Many businesses are created because someone sees a need and fills it.
Richard Crosby not only saw a need because he happened to be in the right place at the right time, but he also had the chutzpah to fill that need -- with little experience to draw on.
Crosby, the owner of Crosby Roofing & Seamless Gutters Inc. in Macon, started his business when he was 21 years old.
Now the company -- with a fairly new office on Hawkinsville Road -- has three locations in two states and employs about 50 full-time people. The company installs roofs, gutters and siding and does carpentry work on residential and commercial property across the Southeast.
Crosby, 47, built his business from the bottom up by working hard -- on his own. But he was used to that.
Born in Warner Robins, his parents divorced when he was young, and he ended up moving around a lot.
“I grew up in south Macon over in the Peach Orchard,” he said. “We didn’t have a lot, but I never knew it.”
He was 10 or 11 years old when he got his first job delivering and selling newspapers with a carrier for what was then The Macon News, delivered in the afternoon.
At the same time, during the summers, he would drag a lawn mower and a gas can around the neighborhood looking for grass to cut. He also worked with his stepfather as a carpenter’s assistant.
By the time he was 12, Crosby had his own paper route, which he kept until he was about 15.
Home life was rough, so Crosby quit school in the ninth grade and moved out on his own at 16. He worked in the produce department at a Piggy Wiggly and went back to the newspaper as a distribution assistant. That’s where he met his wife, Melissa, who had a paper route while attending Mercer University. She persuaded him to get his high school equivalency diploma.
“My heart was set on being a physical education teacher because I was so influenced by my grammar school teacher” -- Joan Knighten, at the former Weir Elementary School.
Knighten not only encouraged his interest in physical education, “she took me under her wing and she probably inspired me to go in the right direction more than anybody when I was a young kid,” he said.
Knighten still has fond memories about the boy she calls Richie.
“He was always a very happy, adventurous boy,” said Knighten, who taught at Weir for 30 years and at Central High School for 14 years. “He was a sweet, loving natured child. He didn’t have a lot of reinforcement at home. ... I knew there was a good kid in there, but he was struggling.”
She got Crosby involved in some things she was doing, such as working at a dinner theater. He made a stage platform and did some other work.
But even though Crosby began taking classes at what is now Middle Georgia State College and began working as a physical education paraprofessional at Weir, fate had another career in mind.
Crosby had been making small storage sheds to make extra money, charging $150 each. He showed up at a man’s house one day to build a shed, but the homeowner’s roofer didn’t come when he was supposed to, and the man didn’t want the shed built until the roof on his house was done.
“I convinced him to let me do his roof and he did, and that’s how I got started,” Crosby said. “I made a lot more off that roof than I did building little sheds. And I said, ‘well this is something I’ll do.’
“I used him as a reference, and I just started knocking on doors going door to door. I was a 21-year-old old, baby-faced kid knocking on doors. I would get half the money up front. I was doing a good job. I would use them as a reference and I would get another job.”
Things are different today.
“I would not recommend anybody trust any company that wants half the money up front,” he said.
Crosby worked out of his home for the first 10 years. His wife was his secretary and bookkeeper while raising their five children, one with spina bifida. Crosby’s 12-year-old brother-in-law helped him roof houses.
That 12-year-old was Christian Gray -- who grew up to be another successful entrepreneur as owner of Gray Brothers Tree Service in Macon.
Over the years the roofing business grew. But at one point perhaps it grew a little too fast, said Kelvin Collins, president of the Better Business Bureau of Central Georgia & the CSRA Inc.
Some complaints about the company were filed with the BBB. Collins said he called Crosby to come in and the two talked.
“He was taking on too many jobs, and he didn’t have the manpower and the cash flow to do so many,” said Collins, who suggested that Crosby scale back until he could finish jobs as promised.
Crosby agreed, and the complaints subsided. Even when he got a complaint, it would be resolved quickly, Collins said.
“I consider Richard to be one of our success stories,” Collins said. “He has had the opportunity to expand. ... He’s done it the right way.”
Several years after helping his teacher build a stage platform, Crosby built a storage shed for Knighten and put a roof on her house.
“It’s a good thing to see a child who has struggled -- that he made it out,” she said.
PASSES ‘RECIPE’ TO SONS
As Crosby’s two oldest boys grew up -- Richard II, who goes by “Bubba,” and Collen -- they began working with him.
At the age of 21, Bubba moved to Augusta by himself and opened his own branch of Crosby Roofing.
“That was one of proudest moments of my life to see one of my children start something,” Crosby said. “And not only did he start it, he has been very successful.”
Then last year Collen decided to open a branch in Columbia, South Carolina.
Both branch offices have done very well, Crosby said.
“I figured it out the hard way along the way,” he said. “And I passed on a really good recipe, but they have to mix it. ... They have to do all the hard work.”
The company has about 25 employees in Macon, 15 in Augusta and 10 in South Carolina.
Crosby said the favorite part of his work is helping people, including employees.
“People who come to work for me have learned from us. It changes their lives, too,” he said. “A couple of employees were down on their luck, and I gave them a chance. They have absolutely succeeded, and they will stick with you a long time.”
While the weather -- hail damage or heavy winds -- can bring him work, it can be challenging to work on roofs when you never know when it’s going to rain.
“Our business helps people get their lives back straight after a bad storm comes through,” he said.
After opening the two branches, Crosby had a reason to indulge in his love of flying.
“The reason I got my pilot’s license was so I could fly to my other branches and check on them.”
He got his pilot’s license two years ago and owns a four-seat Cessna 482. Two weeks ago -- after preparing for eight months -- Crosby passed the test to get his instrument rating.
“So now I can fly in the clouds,” he said.
Sometimes he uses his flying skills to take his wife to dinner in Atlanta or to the couple’s “little place in Panama City, Florida. ... We can be there in 25 minutes.”
In 10 years, he plans to retire from the company he founded more than 26 years ago.
“I’ll be using this pilot’s license to travel,” he said.
To contact writer Linda S. Morris, call 744-4223.