Roofing Distributor Profile: Kurt Schwahn, Gulfeagle Supply

Leadership,News, Wednesday, July 10, 2024

Roofing Distributor Profile: Kurt Schwahn, Gulfeagle Supply

Roofing Distributor Profile: Kurt Schwahn, Gulfeagle Supply

Executive VP of sales and operations dives into supporting his people

By Chris Gray

July 10, 2024

It would be an understatement to say Kurt Schwahn is an active guy. In his personal life, he enjoys free-diving spearfishing and regularly participates in triathlons, the training for which can be a full-time job in itself.

As the executive vice president of sales and operations for Gulfeagle Supply, his other full-time job also regularly sees him on the move. Having operated in the roofing industry for 10 years, he is aware that it’s a relationship business and is often out visiting customers and employees to better understand their needs.

“Now, my inbox will probably kill me when I get back because, obviously, the business still rolls. But I’ll be honest with you; I have to make time for myself to do those things because I truly believe that being in front of the customer, the vendor, and our people makes me a better leader,” he said. “Then I get to see and touch and feel what they’re experiencing, what their pain points are, what their successes are.

“That’s where I believe I can make an impact on the business: when I am sitting in the office after learning those things.”

Diving into New Waters

The 53-year-old will admit he doesn’t have the decades-long career that others in the roofing distribution industry have, but that doesn’t negate a job working with some of the most well-known companies in the home and building industry.

Schwahn started his career working at consumer goods companies, including as a national sales and marketing manager for Black and Decker. From there, he worked as director of sales with Newell Brands, driving revenue growth within Home Depot and Lowe’s with Rubbermaid products.

In 2014, Schwahn ran a coatings business in the Tampa Bay area, which included manufacturing roof coatings. His role was to help sell the company itself, and in 2019, he successfully sold it to Duro-Last. He received a “crash course” in commercial roofing, learning everything from how the products were applied to speaking with the installers themselves.

Upon selling the coatings business, Schwahn agreed to stay on long enough to help transition the company. Not long after his departure, he received a call from a recruiter about a position at Gulfeagle Supply. Having only recently learned about the commercial side of roofing and knowing little about residential, Schwahn says he initially hesitated.

Even so, he sat down to speak with Brad Resch, the company’s president. The conversation proved to be eye-opening, with Schwahn asking more questions than his future boss. He learned that Resch, the son of founder and CEO Jim Resch, started at Gulfeagle driving a forklift and eventually worked his way up to his current position.

“From that moment, I thought this is the place where I could be because they respect the work ethic,” he said.

Initially, Schwahn worked as the executive vice president of sales, placing him in charge of revenue and sales functions for the company. Then, in early 2022, Gulfeagle Supply expanded west with the acquisition of R&S Supply, prompting the company to reexamine its leadership structure to optimize for growth.

In July 2023, Schwahn was promoted to executive vice president of sales and operations, leading the charge for sales, operations and marketing strategies for more than 100 locations nationwide. When asked about his typical work week while operating at Gulfeagle’s corporate headquarters in Tampa, Schwahn couldn’t help but chuckle, noting he’s been quite busy “with the acquisition.”

Cycling Through Major Acquisitions

Gulfeagle’s recent acquisition of Elite Roofing Supply, an independent distributor based in Phoenix, Ariz., is the distributor’s largest deal to date. Thanks to the addition of Elite’s locations, Gulfeagle is now the fourth largest distributor in the country, expanding to more than 140 branches.

Elite was the sixth and largest acquisition Schwahn had been involved with since joining Gulfeagle. He compared it to raising a child: there are a lot of emotions, but at the end of the day, you’re happy to see your baby prosper.

“To be honest with you, I feel like they’re already part of the family,” he said, adding that he received phone calls from two Elite people during our conversation. “It is just a great feeling because it goes back to what’s great about this industry: it’s the relationships.”

Though they were competitors, Elite Roofing Supply and Gulfeagle are part of the Independent Distributor Alliance Corporation, which allows each to be familiar with the other’s values and operations. It also helps that, with few exceptions, there is little crossover between the combined companies’ branch locations.

“[Elite Roofing Supply] was always a very interesting business that was very appealing to us,” Schwahn said. “Take away the dollars and cents, and what really brought the two businesses together is the same values … it’s a like-business in the way that we go to market – that our people are most important, and that includes the customers – and so for us, it was a great marriage just on the philosophy.”

Schwahn said instead of a company takeover, he expects something of the opposite to occur.

“Elite was around for about 11 years and was very successful in that short period of time. So, there’s a lot of things I believe that the companies are going to learn from each other,” he said.

Circling back to my previous question, Schwahn answered what his typical week looks like, ensuring his people, including those joining from Elite Roofing Supply, have what they need to succeed.

Running Support for the Team

When browsing Gulfeagle’s social media, an image of what appears to be Schwahn donning Detroit Lions gear and face paint pops up. Knowing the Florida resident likely wasn’t rooting for the Michigan-based NFL team, I asked if he was a big Lions fan, to which he laughed.

“That’s an example of having fun and taking care of your people,” he said. “When the Lions played the [Tampa Bay Buccaneers] and there was an internal bet … the winner had to buy the loser a hat and T-shirt, and they had to take a picture of it.”

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However, he admits that the face paint was generated by a filter, which even fooled his children when they saw the photo. Even so, it’s a moment to demonstrate Schwahn’s embracing of a core value at Gulfeagle: supporting its people.

“It goes back to people,” he said of the photo. “Work is hard, there are challenges, there’s long hours, but you’ve got to make it worth it. And to me, things like that – spending time with our team, going to our shows, going to our events, supporting customer events – that’s what it’s all about.”

A lot of companies talk the talk when it comes to supporting employees, but Gulfeagle also walks the talk. One need not look further than Gulfeagle’s Navigator Alliance. The initiative, which Schwahn helped form roughly a year ago, aims to support employees with resources and coaching. It provides critical skills to help internal workers interested in advancing their careers, bolsters retention and alleviates workforce shortage issues.

“We wanted to capitalize on the bench that we have. Who wants to get promoted? Who wants to learn more? Who wants to elevate their career?” he said. “If we’re not providing them some sort of path, training, education, feedback – if we’re not doing that as a business, then we’re not serving our employees.”

The initiative has generated multiple cross-promotions within the company, such as an operations employee becoming a branch manager. Given the success they’ve seen, Schwahn said they’re looking to launch the next phase in the second quarter of 2024.

Schwahn’s desire to help others doesn’t end when he punches out. Though he said that with his “dive partners” — aka his three boys — out of the house, he doesn’t get to spearfish as often, he is participating in a triathlon in October on Kiawah Island, using it as a fundraiser for a cousin diagnosed with cancer.

“I’m very fortunate, very blessed,” he said. “I got a great family at home that supports my passions, my drives, and then obviously I’ve got a great family here at Gulfeagle as well,” he said.