Roofing Contractor teamed up with BNP Media Market Research and GAF to conduct a study of building owners to gauge their perceptions of the roofing industry. The purpose of the study was to examine the problems building owners confront when maintaining, repairing and replacing their roofs. Specific goals of the research study included determining who evaluates and recommends the types and brands of roofing material chosen for a project, as well as the key factors they consider when selecting a roofing contractor.
The research study was a revised and updated version of the study conducted in 2001, 2004 and 2007. The Web-based survey was completed between May 6-20, 2014, and it targeted qualified subscribers from two publications: Environmental Design + Construction and Architectural Roofing & Waterproofing. The survey was limited to respondents who were actively involved in purchasing decisions for roof repair, roof replacement and/or roof maintenance for the buildings their companies owned and/or managed.
The research study provides some key insight into the makeup and decision-making processes of the people who purchase roofing work for commercial, industrial and other non-residential buildings. Some highlights of the survey follow, as well as some expert advice on key takeaways for commercial contractors.
Who Took the Survey?
The sample was spread pretty evenly across the regions of the country, with 24 percent of respondents from the Northeast, 26 percent from the Midwest, 29 percent from the South and 21 percent from the West. They represented a wide variety of industries, including commercial (49 percent), architectural/consulting/contracting (31 percent), industrial (28 percent), government (25 percent), educational (22 percent), medical (21 percent), retail (21percent), hospitality (15 percent) and other (15 percent). For the purposes of this article, we’ll refer to all of these types of buildings as commercial buildings.
Respondents were typically high-ranking members of their companies with a lot of industry experience. More than half of the respondents (56 percent) were in general management roles, while 44 percent held corporate/executive level management titles. The vast majority of respondents (90 percent) were male, and the average age was 51. Fifty-nine percent of respondents had more than two decades of industry experience.
All of the respondents were actively involved in purchasing decisions. Approximately two-thirds of respondents approve or authorize purchases, while 25 percent select or specify products or services. Another 7 percent make purchasing recommendations. The survey also asked respondents to identify the areas of roofing work they were involved in: 86 percent made or assisted with decisions about roofing repairs, 86 percent with roof replacement and 81 percent with roof maintenance.
More than half of the respondents in the survey have been involved in both new construction and retrofit roofing projects since 2012. In both types of projects, most evaluations and recommendations of the type and brand of roofing products were made internally.
The Final Decision Makers
Respondents were asked who makes the final decision when it comes to choosing both the roofing contractors who will perform roofing work and which materials will be used. The results are shown in Figures 1 and 2. As Figure 1 shows, building owners typically decide which contractor will be used for roof replacements, while facility managers are more likely to make the decision on which contractor will be used for repairs. When it comes to roof replacement, 46 percent of the decisions are made by the building owner, while the facility managers make the decision 29 percent of the time. When it comes to repairs, facility managers make the decision 44 percent of the time, and owners 36 percent. The same trend can be seen in the choice of materials to be used, shown in Figure 2. The building owner is the most likely person to make the decision about the materials used for roof replacement projects (42 percent), while facility managers are most likely to make the call on the materials used for repairs (40 percent).
Properties, Budgets and Warranties
The number of properties and square footage of roofing assets varied widely. More than half of the respondents in the study managed 10 or fewer properties, while a quarter of them managed more than 50. The average for all respondents was 39 properties. More than half had total roofing assets of 500,000 square feet or less, while 34 percent had more than 1 million square feet. The average total was 993,745 square feet. The average roof size per property managed was 78,634 square feet.
The survey asked about the makeup of the roof systems on the properties respondents manage, and the results are shown in Figure 3. Built-up or modified bitumen roofs accounted for 29 percent of the total, while single-ply roofs represented 27 percent. Asphalt shingles covered 21 percent of respondents’ roofs, metal 13 percent, tile 4 percent, spray polyurethane foam 2 percent and slate 1 percent. Half of all respondents indicated they were likely to consider installation of solar panels in the next five years.
More than half of the properties in the survey (53 percent) have some sort of scheduled maintenance program. Scheduled roofing maintenance was conducted by professional roofing contractors 43 percent of the time, and internal facility employees handled it 36 percent of the time. Roofing contractors were far more likely to handle unscheduled maintenance, accounting for 60 percent of this type of work.
Respondents were also asked to break down their total annual roofing budget. The chart in Figure 4 shows the percentage of both budgeted and unbudgeted expenses for roof replacement, roof consulting services, and repairs/maintenance. Roof consulting services accounted for the largest share of budgeted expenses at 37 percent. Budgeted roof replacements accounted for a quarter of the total, and budgeted repairs and maintenance accounted for 3 percent. Unbudgeted repair and maintenance accounted for 22 percent of the annual total, and unbudgeted roof replacements 7 percent. Unbudgeted roof consultant services accounted for the final 7 percent.
When it comes to warranties, more than one-third of respondents (37 percent) did not have a no dollar limit (NDL) guarantee on any of their properties. On the other hand, slightly less than one-third of respondents (29 percent) have an NDL guarantee on all of their properties.
Gathering Information, Making Decisions
The survey asked which sources building owners referenced when it came to roofing issues, roof maintenance, new roofing and re-roofing. When it comes to online sources, manufacturers’ websites were the most common sources respondents referenced, followed by Internet search engines and contractors’ websites. When it comes to sources not related to the Internet, most listed their peers as the most common source of information, followed by industry magazines and sales representatives.
The survey asked respondents to rank several factors that could influence their buying decisions, including price, quality, reputation, recommendation and product availability. As shown in Figure 5, quality was likely to be the most influential factor, with 74 percent of respondents ranking quality as highly influential. Half of respondents rated price as highly influential, and 44 percent rated reputation as highly influential.
Respondents were also asked to rate the importance of a variety of other factors when selecting a roofing solution. The results are shown in Figure 6. The factors that respondents rated the most important included conforming with codes (78 percent), life cycle cost analysis (69 percent), energy savings (67 percent), sustainability (67 percent) and UL fire rated roof assemblies (64 percent).
Choosing a Contractor
When choosing a contractor, more than half of the respondents (53 percent) rated being able to research a contractor online as highly important. Similarly, almost half (49 percent) felt being able to read peer reviews of contractors was highly important.
The survey asked respondents to cite the primary reason for selecting a roofing contractor besides the price; this was an open-ended question, and respondents were able to write in their own response. The top selection factors (excluding price) are shown in Figure 7. The contractor’s reputation was the top response, cited by 29 percent of survey participants. Quality of work was the second most popular response at 18 percent. The contractor’s experience/knowledge was cited by 13 percent of respondents, references/referrals by 7 percent, and past personal experience with the contractor by 7 percent.
The survey also included several questions about proposals, including how respondents like to receive them and the most important content they contain. Forty-two percent of respondents like to receive their estimates both in person and via email. Another 32 percent prefer to receive them via email, while 17 percent prefer to receive them in person. When asked about the most important part of the proposal besides the price, about one-third of respondents cited the scope of work (31 percent) and warranty options (31 percent). Other mentions included the recommendation report (10 percent), condition report on the existing roof (10 percent), safety (7 percent), references (6 percent), and repair and maintenance (4 percent).
To gauge their perceptions of the industry, respondents were asked to state their level of agreement with a series of statements on roofing-related issues. The results of those who agree strongly with the statements are shown in Figure 8. About three quarters of respondents (74 percent) agree that energy-efficient roof systems are extremely important. Seventy-one percent agree that choosing a roof system that is easy to repair is important. On the other hand, very few respondents (11 percent) agree that scheduled maintenance is a waste of money. Sixty-three percent of respondents also agreed that the contractor who handles their roof repairs is more likely to get upcoming re-roofing projects.
Key Takeaways for Contractors
The survey was conducted in conjunction with GAF, and Roofing Contractor asked a panel of experts from GAF to share their insights on the findings. Several panelists pointed to the importance of building relationships with key decision makers, especially during repair projects and maintenance visits. “Sixty-three percent of the time, an owner is likely to select the contractor who does their maintenance for their re-roofing project,” said Brian Impellizeri, senior program manager, commercial marketing. He noted that excelling on emergency repair calls can make a good impression on building owners — and help make a case for a preventive maintenance program if there is not one in place. “Setting up a preventive maintenance program extends their guarantee and overall lifespan of the roof,” he said. “Teach the owner about his roof, etc., so the owner not only relies on him but makes him part of his decision-making process.”
Gerry Messina, executive director, commercial marketing, noted that contractors have many tools at their disposal to help educate building owners, including industry reports, code updates and data from manufacturers. “The more informed the owner/facility manager is, via the contractor, the more they will look to said contractor to do the work when the time comes,” he said. “But realize it could be a longer-term effort; it won’t happen overnight.”
Paul Bromfield, senior vice president, marketing, pointed to the high percentage of unbudgeted repairs in the survey as compelling evidence of the value of preventive maintenance. “Twenty-two percent of repairs and maintenance are unbudgeted,” he noted. “This fact in itself is worth quoting by roofing contractors who are trying to set up a maintenance program, something that GAF has seen over the last few years from the growth of its Certified Maintenance Professional (CMP) program.”
“Talk about the return on investment (ROI) of having a professional maintenance program in place that is proactive vs. simply reacting to issues as they occur,” Impellizeri advised. “There is a significant cost savings with a proactive program and having one in place extends the life of their roof, thus improving their ROI.”
Chris Yeatts, vice president, strategic accounts, said busy property managers should be receptive to the message. “Contractors need to establish a value proposition for property managers,” he said. “Because they wear so many hats, they are looking for process improvements. Targeted programs, a single point of contact — assisting them with this process is key. Once you become their trusted resource, they are more inclined to turn over more roofing needs so they can focus their time elsewhere.”
Warranties and Solar Panels
Bromfield pointed out that warranty concerns were cited as important in several questions on the survey, but the use of NDL agreements varied widely. This situation can pose opportunities for contractors. “Twenty-nine percent of property managers use NDLs all the time, while 37 percent never use them,” he said. “Given the divergence of preferences, contractors should consider using manufacturing defect/labor guarantees as a source of differentiation (e.g., GAF’s integrated warranty) for those property owners not using NDLs. At the same time, 21 percent of properties have asphalt shingles, and contractors should recognize that a significant section of the market wants NDLs on low and steep roofs — so look for manufacturers who can provide both.”
Messina was struck by the high percentage of respondents who indicated they would consider installing solar panels in the future, and he urged that contractors make solar a part of the discussion now. “If 50 percent are considering solar in the next five years, owners need to prepare now by making sure the roof they are installing is ‘solar ready,’” he said. “Solar panels, especially adhered flexible solar, will have ‘hot spots’ that can result in premature roof failures. There is currently only one TPO option on the market that is able to withstand these high heat conditions — EverGuard Extreme by GAF.”
Several panelists noted the survey underscored the importance of online research, and they advised contractors to be aware of the power of the Internet and harness it to their advantage.
“Three-quarters of owners look to their peers for references,” Messina said. “Getting owners to endorse the contractor and/or provide testimonials — and then posting them on the contractor’s own website — is a good practice. Third-party sites and manufacturer sites that rate the contractor are key — and the contractor needs to be open and willing to be rated by them.”
Bromfield concurred. “Manufacturer websites are the biggest online source for new roofing/re-roofing leads, and property owners want to see reviews from peers, as well as ability to view past jobs,” he said. “It’s important to access an online tool that enables a contractor to post pictures, describe experience and show peer reviews. GAF is rolling out a tool to do this, the Commercial Contractor Locator.”
A majority of owners prefer to discuss proposals in person, and several panelists noted it’s crucial that contractors make the most of this time. “Face-to-face proposal discussions need to focus on what is important to the building owner, such as code compliance, safety, timeline and deadlines,” Yeatts said. He recommends focusing more time on third-party references and experience handling similar projects, and less time focusing on the technical aspects of the roofing products and the price.
Messina agreed, pointing out that conforming with codes is considered to be the most important factor in selection criteria (Figure 6). “List the relevant codes in that geographic area and how the contractor solution fits and satisfies them,” he suggested.
Life cycle cost analysis (LCCA) ranked as the second most important consideration in Figure 6, and several panelists were hopeful that this important concept might be gaining some traction among owners. Bromfield noted that the emphasis on LCCA might perhaps reflect the growth of Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs) and Health Product Declarations (HPDs). “We have an LCCA in the Athena database for our TPO products,” he noted. “We have an EPD on our TPO products. We have HPDs on our TPO and ISO products. We have a full HPD system, and we’re the only manufacturer in the roofing industry to have this.”
Messina noted that energy savings was the third most important concern in Figure 6, and manufacturers can help contractors document energy performance of their systems. “There is data (solar reflectance of TPO or R-value of the ISO) that help show the benefit of the product,” he said. “And there are tools like CREST (cool.gaf.com) that can show the savings a roof offers in a specific geographic location based upon utility charges.”
When ranking factors influencing purchase decisions, quality was the top consideration for decision makers — outranking even price — in Figure 5. Messina urged contractors to lean on manufacturers to help them demonstrate a track record of quality performance as well as energy efficiency. “The manufacturer plays a role — years in business, training given to the contractor, testing the roof has gone through — all help support the contractor’s quality standing,” he said.