The COVID-19 pandemic has caused numerous events around the country to be canceled or postponed in the interest of health and safety, including roofing expos and conventions. The 2020 Western Roofing Expo, held by the Western States Roofing Contractors Association (WSRCA), seemed like it would be just another on the list of canceled events.

Instead, the WSRCA took the bold step of transforming its expo, originally scheduled for June 7-9 in Las Vegas, into its first-ever Virtual Western Roofing Expo (VWRE). RC spoke with WSRCA's executive leadership and staff, including Joel Viera, director of exposition and events; Thomas Papas, executive director; and Leo Ibarra, president of the executive committee, to learn more about what roofing contractors can expect from this trailblazing online expo experience.

RC: First, tell us the status of the Western Roofing Expo 2020? What is happening?

WSRCA: With large gathering restrictions in place, the Paris-Las Vegas yet to open, and most importantly the health and safety of our roofing community — we made the decision to pivot the Western Roofing Expo into an online learning experience. The first-ever Virtual Western Roofing Expo has many of the same beneficial concepts that the in-person expo has had over the years. WSRCA took it very seriously to continue to bring contractors, manufacturers, and suppliers in the industry together this summer.

RC: Can you talk about the schedule? You went from two days to two-weeks of digital content

WSRCA: We knew the timing of the VWRE would coincide with many in our roofing community going back to work — so we wanted to give the opportunity to tune in a little each day — rather than compress into a couple of days, which we have to do when travelling to Las Vegas.

RC: What can contractors and exhibitors expect from the virtual show floor?

WSRCA: Exhibitors can be found in many ways, from the alphabetical exhibitor list, to a search by product categories, or a keyword search. There are even more detailed avenues to an exhibitor booth if they post videos, show specials, featured products or press releases. This will make it a breeze for contractors to visit the booths that interest them the most. Attendees can make appointments, message or chat with exhibiting companies, or can favorite the booths they want to visit. All attendees can register for the trade show portion of the expo for free!

RC: The WSRCA had options, including canceling the expo. Was that considered and why go in this direction?

WSRCA: We feel, it is our place in the roofing community, to continue to provide educational opportunities to our contractors. Whether it be best practices for roof installation, legal, safety, better ways to run their businesses, or simply checking out the new products and services in the marketplace — we really wanted to be able to provide solutions for the industry. Honestly, we didn’t really talk about a cancellation, an online opportunity was almost immediately our mission.

RC: How important was your membership data/feedback in making this decision?

WSRCA: We had several meetings with our contractor board and our manufacturer council and determined very early that we were not comfortable putting fellow roofing community friends in an unsafe situation.

RC: What was the biggest challenge in developing a virtual event with meaningful takeaways?

WSRCA: It was critical for the association to put the needs of our attendees and exhibitors first. Exhibitors want leads, attendees want to learn. It was a goal of ours to create value for all involved.

RC: What are you looking forward to?

WSRCA: We are thrilled the vast majority of our contractor panel selected presenters that were eager to pivot to a webinar. The schedule is almost identical to what we would have seen in Las Vegas.

LEO IBARRA: I am excited to have our general counsel, Trent Cotney, present four different webinars at the VWRE. His work ethic and dedication to help WSRCA is unparalleled!

TOM PAPAS: For me, it is “Issues Currently Affecting the Roofing & Waterproofing Industry.” We are really excited to have our new Technical Advisor, Ken Klein from Simpson Gumpertz & Heger, make his first presentation as a member of the WSRCA team!

JOEL VIERA: For me, it is “How to Get Women on the Roof.” The National Women in Roofing always bring enthusiasm and a more modern outlook to the roofing community. I am eager to see Jennifer Stone and her panel rock it!

RC: Any advice on how participants can maximize the experience?

WSRCA: As always, WSRCA and the WRE bring fun elements to our friends in the industry. Besides the trade show, which attendees can register for free, and our webinars, we will have exhibitor raffles for WSRCA contractor members — and one of the most competitive and thrilling events has always been the Davis Memorial Foundation auction. We have devised ways to keep those cornerstones of the expo to the VWRE.

RC: Will it be recorded and are there On-Demand features?

WSRCA: We plan to have two to four live webinars and demos a day. We are also keeping the webinars open after the show concludes, so our participants that purchase can self-pace through the webinars. At the Vegas version of the WRE, it is impossible to see more than four seminars. At the virtual event, you can attend close to 30!

RC: Will there be formal ceremonies (awards, installation of the new president/board)?

WSRCA: Absolutely! Our opening session will essentially replace the Annual Luncheon. We will be awarding the Board Member of the Year, Outstanding Service Award, Membership Wrangler of the Year, and the installation of the new president and board.

RC: Can roofing contractors and other stakeholders still participate in the Davis Memorial Scholarship program?

WSRCA: Yes! Our Davis Memorial Foundation will announce the $5,000 scholarship winners on July 2. It will be a great event, hosted by our foundation trustees and is free for all industry friends to attend!

RC: What are you proudest of your organization, and the members since all this began?

WSRCA: We are proud that WSRCA was able to do the right thing from the start, keeping our roofing community healthy and safe, while introducing a virtual offering — the first of its kind in our industry. Our staff, contractors, manufacturers, and suppliers have all banded together to create this event. We have been able to imagine how to create business in what looked like a lost year for us to do so.

RC: What does this mean for the future of trade shows and WSRCA 2021?

WSRCA: The Western Roofing Expo 2021 is scheduled for June 27-29, at the Paris-Las Vegas. We do plan on adding some of our virtual features to the physical expo, to make it a more well-rounded event.