The last time the International Roofing Expo (IRE) was in Las Vegas it was a record-setting show that helped spark a lot of positive momentum for roofing contractors looking forward to the future in 2017. The 2021 version of the expo will be just as memorable, but for different reasons.
While a sharp spike in COVID-19 cases around the country and a mask mandate for staff and convention goers issued a week before the event led to lighter foot traffic on the show floor, there was still plenty for roofing contractors to take in.
Overall attendance figures came in at 9,126 professionals, understandably down from previous events — last year's IRE in Dallas was a record-breaking 17,060. Those contractors that weren’t already too busy in the midst of peak roofing season to attend also faced challenging decisions about their health and safety as virus activity in and around Las Vegas surged.
“This year’s IRE was one of the most interesting in my lifetime due to COVID-19. Although smaller than usual, attendees report having a terrific time reconnecting with friends, visiting with exhibitors, and learning from the top leaders in the industry. I can’t wait to do it again in New Orleans in 2022,” said Reid Ribble, CEO for National Roofing Contractors Association (NRCA).
Some exhibitors took extra precautions in response to the mandate and scaled back show-floor staff, or didn’t send any at all. Carlisle Construction Materials and Polyglass were among the companies that announced withdrawals of all brands from the tradeshow in the weeks leading to the event.
"This was not an easy conclusion for us to reach, but when considering the current environment, the erratic impact of the COVID pandemic, and our primary priority to the health and safety of our entire community, it was the appropriate decision to make at this time," Polyglass stated in an email.
Some companies with perennial, large-scale exhibitions like Boral Roofing opted early on in the process to look beyond Las Vegas and focus on next year’s expo in New Orleans.
And some stayed — 325 manufacturers to be precise, with attendees able to explore 105,600 square feet of exhibit space.
As they planned for the show, managers with Leap checked in with members of their team frequently to make sure they were all right with an in-person booth presence.
SAVE THE DATE
What: 2022 International Roofing Expo
When: Feb. 1-3, 2022
Where: The Ernest N Morial Convention Center in New Orleans
Who: Roofing contractors and industry professionals
“Given the evolving situation presented by the pandemic, our top priority was ensuring that our team felt comfortable attending this year’s show. Fortunately for us, nobody on our team wanted to back out,” said Leap Founder Steve Stencil.
The company used their space to set up personal meetings with clients and prospects and demonstrated its all-in-one home contractor sales platform. Stencil said the timing was ideal given all the challenges contractors faced by incorporating more digital tools during the pandemic.
“It was great to get back and feel a return to a sense of normalcy,” he said. “We were excited to have meaningful, in-person conversations with contractors and partners alike, as we have in previous years. In that regard, this year’s expo was no different.”
Jen Silver, president of Roofing Utah, Inc., said as a newer roofing contractor, it was a great opportunity for her to network with both existing vendors as well as exploring building relationships with new ones.
"As a woman, it was empowering to meet others in the industry, and discuss some of the adversities that we face and how we can support each other in overcoming those," said Silver. "I also really enjoyed building relationships with peers nationally, which enables me to have people in my circle to discuss ideas and challenges with other owners.”
While traffic between booths on the show floor was anecdotally light, the seminar session speakers and show-floor education events drew socially-distanced crowds. It became clear that contractors who did make the trip to Las Vegas did so for the unique educational opportunities.
Veteran IRE speaker Gregg Wallick, president of Best Roofing in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., presented his session on how to hire, train and pay a roofing sales professional via video and was pleasantly surprised by the audience engagement.
“There was not a lot of the personal interaction I’m used to and I couldn’t feel the vibe of the room,” he said. “But there was line of people with questions and that was encouraging to see. It’s what we really come to IRE for.”
The educational sessions and speakers help broaden a roofing contractor’s understanding of the business, and are designed to teach new skills while exposing them to products that could give them an advantage in their home market.
“Our platforms create commercial and connection opportunities that are unmatched,” said Nancy Walsh, president, North America at Informa Markets, which organizes the expo. “We help launch small businesses to new heights, educate our community on the latest innovations, create rich networking opportunities, and ensure that revenue opportunities are stimulated on and off the show floor.”
NWiR Tradition Continues
Members of National Women in Roofing (NWiR) celebrated the fourth annual NWiR Day on Aug. 8 before the official start of the show. The annual event brings together hundreds of like-minded women for a day of fun, insights and inspiration. Unlike other conferences, women from all facets of the roofing industry join together to learn about the latest issues impacting the industry and strategies to overcome them.
The growing organization named Christine Mockenhaupt its second-ever WORLD (Woman of Outstanding Roofing Leadership and Distinction) Award winner during the day-long event. The award was created to honor a roofing professional based on their commitment to the industry, perseverance against the odds, identifying a new service or contribution to the industry, and making a difference in their roofing niche.
A total of 11 women were nominated for the 2021 award.
“I want to thank you all for your support, and I just want to continue to serve you and help you guys grow,” said Mockenhaupt, regional ops controller – east division for SRS Distribution.
Mockenhaupt began her roofing career in 2003 as a senior accountant for Allied Building Products, working her way up to manager of financial reporting in 2006 before becoming divisional controller – exterior products in 2013. She attended Montclair State University, earning an MBA in 2016.
Addressing the room of women as well as those who couldn’t attend, she expressed her appreciation for how far NWiR has come, especially in the face of the pandemic.
“What we learned from COVID is it took away all the boundaries ... we make relationships across the country in this last year and a half, and now we get to see everybody in person today, it’s just so overwhelming,” she said.
Among the goals of this year’s tradeshow was to lessen the overall environmental impact of the event and what waste is left behind in the host city. This year, organizers took deliberate strides to transform the IRE into a more sustainable event by offering paperless badges, removal of carpeted walkways, and reducing unnecessary paper waste.
They also took steps to reduce carbon emissions and remain committed to offsetting unavoidable emissions. Staff will also begin measuring show impacts year-over-year.
For some, defining sustainability when it comes to the roofing industry is a matter of getting back to in-person business deals and relationship building. The industry is ready for both.
“We are in the business of connection,” said Walsh. “We have made incredible progress in providing our customers broader reach, better qualified leads, and year-round opportunities for education, innovation and growth through digital and data solutions, but meaningful networking is not replicable in a virtual format. There’s an energy to the in-person experience that we have been missing over the last 15 months.”