Imagine working a full time job during the day, raising three boys and four girls, and spending your nights bending sheet metal in your basement to install the next morning onsite? That’s just what Robert Smith, Sr., did to get Donelson Roofing Company, Inc. started over half a century ago. Somehow through all of that, Robert Smith, Sr. found the time to contribute to his hobbies of fishing and hunting.
Now, Robert Smith, Jr. runs Donelson Roofing, along with his mother, Evelyn Smith, his brother Danny Smith and sister Lynn Williams, his son Michael and nephew Brandon Smith. Donelson Roofing is truly a family operated business! The company has since moved out of the basement and into a nice facility in Mt. Juliet and has become an area leader in single-ply and metal roofing. Donelson also offers precision metal fabrication services ranging from custom industrial, commercial and metalworking projects.
After high school, Robert Smith Jr. served in the air force for four years. He was in his mid-20s., when he came home to work for the family business, first working under his dad as a superintendent, then contracting, to eventually taking over the company. Robert has also been a huge part of the
Tennessee Association of Roofing Contractors, serving on various committees, and holding offices such as Treasurer and leading as a three-time President.
“The roofing business has seen a lot of changes during the 61 years that we’ve been in business,” Robert Smith, Jr. reflects, “both in the Donelson Roofing and in the industry overall. Some of the changes in the industry have made owning a roofing industry just so much harder.”
When Donelson Roofing first started in 1957, the company employed just three employees, then it grew to 50 at one point. Robert explained how he tries to keep the business smaller for several reasons. First being the employment issues. The work is there, but there aren’t enough qualified roofers who can pass the required drug testing and immigration issues for employment.
The other factors include regulation changes with background checks, safety regulations and the amount of money spent toward the required equipment to satisfy the safety regulations. He noted, every year more and more regulations are put into place.
Donelson Roofing is known around town for some of their larger jobs, including the Opryland Hotel Convention Center. Robert notes that one of the most memorable jobs for him was roofing the historic Nashville State Prison before they finally closed their doors in the 1990s. “As we were up on the roof working one day I saw James Earl Ray sitting in a chair by a guard in the prison yard. My crew and I also witnessed a stabbing in the yard from the roof on a separate occasion during that job. The experience was very surreal,” Robert reflects.
In 2005, Robert Smith, Jr. took over the company when his father became ill and the family members took on more responsibilities running the business. His brother Carl ran the sheet metal shop before his passing in 2011, his brother Danny runs the crew and his sister Lynn manages all the office administration, payroll and anything else that needs to be done. “Working with family has its pros and cons. Delegating is hard to do and you can never get out! However, when working with family, you know that they have your back and everyone works.”
Robert’s mother, Evelyn, at 86, still comes to work too. Robert picks her up every morning and brings her to work. “She answers the phone and sets up new jobs for until her grandson Brandon takes her home. We bicker a lot about her using the stairs.”
The Tennessee Association of Roofing Contractors remains an important component to Robert. Donelson Roofing relies on the Associate Members for needed materials. Not only this, “meeting colleagues and sharing experiences helps me in my own business. You find out that colleagues may have that one experience that you haven’t and wouldn’t know what to do in. It is nice to be able to bounce ideas off of one another.”