Editor's Choice 2004: So Many Choices, So Little Time
Our "Editor's Choice" follows attendance at the annual meetings of the Single Ply Roofing Institute (SPRI), the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB), and the National Roofing Contractors Association (NRCA). Several important industry conventions will follow, but the early trade shows, particularly the NAHB and NRCA, are the ones many manufacturers in the roofing industry target to roll out their newest and best innovations and products. Some of the products of "Choice" were observed outside the realm of the trade show world - in the real world.
High TechnologyThe world of mobile telecommunications is moving quickly to the world of mobile computing and tracking. Mobile provider Nextel, Reston, Va. showed up at the NAHB with a cadre of new products and third-party providers of software and services available over a broad network (see article on page 54).
Nextel, popular with contractors and suppliers as a combination radio and cell phone service, has been busy building its digital nationwide network. Now the company is moving into the business of adding other services that will be broadcast over its network. These services include Global Positioning System tracking and navigation, work-order processing applications, and e-mail/Internet services with handheld devices such as the Research in Motion (RIM) Blackberry device.
Having the capability to process e-mail while on the move is an intriguing concept, but is even more so when it is simplified by having phone, radio and PDA in one device. After spending two weeks with a RIM device, this editor is fast becoming hooked on the e-mail feature. Many e-mails can be responded to with a simple yes, no, or short answer, and be dispatched with ease. Long e-mails or viewing attachments are still best worked out on laptops or desktops.
The most intriguing new service that will provide a great deal of value for contractors is the GPS. Simply put, the mobile phone works in conjunction with software and an Internet connection provided by a third party that will allow you to track the unit wherever it goes inside the Nextel service area. When the phone has service, the GPS can track the unit. Dispatching a number of service vehicles becomes considerably easier when you can see on a Web-enabled computer screen where all available units are located in real time. We don't even need to discuss the value of knowing where all of your fleet and people are at the click of a mouse.
A simple but powerful new computer program was introduced at the NRCA called Bid Log, Oklahoma City. A five-minute demonstration was all it took to see the powerful features of this innovative product designed for use by contractors on their PC to keep track of the sales and bidding process. We have seen a number of impressive estimating and layout programs designed for roofing contractors in the past years, but this is the first we have seen to help keep up with all that estimating work. After all, closing deals is the name of the game, not just passing out numbers.
Bid Log works to organize and track bids, remind you of deadlines, keep an ongoing record of each bid, and help forecast income. It also has a robust sales management reporting function. Bid Log is reasonably priced, networkable, simple to use, and comes with comprehensive user support. Roofing contractors who do their own estimating or who have an office full of estimators will both appreciate this tool.
Great GadgetsAn age-old problem for residential reroofing estimator/sales people has been the availability of a ladder that is small enough to fit inside the trunk, back of the SUV or behind the seat of their pick-up. It needs to be a ladder that is light and easy to set up on a one or two-story house. Nothing heavy-duty, just a true "Estimator's Ladder." While at the NAHB show we veered into the Telesteps telescopic ladder.
The Telesteps ladder is made of anodized aluminum, which makes it corrosion-resistant and light in weight. The unit is finished with rubber feet and is incredibly easy to unfold and collapse for storage/transport. Telesteps comes to us from Sweden but should soon be readily available in the United States.
In another gadget-related development, Holly "The Tool Goddess" Eaton first introduced us to Stiletto tools this summer at the Jimmy Carter Work Project in Valdosta, Ga. Holly was sporting a Stiletto all-titanium framing hammer with a 14-ounce head that performed like a conventional 24-ounce framing hammer. So it was no surprise when we ran into Joel Allen, vice president of operations for the Stiletto Tool Co., Atwater, Calif., at the NAHB show.
The concept of a somewhat pricey, but thoroughly practical line of titanium striking tools is a bit off the page, but we appreciate the thinking of this innovative firm. In addition to the full line of hammers, including a couple of roofing hammers patterned after the AJC shinglers hammers, Stiletto features a unique rubber grip option for its tools. Actually, it is an option for any tool that might benefit from a rubber grip, such as an axe or shovel. The "Air Grip" non-slip grip is unique because it is furnished with a breakaway "tunnel" that allows you to easily install the grip without heat, soapy water, vinegar or cursing. We tried a couple of samples and were very pleased with the results.
Another innovation making use of titanium is the Stiletto 12-inch, 8-ounce claw bar with the company's "dimpler" feature. It's hard to describe this one, but in addition to the conventional two ends of a claw bar (cat's paw), the Stiletto tool has a side piece that can be used to form a "dimple" around a nail head prior to removal that makes the nail virtually slip out. The result is a much more ergonomically friendly nail puller.
Metal machinery supplier, MetalForming of Peachtree City, Ga. showed up at the NRCA with its usual cast of high-technology folding machines, roll-formers, cutters and slitters. What caught our eye, however, was a rather simple, hand-operated device. MetalForming's president, Geoff Stone, showed us how this tool rolled three different sizes of half-round gutter in lengths up to 10 feet. This is a "Choice" due to its purely practical and simple design. Contractors can now make their own half-round gutter, and perhaps more important, can form replacements easily and quickly for repair work.
On the Residential SideRecently we saw where safety-equipment manufacturer Bacou-Dalloz has begun to offer permanent anchorage devices for use with steep-slope roofing systems. These devices may be used as either temporary anchorage points for personal fall arrest systems or may be left on the roof permanently for use by maintenance personnel in the future. Another development is that GAF Materials Corp., Wayne, N.J., launched a number of initiatives and products at the NRCA this year. Among the most interesting was the addition of its new "HeavenScape" skylight line. Not just another skylight, we are impressed that this product line is being introduced and marketed by a major roofing manufacturer who puts its good name, reputation, and warranty behind it. Many roofing contractors ceased installing skylights years ago, abandoning tons of sales, because of the inevitable hassles that ensued with condensation and leaking issues.
HeavenScape skylights employ a proven European design to which GAF has added not only its name, but also clear details and installation instructions both on paper and in the form of a video available on CD. The flashing details, if followed according to the instructions, should provide full weatherproofing and product performance for the life of the roof.
The world is awakening to "green construction" initiatives, and that includes the world of residential construction. Residential roofing and reroofing contractors will be smart to have another look at skylights as the push to add more natural lighting continues to grow.
At the NAHB show we found another major asphalt roofing manufacturer featuring some "out-of-the-box" thinking. TAMKO, Joplin, Mo., was showing its Lamarite Slate composite shingles to a very receptive group of building contractors who are constantly in search of ways to set their homes apart from the rest. We like the fact that TAMKO was willing to take the risk to move into a segment of the steep-slope market beyond the world of asphalt-based product.
Roofing and building contractors appreciate this particular line of product because while offering the upscale look and high quality, Lamarite Slate weighs and installs more like asphalt shingles than natural slate or tiles. In fact, the Lamarite Slate can be installed with a pneumatic nail gun using corrosion-resistant roofing nails. Roofing contractors who have customers interested in something truly different can now offer a variety of asphalt-based products and a composite slate from the same manufacturer.
Finally, CertainTeed Corp., Valley Forge, Pa., announced the nationwide rollout of its new Landmark Widetrack QB designer shingle at the NRCA convention. According to the literature, "Fastening Shingles Just Got Easier," and we agree. The Widetrack QB shingle is manufactured with a new technology "Quadra-Bond" adhesive to hold the two-piece laminated shingle together while offering the applicator a generous 1 1/2-inch nailing area. Most shingles require the roofer to hit a nail line of 1/4 inch to 1/2 inch, which is difficult at best. This innovation is a direct result of CertainTeed listening to the needs of its professional applicators.
Substrate Relief for the Self-AdheredKudos to the DensDeck division of G-P Gypsum, Atlanta, for its quick response to a need in the low-slope roofing market. The company introduced DensDeck DuraGuard at the NRCA convention for adhered membrane systems, particularly the emerging generation of self-adhered systems.
DuraGuard is a new version of the popular DensDeck roof board that incorporates a low-perm, integrated coating, which provides an ideal substrate for a wide variety of adhered roofing systems without requiring field priming (G-P DensDeck literature recommends you check with the membrane manufacturer for specifics on priming requirements). These systems include self-adhered and hot-mopped membranes.
DuraGuard takes its place beside the original glass-faced DensDeck and DensDeck Prime.
What Will They Think of Next?A better question would be, what will you think of next? Many of the innovations in the roofing industry come from roofing contractors just like you. Have a great idea that works in your business? Chances are it will work for others. Drop us a line and tell us about it!
Editor's Lament: A Post Script to Editor's Choice 2004Two buzzwords from industry meetings and conventions recently - "steel" and "China" - had us thinking we could cook up some words of wisdom for roofing contractors who are or will be dealing with rapidly escalating prices and product shortages in the world of metals, particularly steel, copper and stainless. Initial research quickly revealed that the issues that have led up to today's market are broad, worldwide, complicated, and just too deep to come up with a few bullet points that will help roofing contractors get ahead of the situation. Maybe we are not deep and worldwide enough, but that is another discussion. So we had to settle for some speculation, which is what follows.
We can tell you some (overly) simple things that may help you survive 2004 in terms of your dependence on metal supply, but that's about it. Every roofing contractor encounters metal on nearly every project. Metal roofing is the fastest growing segment of the residential roofing industry and continues to be a growing force on the commercial side of our house. So here is the punch line: If you are not already closely watching your metal materials pricing and availability situation, you need to get with the program.
We have learned that the (overly) simple explanations for the complexity of the metal market and its current situation is that it is truly a world market driven by a world of interests. The "Section 201 safeguards" in the United States that were recently removed points to how worldwide supply and demand coupled with the involvement of numerous government and trade groups can conspire to complicate your life. Like with the insurance and labor markets in near-total upheaval, you need this.
So it comes down to these few suggestions. You can try to learn how the world steel and non-ferrous markets work. We tried, and it gave us a headache. Besides, the people who are most expert and make a living trying to stay ahead of these markets are only marginally successful. Just like those stock-market guys and gals, the most successful of whom are either in or headed to jail.
So we suggest you follow the axiom, "Think globally, act locally." Keep an eye on the world market, but become more involved in your local market. Insist on regular supply and price updates from your suppliers. Make sure you are dealing with the right suppliers while you are at it, but don't expect them to line up at your door if you have never done business with them in the past. This goes for nails, fasteners, flat sheets, coil stock, perimeter systems, etc. Ancillary items such that are made of metal such as job-site, plant and fleet equipment may be affected, but to a lesser extent.
Our approach to this issue may be somewhat tongue-in-cheek, but the problems in the metals market, particularly steel, may be serious for some of you this year and in the next several as the world market sorts out important production and protection issues. Please let us hear from you if you have any issues or solutions, and we will keep an eye out as well.