The COVID-19 outbreak in the United States has affected roofing, as it has many other major sectors within construction and out. Stay-at-home directives and social distancing mandates have slowed both new and retrofit projects in both the residential and commercial arenas.
However, the slowdown and stalling of roofing projects has been highly dependent on region, as state and local representatives enacted lockdowns, some deeming construction an essential business and others not. As the states work individually to re-open on their own timelines, that too affects roofing activity regionally.
The Spray Polyurethane Foam Alliance, representing both roofing and insulation contractors nationwide, recently polled its members to gauge the impacts of the coronavirus on their business as well as on their outlook for 2020. The survey was designed to garner timely feedback on actual and forecasted impacts the virus is imparting with a focus on project pipeline, employment, possible material and equipment shortages, and general lockdown instigated disruptions to business. The alliance also compiled informal commentary separately from industry leaders willing to share their thoughts on the issue. What the survey and informal poll reveal is insightful, though somewhat unsurprising.
When participants were asked how their company’s business (customers, orders, projects, cash flow) has been affected by COVID-19, 7% indicated “Not at all, business as usual”, 23% indicated “Slightly negatively”, 30% indicated “Moderately negatively”, and 40% indicated “Seriously negatively”.
“Although we’ve faced many logistical challenges due to the shelter-in-place order here in California, we were fortunate to have several large contracts for ‘essential businesses’ which have allowed our crews to continue working,” said Luke Nolan, president of Central Coating Company. “Our focus has been on keeping our team safe, while also keeping them employed.”
The survey asked members for their sentiment on their business outlook for 2020 in light of COVID-19. Twenty percent of respondents indicated they were generally positive while 51% indicated they were generally negative, and 29% stated they were generally neutral.
“The challenges that have come with continuing operations in the COVID-19 outbreak have been unique,” said Bryan Heldreth, president of RPC Industries Inc. and Jackcrete of Virginia. “As primarily a government contractor, we have experienced surges of emergency work orders followed by notices that entire facilities were closing and those work orders being put on hold. We also have clients who are critical to our nation’s defense who cannot close and need us there too, so we continue working.”
The survey also asked participants if they are experiencing staffing challenges as a result of the virus. Thirty-one percent of respondents confirmed they were, 39% confirmed they were not and another 30% indicated they were uncertain at the time of their survey responses.
Anticipating potential supply chain issues, as well as accessibility of personal protective equipment (PPE), the survey asked participants if they are experiencing disruptions in SPF material availability as a result of COVID-19. Fifteen percent answered affirmatively, 51% said they were not experiencing material disruptions and 34% indicated they were uncertain at the time of the survey. However, responses to an inquiry regarding the current availability of PPE proved more problematic. 68% indicated they are experiencing issues acquiring PPE, 15% said they were not and 17% indicated they were unsure.
Member feedback unrelated to the survey tells a different story.
“As a company with several chemical manufacturing facilities, we always maintain good stocks of PPE and have an excellent safety record,” said Will Lorenz, vice president of sales for General Coatings Manufacturing Corp. “Individuals like myself, as well as our company, have even made donations to local food bank organizations and area hospitals. We believe in people over profits.”
“The type of PPE used by our employees is not utilized in the healthcare profession and we generally maintain a 90-day supply as a matter of policy,” said Gary Harvey, general manager of Wedge Roofing. “We did place our typical order approximately a month earlier than normal to assure access and have yet to incur a supply chain issue. There are other operational tasks where our go-to face covering was an N95 type mask, just out of an abundance of caution. We ceased utilization of those approximately five to seven weeks ago so as to not compete with healthcare professionals who are truly in need.”
Technology was also addressed in the survey. Members were polled about any increased use of webinar-based meetings as a means to reduce face-to-face interactions. Thirty-five percent indicated they are using these tools and 25% indicated they are actively considering doing so.
Finally, the survey asked participants if they anticipate any financial distress with their business in 2020 due to the virus, with 63% indicating they do anticipate that, 8% indicating they do not, and 29% stating they weren’t sure at this time.
All factors considered, some members are taking a "roll up your sleeves" approach to the situation.
“In these times, my disaster plans barely apply or have already been exhausted, so we throw out the luxury of time and planning and do what we do best as a small business — we adapt!” said Heldreth. “We are moving with the market instead of against it. These challenging days ahead will continue to present new problems for us all to solve. I plan to break each new challenge down, identify options, and continue to do the next right thing.”
“At this point, we feel the true impact of this pandemic won’t really be felt until next year, which is why we are stepping up our efforts now in order to maintain a healthy pipeline of projects,” said Nolan.
His sentiment is anecdotally representative of how many SPF professionals have been feeling, satisfied that work in-progress has mostly been allowed to continue, but concerned about the availability of new work coming in. Hustling hard and reinforcing customer relationships is the core focus right now. Some contractors are also offering services outside of their typical work areas. Others share optimistic views.
“Traditionally Q1 is the slowest time of our year and we are in a partial drought year compared to what I refer to as ‘biblical rains’ in Q1 of last year,” said Harvey. “When I combine COVID-19, Q1 2020, and the moderate drought condition we are in, I am not displeased with our position at all. I may even border on thankful.”
“We are optimistic on the construction year. We see the overall economic conditions improving in the second half 2020. We haven’t seen many projects being cancelled, but some have been postponed" said Lorenz. "Certainly, the virus containment success will be the immediate variable on U.S. economy, but the distribution of SBA loans as well as overall consumer spending will factor in the long-term recovery.”
Overall, 14% of survey respondents are active in residential roofing and 32% in commercial roofing. In total, the survey pulled responses from 226 respondents. All survey findings listed as percentages may be attributed to the member survey. Quotes included throughout the article featuring insights from industry leaders were provided at-will to the SPFA as separate informal commentary reflecting COVID-related business impacts.
Kurt Riesenberg is the executive director of the Spray Polyurethane Foam Alliance (SPFA), the industry’s technical resource and voice. The SPFA promotes best practices and safety in the application of spray foam roofing and insulation and offers the industry’s most comprehensive and trusted Professional Certification Program (PCP). For information, visit www.sprayfoam.org.