Teaching workers a useful trade is just as rewarding
At WJRJ Electrical and WJRJ Industries Consultants, running the business is a family affair. Willie Roller Jr. and his sons sustain their thriving enterprise through business acumen that basically runs in the blood, and they are grateful that success allows them to, as the saying goes, give back.
The patriarch states, “My sons are the owners of our business. They can be an example of a legacy of self-esteem for other young Black people that it can be done [for] the community, which we’ve always supported.”
Things got off to a modest start some 30 years ago. Roller, an electrician, plied his trade at Twin Cities stadiums and the Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport. Willie Roller III came home from college with an Alabama State University business degree in marketing and pitched in with a different skill set.
“Dad didn’t have his master’s license,” recalls Willie III. “So, while we waited for that, I helped him on side jobs, doing residences and, at the same time, began my own business consulting.”
Overhead was minimal with Internet access and social media. Add that Willie III had an eye for creating logos, and WJRJ Industries swiftly went from a simple undertaking to, as the website states, “Supplying Services and Career Information That Changes Lives.” The firm now expertly specializes not only in the construction trade, but in graphic design, marketing and event planning as well, all without charging clients an arm and a leg.
As soon as Willie Jr. was licensed, the Roller then launched a two-fold concern that eventually called for bringing a second son, Akeem, into the loop to manage inventory. “He wanted to work with us. He had worked with Nike, did a lot of work with Urban Outfitters, and is on the job, right now, at Comcast.”
That experience comes in handy when WJRJ is up against competition bidding for a job. “A lot of what we do is based on inventory,” says Willie III. “Our clients don’t have to go out and look for product, because we either have it or Akeem knows how to get it. And he organizes. Thanks to him, we enjoy a strong relationship with suppliers. At good prices. That’s an asset.”
Having come up by way of the proverbial bootstrap, Willie III notes, “We strive to provide nonprofits and small businesses a low-cost, high-quality product.” Accordingly, among WJRJ Industries clients consulting for building websites and fashioning brochures are the Black Civic Network, National Association of Black Social Workers Minnesota Chapter, and Healing from the Inside Out: Centering Our Voices to End Violence against Black Women.
WJRJ Electrical, which has grown to include climate-friendly solar paneling in its offerings, has serviced Progressive Baptist Church in a steadily increasing list of satisfied customers. Willie spoke on-site from the company’s most recent job, wiring Metro Transit’s Light Rail. “We’re working right now with Hennepin County grounding fences, starting from the HERT Building through Minneapolis. Then, we have couple other projects on the drawing board but I can’t speak on them just yet.”
WJRJ Electrical and WJRJ Industries Consultants constitute an umbrella entity under which continued growth appears to be an inevitable offshoot. Willie Roller III sums up that as much as it’s about years of putting in hard work, there’s a reward that goes far beyond making money.
“I see my dad and have been around entrepreneurs my whole life. It’s bred into me to have that freedom to run your own shop and to impact the community.
“I want to give people access to the economy. That’s how it really came about. My dad, he had workers working under him. That’s the way to help your community—give them the economic will to survive.”
Willie goes on to point out that employment at WJRJ is educational opportunity. “In our community, not everyone needs to go to college to learn. With the electrical business you can have a trade, be able to be licensed. You’re giving them knowledge that they’ll always have.
“It’s a way to impact the community even more than charitable donations. That’s the real spirit behind my entrepreneurial work, being able to give my community more than just a check. If you teach someone and then they teach three others, before you know it we have a whole community of skilled tradesmen. And tradeswomen.”