July 18, 2024

Millie Aguilar started her residential roofing business in a new city just as the 2008 recession crushed any opportunity she hoped to capture. Building the business with no formal training or previous experience led to some very lean years. But along the way, Aguilar learned valuable lessons about valuing her services and bouncing back from defeat.
Today, Red Rooster Contractors is a thriving contractor offering exterior renovation services.
“We focus on bad situations, but there is abundance everywhere,” Aguilar says. “Because of my situation and experience, I think I can go through anything.”
What brought you to Charlotte?
I am originally from Lima, Peru, and I came to the U.S. about 25 years ago. I visited my family in New Jersey and got married. We moved to Pennsylvania, and my husband was in the construction business. He was told that Charlotte was a beautiful city. In 2008, he came here and saw that construction was booming. We moved here with our two children. We saw the potential here.
Why did you start the business?
We opened Red Rooster Contractors 10 days after we moved here. Not long later, so many were closing their businesses. There had been hail damage and the only way people could afford a new roof was because their insurance was paying for it. The profit was very little. We lost our house back in Pennsylvania to foreclosure and we had to return my new van. It was tough, but that was how we got started.
How did you grow the business?
I had to become the business visionary, since my husband was focused on the jobsite. I knew nothing about the business. I was a housewife. I loved taking care of my babies. I had to become an entrepreneur along the way. Although it was tough, I enjoyed it. My fear was tuition in the business. There was very little profit in the business, but I saw the lines of people looking for jobs at Walmart. Everyone was applying but no one was able to get a job. I didn’t have any choice but to continue. I applied for a roofing installer job with Home Depot. Little by little we were coming back to normalcy. And then, my husband and I divorced. He decided to open another roofing company. That was my breaking point. I knew very little about the roofing business other than collecting the checks from the customers, but I had those relationships. I had the Home Depot contract, and I just kept going.
Tell me how you evolved as a business leader
I had tons of projects, but the profit margin was small. Just because you have a business doesn’t mean you are going to make a lot of money. I had to learn how to become an entrepreneur. I used to think about how many projects will I get next week. My gross income was very big, but I wasn’t making any money. I decided I had to change my mindset and become a contractor. Today, we focus on exterior renovations, e.g. roofing, siding, gutters, windows and doors.
How is the business different now?
I have a totally different mindset. I have very few customers, but they keep me busy. That tells me that the relationships I have with them is that they trust me. My work is about 60% residential and 40% commercial. Now I work for different organizations, including property management organizations and the public sector.
Of what are you most proud about your business?
It was a lot of hard years. I was about to give up in the beginning. It was too much. There was so much I didn’t know. People said I would not make it. When I heard that, I was so mad. I said now I am going to make this happen. It fueled me. It was no longer about feeling sorry for myself; this empowered me to be strong.
Where do you get your entrepreneurial mindset?
My father was a successful business owner in Peru. He would say that if he lost everything, he would just start over. It’s how you focus. I tried to focus on the abundance that is everywhere.
Does your business amplify your heritage in any way?
Many people think that if you are a woman, you won’t be able to manage a male-dominating crew. When you are the one writing the checks, they stop talking.
What resources helped you grow your business?
The Latin American Chamber of Commerce was very important to my business in the beginning. When I was working as a roofing contractor, a friend suggested I should become a member of the Latin American Chamber. I didn’t even know the word networking. I told him I don’t have time for this. I have so much work. He said you should go. This organization will help you and provide education, management, and marketing. They had a program called Business Builder that lasted six months. I created a mission and a vision statement. This helped open my eyes; I saw many more opportunities.
How did Bank of America help you grow your business?
Bank of America has been an extraordinary tool in my business. Thanks to Grace Nystrum, a senior vice president and strategic marketing executive, I was able to attend the Bank of America Institute for Women’s Entrepreneurship at Cornell University. She is very involved in helping women small business owners get to the next level, and I am deeply grateful for her commitment to our business community.
You must be so busy now with so much construction going on?
I am busy, but I don’t want to be busy just to be busy. I want to ensure I do a good job and it is profitable. You have to focus on that too. Sometimes we forget that we are working. It’s compensation for your value and service. If you know you provide a good service, you know that you are working. I grew up as a business person but also as a human being.
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