In 1994, Mike and Alison Smith needed a new roof for their Regina home. After talking to several roofing contractors, they weren’t impressed.
“Most companies would say, ‘Here’s our price,’ and that was about it. There was no customer service,” Mike said.
“Some companies wouldn’t even meet in person. They’d just take a glance at the roof from the street and leave an estimate in the mailbox.”
The married couple ended up doing the job themselves. While Mike installed shingles on the roof, neighbours inquired about estimates from the ground. That’s when they realized the business opportunity in front of them.
In 1995, Mike and Alison spent their entire $4,500 savings account to start Wheatland Roofing Inc. from their house—a substantial risk considering they had five kids to feed, including one more kid on the way. They knew their success depended on providing a drastically different approach than their competitors.
“We wanted to provide the exact opposite of what roofing companies offered us while we were customers,” Alison said.
Instead of leaving estimates in the mailbox, they met with homeowners and conducted thorough roof inspections.
“We found out what their needs were by getting on the roof and taking a look at everything,” Mike said.
“We diagnosed what the issues were, then we prescribed solutions. We gave them a lot of information so they could make an educated decision.”
Their strategy was unprecedented for a roofing contractor in Regina at the time: provide both quality workmanship and quality customer service. The strategy also acted as their marketing plan.
“Our goal was to make each customer a salesperson for us. The better the service we provided, the more referrals we’d get. That was our marketing plan. We didn’t have the money to do any other kind of marketing,” Mike said.
“We wanted to provide the exact opposite of what roofing companies offered us while we were customers.”
Mike and Alison hoped to do three roofs a week. By the end of the 1995 roofing season, Wheatland Roofing did three to four roofs a day.
“Doing that many roofs was very, very big for us. But the days were also very, very long,” Mike said.
While Mike and a few employees handled the roof installations, Alison handled the household and administrative tasks. She’d get up early in the morning, take care of the kids, answer the phone, book the estimates, and do the paperwork. Fourteen-hour days were common.
“That’s the sort of commitment you needed to get a business going,” Mike said.
Not long after its founding, Wheatland Roofing became too big to operate from Mike and Alison’s home. They moved the business into its first office and shop in 1996.
“That was a bold move back then, considering Saskatchewan’s economy in 1996 and that we were only in our second year of business,” Mike said.
Wheatland continued to grow and think differently than most roofing contractors. To further improve their service to customers, they took steps to become industry leaders.
In 2000, Alison became the first female president of the Regina Home Builders’ Association. In 2003, she became renovation council chair of the Canadian Home Builders’ Association.
“In Ottawa, in Victoria, in Newfoundland, I met with people in the industry. I networked with renovators, boards, and politicians. It was educational,” Alison said.
They also made social responsibility a core value. From being five-year sponsors of the George Reed Foundation to helping provide free roofs each year to people and organizations in need, Wheatland Roofing has consistently given back.
“We just feel it’s important to give back. The community has been very supportive of Wheatland Roofing. What you put out in the universe is what you’re going to get back,” Mike said.
From the beginning, Wheatland Roofing has embraced technology. Cell phone service in Saskatchewan was poor in 1996. To communicate with employees on different job sites, Mike and Alison used a long-range walkie-talkie system provided by SaskTel. Flash forward to 2020 and Wheatland Roofing now uses drones to inspect difficult-to-access roofs.
“When you look at the last 25 years, the technology has changed and we’ve kept up with it and continue to use it,” Alison said.
While technology has changed and Wheatland Roofing has moved into several bigger and better buildings, many things have stayed constant, especially the company’s commitment to customers.
“Many roofing contractors have come and gone. We’re proud of the fact that we’re still around to provide customers a quality service,” Mike said.
Mike and Alison are also proud to have second-generation family employees (two of their four sons, Logan and Turner, work for the company, as does their daughter-in-law Victoria) and second-generation non-family employees.
“We’ve provided many jobs over the years to many families and very diverse families. Over the last 25 years, more than 50 percent of our installers have been First Nations,” Mike said.
Here’s one more constant: the company is still run by the same husband and wife team who founded it.
“We’ve been married for 30 years. We’re partners in work and partners in life. So basically we’ve been together 24/7 for the last 25 years,” Mike said.
“But looking back, I don’t think we would have done it differently and we wouldn’t want it any other way.”