This year is our 20th year and we are proud as heck. How did we get here? I will take a few moments to catch you up…..
My name is Jake Wenger and I am a 3rd generation roofer. I am now the President and visionary for Wenger Roofing, Siding and Sheet Metal.
In 1950 John Wenger's parents moved to Hartford, WI from Switzerland to start a family farm. What an amazing and unfathomable risk to take, cross an ocean to make a better life for your family! I guess I always took for granted that my grandparents had possessed this strong entrepreneurial spirit. They put 4 stakes in the ground and worked hard to make their own way!
As if farming was not hard enough, to supplement the family farm income my grandfather started to roof the neighbor’s barns. When my dad was 12, in addition to his farm chores, began helping his dad roof for bike parts!
Ma & Pa - The Early Years
The Wenger family tree is one that is planted in very meager grounds. Hard physically demanding work has gotten us where we are today. It started with my grandparents taking the risk to come to America, with the torch being carried on through the next generation by my parents, John and Laurie (Ma & Pa), the founders of Wenger Construction, Inc. Their incredible drive, work ethic and perseverance day after day over their entire life is my inspiration. Out of high school, my dad worked multiple jobs while doing roofing on the side. Eventually my dad went to work for Haug Roofing out of West Bend as a hot tar roofer. My mom stayed home with the 3 boys and worked very hard to raise us little rascals! We were a hard working, religious, country living family. It was a great upbringing. I appreciate most, as I matured, learning the value of hard work from my parents and grandparents.
John spent a lot of his weekends and nights roofing to earn extra money for his family. Sometimes my brothers and I got a close up view of dad working! We started cleaning up roofing debris on the ground at a young age. We learned early on the value of a hard day's work from our "Pa".
John & Laurie took a risk in 1984 trying to make a better life for themselves and their family. They created a partnership with another couple and started a small residential remodeling company. My brothers and I worked here summers in middle and high school. This company is still in operation today. After 13 years of success in this partnership, John & Laurie decided to venture out and start their own family construction business.
Wenger Construction, Inc. Starts
The Wenger entrepreneurial spirit was tapped into once again and on June 1st, 1997 John & Laurie Wenger started Wenger Construction, Inc. My brother Craig was the first and only employee. It was my dad and Craig out doing the work while my Mom kept the office in order. Lee Wilke was Wenger's 2nd full time employee and is considered part of the family! Using the principles that started back in 1950 when Jake & Martha put those 4 stakes in the ground; drive, work ethic and perseverance - The Wenger family began to grow and build a culture and a reputation in the roofing industry.
John & Laurie started Wenger Construction, Inc. on June 1st.
John used his experience and knowledge to expand beyond just roofing to other lines of work, including siding and sheet metal. Wenger expanded to 5 full time employees. This picture shows three generations of Wengers. My grandpa Jake is in the middle, my dad John is on the left and my brother Nick is on the right.
I came to work full time for Wenger. I had some factory jobs out of high school which made me realize I wanted more. I went to UW-Oshkosh and graduated with a Bachelor in Business / Finance. I started a small residential roofing company in the Fox Valley in college called All American Roofing with a couple of my wrestling buddies. My partner still runs this business as a teacher in the summers. After college, I worked a couple of desk jobs that just did not feel right. After working summers for Wenger in the past, I decided to come back to Wenger full time as a roofer in the field! I worked in the field for a couple of years and slowly as the growth of the business allowed I began working in the office on rain days and then eventually a couple days a week working side by side with my dad learning the ins and outs of the office side of the business.
Nick Wenger comes to work full time for Wenger. All 3 sons are now working for the family business. Wenger celebrates 5 years in business!
Wenger started an architectural sheet metal division and expanded to 12 employees. We purchased a commercial brake and slitter and opened a sheet metal fabrication shop.
Wenger celebrates its 10th year. We have grown to 15 employees (2 roofing crews, 1 siding crew and 2 sheet metal crews). Wenger expands its' sheet metal shop, investing in a computerized auto-brake and power shear. These high tech bending machines give us the capability to manufacturer efficient precision bends.
The Business Plan
In 2008 the Wenger entrepreneurial spirit struck again. Wenger's reputation was building and the demand for hiring a family business that installed high quality product, did what they said they would do and returned phone calls was more than we could keep up with. I saw an opportunity to honor and pay it forward; the hard work, sacrifice and risk put out there by 2 generations before me and wrote a business plan to narrate the vision that I had. To grow a "mom and pop" manila folder roofing business into a Full Service Roofing, Siding and Sheet Metal Corporate Automated Business with a Family Feel. I presented a business plan to the Fond du Lac County Economic Development Corporation (FCEDC). We were granted a small business loan to execute our vision and grow our business.
Here we are almost 10 years later and we are only now just starting to see the fruits of our efforts with regard to achieving the vision we started pursuing in 2008. The recession of 2008 hit us hard and it hit our plans for growth hard, the business plan had to be altered. We made it through this challenging period and began to have some good success for a few years. Then 2013 happened. We took some risks that did not pay off, the construction labor crisis was starting to be felt, and we did not have the controls and culture in place that we do today.
The Wenger legacy was hanging on by a thread and I truly believe we were days from shutting our doors. It was all hands on deck. The loyalty that was shown by our workers, our vendors and our customers was nothing short of a miracle! While it was literally a "living hell" for my parents and I behind the scenes, we could not have done it without our loyal team of clients, workers and vendors! I will take this opportunity to thank all of you again - without you we would not be in the awesome place we are today - thank you. We sacrificed together, worked hard together and persevered - we remained focused on our vision and good things started to happen again.
We gained some incredible wisdom having gone through it. In our third year removed we are stronger than ever. Our culture is off the charts, our control is tight and our communication is high level. I will never take any of these for granted. They have become part of our fabric. We study them and work on them during every part of every day.
The Comeback to Today
We survived and the comeback has been amazing. Today our culture is as good as its' ever been! We have focused on the 3 C's: Culture, Communication and Control. We truly are a family business with all of the guys and gals that work here really feeling like we are one big family!
Wenger thrives on new ideas to solve today’s construction challenges.
- Wenger Worker Academy is an initiative designed to solve the labor crisis for Wenger by making this the best place to work. Thus giving us the ability to retain and hire the best workers in our industry. I feel like we have built one of the top work forces in our business - we have an absolutely awesome group of hard working men in the field that also are passionate about our vision.
- WENGER2.017 is an initiative designed to improve the experience we provide our customers and our workers starting with the first sale (the management team) all the way through the final nail (the field team). We don't sell a product, we sell an experience. We must provide a consistent experience on every job we step foot on. I always use the example that I want my McDonald's cheeseburger to taste the same at every McDonalds!
- Assembly Line Theory (A-L-T) is a concept that improves our efficiency and honors the investment of our customer in us. This is a response to the complex buildings that are being designed today with multiple products and systems cladding the exterior. We are not coming up with any new ideas that Henry Ford did not already come up with 104 years ago! We are studying work patterns and giving our crews the resources they need to be successful in maximizing efficiencies with regard to specialized mini crews, labor buckets and production tracking. We know in real time if a mini crew is running ahead or behind the budgeted installation rates for each labor bucket we have in progress – that is production tracking and that is powerful!
We have built an awesome team that is very passionate for the vision we have as a company. This team has taken decades to assemble. We have many great individuals among us, but at this point we are only a pretty good team. WENGER2.017 is all about becoming a great team delivering a world class customer experience. This is our goal, to get better in every facet while maintaining a high level culture. We will continue to nurture our initiatives while developing leaders to take this company to even greater heights.
We are in the process of building a new corporate headquarters. Look for an invitation to our Grand Opening slated for this summer.
Wenger Headquarters Build
Wenger has 4 traditions that are annual events designed to bring our company together and help to nurture our culture...
Wenger Christmas Party & Projects of Distinction (POD)
Last year we played Family Feud – was a blast! We will be doing that again this year – our annual POD event is scheduled for Friday evening Feb. 24th. This will be our 3rd annual POD event and our theme for this year is WENGER2.017. The previous themes have been “Family” and “Honoring Hard Work”. I get the distinguished honor this evening to recognize the individuals within our organization that have done great things in the previous year. It is an awesome feeling to be able to do this in front of our entire company and their significant others.
Wenger Golf Outing
Every fall going back to the very beginning, except for a few lean years, we have had a company golf outing. Auburn Bluffs has been a great host considering we fill up their golf course with a bunch of hackers! I think last year we had to rent 10 sets of clubs! We have a lot of fun out on the course playing 9 holes of best ball and then we have a dinner and give away door prizes. The guys also have fun at the marshmallow hitting contest!
Associated Builders and Contractors Super Conference
ABC, our industry trade organization, puts on an annual 2 day conference teaching a variety of construction related classes. Not how to swing a hammer, but rather how to be a better leader. This year, Day 1 is a full day of Supervisory Training with a nationally renowned construction speaker, Brad Humphrey. The title of his full day training course is “Relentless Leadership: Becoming a Construction Cross-Fit Leader of People”. Day 2 is additional management, leadership and safety training classes.
This year I will be bringing 19 of us – the management team and all of my foremen and super foremen. This absolutely fires up our entire team. It reinforces that our vision is important and also gives us new ideas to achieve success. It is an awesome event and I love hanging out with my best people for 2 days. Seeing them inspired is very rewarding.
Christmas Cookie Caper
This last Christmas was our 3rd annual Cookie Caper. Grandma Laurie (Ma) and her granddaughters, Abby and Maizie, baked over 150 dozen cookies to give to our customers to show our appreciation. This past year we personally delivered cookie tins with a nice letter to 50 of our clients. This has become an event that many of our clients look forward to! It is great to drop off the goodies and bring some Christmas cheer to our customers.