Roofing manufacturers love to sell products. Roofing contractors seek them out. In an age where consumers feel bombarded with unwanted messages, the construction trade is one of those distinctive markets where end users are requesting available products - sometimes urgently. With such willing parties, it would seem a simple matter to connect the dots and provide a quality roof system which would satisfy the end user and provide a solid profit for the manufacturer and the installing contractor, but in reality the relationship is often like a complex courtship based on trust, communication, and commitment.
For years, manufacturers have established formal relationships with roofing contractors, rewarding them with incentives, offering training programs and assisting them with marketing in an effort to go far beyond simply filling out order forms. In the best cases, a partnership is forged that improves revenue as well as offering access to services like customized energy audits, exclusive warranties and qualified leads. In an era when complaints about commercial service are on the rise in the United States, these programs have sustained some of the best practices during the most difficult circumstances.
From Square OneOne pioneer of the roofing contractor appreciation programs is Carlisle SynTec Inc., which has been honoring companies for over 25 years through its Centurion Hall of Fame. The company ranks each job on a scale of 1 to 10, and those who have achieved 100 jobs with a perfect score are recognized with an annual group portrait and other incentives. There are several levels of participation, with the top 100 applicators being part of the Excellence in Single Ply group. This winter, the contractors and their spouses will travel to South Florida for meetings and recreation.
"There is a tremendous amount of networking that takes place," says Steve Schwar, national sales manager for Carlisle. "There are tremendous friendships. The credibility aspect is pretty big. You're definitely dealing with successful businesspeople."
Roofing contractors from different parts of the country can be more open about sharing problems and solutions when they're not talking with competitors at the local association meeting. Since the entry level is so high, those peer relationships often become one of the most valuable aspects of the program. The support extends to areas like marketing, leads, proposals and software management.
With a well-established network of 1,900 authorized applicators, the challenge for Carlisle is to maintain the relationship in a competitive market. While he'd like to have more applicators that use Carlisle SynTec exclusively, Schwar feels that his company has a service advantage. Rather than providing price breaks for a new customer, Carlisle shows them how to be proactive with labor costs, calculate life-cycle costs and promote higher-end roofing solutions.
"If we can have the preferred position, oftentimes that is as good as it's going to get, and that's not a bad position," says Schwar. "What we're trying to do is ensure that a lot of the money stays on the roof and doesn't walk off with the labor."
The evolution of single-ply application methods has reduced the amount of time needed for training - but not its importance. Many companies like Carlisle have training centers that cover a wide range of areas. Finding enough skilled labor is an ongoing problem, and manufacturers and contractors are working together to elevate the profession among prospective workers who aren't bound for college.
Johns Manville recently created an applicator training center next to its Rockdale, Ill., plant to give installers, foremen and project managers hands-on experience applying mock roofing systems.
"They can utilize that in order to become familiar with the material, rather than using our customer's roof as the learning environment," says David Scheirer, group manager for application services at Johns Manville. The program has different modules to accommodate contractors of any size. "It's a not a situation where one size fits all. We're really trying to appeal to all levels in a roofing contractor's company."
The company has been educating those in the construction industry about uniform practices for a long time, as evidenced by the highly respected Better Understanding of Roofing Systems Institute, established in 1972. Scheirer says that he's doing more seminars with roof consultants than ever before. The goal of fostering safe, reliable and profitable operations helps to maintain quality, loyal customers that stay in business. This can be especially helpful during material shortages and storm recovery. Going through a crisis like hurricane response can produce even stronger relationships, ones that can impact the industry as a whole.
Whether it's updates to codes or negotiating with the insurance adjuster, the roofing community is more savvy and prepared about working in a disaster zone. Since the effects of catastrophic events are far-reaching, both regional and national responses are enhanced when the parties have both a local and nationwide picture of the situation. In addition to meetings built around rewards, Johns Manville hosted a Contractor Roundtable last December that brought top roofing contractors to the company's headquarters in Denver so that JM executives could hear firsthand about a variety of issues from those on the front lines.
"This was one of the first events of its kind, and we hope to make it a regular part of our program," says Sarah Tholen, manager of marketing and communications for Johns Manville. She adds that storm response and material shortages were areas both parties need to be proactive about. "We all came to the conclusion that advance communication is needed."
Exclusive ClubIn many ways, single-ply roofing has changed the dynamics of how the roofing industry operates. Training has often been the vehicle used to enhance the relationship with roofing contractors. Some single-ply producers sell only to authorized applicators. This is the route taken by IB Roof Systems in Eugene, Ore., makers of a PVC membrane. For the past 18 years, the company has rewarded its top-volume contractors with an annual retreat. Three companies have accumulated over 2 million square feet each since the company was established in 1978, and those kinds of perks can be a great incentive.
Because of the company's confidence in its applicators and its training programs, IB Roof offers 25-year non-prorated warranties for commercial buildings; residential jobs come with a lifetime warranty, partially transferable. Shawn Stanley, the company's marketing director, says that full-time tech support goes to the first job for every new contractor to ensure quality installations from the beginning.
"The real questions come when they're on the job," he says. "Contractors feel a lot more confident having a full-time tech person on the job."
The feedback is invaluable, and installers offer their own input on things like efficiency or handling tips, which then gets incorporated in the manufacturer's regimen. Stanley says that this kind of introduction to company policies makes a strong first impression and contributes to low turnover among its customer base. Technical reps visit roofing contractors once a month to review product updates and strengthen company ties.
Performance Roof Systems Inc., makers of modified bitumen products based in Kansas City, Mo., actually limits the number of its authorized contractors to around 500 in the United States. The company has always used authorized applicators who can respond to most any bid in the country, thereby focusing their sales, training and marketing efforts on a select group.
"This way, we can keep control and maintain a quality installation," says Joyce Beach, vice president of marketing for PRS. "We can work more closely with our contractors. I think you get a loyal contractor."
Last month, the company opened a 4,000-square-foot dedicated training facility near company headquarters that Beach expects will host 400 to 800 people this year. The hands-on training is not just for new contractors and foremen, but also for those with existing relationships so that everyone is up to speed with the latest techniques for cold-applied adhesives. As the industry moves away from open flames on the roof, installers can use the latest squeegee or spray equipment, or even borrow it for the next job or buy one from PRS. The classroom also has mock-ups of roof decks complete with penetrations and accessories. "It has everything they'll encounter on the roof," she says. "It's also to make sure they are up to date, to get familiar with the new products we bring out."
One of those products, DerbiBrite™, is the first modified bitumen with a factory-applied acrylic coating designed to meet the energy requirements being implemented around the country. Contractors who love and depend on their asphalt membranes can now skip spraying a coating and jump into the complex world of energy audits, emissivity ratings and LEED points. Although the mandates are limited to certain areas, Title 24 in California has the potential to influence the country's energy requirements, affecting the usage of roofing materials and their components all over.
Energy BoostEnergy audits are another service offered by manufacturers to help both parties get the job. Duro-Last, makers of thermoplastic membranes based in Saginaw, Mich., audits projects in the bidding process. Drew Ballensky was appointed the company's "Energy Czar" to keep abreast of government initiatives and help contractors with objective evaluations of roofing systems.
"This gives us neutrality. What sets us apart is that we'll actually go through the work ahead of time," says Ballensky, who is also general manager of a company plant in Iowa. "We help them think of other options, give them some things to look at."
Anyone from small contractors to architects can be overwhelmed by the calculations, and larger contractors need to know how to fold this information into formal bids, with someone to address hypothetical situations that all too often become reality. For instance, when foam insulation isn't available, how will a lightweight concrete deck affect energy demands? Minor changes can make a big difference, so Ballensky spends a lot of time tweaking little items.
When he first became the "go-to" guy for energy questions in 2003, he figures he did 15 energy audits for the entire year. He did that many in the first three weeks of 2005, and now he gets a feel for a building's energy usage from only a glance at the design. While the government mandates evolve toward uniformity and enforcement, Ballensky believes the rising cost of energy will be driving much of the demand. Rebates are great, but even when that money dries up, the economic forces will continue to compel roofing contractors and manufacturers to help clients not only stay dry but save money. It may even change the way roofs are perceived.
A lot of building owners hate to think about the roof, explains Ballensky, but because of the potential for cost savings, they are beginning to re-examine roof systems. "I think that people are looking to the roof for savings," he says. "Most of the time, that's what's driving it."
And, as the demand for commercial work grows, you can be sure that contractors and manufacturers will work together to find new ways to meet it.