The International Roofing Expo (IRE) returned to New Orleans for an in-person event last month where attendees celebrated an industry that withstood unrelenting change and showed strong signs of emerging from the economic crisis sparked by supply chain issues and COVID-19 fatigue.
A strong work backlog and changing COVID-19 health and safety regulations may have kept more than the usual amount of roofing contractors and suppliers away from the Big Easy, but still saw just over 10,000 registrants. Despite any setbacks, the 2022 expo still showcased more than 400 companies on 140,000 square-feet of exhibition space at the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center. And it will be remembered for several special moments.
The IRE literally began in memorable fashion, as the Honorable Reid Ribble kicked off the festivities with a riveting keynote address that encapsulated his 40 years dedicated to professional roofing – and offered so much more.
Ribble announced his retirement as CEO of the National Roofing Contractors Association (NRCA) before the expo, and took the opportunity to deliver one of his more memorable speeches after five years of leading the roofing industry’s largest association.
“To be here is weird. Surreal,” Ribble began, promising not to talk about roofing in any granular sense. “I want to leave you with a takeaway. One thing that you can apply immediately to your business life, to your relationships with your spouses and kids, to the employees you work with.”
He talked about the resiliency of roofers, particularly given the challenges of the past two years, and the important role the staff at NRCA play in improving their businesses each day. He wove in stories and lessons learned from his father, a roofer and Southern Baptist minister who always focused on nurturing each of his eight children. And he talked about how many of those lessons applied to his career as a business owner, entrepreneur and three-term Congressman from his native Wisconsin.
“My dad was always teaching us life lessons,” the 66-year-old Ribble explained. “If you close up your life, no one can put anything into it. You can keep what you have, but it’s much harder to get anything into you. How much can you receive if you live your life with your hands and your heart open?”
Ribble described how that advice, over time, helped build his leadership style with a foundation of the five H’s: hustle, humor, health, honesty and humility. He needed a blend of them all as he turned to public life, running for and winning a contested seat in the U.S. House of Representatives that he held on to for three terms.
Ribble touched on how, as a member of Congress, he began to realize the power of the other trade organizations that were organized and unified behind a message that got results. He took those lessons from Washington, D.C. to NRCA headquarters in Rosemont, Ill., where he led a campaign to get fragmented parts of the roofing industry to work together on common areas of interest.
He left the crowd inspired by urging roofers to take pride in their profession and seize the opportunity to shape the industry’s future.
“We can never expect young people to be drawn to our industry or respect what we do, until we respect what we do,” he said to a standing ovation.
Fifth NWiR Day
Inspiration was also easy to find at the fifth annual National Women in Roofing (NWiR) Day at the convention center just prior to the start of the IRE. The yearly event invites women from all aspects of the roofing industry to come together and network, learn strategies to succeed and have some fun. This year’s event drew more than 280 women from around the country.
At the event, the organization revealed its new diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) education program, Real Roofing. Based on focus groups, surveys, research and the aid of a consultant, the program consists of 20 lessons that are around 20 minutes each. The audience is owners, managers, office staff and installers.
“NWiR has spent the past year building an education program on diversity, equity and inclusion that will be available to the entire roofing industry. The train is moving through the station and the roofing industry either needs to hop on it or get left behind," said Ellen Thorp, NWiR executive director.
The event culminates with naming the recipients of the WORLD Awards, which recognize members for their dedication to the industry and helping create opportunities for other women. Kristina Hill, co-owner of HomeShield Roofing & Exteriors in Nebraska, was the 2022 WORLD Rising Star, while Michelle Boykin, COO of Rackley Roofing in Nashville, Tenn., was named the 2022 WORLD Award Veteran.
“I used to have a little voice, and I finally let it say big things, so I would challenge everybody in the room today that you need to find your little voice and you need to let it say the big things because we can change this industry,” Boykin told NWiR Day attendees.
The 2022 IRE Show Floor had a broad mix of product innovations, new technology and educational opportunities for contractors at any level of expertise.
On the show floor, roofing restoration and solar were among the main topics of discussion. Among them was GAF Energy, which presented its new Timberline Solar product, a nailable solar shingle installed alongside a typical asphalt shingle roof. Other companies, like CertainTeed, had their integrated solar products like Apollo II prominently displayed as well.
“Because solar has become so popular now – cost has come down, efficiency has gone up – it makes sense in places where it didn’t make sense before,” said Zachary Easoz, Eastern U.S. sales manager – solar for CertainTeed. “We’re seeing more and more people gravitating this way.”
The increase in extreme weather events had contractors looking for solutions to offer to their customers enduring severe weather, such as DensDeck Storm X prime roof board from Georgia-Pacific.
“We’re trying to educate the contractor, help them understand gypsum is kind of like a form of insurance when you put it down,” said Mallory Faust, brand and content strategy at Georgia-Pacific. “We’re trying to help them understand this is long-term, and it seems to be resonating.”
Of course, it wasn’t all pure shop talk. Attendees could relax and have some fun with pinball at the Owens Corning booth, quick-reflex arcade games and tee shirt giveaways. Atlas Roofing celebrated its 40th anniversary with an ‘80s ski lodge themed booth where it displayed a restored 1982 Chevy Silverado it was giving away to one lucky winner.
“The truck has been rebuilt from the ground up and it is spectacular,” said Jeff Key, Atlas’ director of marketing. “It’s been a challenging two years to say the least. Everyone’s tired and looking for an outlet to try to get back to normal, and we felt like we needed a big promotion to help facilitate that. We’re confident this will be the biggest Atlas promotion ever.”
Atlas also kicked off a new rebrand, and wasn’t the only company using the show floor as an opportunity to promote recent acquisitions and launch new brands. Westlake Royal Building Products debuted its new brand and product lines following the acquisitions of Boral North America roofing and DaVinci Roofscapes.
Westlake Royal introduced its rebranded clay, concrete, steel, and roofing components product lines, along with two new high-performance roof underlayment solutions. Officials also wanted to reiterate to contractors that it was the same great roofing products under the umbrella of a much bigger corporation.
“Historically, Westlake has done a fantastic job of keeping brands unique and under their own structure,” said Mark Pagel, who remains general manager with DaVinci. “We’re still the same company we’ve always been, but we are very much a part of a much larger organization that’s going to benefit customers for the long-term.”
The show floor was also a chance to network and meet interesting people, including two highly-decorated veterans of the U.S. military with remarkable stories. Building off the success of its annual Beacon of Hope contest, which provides new roofs to deserving veterans at no cost, Beacon Building Products invited Medal of Honor recipient Dakota Meyer and ex-Navy SEAL Rob O’Neill to its booth on successive days. Meyer, a former U.S. Marine recognized for his service in Afghanistan, and O’Neill, the man credited with shooting Osama Bin Laden in 2011, recently collaborated on a book, “The Way Forward: Master Life’s Toughest Battles and Create Your Life’s Legacy.”
Roofer Blake McCulley, with A&M Contractors in Prairieville, La., was happy to snag a copy.
“I thought that what he did was pretty bad-ass and that’s what I told him,” said McCulley, who waited in line with about 100 other people to get a moment and autograph from O’Neill. “I’m looking forward to reading it.”
Staying Busy in the Big Easy
Those types of moments weren’t limited to just the show floor. Outside of the expo itself, attendees had plenty of opportunities to network and give back to the New Orleans community. It started with the 13th annual IRE Community Service Day. More than 50 volunteers from around the industry used their skills and/or strong work ethic to complete much-needed home improvement projects for the less fortunate. Organizers again partnered with Rebuilding Together New Orleans – just like they did 13 years ago to help New Orleans residents still recovering from Hurricane Katrina’s devastation.
"The service day is a great opportunity to get out and see New Orleans, outside of just the convention center and make a truly life-changing impact for homeowners," said William Stoudt, director of Rebuilding Together New Orleans.
This time, the volunteers helped with renovation projects at three home damaged by Hurricane Ida last fall. Repairs were not limited to roofs, as volunteers worked on weatherproofing windows, applied fresh coats of paint, treated termite damage, and more.
"Community Service Day is by far my favorite day of the year. We're able to literally change people's lives," said IRE Senior Conference Manager Brandi McElhaney, a native of the Big Easy. "Every single chapter of Rebuilding Together for 13 years now has told me you guys don't just come here for photo ops. You're truly putting in the work and making a huge difference. It's so amazing."
Some roofers that weren’t at Community Service Day gathered together in a downtown New Orleans high-rise to discuss the latest advancements in technology influencing the industry. The annual gathering of the Roofing Technology Think Tank brought contractors, software designers and other industry leaders for an update on Tesla Solar Roofs, recent technology company acquisitions, and emerging products, which included a hands-on virtual reality experience to demonstrate how drone images can enhance how roofers do their work.
By integrating thousands of images taken by drones of existing roofs with a cloud-based software system, users can create a customized VR experience that helps customers understand what’s happening on their rooftop.
“Essentially, what we did is take a flying toy and turned it into a tool that can help your business and benefit the roofing industry,” said Ryan Resides, a roofing estimator and salesman who helped develop the product for Imagine Technologies Group (ITG).
Resides and roofing contractor John Kiesel, co-owner of Division 7 Roofing in northern Ohio and president of ITG, brought VR goggles for attendees to experience the technology for themselves.
Later that day, NWiR joined forces with the NRCA to host “Salute to the Big Easy,” a fundraising event to support ROOFPAC, the only political action committee dedicated to advancing the roofing industry in Washington, D.C. The event at the National World War II Museum in downtown New Orleans featured a live auction with items like NRCA-branded blazers, aged whiskey, tickets to sporting events and vacation packages.
The industry also gathered on Feb. 2 for the annual SRS Foundation Raise the Roof Concert, featuring multiple country music acts at the Sugar Mill. Headlining the event was legendary duo Big & Rich, and proceeds raised from ticket sales and an auction went to benefit multiple mental health initiatives.
Jake Schick, a former U.S. Marine who was severely wounded while serving in Iraq, addressed the crowd of roofers for the third straight year at the event. Schick started an organization now called the One Tribe Foundation, which helps veterans of any conflict, and recently expanded its services to help police officers, firefighters and front-line first responders. He reminded concert-goers that it’s often the scars you can’t see on a veteran that hurt the most.
“I used to tell psychologists, others that veterans suffering from mental health issues were full of bullshit! And I was wrong,” he said, silencing the raucous crowd.
The SRS Foundation handed Schick an oversized check for $125,000.
Recognizing Roofing Contractors
Being one of the largest roofing events in the country, the IRE is the perfect stage for honoring individuals and companies in the industry that go above and beyond. The NRCA and its foundation, the Roofing Alliance, announced various award winners during the NRCA’s Awards Ceremony on Feb. 2.
T. Allen Lancaster, Jr., vice president of Metalcrafts, a Tecta America Company LLC, Savannah, Ga., was named the 75th recipient of the NRCA’s annual J.A. Piper Award. The J.A. Piper Award is the industry’s most prestigious honor, recognizing roofing professionals who have devoted constant outstanding service to the NRCA and the roofing industry.
"I really have enjoyed all the years I've done NRCA. I got involved in NRCA just because I wanted to learn, and I have," said Lancaster, Jr. upon receiving the award. "In the meantime, I've made a lot of great friends, and a lot of you are here tonight."
Among the awards was the first recipient of the NRCA’s John Bradford Volunteer Award, a new honor presented to an individual in the industry who consistently demonstrates outstanding acts of volunteerism. The award is named after John Bradford, who served as NRCA’s president from 1982-83 and was a past president of the Midwest Roofing Contractors Association.
The award went to Jude Laperouse, who started volunteering his time with the NRCA more than 30 years ago and served on the board of directors, executive committee and as vice president until 1993. He spent his career managing Edward J. Laperouse Metal Works Inc., a roofing company started by his father, and retired in 2016.
“It’s hard to wrap your arms around this kind of thing because it’s so much more than just me here, there are other people involved,” said Laperouse. “All I can do is say thank you and with gratitude from the bottom of my heart.”
The Roofing Alliance also recognized the winners of its 2021-22 Construction Management Student Competition. The annual competition challenges teams of students to present written and oral presentations on real-life roofing projects, which are then reviewed by a panel of industry judges.
This year’s winning team was Texas A&M University, consisting of Kyler Hardison, Blake Bocchino, Kyle Cahill, Canyon Martine and Alexia Palomares. Bocchino was recognized as an outstanding individual presenter.
“This is my third year competing, I’ve loved it, I’m really thankful for all the involvement and the people that run the competition,” said Hardison, the team captain. “It got me started in the roofing industry, I actually did my internship at a roofing company … it’s a great exposure not only to roofing but subcontractors in general.”
Second place was Clemson University from South Carolina, consisting of James Goodwin, Jackson Davis, Tristan Moseley, Allie Stark and Declan Fay. Stark received recognition as an outstanding individual presenter.
The Roofing Alliance revealed its 2022 Most Value Player and Gold Circle Award winners as well. See the Association News section for more details.
SAVE THE DATE
What: 2023 International Roofing Expo (IRE)
When: March 7-9, 2023
Where: Kay Bailey Hutchison Convention Center in Dallas
Who: Roofing contractors and industry professionals
Notables: The roofing industry’s biggest show returns to Dallas for the first time since 2020’s show shattered attendance records. Look for RC’s continuing coverage at www.roofingcontractor.com/IRE. Also look for:
- A new roster of industry leaders and experts hosting educational sessions to be unveiled shortly.
- Housing reservations may be made online beginning in May.
- Online attendee registration opens this fall at www.theroofingexpo.com.