Gutter and roofing company recovers from 2008 flood

By Pat Shaver

CEDAR RAPIDS — Rod Manson’s understanding of water is two-fold.

During the height of the flooding in 2008, Mr. Manson stood along Interstate 380 looking at his gutter and roofing business. It had about 7 feet of water inside and from the outside all he could see was the roof.

Now, four years after the flood, Mr. Manson’s business, Tri-County Enterprises, is one of the fastest growing in the Corridor and has moved into a new building four times bigger than the last.

The company operated a location on Shaver Road, near Cedar Lake in Cedar Rapids, since 2001. When the Cedar River began to rise on Friday, June 13, 2008, it flooded through the Time Czech neighborhood and rushed through toCedarLake, ultimately flooding Mr. Manson’s business.

In a matter of two hours, the building went from zero flood water to being filled with 5 feet of water. The water overtook about 10-square miles, or about 14 percent of the city. That day, the river hit a record crest of 31.12 feet. The previous record was 20 feet.

Although Cedar Lake isn’t connected to the river, the rushing waters reached the lake, causing it to flood.

“I was lucky, even though I thought I was wasting my time, that we had all of the trucks loaded. I thought it was better to be safe than sorry,” Mr. Manson said. “I remember sitting in the shop the night before it flooded unplugging the computer and putting files into boxes. I thought ‘I’ll do this but it won’t flood.’”

The next day, Mr. Manson was glad he made those efforts.

“As the water was coming, I called everyone and said ‘Come get your truck,’” he said.

The flood caused more than $50,000 in damage to his business. Immediately after the flood, Mr. Manson found temporary space inMarionand operated an office out of his home for eight months.

The recovery

Within hours of the flood, Mr. Manson had already found a temporary location for his business inMarion. The building housed the company’s trucks and equipment and Mr. Manson operated an office out of his home.

They fixed up the flooded building onShaver Roadand moved back in March of 2009.

“I think at that point I really had to focus, gain complete focus and invest all of my time and effort into the business. I assumed we were at a vulnerable place and I assumed if I started slacking off we could be in trouble,” Mr. Manson said.

He saw returning to their old building as a fresh start, almost as if he had just started the business.

“We really went at it hard,” he said. “From 2009 until now, we’ve really improved a lot. I attribute that flood to a lot of our success.”

In 2008, the company was in disarray. Mr. Manson was operating the business out of his home and there wasn’t much cohesiveness in the temporary location.

“The first half of (2008) was fine but we were hoping for better. Then, of course, it flooded,” he said. “The weird thing was at that time I was told by so many people that we didn’t have to worry about anything.”

With the combination of the struggling housing market, failing economy and massive flood, business wasn’t easy for Tri-County Enterprises.

“I think 2008 was a tough year anyway. The housing market was still going down. I was kind of in a transition period of reworking how I wanted to do business, to take the focus away from new construction and into remodeling.”

Despite that, Mr. Manson decided to keep his business operating. He rethought his business model and adjusted based on the conditions. As a result of the flood, Mr. Manson said, they were able to get jobs working on flooded homes. The flood also inspired him to work harder and really focus on the business.

“I attribute that flood to a lot of our success,” he said.

Tri-County moved into a new location at5527 Crane Lane NEinCedar Rapids. They renovated an existing building and moved in this March.

The company is ranked the No. 10 fastest growing company in the Corridor with 110 percent growth. This is Tri-County’s first year on the Corridor Business Journal’s fastest growing companies list.

Another factor that helped the company grow, he said, was hiring his wife, Mandy, last spring. Mandy quit her job and is now the full-time the office manager which has enabled Mr. Manson to focus on marketing the business.

“That really helped because it enabled me to be out promoting Tri-County and meeting with homeowners and contractors,” he said.

The businessman

After Mr. Manson was laid off from his teaching job in the mid-1990s, he landed a job with a gutter company. He had a range of experience in construction from his summers working with his dad. Growing up with his father, a teacher, he would help him with odd-jobs during his summers off.

As a college student atLutherCollege, Mr. Manson continued working his summers with his uncle’s masonry company.

After graduating from Luther, Mr. Manson got a job as a health and physical education teacher and wrestling coach atNorthLinnHigh School. He held that job for about three years.

“Budget cuts caught up with me because I was young, had the least seniority and because of the elective classwork I taught as a P.E. teacher,” he said. “In 1995-96 I started working full time for a gutter business. I always fell back on my construction knowledge.”

During his time working as a gutter installer, Mr. Manson realized how busy the business was. With zero business experience, Mr. Manson decided to start his own gutter company.

“At that point, I just decided there was definitely a need for seamless gutters and downspouts in our area,” he said. Mr. Manson bought a van and the equipment he needed to start a gutter company. “I did have a very small business loan and then it was basically week to week.”

He cites his experience as a teacher and learning as he went as reasons he’s become a successful business owner with no previous business experience.

“A lot of my business background had to be learn on the job, and carefully,” he said. “I did grow the business slow and steady for a lot of years, that way I could keep things in check.”

The company has 14 full-time employees.

“I’m surrounded by good people. I think that’s the main thing you have to do as a business leader—give them a job and let them do it,” Mr. Manson said.

The inventor

Mr. Manson is also in the process of selling and promoting a new product he invented called the Comfort Zone Underdeck Drainage System. It is a weather-tight, heavy-gauge aluminum ceiling attached to the underside of a deck that redirects rainwater and melting snow through a gutter system.

In 2010, he filed a patent application for the Comfort Zone Underdeck Drainage System. He received the patent a few months later.

The idea came about when a friend of his, who has a first level deck above a basement patio with a whirlpool hot tub. His friend couldn’t use the hot tub when it rained or when snow was melting because water would trickle down from the deck.

By diverting the water away, the patio below the deck is clean and dry to be used for outdoor living space or storage.

Another example, Mr. Manson said, is if someone wants to build a storage shed or screened in porch under their deck

“There are similar products on the market but ours was unique enough that we were able to get a patent,” he said.

Looking ahead, Mr. Manson sees the company continuing providing quality products and services, and sees opportunities for more growth.

“I think my main goal is to keep doing what we’re doing and keep trying to improve and not let things get complacent,” he said. “We always try to improve what we’re doing and be the best we can be in each product and service. And you never know, we might try to add again but not until we figure we’ve gotten maximum capacity out of what we’re doing.”