ST. JOSEPH – Cory Swanson doesn’t believe that bigger is better.
In his first 12 years in the business, he built his roofing company with annual sales of $ 2 million per year and about a dozen employees.
But in the four years since then, Swanson – whose company is known as both Swanson Roofing and The Roofing Dog – has been content to keep his company the same size.
“I’m really pleased with where we are,” said Swanson, 36, of St. Joseph. “I don’t need the stress of getting bigger and expanding.”
He said his staff work as “a crew – that’s the best way to keep quality control up.”
Today Swanson Roofing is named Small Business of the Year by the Champaign County’s Chamber of Commerce at lunch at the Hilton Garden Inn.
In information scrutinized by the chamber’s judges, Swanson Roofing said it does not want further sales growth for fear it could jeopardize the company’s integrity.
If the company can keep sales at just over $ 2 million a year, it can “become self-sufficient and provide the ability to serve past customers if necessary,” according to its nomination form.
Swanson, a former high school teacher and coach, started his roofing company in 1997 – two years after graduating from Rantoul Township High School.
“Roofers were the best way to get me through college,” said Swanson, who earned an associate degree from Parkland College and a bachelor’s degree in kinesiology from the University of Illinois.
Swanson got his introduction to the construction business by working for Kenny Carter of C&K Builders for a few years.
But “my goal was to be a teacher and coach,” said Swanson. “I’ve always been interested in sports.”
He got a job at his old high school – Rantoul Township – as a special education teacher. He later became a strength and conditioning trainer, assistant to the soccer coach and running coach.
But his roofing business, which he ran on weekends and in the summer, was so successful that, after much prayer, he decided to get involved all day.
In the early years, some of his former student-athletes worked for the company during the summer. To this day, a former student – Garrett Runyon – still does.
“He has become my captain. He meets with 80 percent of my clients,” said Swanson.
About 95 percent of the company’s business is residential work, mostly within an hour’s drive of Champaign-Urbana. The company’s office is in Swanson’s home in St. Joseph and its store is in Rantoul.
Swanson said he was proud that his company had received an “A +” rating from the Better Business Bureau since it was accredited in 2008.
He is particularly pleased about this because, according to the Better Business Bureau, roofers tend to have more complaints than the average company.
Swanson said he found it “humble” to run a small business.
First, “You serve customers. Things have to be perfect,” he said.
It’s also humble because the business is constantly exposed to competition.
“We have to be grateful for every job we get,” he said.
Swanson once said he thought the business would grow to run on himself. But he has learned that this can only happen in an ideal world.
“One thing I didn’t expect was that as a business owner, you always have to be active to meet the standards you want,” he said.
Swanson said he does not subcontract work. He said his employees are paid above the industry average and are provided with health insurance and retirement benefits.
This is unusual in the umbrella industry, but Swanson hopes it will produce high quality employees in the long run.
So far the formula seems to be working. The average tenure with Swanson Roofing is 6-1 / 2 years.
Swanson said the main influences on him were:
– His mother, Sandy Ehler of Flatville, a retired accounts payable director at the University of Illinois who helped shape “the business side of me.”
– Rev. Robert Freeman, former pastor of the First United Methodist Church in Rantoul, “who morally put me on the right path”.
Swanson’s wife Melissa teaches Special Education in the Prairieview-Ogden School District in the mornings and works in the Swanson Roofing office in the afternoons.
They have two sons – Keanen, 12 and Kyler, 6 – and Swanson coaches youth soccer, basketball and baseball. Several other employees are also involved in coaching youth sports.