At a Glance
Roof and sheet-metal work, custom metal fabrication
Can you describe your construction background?
Houston Herbert: I’ve been doing this kind of work all my life—since I was a teenager. I learned everything from my father and on-the-job-training. I went to college for two years, but most everything I learned has been from total immersion at an early age.
What is your niche in the marketplace?
HH: What makes us strong in the marketplace is that we are well diversified. We can do many different things: roofing [and] sheet and custom metal. We do residential and commercial roofing and all types of metal roofing and siding. We also install commercial wall-panel systems.
Can you give some examples of your custom metalwork?
HH: Our custom copper hoods for residential applications can costs upwards of $10,000. We do a lot of custom stainless-steel work for residential and commercial kitchens.
We do conveyor systems and rack systems for storage and platforms for manufacturing plants. Almost anything you can dream up in metalwork, we can make.
Are there any expansions within your company as of late? Any notable trends in roofing for your company?
HH: We’ve added a repair division to our commercial and residential roofing. We’ve found ourselves going around and fixing leaks and mistakes done by other contractors.
Green roofing has picked up with some of the government incentives. Green roofs are more expensive up front but can more than double the life of the roof and save energy with their insulating factors. It’s not as hot as a normal roof and helps [with] the heat-island effect in urban areas. They are habitats for bugs and butterflies and even some small creatures like lizards. Many of our recent LEED [projects] included green roofs—the Franklin Police Headquarters, Freeman Webb Commercial Real Estate, and the Westview Condominiums.
What are the challenges when installing green roofs?
HH: The roofing has to be almost bulletproof because you are covering it up. A superior system may need a thicker membrane because obviously you’re installing a planting medium appropriate for small flowers, shrubs, and trees. If you don’t do the roof correctly, you have to dig all of that up. It’s imperative that you put the roof on with the best quality workmanship and materials. You may have multiple subcontractors to monitor and keep an eye on. Once covered up, it’s hard to get back down to it and repair it.
About how many projects do you work on annually, and can you describe some recent projects?
HH: We complete 100-plus projects per year ranging from $10,000 to $5 million. Our sweet spot in annuals sales is between $8 [million] and $10 million. We don’t want to grow over $10 million because that becomes hard to manage.
We recently completed a 20,600-square-foot project for the Tennessee Library and Archives. We did a massive job for the Riverbend prison in Nashville that took 18 months and included a rubber EPDM membrane.
We’re also getting into solar energy and solar roofing for residential and commercial clients. I’m researching and learning everything I can to get into that market as quickly as possible.
What are some of the biggest challenges in running a metalwork business?
HH: With the economy, one of the biggest challenges is getting good work and making a profit. Everybody is selling work at cost or below cost and not putting any profit on it. Material costs also keep going up, even in a bad economy. Labor costs keep climbing, and with people giving the work away, it’s hard to compete in this market. It’s also hard to find good employees in roofing and sheet metal—it’s hard work, hot, and dangerous. Employees usually come from other companies, or we train them on the job.
What’s on the horizon for RD Herbert & Sons?
HH: Were getting ready to start on a $1 million school project in Tullahoma [in Tennessee], and we’ll be bidding on the new convention center in Nashville. We typically competitively bid on 75 percent of our jobs, with the other 25 percent being negotiated. We have a good reputation with general contractors, architects, engineers, and owners. ABQ