As Miller Roofing marks its 50th anniversary this year, it is also going back to its roots, moving its main office back to Curry where family members live.
According to a company ad on the 30th anniversary of the company in 1998, Earl Miller, who was born in Arley in 1934, began his roofing career with a Florida company in 1959 before quickly moving on to firms in Cullman and Huntsville. A leg injury forced him take a job with Forbes Piano in 1961-1964. He then went to work with Standard Roofing Co. in 1964-1968, becoming superintendent of the New Orleans branch of the company.
Later in 1968 he came back to Jasper and opened Earl Miller Roofing, starting at his home 100 yards from the new location of the company. He did roofing on some houses, and his first large job after his 1968 opening was a roof on Son's Supermarket in Jasper, according to his son, Steve Miller, who now leads the company. He said in 1977, the business moved to Commerce Avenue in Jasper, leasing a site before building its complex on Third Avenue in 1980.
Earl Miller expanded it on Feb. 28, 1984, under the new name Miller Roofing, Inc. The 1998 ad noted the business by its 30th year had an office, a warehouse and a full sheet metal shop had been added by then on the Old Parrish Highway in Jasper. At the time the business had 68 full-time employees and a fleet of 28 vehicles. It noted Miller had been an approved contractor in Alabama longer than anyone else. By 2011, about 90 employees were in place.
Earl Miller retired on Sept. 30, 1996, but remained CEO at the time, with Steve Miller being president and manager, and son David Miller being vice president. Earl Miller died in 2008.
David Miller later left for the ministry and is today the director of missions for the Walker Baptist Association. Steve Miller is now president and CEO, and James Miller, Steve Miller's son, today is the senior vice president.
At the first of this year, "we decided we would move the business back to Curry," Steve Miller, 57, said in his new office. "We still have a warehouse there (in Jasper) and maintain it, but we decided to move the office here and just change things up a little bit. We just wanted to enjoy life a little bit more." Instead of driving 15 minutes to work, the business is near the family residences, without even a business sign to identify the location at 1978 Hermon Rd., near Herman Baptist Church.
The full sheet metal shop still is being used by crews, and workers go back and forth between the Curry and Jasper locations.
The number of employees is down to about 23 people, although that is a level that the Millers want to maintain at this time. Currently the company is working on some Cullman schools and a public lake building in Geneva County, along with some Walker County projects.
Over the years, the business evolved to about 80 percent commercial work and 20 percent residential, Steve Miller said. "It pretty much stays that way except for the year of 2011, when we had the hail storm in Jasper," as well as the tornadoes, which reversed percentages.
He recalled the 1974 tornado that hit Jasper resulted in working on many buildings in Jasper. "We don't chase storms, but when they are in your hometown, you are going to work them," he said.
Steve Miller said the company does many school roofs, which gives him pride. Miller Roofing has worked on shopping centers and has been particularly involved over the years with roofing for The Cheesecake Factory sites across the nation, as well as for Ruby Tuesdays and some other chains.
James Miller, 28, said he was proud of his own professional move which led to a familiar project.
"I just recently moved from my architectural job, doing my internship with Jock Leonard and Leonard Design Architects in Cullman," he said. "I finished my internship and and working toward my architectural license," he said, noting he had worked with the Beacon House in Jasper while with Leonard. He joined Miller Roofing in October.
"We enjoy the roofing business and the construction business. This has been my life when my Dad started this. I was 8 years old," Steve Miller said, noting he started by nailing shingles. "As I got older, I swung a mop on a hot asphalt roof, and the hot asphalt was pretty much all of it. As then as we got into the late 1970s and early 1980s, we got to see single ply. We started with Firestone EPDM, a rubber roof if you will." Work on those roof took the company to the Midwest and all the way to California.
Now, the company is trying to stay in the Alabama, Tennessee, Mississippi, Louisiana and Georgia as far as its market, to the point of letting some licenses expire in other states.
Asked about the most misunderstood part of roofing, Steve Miller said, that it is a professional job and not one where anyone can pick up a hammer to install a roof.
"It takes training and retraining," he said. "We do this on a daily basis with our new employees."
James Miller said as vocational school courses are in place for plumbers, welders and electricians, courses should also be offered for roofing as a vocation, adding the nation has a need for skilled workers.
Steve Miller still plans to work a number of years, noting his own father worked at the office until a week before he died. "That's why we wanted to move here and change things up a little bit," he said. "We've been in Jasper there at the warehouse since 1980. We just wanted to change up a little bit and thought this would be better for us.
"We have about 85 acres on this site," he said. "I like the farm. We've always tried to have a few cattle. We wanted to get back this way so that I could work on the farm a little occasionally and keep cattle here, again back to the enjoyment of life instead of all work."
The Millers are working out of the back of a home that David Miller built, with the office area amounting to about 800 square feet. Steve Miller notes the company still has its 3,000 square feet of office area in Jasper, although it is not used for that now. About 15,000 square feet of warehouse space is also used in Jasper at the Third Avenue South location.
The business is not slowing down, as the Millers say that they are actually speeding up.
"In the last month, (business) has really picked up big time," he said. "For years we have carried $1 million to $1.5 million backlog. The last few years if you were carrying about $200,000 backlog, you were doing really good. So now today, we're back up close to the $1 million backlog."
The Millers emphasized that the roofing services will continue for years to come, although James Miller said the company will offer new architectural services in time once he completes testing for his architecture license. "We can provide services to design and build on the same project," he said. "It always made sense to me to add that extra layer to the business."