Spotlight – Sara Wilkus, co-owner, vice president; Michael Boy, co-owner, president Travis Roofing Supply, Austin, TX
AUSTIN – Sara Wilkus says she and her brother, Michael Boy, are Irish twins since they were born just 15 months apart. Born into a military family with a father in the Air Force, the siblings and their parents were used to starting fresh in new places – a skill that has helped the duo establish a nationwide network of roofing supply companies, each independently owned and operated.
Similar to the traits of twins, Sara and Michael have more in common, it seems, than most brothers and sisters – with entrepreneurial spirits and a willingness to take risks.
Tell me about your early life.
Michael was born in 1976 and I was born in 1977, in Altus OK. Our dad, Gary Boy, was in the Air Force and we moved a lot while growing up.
We ended up in Warrenton, VA where we both graduated from Fauquier High School.
In high school, I wasn’t really into sports, I was more of the introverted bookworm. I got good grades and worked part time at a local pet store (really just an excuse to pet puppies).
Michael was the athlete in the family. He played baseball and received a scholarship to Chowan University in Murfreesboro, NC. It’s a really small private university.
When I graduated from high school in 1995, I attended Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech) in Blacksburg, VA.
You and Michael both found out that the college track – at least at that time – wasn’t cutting it, right?
Yes, I left college after a year and moved to Dayton, Ohio where my dad lived. By then, my mom, Susan Fitzpatrick, and my dad were divorced. Mom still lives in Virginia.
In Dayton, I worked odd jobs here and there. I wasn’t really focusing on the future at the time.
Pretty much the same thing happened with Michael. He didn’t take to college either and decided to join the Army as part of the infantry.
What happened next?
Funny story! There was a guy I knew in high school, James Wilkus, who I had lost touch after he joined the Army. When I was 22, the internet was just becoming popular, so I looked him up online. He says I stalked him, but I vehemently deny it!
When he got out of the Army, he drove through Ohio to visit and never left. We got married in Columbus, OH in 2003. We already had our daughter, Jordan, who was born in 2000 and our son, Dylan, was born in 2003.
Meanwhile, Michael had met his wife, Deborah, while he was stationed at Ft. Hood. Deborah is a native Austinite. They now have three kids, Drew, 15, Ashley, 12, and Brandon, 9.
So, I understand how Michael got to Texas, but what about you?
I went back to college at Franklin University in Columbus, OH and graduated in 2007 with a degree in sales and marketing.
James, who is self taught in IT, worked at Chase Bank and then for the State of Ohio.
In 2007, in August, we moved to Austin, where Michael and Deborah lived. We took a leap of faith. Neither of us had a job yet and we had Michael pick out our house.
I got a job at 360training, working on the website and doing marketing, then I was sales manager. I was there for two years. James was working as a consultant for the military.
Michael was working for a large roofing supply group.
And Michael was asking you to come work with him as soon as you moved to Texas, right?
Yes, but I resisted and took the job at 360. However, Michael was persistent. He kept telling me how great the roofing community was and how much I would learn. He didn’t tell me that if you are a part of roofing for a year, you’re in it for life!
So, I went to work there in 2009 as purchasing and inventory manager. Once I had gotten that department into good shape, I was ready for a new challenge so I sought out the position of inside commercial sales and from there, I went to outside commercial sales.
Michael had been there for 14 years and was assistant manager when they let him go in December 2014. I had been there five years, and after he left, it was a pretty awkward situation. But roofing is such a fantastic industry that I knew I was not going to get out of it.
And this is how Travis Roofing Supply was born, I’m guessing.
Yes! Michael had been approached by roofing supply companies asking him to open a branch for them. He said, why don’t I do it for myself? Once I knew he was thinking about doing it, I asked to join him in the adventure.
We knew the people in the industry, we knew all the aspects. I quit the other company in January 2015 and we started Travis Roofing Supply the next day.
For months we had no trucks, just a big empty warehouse where we spent most of our time walking around and planning. We officially got a truck, a driver, a loader, an inside person and a warehouse guy. Michael and I split up the duties. He was in charge of dispatch, the fleet, IT and residential sales. I was in charge of accounting, purchasing and commercial sales.
We just figured it out as we went along.
Soon, we were able to add one inside sales person and an outside sales person. At that time, we were just in Austin. We hadn’t really started thinking about going outside of Austin yet.
It sounds like things were going very well.
We had a great successful first year – we were making money, which is unusual in the first year.
In 2016, we started looking outside of Austin. We knew a lot of brilliant people in the industry, for example, Scott Milford, a salesman who was based in Austin but who had an uncle, Mark Milford in Ft. Worth. Mark became the first partner/manager there.
We started looking in San Antonio and found Raechel Thomas, who was the sister of a salesperson we knew from the former company. She became the second partner/manager there.
Around that time, the former roofing supply group was bought out by a national company and there was a lot of talent suddenly on the market looking for similar entrepreneurial opportunities. Michael knew these people and knew who was successful.
When you say these people were looking for similar opportunities, what do you mean?
With the national company buying the roofing supply group, the culture changed for them. Now, they couldn’t make their own decisions, ideas and decisions had to go up a chain of command. They lost the flexibility to be able to make instant decisions to better serve their customers.
Travis Roofing Supply lets the managing partners make their own decisions. There is nothing more motivating than being responsible for keeping your people employed.
It sounds like a great place to work and be involved with. Tell me about the culture.
We are all about family. All of us are able to bring that next generation of roofing professionals in with them. Many of the stores have managing partners whose grown children are working there.
When I look to hire, I look for somebody that is going to fit our culture – it’s incredibly important. I look for a positive spirit and people who are willing to go the extra mile for the customer. I hire people that have personality over their experience – we can teach them the job. I look for strength of character and I want people who walk in the door in the morning smiling.
What sets your company apart from the competition?
This is such a relationship business. To us, it’s not a dollar or a sale. We really want to get to know our customers and our vendors.
We grill every Friday and our contractors and vendors are welcome. Everybody takes a turn being grill master! It’s turned into quite a competition.
Every month, we have a customer event. In January we had a Texas Hold ‘Em Tournament, in February we did a Ping Pong Tournament. All winners end up on a plaque or trophy in our Hall of Champions. In March, we had a March Madness Party and coming up in April, we have our third annual Crawfish Boil, Barbecue and Open House on Apr. 21. It’s adult’s only event for employees, customers and vendors. It isn’t a selling event; it is a time for us to show our appreciation for those who have partnered with us, and meet new potential partners. Every year we have a band, but this year The Spazmatics will be playing. We are super excited!
In May, we’ll have a movie night that is family friendly. We love being able to meet our customer’s families and allowing them to get to know ours.
And your husband, James, works with you now, right?
Yes, James came to work here six months ago. He developed software specifically for us that makes us, as a company, faster and smarter. The customer experience at Travis Roofing Supply is very different from what they would experience at another company.
I always say it is great working with my husband – I just keep him on the other side of the building!
What do you and James like to do when you’re not working?
Our son, Dylan plays soccer, so there’s a lot of traveling. Jordan is a great artist.
We try to do movies at the Alamo Drafthouse on a regular basis and we like to check out a different Austin restaurant every month.
I like to bake and my girlfriends and I do a regular thing called “Cakes & Cocktails.”
How about Michael and Deborah?
Michael has never gotten sports out of his blood and he is an avid supporter of his kids’ sports. He coaches both his sons in baseball, basketball, and football. Their daughter, Ashley is into cheer and dance competitions. They are also big into movies, and we try to go together whenever we can work it into our schedule.
Any last thoughts?
The best thing about working with family and in this business is I am excited to get up every day, every day is a new challenge.
I can create my own path and make my own choices, which is rare these days. –cw
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