GAF Materials Corp. completed the acquisition of Elk Corp. in February of this year. Bob Tafaro, president and CEO of Building Materials Corporation of America, GAF’s parent company, together with Dave Harrison, GAF’s chief marketing officer, and other company officials laid out their integration plans in a press conference at the International Roofing Expo in March. The basic message was that there would be no immediate changes, but that work would begin to leverage the synergies required to make this a winner for all concerned.
At that time, Tafaro announced, "The company will unify the sales team, for better service. The company will unify the product line, for better service. The company will unify the certified contractor initiatives service." Asked recently how it is going, Tafaro told Roofing Contractor, "It’s going incredibly well, ahead of schedule." On the integration of GAF-Elk, he said, "I think someday they’ll write a book about it," and, "It’s going to be good for the industry."
From the beginning of the integration project there has been a lot of work going on behind the scenes to blend the companies, the cultures and the people. Harrison explained that the initial focus was internal, working through the details of how to marry the best from each of two worlds. He pointed out that either company was "broken down," and both companies discovered they had a great deal in common prior to integration. GAF and Elk enjoyed relatively good productivity, a similar approach to selling, as well as flexible and responsive decision-making.
Taking several cues from the 2001 classic business book by Jim Collins, Good to Great: Why Some Companies Take the Leap and Others Don’t, executives at GAF-Elk determined the first order of business was to address the key task of placing their people into the proper position to move the integrated company forward. As Collins phrases it in his book, the goal is to "get the right people on the bus" and then "get them into the right seat." Tafaro explained that selecting the right people has been the most challenging part of the entire process, but he adds, "We had a wonderful pool of people."
The next step, quoting from Collins’ book again, is to "confront the brutal facts," or face up to the reality of the situation. To accomplish this, the GAF-Elk team reached out to its base of contractors and distributors by way of advisory councils, which tapped over 1,200 key individuals for their input into the integration process. Roofing Contractor spoke with one of the contractors who participated, Gary Kearns of Kearns Brothers Roofing in Dearborn, Mich. Kearns, a GAF Master Elite contractor since 1999, indicated that the integration of GAF-Elk will affect his business in a positive way. He appreciates the resulting simplified product lines and improved color selection, and stated that GAF-Elk has "done a good job of getting the information to us." Asked what he expects of the future GAF-Elk, Kearns said, "I think they will really separate themselves from their competition."
Strategic BenefitsOne of the key benefits being touted by Harrison is the consolidation of the sales teams. With smaller geographical territories to manage, GAF-Elk representatives will greatly reduce their "windshield time," allowing more time to work in service to their core constituents, including distributors, contractors and owners. By the time you read this, all GAF-Elk sales representatives will be operating under the unified scheme, said Harrison.
A key task of the integration process has been to combine the best production practices of each company. Elk was renowned for its shingle production capabilities. Tafaro noted their shingle plants were all large facilities with very high capacity, and well placed. The combined GAF-Elk now boasts eight high-production four-wide laminators producing the new unified product line. This is in addition to the dozens of other facilities manufacturing a variety of building products, including steep-slope and low-slope roofing products and accessories.
Of course, the reason to have all that machinery is to produce marketable roofing products. The unified product line hits the market around the same time as this issue of Roofing Contractor. What you can expect, said Harrison, will be an efficient line of products without redundancies, but with broadened overall product offerings.
In addition to shingles, Harrison noted that the integrated GAF-Elk will offer a variety of accessory products that will appeal across a broad market with "good, better, best" choices. As part of the "system selling" approach, GAF-Elk will offer several choices in starter strip, felt, leak barriers, ventilation products and ridge shingles. Contractors and owners will have more choices from a single source for accessories that will conform through the full array of warranty options. GAF-Elk is also rolling out a warranty program for accessories that will be available when a competing shingle is chosen by the owner.
The GAF-Elk integration will continue with plans for the balance of the year, including more communications by way of advisory councils planned in over 50 markets, and webinars where distributors and contractors can share details and ask questions relating to the integration and products. Factory visits are planned in over 25 markets with opportunities to share details and ask questions.
As the basic pieces of the GAF-Elk integration continue to fall into place, the marketing machine is just kicking into high gear. Taking advantage of the product consolidations, new packaging for the shingle products has been designed to not only look good but to provide great information to the installer in English and Spanish. The new packaging has also been designed using different color schemes for the different product lines, removing some of the hassle from supply chain operations.
Just over the horizon are some new plans for managing samples. Good stuff, but it’s too early to talk about it now. Programs for GAF-Elk contractors also promise to be beefier than those offered in the past. Roofing Contractor plans a review of all steep-slope contractor affinity programs in the coming months, so stay tuned to learn more about the GAF-Elk program, as well as others.
Having gone through the rigors of the negotiations to acquire and be acquired followed by months of looking inward and planning and plotting, the folks of GAF-Elk are excited about their future. It appears that the GAF-Elk integration plan continues to move forward as advertised since the beginning. In this tough and competitive industry, resting on your laurels can be hazardous to your business’ health. To that end, Harrison stated that GAF-Elk will "never be satisfied" and everyone at the company plans to continue working to improve their products and services.