The nation is pulling out from beneath the economic and psychological weight imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic, but there’s no rest for the weary in roofing.
Just as jobsites opened up and health restrictions eased, roofing contractors in both residential and commercial sectors faced difficulties finding the materials needed to complete projects. As they have in the past, roofing contractors continue proving to be resilient and creative in order to keep business going. Many are turning to new technology and others are completely shifting their business model to meet the needs of a new normal. The companies that supply roofing contractors are adjusting too, accelerating at a record pace to meet their customers’ new demands.
Here’s what several had to say as RC continues to cover the pandemic and how companies in and around roofing rebound.
RC: How did your organization adjust to the COVID-19 pandemic, and what surprised you as it continued?
Rick Hackett, Product Manager with Boral Roofing (RH): Just like many industries had to rapidly respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, the roofing industry has also been tasked with quickly adjusting to provide the services our customers rely on. For instance, with the cancellations of all trade shows, Boral Roofing quickly moved our tradeshow presence to a virtual showroom on our website where customers can visit our website and experience our entire product portfolio in a virtual setting.
In addition, we had to quickly shift hundreds of employees from an office location to their homes in a matter of days. Boral Roofing employees across the nation continued to keep the pipeline open, handling the influx of inquiries and providing personalized support both internally and externally without delay. This showcases the team’s can-do attitude.
Dave Feitl, Vice President Global Roofing, Huntsman Building Solutions (DF): One of the biggest realizations we had was the understanding that we are an “on the streets” relationship-based organization. Ultimately, we view our relationships with our contractor customers as partnerships. Not being able to get out and to meet with our contractors nearly as much in 2020 was an unforeseen and somewhat uncomfortable change for us. Admittedly it did create challenges for both our sales staff and technical team and required us to pivot and adjust. We look forward to getting the pandemic behind us so that we can get out to see our contractors in person and to strengthen our relationships with them further.
What has both surprised and inspired us most is how resilient our contractor customers have been through it all. We have seen them navigate and work around the pandemic, coming up with unique solutions to keep their projects moving forward, while ensuring the safety of their teams at the same time.
RC: How would you characterize the state of roofing as the country emerges from COVID-19?
DF: Huntsman Building Solutions is anticipating a banner year in roofing for several reasons. In 2020, there were many roofs neglected as a result of the confusion and negative impacts surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic. In some cases, building occupants wouldn’t allow contractors onsite to start or complete their roofing projects. As a result, we are now seeing an acceleration of quotes for our roofing products for various roof projects. We are also seeing a lot of optimism among our contractors.
Tom Shanahan, Vice President of Enterprise Risk Management, NRCA (TS): If anything, the material shortage issue has overtaken (the pandemic). That crisis has overshadowed the COVID-19 situation.
RC: The industry is experiencing unprecedented issues with supply chain. How are you coping and any lessons learned in 2020?
DF: The industry is in a lot of pain right now and we're doing our best as a supplier of products to our contractors. It just seems like it's been the perfect storm from lacking raw materials for … you can go back a year now. But we're fighting through it and we can start to see a little light at the end of the tunnel for ourselves.
On into the fourth quarter, we're doing everything possible to get our contractors’ needs met. There are allocations. Every day's a new surprise, but we feel confident that we're going to fight our way through this and come back stronger than ever.
RH: Yes, there were many lessons learned throughout 2020. We became versatile while continuing development of a dynamic Boral Roofing manufacturing team capable of overcoming obstacles and finding solutions to further meet the growth occurring in our industry. We also accommodated the demand in the marketplace by increasing our capacity as needed.
RC: Roofers got a taste of the supply-chain problems during last year’s peak season. How did you help contractors overcome it?
RH: Boral Roofing produced product demanded by our contractors and adjusted the production for many of our manufacturing locations by collaborating with our customers to develop solutions to best meet their schedules. Having great relationships with our customers allowed us to overcome the challenges during the peak roofing season in 2020 while still attempting to accommodate everyone’s targeted goals during a robust growth period.
DF: Huntsman Building Solutions is lucky in that, because of our size, we have the purchasing power needed to secure product when others may not be able to. Additionally, we made a concerted effort to encourage contractors, many of whom are used to ordering product and receiving it very quickly, to get their orders in much earlier than normal. Our sales team made sure contractors knew to plan ahead. Moving forward, we’ve taken steps to ensure that we have additional storage capacity for critical products at both of our expanded facilities located in Canada and the U.S.
RC: Any lingering concerns about raw material costs, tariffs?
RH: Boral Roofing is always reviewing the changing costs in the market and identifying supply and demand. We continue to evaluate the best solution for each component needed to build our products to ensure we stay competitive while providing the products best for the market.
TS: I was talking to one of my students the other day – two of them – and one of them said on one phone call, “Geez, I just placed an order and the delivery date is December 31.” I laughed, because I thought that couldn’t possibly be, he didn’t laugh back, so it was like, “Oh my gosh, he’s serious.” Sure enough, on a later call, a different contractor in another part of the country, said “Oh I just placed an order, I’m not getting it until January.” That time I didn’t laugh.
RC: Why are we seeing more companies that serve the roofing industry entering into tech partnerships and will it continue?
Mike Jost, COO, ABC Supply Co. Inc. (MJ): Over the last year and a half, contractors have begun using a ton of new technologies that make their jobs safer and easier to do. As the industry continues to evolve at a fast pace, contractors will likely be looking to adopt more technology in order to stay competitive. We can’t speak for other companies, but we plan to continue providing the tools that our customers are looking for.
Patrick Fingles, CEO, Leap (PF): To provide the best customer experience, we are working to integrate Leap’s sales software with other quality partners so that our platform provides home service professionals with the right services for their selling process. Our philosophy has always been to build bridges, not walls. We're thankful for the technology integrations that our partners provide.
RC: Not all tech tools are the right fit. How can contractors best evaluate what will work for them?
MJ: Contractors should first consider what their company’s needs are before buying a new tech device or software program. It can be tempting to buy a powerful new computer system, for example, but if your team is frequently on the go, mobile tablets might be a better fit. Also consider where pain points exist in your daily operations. If your accounting process is inefficient, for example, you might want to consider adopting new accounting software or tools.
A lot of technologies, like drones or office equipment, can be leased or rented, so contractors can try before they make the decision to buy. Talking to other contractors or similarly sized businesses about the tech tools that did or didn’t work for them can also give you an idea of whether a certain tech will work for your team. Above all, be patient and know that many technologies won’t work perfectly for you right away — your team often needs a little time to get used to them.
PF: I typically recommend looking for a platform that focuses on the contractors’ needs while providing the best possible customer experience. For example, we designed Leap knowing every home service provider operates differently and that no two deals are the same. Our platform gives home service professionals the ability to tailor the technology to their business.
There's been a big push for digital in the home improvement and home services space because the current process is so antiquated. With that in mind, you're going to see different technologies flood the space. Contractors need to really evaluate why they're adopting technology. It can’t be simply to say that you went digital — you need to ensure that you’re streamlining process and eliminating errors while providing a better customer experience.
RC: How are you preparing for IRE 2021?
RH: Boral Roofing recently participated in the IRE virtual show in March and will be rejoining the regular, annual in-person event in New Orleans next February. In the interim, we will be participating in SEBC and FRSA in Florida in late July as well as Western Roofing Expo in September in Las Vegas. We will also be hosting our Virtual Tour - Design Center Experience on the homepage of our website for the remainder of 2021.
DF: We're planning to be there with a big booth and we're looking forward to get out there and talk with our contractors and display in our next generation of products. There's a lot of things have been going on behind the scenes that we're really looking forward to rolling out to our contractors and contractors of the future.
RC: What are you proudest of about your organization having gone through this crisis?
RH: Boral Roofing was poised to utilize our website and social media platforms to communicate remotely, helping to keep our employees and customers safe and healthy. With roofing manufacturing recognized as an essential business, we are proud to keep our contractors which we supply informed of our new safety practices at our plants while continuing to provide quality products with reasonable turnaround times.
DF: The integrity and quality of our products has remained top shelf through it all. Additionally, R&D has continued to lead development of Huntsman Building Solutions’ next generation roofing products, which we anticipate will be released mid-year. We have remained completely focused and committed to providing the highest performing solutions to our customer base, despite the obvious pains of COVID-19.