FEI Group (FEI), based in metro Atlanta, has announced the formation of the Exterior Contractor Alliance (ECA), marking its first move into the exterior residential trade contracting arena.

Since 1998, FEI has assembled and managed national networks of the largest contractors in America in a variety of categories, including single-family flooring in the home builder space, multi-family flooring in the apartment space, cabinets and decorative plumbing and hardware.

“For 22 years, we have worked with the largest, leading and finest residential trade contractors in the country, finding ways to add value to every link of the industry chain in each contractor channel in which we operate," said Dave Gheesling, FEI Group CEO. "The platform of ECA founding members is extraordinary — both professionally and personally — and typical of the caliber of members in our other divisions.”

With 27 members in 33 states, top-line revenues for ECA are currently approaching $750 million, and the active prospective membership pipeline will is projected to take the organization past the $1 billion mark. The group is already engaging with national accounts and endeavors such as “Project: Apex," a sophisticated benchmarking and best practices program, that will soon be underway as the network fully extends its footprint nationally. The ECA intends to improve the perception of the industry overall and give premier roofing contractors a voice on a national basis.

“The quality and engagement level of our founding members has already exceeded my wildest expectations. We are so fortunate to have a platform of such reputable, market-dominant and enthusiastic members at this early stage in the development of ECA," said Earl Ward, ECA director.

Managing and motivating labor is a key core competency of ECA members and the key component to the success of the roofing industry. Leveraging that aspect to generate competitive advantages to the network members – to separate them from the crowded field of independent contractors – is a top priority from the outset.

“What has made FEI successful over the years has been attracting trade contractors who are fully engaged in the process, who view our role as that of being custodians of the industry, and who push perceived limitations to the apex of what is possible," said Graham Howerton, FEI Group executive vice president.

ECA Members Promote Quality Workmanship

Jim Ziminski, president of Crane Renovation Group (Able Roofing, Mr. Roof and Contractors Incorporated), based in Columbus, Ohio, said the new partnership with ECA and FEI will help address the "substantial margin pressures" caused by the industry's low barrier for entry, which has resulted in more than 40,000 contractors across the country. Unfortunately, this has resulted in a reputation for lower quality workmanship and a lack of long-term service caused by smaller, fly-by-night contractors.

He said the fact that FEI has been successfully working with the largest contractors in the country for over 20 years made the ECA an easy fit for his company.

“We see opportunities to deploy the economies of scale and efficiencies that even we, as the largest residentially focused roofing contractor in America, can’t achieve independently," Ziminski said. "In my 35 years of experience, it’s become axiomatic that getting the best minds together is beneficial to everyone involved. This will no doubt include manufacturers and distributors who support ECA.”

Brad Beldon, CEO of San Antonio-based Beldon Roofing, shares Ziminski’s views, adding that it creates a unique opportunity to aggregate benchmarking and best practices from the top roofing contractors across the nation.

"FEI has been doing this successfully in other channels for the past couple of decades, and I’m excited about the development and rollout of our own ‘Project: Apex’ on the near horizon," Beldon said. "Furthermore, ECA’s member-driven approach, facilitated through our advisory board, makes for a great combination of top-flight roofing contractor expertise and insight, along with professional management to guide the development and execution of our initiatives. This combination is a first in the roofing contractor arena.”

Marcus Kuhlmann, COO of Lincoln-based Apple Roofing, highlighted a couple of opportunities he sees with ECA, such as the best-of-the-best approach differentiating ECA contractors from the rest of the competition.

“While there is too often a combative relationship between roofing contractors and insurance companies today, our experience has been that a cooperative, mutually beneficial approach has been more effective," Kuhlmann said. "I’ve also already been networking with other large contractors in other FEI organizations — an immediate benefit I hadn’t anticipated at the outset.”

Joe Hoffman, president of Hoffman Weber Construction, headquartered in Minneapolis, attended the first exploratory meeting along with Kuhlmann in Atlanta last year. He said it was clear from the start that the ECA’s vision for the highest-caliber residential roofing contractors made sense.

"That ECA’s management team asked a lot of good questions and listened closely to our answers was a great start, but it wasn’t until a few of us were able to attend FEI’s National Conference last fall that it became clear to me just how positive of an influence that ECA will soon become in our industry," Hoffman said. "Seeing first-hand what FEI has accomplished in other industries — and hearing about it directly from those member companies — gave me great confidence with respect to the types of things we can do through ECA to elevate the residential roofing industry as a whole.”

Houston-based Redi Carpet, one of the largest multi-family flooring contractor in America, has been actively engaged member of FEI since 2000. Jerry Hosko, Redi Carpet president said in those 20 years, the management team at FEI surpassed the expectations his company had as one of the first members in their MultiFamily Solutions division.

"The value they have brought to Redi Carpet and other members in the group is immeasurable," Hosko said.