Sarnia Observer Article

We are happy to share our new chapter with all of you! Thank-you Carl Hnatyshyn for taking the time to sit down with us and hear whats going on at Imperial Roofing.

Imperial Roofing's Tom Buhlman and Wayne Dennis stand in front of the company's Gladwish Drive headquarters
Imperial Roofing’s Tom Buhlman and Wayne Dennis stand in front of the company’s Gladwish Drive headquarters

 

It’s been a year of celebration as well as transition for Imperial Roofing.

The Sarnia company is commemorating 70 years in business, a major milestone for an enterprise that started out as nothing more than an ambitious dream by co-founders Graham Dennis and Ray Atkin in 1947.

But 2017 also marks a time of major transition for a business that has provided a bevy of roofing services for residential, commercial and industrial clients over the last seven decades. Long-time partners, president Wayne Dennis and vice-president Vaughn Berry, have sold the company to a new owner, Tom Buhlman.


With all of the company’s 35-strong staff remaining in place (staff levels typically soar to much greater levels during the busy summer months, Dennis said) and both Dennis and Berry assuming advisory roles to help guide Buhlman through the first two years of the changeover, all of the principals are confident the transition will be smooth.


“Vaughn and I, we needed to start looking at being put out to pasture,” Dennis said with a laugh. “And Tom, God bless him, has come along and has decided that he wants to grab the reigns, take over ownership and maintain the same standard that we’ve provided over the past 70 years.”


“Basically the decisions at the top are being done by a different person, but everything else remains the same,” he continued. “Even though me and Vaughn aren’t signing the papers anymore, everything else is staying the same – whether it’s the professionalism, the procedure or the quality of the work, you’re going to see no change whatsoever.”


For his part, Buhlman said he hopes to build on the reputation the company has established in Sarnia-Lambton over the past seven decades.


“It feels good. This is obviously a life-changing decision for all of us. But I’m confident – I’ve got two great people guiding me, Wayne and Vaughn, who’ve been here all their lives, basically,” Buhlman said. “What we want to do is maintain what they’ve already accomplished and we want to grow wherever we can grow.”


Imperial Roofing set up shop in Sarnia shortly after the Second World War ended, when Dennis’ father, Graham, decided to ride the wave of the city’s then-booming economy.


“In 1947, Imperial Roofing started with my father, Graham Dennis. His partner at that time was a fellow named Ray Atkin,” Dennis said. “They ran the business up until 1971 when Ray was diagnosed with a medical condition and wanted out. So I came back from school and purchased the company from Ray and then my father and I were partners.”


“A year later my father and I were talking, and we brought my brother-in-law, Vaughn Berry, in as a partner. He had just left Imperial Oil at the time and he was a great addition,” he continued. “Unfortunately my father fell ill with ALS in 1977, so Vaughn and I have basically been partners for 40 years. I’ve been here 47 years, Vaughn 40.”


Whether their crews were fixing leaky residential roofs, installing new roofs for commercial entities ranging from corner stores to mega malls or tackling massive roofing projects at Sarnia’s abundant array of petrochemical plants, Imperial Roofing has been a prominent player in the city’s business community since its beginnings, something for which Dennis entirely credits his father.


“I’d love to be able to say that this was my baby and my brainchild, but it was all my father’s,” he said. “For the last 47 years, all I’ve done is been a maintenance man – I’ve maintained the same ethics, the same professionalism, the same honesty and integrity that I was taught by my dad.”

 Like most other industries, the roofing industry has undergone a transformation since the mid-20th century, Dennis said. But Imperial Roofing has successfully changed with the times.


“No question there have been a lot of changes in the industry,” he said. “The technical aspect of things – doing things by hand versus doing things with machinery, and the roofing systems themselves have changed over the years. Very rarely do we use a great big, hot asphalt kettle that cause fumes. There are so many systems now that don’t require hot asphalt, but they do require a lot of technical training and our staff have taken a lot of training courses over the years.”


“Another thing that’s changed significantly is the safety aspect. Nobody does anything without safety in mind nowadays,” Dennis added. “And Sarnia is a whole world unto itself. It’s unique because every day we deal with the valley, the petrochemical plants. And it’s a different world working in the valley compared to putting a roof on a big box superstore or a 7-Eleven. The training aspect and the certification we need to go out and service the petrochemical plants is way over and above what other companies have. And we offer that same training to every single employee we have, whether they’re doing commercial work outside the plants, working in the plants or residential group, shingling houses.”

After 47 years of providing high-grade service and building relationships with individuals, businesses and industrial partners, Dennis said taking the decision to step back and finally hang up his hat was bittersweet.


“Absolutely, it’s bittersweet,” he said. “The company is 70 years old. I’m 68. I’ve never not known an Imperial Roofing red and cream truck in my family driveway. Is it going to be a transition? Absolutely it is. But it’s been such a great experience – we really and truly want to thank the Sarnia-Lambton community in keeping us in business and having faith in our company for 70 years.”


“Looking to the future, I have great faith in Tom. He’s a fellow that saw the opportunity here and took it. The beauty of the transition is that all the staff and people who work here will stay, they’ll be secure in their future and hopefully they’ll look after Tom the way they looked after us,” Dennis continued, before smiling. “I guess my dream is that I’ll still see these red and cream trucks driving around the community for a long time to come.”

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