When Lori Swanson answered the phone during the earlier years of Guardian Roofing, typically there’d be a man on the other end, who, hearing a woman’s voice, announced he’d prefer talking with “someone who knew about roofing.”
That’s code for, “I wanna speak with a dude.”
So, without complaint, Swanson would transfer the call to best dude she knew: her husband, Matt Swanson, who co-founded the roofing company with her in 2005.
And Matt knew just what to say to the guy.
“I’d say, ‘Hold on, I’ve got the perfect person,’” he recalled with a chuckle, “then I just transfer the call right back to her.”
Any caller like that would soon learn what Matt had learned years before: Lori Swanson knew just about everything there was to know about roofing.
Not from a crash course, and not from a book by candlelight, but from being up there. From little girlhood up to her college years, in sunshine, rain, or bitter cold, Lori was up on the roofs with her father, Dean Thompson, founder of Thompson Roofing in Tacoma, and the rough-and-tumble men of his crews.
“My father founded his company in 1975, and I grew up on the roof,” Lori Swanson said. “It was not an option. It was, ‘You’re going to work today, get in the truck.’”
As for Matt, his father had been a part-time builder, so as a kid he was always around construction so he knew about the trade.
“My dad did that as a side business, he had a different job during the week. Mostly, I got that knowledge I think because my mother wanted me out of the house,” Matt said.
The Swansons met at Tacoma Community College, and went on to graduate together from St. Martin’s College in Lacey, Wash. — he with a degree in finance, her with a degree in business, before marrying. His ambition was to become a stockbroker.
The following years, however, worked important changes in both of them. Lori did not enjoy roofing and had resolved that after college she’d make her living doing anything but that. Over time, however, she realized she actually loved the roofing business, loved the roofing community and wanted to spend her career in it.
“I came to appreciate working with my father because I understood how hard the work was. I learned literally from the ground up, the components of the roof, people in the industry and how the industry worked,” Lori said.
And Matt realized that he wasn’t cut out to be a stockbroker, a job he said that was more about selling to people than helping them.
So, in 2005, the couple founded Guardian Roofing, in a small house in Fife, with five employees, first-year revenues of less than $200,000 and a load of confidence. Not only did their business best that early chauvinism, the Great Recession of 2008, the COVID pandemic and many other setbacks — it has thrived.
Today, Guardian Roofing brings in about $20 million a year, employs more than 100 people. It has moved several times since the Fife days, including recently from its first locale in Auburn to a large building in north Auburn.
All, as the Swansons like to say, one roof a a time.
But getting business from where it was in 2005 to it is in 2022, they say, has been no cake walk.
The couple entered the roofing market 17 years ago with the mentality that every client would be a client for life and that there was no job too small. This philosophy set them apart from the more established companies, which only wanted to work on new roofs, no small repairs, no maintenance for them.
“We just started doing all the jobs, any job, no job too big, no job too small we would do whatever people would need to take care of their roof,” said Lori. “If we could find a way to repair it, and they could get a few more years out of it, we did that and people really appreciated that. To this day, a good amount of our revenue every year still comes from repeat clients because they trusted us not to tell them they needed a new roof if they didn’t need one. And here we are now, still helping them, year after year.”