobs like the Evoque Data Centre. That, and Jim’s evident self-confidence, earned from years of hard graft. He’s not afraid to go big if the situation calls for it, like when he needed to swap a truck for a helicopter, for instance. “The Evoque data center was like an eight-acre iPad. There were a lot of ways to do it.” Because I know that eight acres of roof is fragile, meaning I can’t really step on it, I can’t run truck equipment on it but I still have to replace this roof, right? I have to pull materials over it and I have to take wheelbarrows over it. It’s an eight-acre building and it’s 30 feet in the air and I’ve got to do that acre in the middle. I just knew … I’m not going to use a crane which will require me to drive on this roof. I told the owner, there’s going to be 247 miles of construction traffic on your existing roof, over your existing servers. You’ll have months and months of leaks until I’m done. So, let’s use a helicopter. In this case, we were more expensive than other bidders but I wouldn’t have done it any other way. We have a fantastic reputation for data centers. We keep our word. This is our specialty. We sell project plans; we don’t sell pricing.”
Preservation Services was solid enough to carry on during the Covid pandemic without having to lay off staff. Construction on the Evoque project continued throughout restrictions until the job was complete. Most of this, I suspect, is down to Jim and the ethos he encourages at work. A quick look at the company website reveals a ‘Support Team’ made up of five adopted bulldog/terrier mixes, which speaks volumes for Jim’s sense of humor and subtly demonstrates his kindness and compassion. “The dogs come to work every day. We have a great culture at work. I have two deaf dogs and my office manager has one. These deaf dogs are so cute together. So, it’s just our vibe, I mean it’s big business, smash mouth, get to the point kind of business but it’s also cool.”
Jim is cool. I ask him what’s the secret of his success. “I think my superpower is taking experience and making wisdom out of it, because I’ve already made every mistake possible. If you call me, I’m bringing my experience and I’m bringing my candor. I can make you laugh; I can talk about fishing or football or whatever, but you’re here for a reason, you need a job done and I’m good at it.”
At 60, Jim is philosophical about the future of the business. He harbors no illusions of being irreplaceable and accepts that he won’t be running the company for ever. For now, though, the future for Preservation Services looks bright.
“I am listening to the “board of directors” advising me to create a more valuable company that can transition beyond me, the founder. I set out to make myself obsolete so I can work on the company objectively – not in the company. I am more driven to make the company more valuable. If that ends in the sale of my business, that’s fine. If ends with me still having a desk in a successful organization run by others, that’s fine too.”