Like early bird shoppers descending on Black Friday sales, the 2023 International Roofing Expo was a cavalcade of attendees who filled Dallas’ many downtown hotel rooms for the industry’s premier yearly event showcasing new products, myriad information seminars and countless social events.
On the heels of last year’s IRE in New Orleans — the first in-person industry event after the world skidded to a stop from the COVID-19 pandemic — anticipation for 2023 was palpable. At press time, Informa Markets, producer of the expo, had not yet released final attendance numbers. Still, if the volume of exhibitors, programming and education classes offered at the Kay Bailey Hutchinson Convention Center during the three-day event is any gauge, it will surely be a record-breaker. More than 60 educational sessions taught by industry experts, 500-plus exhibitors and 45 full conference programs set new benchmarks for the expo, with its roots dating back more than a century.
"We're very thrilled for the turnout for the entire show," said Kyle Thomas, chairman of the National Roofing Contractors Association board, during the IRE’s opening ceremony. "There's a lot of energy and excitement out there, so we're certainly glad to have everybody together again."
It wasn’t without its hiccups, though. The massive crowds bottlenecked when registering for the event on opening day, resulting in long lines and reported three-hour wait times before attendees could enter the expo floor. An email from Informa Markets Construction Group Senior Vice President Kevin Thorton promised show coordinators can and will do better.
“We understand how important it is to provide a smooth and enjoyable experience for our attendees and exhibitors,” said Thorton in an email to attendees. “Your time is valuable, and your experience at the show is the single most important thing to us and we let you down. Please know we are taking proactive action to ensure this never happens again. It is my commitment and our promise to you.”
Like most great affairs, it all seems like a blur. Old and new friends made, the cavernous main exhibition hall with the roofing industry’s players — big and small — and so many opportunities for learning intricate facets of our industry, it was a whirlwind time.
Women Raising the Roof with NWiR
Marking its sixth year gathering together women working in the industry, the National Women in Roofing organization held a daylong symposium ahead of IRE’s opening, with this year’s theme, “Follow Your Path.”
NWiR’s mission is to empower women in the roofing industry, a mission amplified this year as the event ran during Women’s History Month. Michelle Boykin, COO of Rackley Roofing and president of NWiR, was ecstatic at the success of this year’s programming.
“It was better than I could have ever imagined,” Boykin said. “We hit 500 registrants, which was huge for us … we asked everybody if they were the first-time attendees to stand up; it looked like half the room [stood].”
Along with presentations and professional development workshops, companies like ATAS International, APOC, CertainTeed, Holcim, and GAF held demonstrations to give attendees a hands-on look at roofing materials and systems.
The event culminated with the presentation of NWiR’s WORLD Award winners, which honors women who demonstrate an outstanding commitment and service to NWiR and the industry. This year’s recipient of the WORLD Award Veteran was Stephanie Baird, general manager of Oregon-based Bliss Roofing, while the WORLD Award Rising Star went to Erica Sherman, building science manager at GAF.
“I’m honored to be recognized,” said Baird. “I think a lot has to do with the community outreach projects I’ve been involved with in the last few years. That’s my niche in the industry, I believe in cause marketing.”
Good Deeds Performed
Also before the show’s opening, attendees were in Dallas for IRE’s annual Community Service Day, which has a rich tradition of gathering professionals from across the industry, including contractors, manufacturers and distributors, to participate in good works efforts for the host city.
This year, in partnership with Dallas-based nonprofit, Rebuilding Together of North Texas, several dozen volunteers worked hand-in-glove for deserving residents whose homes were either in disrepair or needed modifications.
The event's perennial sponsor, Sika Sarnafil, helped cover most of the day’s costs, as it has done for the past dozen-plus years. Breaking into three groups, volunteers fanned out to various Dallas neighborhoods, each group tasked with action items to accomplish for pre-designated homes.
“This is Sika Roofing’s 13th year sponsoring Community Service Day, and it’s one of our favorite events each year,” said Bill Bellico, Sika’s vice president for Marketing and Inside Sales. “It's [both] a great way to bring some of our people together but [also] the broader roofing industry to give back to the local community.”
Maya George, director of grants and operations at Rebuild Together, highlighted the importance volunteers play in helping the organization realize its goal of providing needed repairs to indigent and disabled Texans so they may safely live in their homes.
“The volunteer aspect is critical for us,” George told RC after the event. “We cannot do what we do without volunteers and none of this [would] happen in North Texas without volunteers and sponsorships, and we can’t stress enough the critical part [volunteers] play.”
IRE Keynote Speaker Offers Advice, Harbingers Continued Labor Woes
A powerful keynote address by author and award-winning speaker Chris Czarnik detailed a labor shortage with no sign of abatement; if anything, he said the trend would accelerate over the coming years and contractors needed to rethink the notion of recruitment.
Billed “Winning the War for Talent: One of the Roofing Industry’s Biggest Challenges,” Czarnik outlined an empirical tsunami set to wash over the American workforce as the youngest of the baby boomers edge closer to retirement and the days of qualified applicants jockeying for position are long gone.
“The next time you start blaming the world — it's the world's fault that you don't have people, that nobody wants to work — look at the 28 great people you have working for you today and ask yourself, ‘How can that be true?’” Czarnik told an audience of 2,000. “If you’ve got great people in [your] organization today, it's not the world's fault; it's yours.”
That last line was the essential thrust of Czarnik’s supposition: just as business owners would unlikely sit around, praying customers will call seeking roofing services, nor should they hope qualified candidates see a job opening and apply.
Beyond just soothsaying, the former military officer and award-winning author provided attendees with solutions to the labor shortage and how to win the war for talent, which also happens to be the title of his 2018 book on the subject.
“I'm asking you to blow up and re-imagine all of your job ads," he said, adding, "Good job ads are about creating questions, not answering them.”
Czarnik described ways employers should rethink recruitment and urged them to deploy many of the same outreach efforts typically used to increase their customers.
“Let me ask you a simple question,” Czarnik posed to the audience. “Are you working as hard to find your next employee as your next customer?”
Alongside the IRE was the National Roofing Contractor Association’s 136th Annual Convention, which included its traditional awards ceremony on March 8. Each year, the NRCA and its nonprofit foundation, the Roofing Alliance, recognize outstanding roofing companies and the exceptional individuals within them.
The NRCA awarded its John Bradford Volunteer Award to Bill Collins, former president and CEO of GAF. Collins left GAF in 2006 and began a consulting firm to help construction professionals with sales growth, strategic development, branding and cost savings. He also joined Habitat for Humanity International, serving as senior vice president.
The awards also included the Gold Circle Award winners, which recognize unique commercial or residential roofing jobs and programs and services. This year’s honorees included Flynn Group of Companies in Beaverton, Ore., and Midland Engineering Co. Inc. in South Bend, Ore.
The NRCA presented its most prestigious award, the J.A. Piper Award, to Bob Daly Jr., president of Kaw Roofing & Sheet Metal in Kansas City, Kan. He is the 76th recipient of the award, continuing a family legacy started by his grandfather, Tom Daly, who received the award in 1950.
Daly is a third-generation roofing contractor who graduated from Regis University after serving in the U.S. Navy before joining his family in the roofing business. Daly joined the board of directors of his local roofing contractors association following his father’s death. In 1996, he joined the NRCA’s board of directors and served as a director from 1996-99 and from 2002-06. In 2000, he became the NRCA vice president and served from 2000-02 and 2003-04. In 2006, Daly served as senior vice president before becoming the NRCA’s president in 2007.
“It’s better than winning the Lombardi trophy,” Daly Jr. said. “It’s a wonderful, privileged award, and I will never forget my grandfather’s award – it’s still hanging on the wall in my office.”