Finding Solutions, Making Dreams Come True
Rainville-Carlson Inc. uses technology to build roofs and innovation to shape metal
Durability is important in the roofing and sheet metal fabrication business, and Rainville-Carlson Inc. is no stranger to that idea. It has almost a century of successfully building on generations of quality work born out of family pride.
Located in Annandale, Minnesota, company President Craig Johnson says, “What makes our business rare is the generations and years of experience. We have almost 100 years of utilizing skill and equipment on projects to serve clients.” This mantra is built into its mission statement. Craig says, “We want to provide quality products and ultimate service in a safe and timely manner that unmistakably justifies value to every customer.”
Propelling Company into Future
Back in 1924, Walter Rainville and Ivar Carlson started the roofing company and incorporated the business in 1927. When Craig’s great-grandfather, Carl Johnson, joined the company as an apprentice, he convinced the owners to add sheet metal fabrication to the enterprise and worked his way up to a partnership. Carl was able to buy the company from the two families and establish a family legacy that continues today.
Progressing into the 21st century, Craig believes the company is exactly where it needs to be. He has been working here since 1992 and says, “We’ve come a long way from typing employee paychecks, figuring out taxes using the federal tax tables and using World War II surplus fabrication equipment to CNC machines, integrating computers and adding website programs for clients.”
Craig’s two brothers started in the trades with Rainville-Carlson in 1989. Guy is now the Secretary and Sheet Metal Division Manager. Jeremy is the Treasurer and Roofing Division Manager. Craig proudly says, “We are the fourth generation in our family to run the company after buying it from our parents in 2009.”
Company Vice President Joe Brenny heads production roofing. By offering the complete roofing process, from design and installation to preventative maintenance, Rainville-Carlson completes industrial and commercial roof systems, like ethylene propylene diene monomer (EPDM), polyvinyl chloride (PVC), thermoplastic polyolefin (TPO) and Built-up. Using high-quality materials, its custom- designed roofs are resistant to acid rain, rust and moisture. One benefit of being a Rainville-Carlson customer is access to a cutting-edge communication tool called RC RoofControl. The app-based roof management software allows customers to log in to their dashboard. They can view an in-depth inspection of their roof and monitor jobs. When the client has a problem with their roof, they submit their issue. The system immediately notifies a company roof specialist.
Once a roof crew is on site, they check in online, determine the issue location and inform the client they are present. Craig says, “This system alleviates customer questions with billing and repair issues. One of the biggest customer complaints is not knowing when crews are on site or what they are repairing. With our program, the crews take a picture of the problem, price the repair and ask the customer if they want it fixed.”
If the client wants it repaired, they will see all the steps that went into the repair. At job completion, the client receives a final picture. Craig says, “It takes the guessing game out of what roofers do, offering full project transparency. With this information, the client knows what to repair this year or two to three years down the road.”
Ultimately, the program calculates the life expectancy of a client’s roofing system and what they can expect to pay for a new roof when the time comes. “The client makes an informed decision, and it gives them control on the costs. It’s very helpful. It gives them the visual,” Craig says.
Excelling at Unique Projects
Custom metal fabrication is another revenue source for Rainville-Carlson. Shop Foreman Jeff Beckenbach works with many different metals, like stainless steel, brass, aluminum, copper and zinc, for unique projects. Some of its custom jobs include art pieces, specialized fences, range vent hoods and countertops in outdoor and indoor kitchens. They take the metal art idea from concept to completion. Craig says, “We’ll get clients that have called 10 people, and no one can or wants to build their project. We can do it. We are willing to tackle it.”
Making themselves more marketable, the team experiments with new ideas and equipment to help clients reach their goals. Their jobs range from designing portable golf simulators for clients to forming creative sculptures for artists. “We look at drawings and the product, developing a better way to do what the customer wants that’s less expensive,” Craig says.
Sometimes older tools, like hand-crank bead rollers and soldering irons, are used for historical society renovations that have certain restrictions in place. Craig says, “We do use our old tools on copper roofs, like Split Rock Lighthouse or the Governor’s mansion, where there are copper-soldered flat roof panels or custom flashings.”
Back in the 1990s, Rainville-Carlson was roofing the Minneapolis City Hall and Hennepin County Courthouse. While working on an interior courtyard roof, the company couldn’t find a big enough crane to lift debris, material and equipment into and out of the area. Craig’s father and his brothers went to the drawing board and designed the BOXhaul, a crane attachment that is a smaller, lightweight debris dump box. Their creative solution was noticed by competitors. It was then realized it could be useful for their industry. The company now sells the product across the country under the name of AllTech Construction. “Nothing is too complicated for this team,” Craig says, “We can figure it out. That is where we excel.”
Ingenuity comes into play as the crew custom designs metal into any shape. Giving him and the employees a creative outlet, Craig says, “We’ll get hot-glued sticks together from clients and they’ll say they want to make this 25-foot-tall structure out of stainless steel.”
Working with a handful of artists, they want more of these imaginative projects. Craig says, “We do simple flashings and spires to kitchen hoods and sculptures that range in price from $150 all the way up to $150,000, depending on material and size.” One job, a sculpture by Artist Janet Lofquist, is located at the north side of the Third Avenue Bridge in Minneapolis. Craig is glad artists give them the opportunity to work with them and build their designs.
Staff training is key to finding solutions to those types of projects. Craig says, “We are constantly learning and training. With the variety of work we do, it is ongoing.” From teaching them how to work with soldering irons on a specific roof to instructing them on the water jet computer numerical control (CNC) machine, their employees are trained in all aspects. “We don’t just have a welder or layout person or a press operator. Our guys are taught from start to finish,” Craig says. Synergy is also important to Rainville-Carlson when looking for new employees. “You must get along well with others. You need to be trustworthy. That’s important,” Craig says.
Fluctuating between 20 to 35 full-time employees, based on the season, the company culture is to treat everyone like family and enjoy what they do. “We try to keep it fun and interesting,” Craig says, “We cookout and have pizza parties. We went ice fishing.” He also rewards the staff through profit sharing and says, “It’s a real motivator to excel.”
Moving Forward with Solutions
When challenged, the team brainstorms at weekly meetings to discuss all issues. “Creative ideas start to flow,” Craig says, “We solve the situation by everyone getting involved.” When the team analyzes obstacles, it stimulates solutions. This transformative process helps them “make the customer’s dream a reality,” Craig says.
Clients come from all over Minneapolis-St. Paul, the state of Minnesota and from out of state. The company is excited about one high-profile project at the old Ford plant site in St. Paul because of the company partner, scale and length of the job. “We will be working with Pulte Homes at the Highland Bridge project. It will take about four years to complete, which is very unusual in this industry to have a project go that long,” Craig says. Rainville-Carlson expects to be installing the roofs for approximately 320 row homes at the site. “The intent is to have them built like an assembly line, so a roof a day as the townhomes are built,” Craig says.
Looking to the future, the leadership team plans to expand in manufacturing and production work. Marketing and referrals will also help them reach their goals. Annual sales are around $4 million with yearly growth at approximately 10%. Craig says, “We are expanding some of our capabilities and our course is to grow a little bit every year. We are at a good place and have very skilled employees.”