Matt Barberi & James Murray
Matt Barberi was a bartender at Just Tacos Mexican Grill & Cantina when he met James Murray, who liked to unwind there after a long day of managing builds at his construction company. They got to be fast friends talking about life, Hawai‘i’s tricky business landscape and the ins and outs of entrepreneurship. Barberi left bartending and got involved in roofing sales, but the two stayed friends.
One night while walking around downtown after pau hana in 2013, Barberi suggested to his buddy that they combine forces and start a business. It made perfect sense—he had a knack for sales and would make a good front man, and Murray had the general contractor expertise. Murray agreed, and in March of the following year, they made the idea a reality.
Today the dynamic duo are managing partners at Ohana Construction, specializing in residential and commercial roofing. Roofing was an easy focus given the high profit margin, their prior experience in the trade and the appeal of helping people in a jam. Barberi focuses on overall business development, including financials and partnership opportunities, while Murray manages field operations and makes sure subcontractors are on the ball. Together they are shifting the paradigm for how roofing or construction businesses should operate.
“We’re not your stereotypical roofing company—we care about aesthetics and really push that with our sales reps,” Barberi says. “Our office doesn’t look like a construction office at all. It’s more of an open-space showroom with a good atmosphere, where people can come and hang out and look at roofing materials.” The company’s unofficial mascot dogs, Colonel and Beaumont, are also a hit with customers.
One thing really that motivates the pair is their shared commitment to helping others, from guiding homeowners through the notoriously challenging process of installing a new roof to helping subcontractors find work to combining forces with other roofing companies for the benefit of all. It’s their company mantra of “ordinary people doing extraordinary things” that has helped create a tight-knit community around their business.
“We’ve brought people in who had no experience in construction, and they’ve absolutely crushed it,” Barberi says. “We have ladies in their 50s who’ve been receptionists all their lives. They’ll come in and start slinging roofs like there’s no tomorrow because we’ve created a vehicle where anyone can enjoy construction and selling roofing.”
Barberi and Murray have built up a solid reputation for their incredible customer service and technology-based construction, with a good majority of their work coming from word-of-mouth referrals. They offer full drone inspections, where the drone actually does the measurements, and digital imaging to show homeowners what their new roof will look like. The team is excited for a big oceanfront roofing project, where they’ll be placing Arcadia Shake shingles from CertainTeed—“the sexiest shingle,” Barberi calls it—on 23 townhome roofs in Kaneʻohe. This quad-laminate design combines the traditional aesthetics of a split wood shake with the low maintenance, low cost and practicality of an asphalt shingle.
Working in close quarters for 10 to 15 hours a day, the balance of opposites is a true asset in Barberi and Murray’s quest to keep their operation running smoothly. “We couldn’t be more different—total yin and yang—but that’s why we work so well together,” Murray says. He’s the more grounded one, while Barberi is Type A, preferring structure, organization and a fast pace. Since Murray has seen a lot in his years of construction—he built his first house with his dad at age 10—his ability to stay cool in stressful situations has encouraged his friend to be more level-headed, too. “I think we’ve both grown a lot since we started by working together,” Barberi says. “We’ve really helped each other expand our horizons.”
What does success mean for Ohana Construction? “It’s not about the numbers,” Barberi says. “It’s more of a lifestyle thing. The big-picture goal is to create free time.”
Though mixing business and friendship may have pitfalls for some, Barberi and Murray have managed to grow a thriving company and remain the best of friends, squeezing in an after-work drink from time to time and the occasional joint vacation. In the same vein, as the work continues to pour in, they’re recruiting new sales team members and forming strategic alliances that are based on respect and camaraderie. “A lot of courtesy goes a long way,” Barberi says. “We look for people who are easy to work with. There’s no job worth any type of money if there’s no aloha.”