By Kristine Thomas
The message resonated with Tara Kramer – “Stop treating life’s goals like the good china in the cupboard that is only used for special occasions.”
Experiencing a rough patch in her personal life in 2007, Kramer attended a seminar in Portland where former Secretary of State Colin Powell and New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani spoke.
“They spoke about how too often in life, we always say ‘I will do this after I do that.’ Or, ‘I will start exercising, quit smoking … only after this happens.’ They spoke about after 9-11, that it is time to take the good china out of cupboard and use it instead of waiting for the perfect moment,” Kramer said.
After the January conference, she stopped at Arrowhead Golf Course on the way to her home near Marquam and did the “cliché doodling on the bar napkin.
“I was so moved by what they said. I knew that I wanted to own my own business,” she said. “I wrote Ri-Ky on the napkin for my two sons.” Her sons, Riley and Kyle, are students at Butte Creek Elementary School.
Chatting with the bartender about her vision, the two women made a list of what Kramer needed to do to start her own roofing company. In March 2007, she started Ri-Ky, a commercial roofing, waterproofing, project management, maintenance, solar and sheet metal company. Her first corporate client was U-Haul.
According to the US Women’s Chamber of Commerce, there are six roofing companies owned by women, she said, and of those only two started by women without the assistance of a father, brother or husband.
Skip ahead to 2014 and Kramer is amazed how she went from starting with $2,000 to having offices in several states.
“It all seems a bit surreal,” she said.
At the Commercial Real Estate for Women or CREW conference in Florida this month, Kramer was honored with the 2014 Top Entrepreneurial Woman Spirit Award in the USA. She and her sons met Steve Forbes and she met former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton.
Earlier this year, Kramer was honored for her achievements by The Portland Business Journal at its 11th annual Women of Influence program. She was Executive of the Year in the entrepreneur category.
When she asked the CREW nominating committee why she was chosen, they said she was an inspiration to other women. She started her company from scratch, she was a single mom and she persevered.
While being recognized is an honor, what matters most to Kramer is the quality of her work, serving her community and being a mom.
“With success, comes great responsibility,” she said. “I think it’s important to give back as much as I can. I think it’s each of our jobs to pay it forward.”
When a young woman recently asked Kramer for advice about opening a business in Silverton, Kramer was eager to lend support. She said people will always voice their doubts. What she has learned to take negative comments as a challenge that she can do what someone said she couldn’t do.
She advises women considering starting their own business to pick a trade or craft where they have knowledge and expertise.
“I also tell them to surround themselves with people who will raise them up and believe you can do what you want to achieve,” she said. “We tell our kids to consider who they are spending time with. As adults, we need to do the same.”
She often gets asked why she chose to start a roofing company, especially after friends learn she once worked for Avon.
At 25, she was a receptionist for a large, national roofing company in Pittsburgh when she asked the president if she could be the company’s first saleswoman. In attempt to discourage her, the president sent her to California where she worked part-time as a roofer and estimator.
“My first day of the roofing job, I got a lot of laughs from the men,” she said. Her determination, intelligence and work ethic proved she was more than capable. She worked in Seattle as a project manager and opened a corporate and sales office in Portland.
“I worked my way up the company and I learned every part what it takes to run a roofing company,” she said, adding she’s heard her former employee is impressed by her success.
Working for another roofing company, she was pregnant with Kyle and on a roof in Oregon City when a gust of wind almost knocked her off. That incident led her to Avon, where she worked as a district manager for 600 representatives in the Portland area. Selling lipstick didn’t provide the challenge she enjoyed in construction.
Understanding life throws unexpected curves, Kramer said her secret to staying in the game is knowing how to adjust and which battles to fight, which to leave alone.
Competing for roofing jobs against the “good old boys’ club” often presents its challenges, she said. “I am not going to try to break down the walls or change them,” she said. “I have my own sandbox, my own bucket and shovel and I will build my own castle.”
From her sons’ coaches and teachers to her friends, Kramer knows she couldn’t have built her company without all their support.
“When I do something, I know it’s because of the support I have,” she said. “And I want to thank everyone for their support.”