The year was 1997. The nation's economy was in its seventh year of growth and the future was looking pretty bright. As it turns out, the economy did in fact grow for another couple of years and the roofing business was a very good place to be.
This writer penned an article for the November 1997 issue of this publication, then known as Roofer Magazine, titled "Residential Roofing: Your Future is Calling." This article, with the bold title, was about the emergence of a new contractor-affinity program being introduced by a major asphalt-roofing manufacturer. There were several manufacturer-to-contractor programs around at that time, but this one caught my eye as being different-a trendsetter.
Indeed there have been many enhancements and improvements to that program since its inception, and nearly all the major manufacturers of asphalt roofing for the residential market have introduced programs of their own. Most manufacturers have listened intently to contractors involved in their programs and have added or deleted features to meet changing needs.
The concept that residential roofing manufacturers need to focus on the success of the residential roofing contractor is still valid. In fact, the need for it is more pronounced now than it was in 1997.
With the growing need for capital and the ever-increasing complexity of managing a small business, residential roofing contractors need all the help they can get. Affinity groups such as those offered by roofing manufacturers can provide valuable "knowledge capital" in addition to help with things such as job financing, enhanced warrantees, and lead generation to name a few. There are also firms that specialize as business consultants to small groups of roofing contractors, which go even farther to assist contractors in analyzing and improving their own performance.
Trade associations can do much to help contractors succeed, but have largely found it difficult to connect with residential roofing contractors. I think the greatest opportunity for roofing associations to make a significant difference in the industry resides on the residential side of the house. Not to ignore those of you on the commercial side, it is just that you have had many business and technical tools at your disposal for a long, long time.
No crystal ball here, but I think the future holds even more opportunities for collaboration and perhaps even consolidation in residential roofing. Manufacturers' contractor-affinity offerings will continue to expand into areas previously unheard of in our industry. Complex and expensive business components such as human resources and insurance will ultimately make their way into the collaborative arena at some level.
Residential contractors who try to go it completely alone are kidding themselves. Yes, you can (and most of you should) keep your independence. If, however, you are not soon connected to the big picture, you may find yourself out altogether. Seek collaboration with a group or groups with whom you can find a level of trust and respect. These days you have some good choices, and those choices should improve as time goes on.