HAWAII KAI—Shon Gregory is not your typical CEO. He’s not a suit-and-tie guy hailing from a prestigious university. Gregory was born and raised in Hawaii Kai, attended Kaiser, and then followed his passion for music. He spent years touring the continental United States, playing drums with his band Red Session and, later, Go Jimmy Go, coming home for stints to work construction with his dad to make ends meet.
Over the years, Gregory gained considerable experience in various aspects of construction, including solar and other green strategies—well before “green” became a household word. Eventually, Gregory tired of touring with the band and was ready to settle down in his hometown. He decided to build upon his foundation of experience and earn his contractor’s license. Soon after, Gregory bit the bullet and started his own business, following in the footsteps of his father.
The company he started, Surface Shield Roofing Company, is now five-years-old. In that short span of time, he went from being completely unknown in a ruthlessly competitive environment, to being named one of Building Industry magazine’s top 10 roofers.
Today, the charismatic Kalama Valley resident manages a wide scope of both residential and commercial projects. He installs new roofs and restores existing ones. His “cool roof” systems also reduce the amount of energy needed to cool the building’s interior.
Despite the recession, Gregory’s business has grown steadily each year and he attributes his success to old fashioned hard work, ingenuity, and determination.
“I just didn’t give up,” Gregory said, “and I had the ‘discipline to reinvest my profits back into the company.’”
Gregory also made the bold decision to invest heavily in public relations and advertising while others retreated from the public eye. He took a risk, and the move paid off in dividends. By choosing to spend the necessary money to market his business, he was able to communicate the message that his business was large, established, and successful. His company’s name was everywhere—television, print, Internet—and the exposure eventually translated into a steady stream of jobs.
The wisdom of his publicity strategy was recognizing that it was a long term investment, that he was developing his brand and reputation for energy efficiency, backing it up with consistently high quality work and customer service. Soon, the paid publicity was complemented by the best publicity on an island community (or anywhere, for that matter): good old-fashioned word of mouth.
Asked what his biggest challenge is in running a business, Gregory didn’t hesitate to say that it was maintaining a profit margin despite the tremendous overhead costs inherent to the business.
Marketing aside, covering his costs is a constant struggle. For instance, roofers have one of the highest workers compensation rates around, as the work is notoriously labor intensive and dangerous.
Luckily, despite the long hours and constant focus required to run a company, Gregory manages to find time for fun, too. Besides occasionally still playing live gigs, he enjoys surfing and beach BBQs with family and friends.
In short, he has found a way to navigate the small business landscape here in Hawaii. Surface Shield Roofing Company is a reminder that lean times are ripe with opportunity, but that it requires smart risk taking, tenacity, and the resolve to continuously think long-term to rise to the top.