Young Gwinnett Entrepreneurs Challenge Big Business with Preferred Roofing Supply
by Heather Collins, Contributing Writer
Newly married and recent graduates of Georgia State University, Paul and Daniela Salamanca started Preferred Roofing Supply, LLC in 2013 when they were both 23 years old. The company carries roofing and siding materials as well as the tools needed for residential construction, a craft for which the Salamancas had no previous experience. And yet, the young entrepreneurs have made a big splash in the roofing supply industry, disrupting a market that, until now, had been dominated by three major companies. Paul talked to The Executive about how he and Daniela have expanded their business from one corner of their backyard to leading a team of twenty-five employees running two locations, one in Tucker and one in Jonesboro.
What inspired you to start Preferred Roofing?
I always tell people Daniela’s dad planted the seed and we watered it. He was the one with the idea. We had just graduated college. I graduated with a marketing degree from Georgia State University and Daniela graduated with a degree in political science. I was studying for the LSAT, and she was studying to get her master’s degree. Daniela’s dad, who is in the tool business, came up to us and said, “Hey I know you aren’t really working. I know you are studying, but I have this idea. I think we can start a business where we sell shingles. I don’t really have time to do it, but if you want to help me out while you go to school this could be a little side gig until then.”
So of course, we did not have much to do, and we did not think much of it. It was just a little extra money. We started in the backyard and then, out of nowhere in October, we were like, “You know what, why don’t we just sit down and make this an actual business? We always wanted to be entrepreneurs. We always wanted to have our own business.”
We graduated in May and by October we had formed an LLC and opened a warehouse. From then it has taken off, thank God. We learned as we went. We did not have mentors. We did not know anything about roofing: we did not know what kind of trucks we needed; we did not know how big the warehouse had to be. We just preserved and gave it our all and we have been going ever since.
Who are Preferred Roofing’s primary customers?
We have realtors, investors, contractors, subcontractors, and homeowners. We started with 100% Latino customers and over the years have diversified our customer base with 60% Latinos and 40% other ethnicities. And we did this all through word-of-mouth marketing. We could not afford to do any other form of advertising until about year three into our venture.
Preferred Roofing has been recognized by several organizations, including the Gwinnett Chamber and the Georgia Hispanic Construction Association, and was featured on HGTV. What is it that sets your company apart?
If you are in the roofing industry, you know that there are only a handful of suppliers that cater to the market. So, for a company to take market share like what we have done, we have made some noise and customers now consider Preferred among those top supplier names. And why? Simply put, we have good service, competitive pricing, and people are looking for new and different options. It helps that our good service breeds customer loyalty, too.
How have you been able to compete with national suppliers?
Price, performance, longer hours, and a niche market in the Latin community. We took the approach of being open during hours when our customers were available. The bigger companies close at 5:00 pm; we decided to close at 7:00 pm. They are closed on Saturdays; we are open on Saturdays. In addition to creating some convenient hours of operation for our clients, we also started our business fully in the Latin community, an otherwise untapped market for our services and a great opportunity to grow a business with speed. Fair pricing and excellent performance on the job round out our “magic formula” if you will. You see, most of our customers cannot be searched online; rather, they are working for large roofing contractors and buying materials from us to do their projects. So, from that position, we were able to foster those relationships to obtain work with the larger contractors, too. But no matter the size of a business, small or large, we treat everyone fairly and try to help everybody to the best of our ability.
In 2019 you and Daniela established a scholarship at Georgia State. Why was that important to you?
If it was not for Georgia State, then Daniela and I never would have met, never married, and never started this business. She and I are also both first generation college graduates. We know the difficulties of going to school, not having the financials together, losing hope trying to pay-off school debt and a host of other challenges. So, we wanted to give back to the community and thought, why not do it through Georgia State?
Our scholarship is given to a leader in the Latin community who is a first-generation college student with entrepreneurial aspirations. It hits close to home as we wished there had been something like it for us back then; so, we created one to pay it forward and help aspiring students find their opportunity. It is also in perpetuity, so even after we pass, the scholarship will still be there.
What is one piece of advice that you wish you had known when you started Preferred Roofing?
It would have been nice to have a mentor who was in the industry. For example, they could have helped us out by telling us how big the warehouse had to be, what kind of forklifts we needed, what trucks we needed. We did not expect people to want us to deliver materials, so we did not even have a truck. Having a mentor would have been extremely beneficial. But, at the end of the day, its ultimately up to you to be as successful as you want to be, so we put our minds to it and overcame.
How has being involved with the Gwinnett Chamber Chairman’s Club affected your business?
We have been with the Chairman’s Club for two years. We have met amazing entrepreneurs and amazing staff. It is very motivating to see how well other people are doing in Gwinnett and crushing it in their industries. It makes you want more, strive for more, and never quit. I really want to get to meet more people in the Chamber, and more of the leaders in the Chairman’s Club specifically, learning about their stories to see how we can all grow together.
What does the future look like for Preferred Roofing?
In the next five to ten years, there are a number of directions our company could take. We could continue to grow, opening new branches in Georgia and increasing our distribution. Or if new locations are not possible, we would just keep growing our current clientele and the stores we have in operation today. Or we could get acquired by one of the larger outfits in the industry. Whatever makes the most sense for our family, our customers and our community is how we will measure our next step. For now, we “prefer” to do what we love and serve our customers with excellence.