Douglas Veis-elmeyer and Glen Paine Jr. discovered they shared a common background shortly after meeting for the first time in a Lincoln High School gym class. Both were the product of broken homes, raised by single mothers who relied on welfare and occasional child support checks to help them survive. Both began helping contribute to that survival by finding jobs when they were 13—Paine as a paper carrier and Veiselmeyer as a shoe salesman.

Paine, who began roofing with his father and an uncle at 16, worked at Keller Roofing, then Sunrise Roofing, and roomed with Veiselmeyer when the latter attended Tacoma Community College. They’ve been best friends for 21 years, they say, but when they decided to become partners in an enterprise they could call their own, conventional wisdom and a lot of professional acquaintances warned them not to.

“We were told friendships never work in business,” recalls Veiselmeyer, who earned a bachelor’s degree in marketing and business administration at Wayne State College in Nebraska. “Such partnerships seldom last.”

“The odds of a new business making it are tough enough without complicating it with a partnership,” Paine adds.

Such axioms merely fueled their determination to succeed, the partners say.

Paine brought an assortment of roofing tools and a 1967 pickup painted in black primer to the new enterprise. Veiselmeyer talked his mother and stepfather into putting the family home up as security for the new company’s first contractor’s license. A small, sympathetic family-owned roofing-material supplier provided the fledgling business with a desperately needed line of credit, and in November 1987, Tile Technology Roofing Co. opened its doors in Tacoma.

The first year produced $750,000 in sales and before-tax profit of slightly more than $100,000. That first year, Paine says, the partners were driven by the need to feed their families. Once they discovered it could be done, he says, they settled down and had a little more fun.

By the end of 1990, company was doing $2.4 million dollars a year in sales and netting in excess of $300,000. A snap shot of Tile-Tech’s organizational structure at this point would give most aspiring entrepreneurs heartburn, says Veiselmeyer.

“We weren’t going by the book,” he says.

He credits the company’s growth and success to the underlying philosophy of its founders, a philosophy they sum up in the sentence “Do what you say you’re going to do when you say you’re going to do it!”

A dependable roofing company is a rarity in an industry that has a reputation for just the opposite, says Veiselmeyer. The company helped raise industry standards, he adds—but those standards became increasingly difficult to meet over the next half dozen years in the wake of increased government regulation, labor shortages, a slump in the new housing market, rising material costs, conflicts with unions and audits by state departments of Revenue and Labor & Industry and even by the IRS.

The company faced some hard decisions, says Paine: Should Tile-Tech concentrate on growth? If so, where would the qualified roofers it needed to man that growth come from? Would it be safer to focus on re-roofing, which is steady and would eliminate the peaks, the valleys and the uncertainty from cash flow? Or should Tile-Tech get commercial and government work—and was it even qualified to handle such contracts? What sort of equipment needs would there be if the company specialized in re-roofing, on the one hand, or expanded into commercial and government projects, on the other. Could the company afford additional equipment?

Though they previously had done everything in their power to minimize company debt, the partners now decided to leverage the company for the equipment needed to pursue re-roofing, government and commercial contracts. Dump trucks, conveyor trucks, vans, pickups and miscellaneous small tools and equipment were purchased. So were the office machines necessary to streamline business operations and communications.

At the same time, Veiselmeyer oversaw major improvements to the company logo and committed the resources of the company to community activities.

“We felt poised for explosive growth,” he says. “It was time to assert ourselves in the marketplace and at the same time increase contributions to where we live.”

The company became active in professional organizations such as the Pierce County Chamber of Commerce, the Better Business Bureau and the Master Builder’s Assn. of Pierce County, then committed itself to Puget Sound youth by sponsoring an average of 10 youth sports organizations a year. Other donations went to Big Brothers-Big Sisters, Northwest Harvest and local citizens in need. Tile Technology hosted such community events such as Easter egg hunts, car washes, and K’s for Kids at the Tacoma Rainier’s baseball games.

Tile-Tech put its bright new logo on more than 30 trucks and vans, job site signs, T-shirts, sweatshirts, coats, hats, mugs, golf balls, banners, bottled water, squirt guns, Frisbees, in the yellow pages and on sports programs, advertising and even the left field sign at Cheney Stadium—there Tile Technology donates $10 to the Tacoma Rainiers’ Community Fund for every strikeout thrown by a Rainier’s pitcher. The company also sponsors ugly roof contests and free roof cleanings, takes part in home shows and streets of dreams and promotes itself with billboards, radio and newspaper advertising.

“They’re all part of the marketing mix,” says Veiselmeyer.

In this, Tile-Tech’s 12th year in business, Paine says, gross revenues are expected to be nearly $10 million. Earlier this year, he points out, the company merged with Blue Sage Roofing of Wenatchee. By year’s end, the amalgam plans to have a third outlet, this one in Woodenville north of Seattle. The Portland market provides another potential target for expansion, he says, probably in spring 2000.

Veiselmeyer recalls being touched during last year’s Tile-Tech holiday party when one of the company employees told him: “You guys figured out how to bring love into your business.”

Paine figures they’ve simply got their priorities straight.”Our priorities,” he says, “are customers, employees and the industry—the only thing we take more seriously is our friendship.”

By George Pica, Business Examiner staff