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Tom Keller: Working on a Different Level

Photo courtesy of Quest Construction Products

While Tom Keller of Brazos Urethane may be known as “Tom the Roofer” after his work on the Superdome post-Hurricane Katrina, his work in the coatings industry can’t be contained by the Big Easy. His work has spanned from San Francisco to Miami, and he’s currently focusing on branded roofs of national sports arenas. However, his beginning had much more humble roots.

Traveling Tom
Keller started his career at the suggestion of a friend while he was looking for a steady job back in 1974. “A buddy of mine was spraying foam on storage tanks in Houston, and I happened to be in Oklahoma,” Keller mused. “He asked ‘Are you working?’ and I said, ‘No, everything is shut down for the winter.’ He convinced me to check out the project, and the rest is history.”

Keller then started a small company in Houston that primarily sprayed polyurethane foam on storage tanks throughout the United States, which appealed to his adventurous side. “I wanted to travel as a kid, and I didn’t care how I accomplished that,” he added, chuckling. “Be careful what you wish for! I’ve spent a lot of my life on the road, and for several years, I didn’t even have an address.”  But now traveling is less of a focus in his career, and Keller can enjoy the luxuries of home when the road begins to wear on him.

The “Tom the Roofer” moniker was coined during Keller’s stint in New Orleans in 2005, after hurricane-ravaged New Orleans was in need of skilled roofers to repair the iconic Superdome. Keller’s gregarious and warm personality quickly made him a favorite with the media.  “They would call me up and say, ‘So and so wants to do an interview,’ and I’d say, ‘Sure, I can do it!’” explained Keller. It quickly became known that when the media wanted to talk to someone with character, the resounding reply from all trades was, “Talk to Tom the Roofer.” The nickname snowballed in popularity and is still thrown around in the New Orleans area to this day. 

Modern Marvels
Keller has been involved in school projects in Tennessee and wall foam insulation projects in Texas and Louisiana, as well as various roofing projects. “We work on a variety of things,” Keller noted, with the most recent focus being on branding roofs.

Currently, Keller is working on putting a Smoothie King logo on the main sports arena in New Orleans, and he also put the Mercedes Benz logo on the Superdome. This experience gives him a leg up with “an advantage on branding, since if it’s on a roof, we know how to do it,” he said. “When the client asks what our concerns are, we just tell them we hope we spell it right!” Product-wise, Keller generally applies, in his own words, “a lot of acrylic.”

As for advice to the industry, Keller said, “As an applicator, follow all respiratory equipment instructions. Safety is huge and has really come into a major thing through my life. New guys might complain, but they’re lucky the standards exist now. Also, as an owner, you better be ready to kiss your personal time goodbye, because you’ll have none since even the weekends are busy.”

In the end, while the industry may not be for everyone, it’s still a rewarding one. “I still like the traveling,” Keller said. “The equipment has progressed light years, and it’s much better and more reliable and more high tech. If you have a breakdown, all of the foremen have iPads and pull everything up right there or text you photos, etc., so that part of the business is much, much better.”

Art and Soul
In terms of home life, Keller joked, “I take my wife out so she’ll still love me.” And his spare time also includes creating mixed media. “I take a piece of wood and paint a background, and I have a picture in mind usually that I cut out with a scroll saw. Then I paint the cut outs and mount them on the wood, so it’s a three-dimensional deal.” Keller proudly noted that he sold one piece in a local gallery, thus cementing his status as an artist, at least according to his wife.

Keller’s plan for the future? “When I finally tell the road, ‘You and I are going to have to part ways,’ I want to do this work part-time and enjoy yard work and my two German Shepherds the rest of the time,” he said.

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