Mr. Dylan once sang, "The times, they are a changin'.'" Had to be one of my favorite songs of the ‘60s. The lyrics of this tune bring up one of my two favorite business topics; the two things that provide nearly all the challenge, hope, promise, problems, excitement and thrills in business: communication and change. This time, let's talk about change. More specifically, let's talk about what I think are some changing dynamics in the marketing of applied residential roofing.
"Damn, Damato," you say. "We are doing pretty well here! The nation's economy is in its seventh year of growth. Inflation is in check; we all have plenty of work to do. On top of all that, it is said that ‘El Nino' might even bring the kind of weather that will keep us extra busy this year. Why do you speak of change when times are good?"
That's a good question, I am so glad you asked. The changes that I sense are coming in the marketing of applied residential roofing are not sudden, but are radical. Changes that are noted here have been discussed and kicked around for years. The changes that need to be brought about are not in the level of business, but in the level of profitability-the kind of change that comes when a product is marketed as a valuable service instead of just another commodity.
For years we have engaged in the marketing of applied roofing from three disparate angles, only sometimes converging together with the appearance of going in the same direction. Manufacturers, distributors and contractors have all maintained different business strategies that seldom worked all that well together, and at times actually rubbed each other the wrong way. I realize there have been many programs, and some have operated successfully for all involved. What is coming, however, is a changed industry, not just another layer of stuff plied on top of existing programs and ideas. All segments of the industry will band together to bring a high quality roofing, moisture control and ventilation system to market, not just "sell roofs."
The very basis of marketing residential roofing products is the roofing contractor's approach to the homeowner or building contractor. Historically, roofers have had to fight the reputation that they are somehow "less" than other construction trades persons. Maybe it was this built-in stigma that led to a feeling of inferiority that somehow put "quoting prices" as the focal point of many roofing contractors' marketing approach. Just "quoting prices" has led many markets into commodity-oriented pricing where the cheapest materials and cheapest details and cheapest labor drive the industry. We have known this for many years and have at least worked towards changing these markets.
Roofing contractors who have sought to move their customers away from "price only" thinking have pushed their own reputations and quality of work. They have asked that the consumers check out any contractor who will perform work on their home. "Check with Better Business, call our references. Look carefully at the quotes you receive. Do they clearly spell out the entire scope of work to be performed down to the smallest detail? Do they carry all the necessary licensing and insurance?"
In essence, they have invited consumers to become experts, to really learn what is going on with their roofing jobs. In many cases, however, the typical estimator does not really take that much time with each prospect to help them through this process. Rather, most estimators prefer to compress the time each call takes, expand the number of calls, and yield better results because bidding and winning jobs is just a game of percentages. This attitude, unfortunately, has led to "price" being the leading topic of conversation. Of course we all know the only way to make "price" look better is by lowering it.
Over the years our industry has talked about and studied the various phenomena that set up "price" as the prime motivator in making applied residential roofing decisions. I have been to seminars that various manufacturers, distributors and trade groups have staged, and have observed that much may be learned by all of us. I have seen individual roofing contractors change the way they do business, and develop a sales approach that puts "price" where it belongs: as a consideration made relative to the value received. Why, then does this approach seem to take a back seat to the "price" approach? How is it ever going to change?
To me, the core of this problem is not the roofing contractor's unwillingness to sell a better product at a better price. It is not that the distributor wants to sell only commodity-grade roofing shingles, and no other collateral products, like better quality ventilation, flashing and waterproofing. It is certainly not that the roofing manufacturer wants to make only the base-grade shingle, forgetting the more classy and expensive ones. Last, but not least, the problem is not that the consumer just wants the cheapest price. Think about it. You are a consumer. Do you buy everything with price as the only criteria? Hell, no! If you did, you would all be driving white pickup trucks with hand crank windows, a six-cylinder engine and an AM radio.
OK. What is the problem? The problem is that no one is in charge. No one has taken charge, that is. Perhaps it has always been a "control" thing, and no one has allowed the others to take charge. I do not know, but refer back to the fact that roofing contractors, distributors and manufacturers have been dancing to different drummers. It is time to join together to do something that we all have a vested interest in: survive.
To discover where the parties may begin to come together, you need only look at the supply chain in our industry. Today's roofing manufacturers are mostly lean, vertical operators who have seized on technologies over the past 10 to 15 years of falling prices to become high-quality, low-cost producers. They have done a masterful job of maintaining their place in the price-driven marketing scheme that has developed. The roofing distributor of today is now part of a national or super-regional conglomerate. At the very minimum, the distributor is part of a national group of trading partners. They have become bigger and bigger to further reduce the cost of doing business. They have done their part in placing themselves in a position to compete in a price-driven market place.
You roofing contractors have really not changed as substantially in the past decade. You have become smarter and more capable of dealing with many business issues such as government regulation and risk management. You have kept up with changing technologies in computing and communications. Your basic structure as residential roofing contracting firms has remained the same (as a group, not individually).
As this ROOFER Magazine is being published, a program is being introduced to the industry nationwide that I think has a chance of changing the entire residential roofing industry. It had been my intention to write a balanced piece about the different marketing programs that are being offered by the various manufacturers of roofing products. One, however, is so different that, at least for now, it stands alone and defies comparison. So you may call this article a commercial for GAF's Master Elite™ program, but I call it a wakeup call for all segments of our industry. This represents the first time that a channel member has really "taken charge" of the marketing process, while including the other channel members in the picture from the word go.
What follows is a brief description of some of the unique facets of the GAF Master Elite program. That is, a description of the things that caught my attention as being truly different and "industry changing." To get complete details of this program, you must contact GAF.
To begin with, I knew something was up when GAF President Sunil Kunar was seen paying personal visits to roofing contractor and distributor executives to talk about the upcoming program. It is not so unusual for this executive to be seen out and about in the market place, but it struck me that he was on a "mission." At the annual meeting of all GAF sales personnel, GAF Chairman and CEO Sam Heyman insisted on presenting the Master Elite program personally.
Heyman, while involved in all aspects of the company, is generally known for maintaining a low profile. To me, the key to getting the program going is simply this: the complete and total commitment from GAF. According to the two persons responsible for design and coordination of the program, Dave Harrison and Butch Lockhart, it is not simply another program: "This is our corporate direction. GAF is reinventing itself, and is taking responsibility for its appropriate leadership role as America's largest roofing manufacturer."
The Master Elite program is not going to be for every roofing contractor, but has been structured to target the ones who will likewise be committed to the process of improving the industry's approach to marketing applied roofing. To that end, the program is not free. The program calls for a commitment of time and money not only from the manufacturer, but also from the contractor. The distributor must commit to the inventory and delivery resources to support the program as well.
The Master Elite program begins by addressing what the consumer needs and making sure that the entire supply chain delivers (manufacturer, distributor and contractor). For its part, GAF has come across with a new series of transferable Golden Pledge limited warranties. The company will offer initial "Full Protection" periods where the coverage is not prorated. These enhanced warranties may only be offered by and issued through Master Elite roofing contractors.
This coupling of contractor and manufacturer has historically only occurred at this level in the low-slope, commercial and industrial roofing sector. Building owners have long recognized the value of having a more direct link to the system manufacturer along with the contractor. With the enhanced warranty, there are advanced requirements that take into consideration a "total system" approach. Some warranty requirements include the underlayments, leak or ice dam barriers, upgrade shingles, ridge ventilation and enhanced hip and ridge products. Like the low-slope counterpart, the Golden Pledge warranty will require inspection by the manufacturer, and will be furnished at a "per square" cost to the consumer.
Another key advantage that this gives the contractor is brand recognition. The program allows the contractor use of recognized trademarks in advertising. Retail and Yellow Page advertising are part of the package. Today's street-smart consumer will demand to deal with a product and company with which they can identify. According to Master Elite Contractor Mary Dodd of Dodd Roofing Co., in Tucker, Georgia, this is one of the key features of the program that caught their attention. She says today's consumers are tougher than ever before, "Especially this new generation." Mary also stated that the transferability of the warranty is something that many consumers request specifically.
Other things that the program offers to Master Elite contractors are: Lead generation, certification/differentiation logo, video tapes for selling and referrals, customized pitch book, training package including a sharp set of video tapes to train installers, unique warranties, financing (available in limited areas), pre-warranty inspections, and joint purchasing power for items such as trucks and insurance. Again, this is only an overview of some of the items that are furnished with this unique partnership. According to Butch Lockhart, "This is only the beginning... for as much as you see here, there is much, much more to come."
At this point I know what you are thinking: Damato has fallen head over heels for what looks like just another marketing ploy. Maybe, but I don't think so. What I do think, and have thought for a long time, is that the residential roofing industry is badly in need of a way to turn around our abhorrent habit of marketing via "price quote". In spite of the risk I take with my many other friends in the industry by championing one program, I do feel this one has a chance of succeeding in starting real change. The rest of you are challenged. If this is not the way to turn the tide, come up with one that will!