It’s been roughly a year since the COVID-19 pandemic changed the lives and livelihoods of many roofing contractors around the country. Some companies folded and made difficult decisions to lay off workers; some diversified service offerings and adapted business models; and others simply held on until the regularly-changing health and safety regulations in their market deemed them essential enough to get back to work.
Also feeling the impact were the manufacturers, suppliers and associations that serve the roofing industry. A year into the crisis, and with vaccines offering hope, RC caught up with leaders across the roofing industry to assess the rapid changes on the roofing business, and take a look down the road ahead.
RC: What were the biggest company-wide realizations and subsequent changes resulting from the COVID-19 crisis?
Scott Schumacher, vice president of strategic marketing for Owens Corning Roofing: The events of last year reinforced many lessons for us. First among them was that our industry is resilient. In a time of unprecedented uncertainty, everyone in the roofing industry was challenged to adapt the way they operated to maintain their businesses and continue to deliver the essential services that homeowners require. Like all others in the industry, we adapted as well. We designed and implemented new safety procedures to ensure that we could continue to produce our leading products to meet the needs of the market in a manner that kept our people safe.
Piers Dormeyer, president, Construction & Utilities, EagleView: Employees and organizations can adapt faster than you think. We expected much more productivity loss from remote work than we saw and are looking at ways we can be more efficient with time and travel going forward once the pandemic is over.
Mike Jost, chief operation officer, ABC Supply Co. Inc.: The nearly 800 locations within our network have always worked closely together, but it’s been especially advantageous this year to help contractors get the materials they need. If one branch doesn’t have the product, we’re able to lean on others to move material around. Our goal has always been to make contractors’ jobs easier, and our national network helps us deliver on this promise.
RC: What has surprised you as the pandemic continued?
SS: We know that homeowners are willing to invest in what is often their most valuable asset — their home. As the pandemic progressed, we saw homeowners continue to prioritize — even accelerate — this investment as they spent more time in their homes. Homeowners had more time to engage and educate themselves on how their roof can add value to their home and improve their overall living experience.
PD: If I go back to March/April of 2020, I was 100% certain we’d be back to normal by July/August. As time went on, it became clear that we were into extended change and we needed to adapt. While we hope the vaccine rollout is smooth and we get this under control, I wouldn’t be surprised if it takes longer than everyone expects. Contractors need to prepare for this work environment to continue longer than most people are comfortable with.
Rick Duncan, executive director of the Spray Polyurethane Foam Alliance: What surprised us was the strength and growth of the residential construction sector. With more and more people working from home, many assuming it may become permanent, lifestyle shifts occurred that kept residential contractors busy. Many people moved out of big cities into suburban and remote areas. Many upgraded and moved into larger homes. Some stayed in their existing homes but began add-ons to expand space or to create private offices.
RC: How have you been able to help contractors endure?
SS: Owens Corning’s sales and marketing teams partnered together early-on to provide a unique suite of virtual tools for our customers. The Owens Corning University (OCU) Webinar series has been a primary vehicle for this content, ranging from at-home selling tactics to product installation trainings. The primary components were:
- Virtual tools: The OCU webinar series addressed an unmet need in the market — helping contractors sell virtually as the pandemic changed the way they would interact with homeowners and run their businesses.
- Industry-leading relationships: Owens Corning leveraged exclusive relationships to bring industry experts to contractors.
- Training and education: We helped contractors build their digital platform through webinars on a variety of topics under four key needs – Business Management, Product Installation, Sales & Marketing and Special Topics. We also addressed the needs of the Spanish-speaking contractor with a webinar series similar in content.
PD: Training resources and webinars have been huge for us to help contractors (and ourselves) continue to put one foot in front of the other. A big focus has been just being available to help contractors integrate our solutions into their workflows and tech stacks. And hey, we’re still learning too. We’re constantly sharing best practices and hacks that we’ve learned along the way.
MJ: At ABC, we prioritize going above and beyond supplying a broad portfolio of products by also offering added-value services and tools to our customers. We’re focused on getting the details right and building relationships with customers through our local branches. We have a world-class delivery program as well as services that help contractors create marketing materials for their businesses. Our associates work closely with our customers and do everything they can to ensure contractors are successful.
RD: Once the pandemic hit, the SPFA immediately began working on a COVID-19 resource site for our members and we launched it back in April 2020. We also provided contractors with guidance on how to social distance on a jobsite. We added a new chapter to our model Health & Safety program, which provides content on infectious diseases.
Additionally, we recently launched, in partnership with a group of roofing related organizations, a campaign to educate and convince workers to get vaccinated when it’s available to them. This is also tied into a lobbying effort in numerous states so that we, as a collective industry, can get through this pandemic quicker and safer.
Dan Williams, managing director, Mule-Hide Products Co. Inc.: We’ve continued to build the library of training videos on our website and have expanded our schedule of virtual training seminars. In particular — at the request of contractors and property managers — we’ve added programs on reflective white roof coatings and roof maintenance and repair. With budgets tight, more property managers are looking at coatings and other maintenance and repair options as ways to extend the lives of their existing roofing systems and delay replacing them.
The COVID-19 Vaccine: What You Need to Know
One of the best tools in fighting the pandemic are the approved COVID vaccines. RC compiled what you need to know about what vaccines are available and how to go about managing vaccine distribution with employees. Click here for more information.
RC: What are you proudest of about your organization having gone through this?
SS: We are most proud of our ability to adapt to this challenging environment in a way that kept our operations running safely. Our ability to provide leading products and programs to the market starts with our people, and their safety is our first priority. Our team’s commitment to safely serving our customers and markets is a testament to their ingenuity and passion for this industry.
RD: Like so many other associations and companies, we encountered some challenges with the pandemic. We experienced a major change in our staffing and I’ve been very proud of how many of our board members have truly stepped up to assist in the transition. We’ve also had a lot of additional volunteerism across our members and committees and that has been invaluable, and has proven that the spray foam industry comes together when the situation calls for it during challenging times.
DW: Thanks to the dedication, flexibility and creativity of our entire team, we were able to transition to fully remote operations within just seven days of the “Safer at Home” order being issued in our home state of Wisconsin. There were certainly a few minor technical hiccups at first, but we really didn’t miss a beat in serving contractors, specifiers, property managers and our distribution partners. Everything from technical assistance to product selection, specifications, warranty applications and claims, customer service, education and training, and, of course, product inventory and distribution. It really was seamless. And even though we were all working from home, we continued to collaborate — not only on how to navigate the immediate challenges, but also to plan future product introductions and other new initiatives.
RC: Many contractors lamented the supply chain issues that developed during peak roofing season in 2020. How did you overcome, or how were you able to help contractors overcome?
SS: The supply/demand issues during peak season were particularly challenging this year. We understand and feel the effects of that with our contractors. Our teams, from manufacturing to supply chain to sales, are committed to providing the highest quality product and customer service, in any market or condition. Our approach will always be to communicate with contractors honestly and realistically, so they can do the same for their customers. Entering 2021, we do not anticipate repeating lost production time due to the pandemic.
PD: When contractors use EagleView reports for production and procurement, it reduces errors in material quantities needed. When you need an extra six bundles to complete a job, but there’s no more shingles available, you have a headache on your hands. I hope we were the Advil this past year.
MJ: The nearly 800 locations within our network have always worked closely together, but it’s been especially advantageous this year to help contractors get the materials they need. If one branch doesn’t have the product, we’re able to lean on others to move material around. Our goal has always been to make contractors’ jobs easier, and our national network helps us deliver on this promise.