The line between the solar and roofing industries continues to blur, putting pressure on both roofing and solar contractors to learn the other’s respective crafts if they wish to succeed.  

As one of the largest roofing distributors in the country, ABC Supply Co. Inc. took note of this trend and has found experts who can easily transition between roofing and solar to serve both customers as part of the company’s new Renewable Energy vertical.

One such expert is Rob Smith. While he may technically be a new member of the roofing industry, his vast knowledge and first-hand experiences make him an ideal candidate for bridging the gap between distributor, roofing and solar.

“I love working with people. Part of what brought me to ABC Supply is to be able to help and pass that knowledge along to the roofers getting into the industry,” he said.

An Early Adopter

After earning a bachelor’s degree from the University of North Carolina, Smith worked in historic remodeling and home building on the coast of North Carolina, taking on craftsman-style homes until the housing market collapsed in 2007.

Around that time, he moved to Raleigh, seeking a way to use his construction experience while keeping an eye on any emerging technologies. Although solar power has been available for decades, it was around 2008 that it grew in popularity, and pricing became affordable to a wider market. Finding his calling, Smith dove in.

Smith worked as a contractor for 10 years with Yes Solar Solutions, eventually becoming its director of operations in 2017 and helping grow it to a 30-plus-employee company. Following that, Smith remained in the electric and renewable energy industry for the next few years, giving him a well-rounded understanding of the technology.

“I've worked in almost every aspect of the solar industry from installations, management, procurement, sales, design, and distribution,” he said. “I have a retired unlimited electrical license in North and South Carolina as well as an active NABCEP PVIP certification.”

That certification is with the North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP), including PV Installation Professional certification, and has served on two separate NABCEP committees. He even worked with utility committees for Duke Energy, serving as a representative of the rooftop industry.

Credentials aside, Smith knows first-hand the struggles solar and roofing contractors face. As a solar contractor, he had to purchase his supplies and materials from numerous vendors, including fall protection equipment from ABC Supply Co. Inc.

That experience of buying from numerous vendors stuck in his mind while working for City Electric Supply, an electrical wholesale distributor, in 2019. He built up the company’s renewable division from zero to $65 million in less than two years. Following this success, Smith worked on the module manufacturer side of the solar industry.

When the opportunity to join ABC Supply came up, he leaped at the chance, assuming his current role of renewable energy business development manager for Northeast and Southeast territories in January 2024.

Like transforming sunlight into energy, ABC Supply is harnessing Smith’s desire to create a one-stop shop for solar and roofing contractors to help shape its Renewable Energy division.

“Having grown a division like this before, I wanted to be able to do that again,” he said.

His desire stems from more than seeing the solar industry thrive. Apart from wanting a better world for his children to grow up in, Smith’s passion came from witnessing the damage caused by coal, oil and other “dirty” sources of energy.

“I thought I could make a bigger impact by getting into solar and helping people reduce their energy costs. That way, they're not using as much ‘dirty grid power,’ as we like to call it in the industry,” he said. “And then, from there, as a contractor, I was only able to help a couple hundred customers each year, and that's why I got into distribution, because now I'm able to help thousands of customers nationally and not just at a local level.”

Summit-Energy has partnered with CertainTeed Solstice Shingles from CertainTeed. Photo: CertainTeed

Making Solar Shine

In his role, Smith helps contractors understand all aspects of solar roofing, including product information, technical aspects of the systems and proper installation. The main markets he works with are the Carolinas, Florida, Washington, D.C., New Jersey, Boston and New York. Given their various differences, Smith stays up-to-date on certifications and what products best serve those regions.

Being at the intersection of roofing and solar results in two distinct types of customers: roofers diversifying into solar and existing solar contractors going into roofing. Smith said the latter isn’t as familiar with ABC Supply, but having participated in shows like the Intersolar North America and Energy Storage North America event, solar contractors are learning about what the distributor can offer.

“At the end of the day, they want a one-stop shop. Somewhere they can buy all the roofing material and all their solar material and get support on how to get into the industry, it’s a win-win,” Smith said.

So far, Smith said the biggest asks from roofing contractors are identifying which products to use, tips for selling solar and what rebates or tax credits are available.

“Since [the industry is] still in our infancy stage, there's so many different options out there that it can be very overwhelming if you're just getting into the industry of what could be a quality product versus what's not,” he said.

Similarly, many contractors are unfamiliar with installing solar systems. ABC Supply’s Renewable Energy division is closing that knowledge gap by offering training to contractors with the help of solar manufacturers.

“We partner up with a lot of our manufacturers, whether it's on the module side to learn about that product, or the inverter side, or even the racking,” Smith said. “We'll host lunch and learns or training events where we'll bring contractors in. Either U.S. business development managers and/or the racking manufacturers will be present, and basically walk them through, step by step, how to install a system.” 

The Renewable Energy division does more than provide knowledge and training. ABC Supply’s vehicles are equipped to deliver solar products directly onto roofs, which the distributor touts as an “industry-first delivery system” that reduces labor needs, saves time and enhances safety.

One of the biggest hurdles to overcome, Smith says, has been ensuring contractors – both solar and roofing – understand that entering a new industry isn’t as simple as reading a book or doing research online.

“Until you get your hands dirty and have a drill in your hands and learn hands-on training on how to install a system, I don't think that people truly understand how difficult an install can be,” he said. “[It’s the] same with roofing, you know? From an outsider looking into the roofing industry, I’m like, ‘Hey, it’s just shingles. You just nail them on.’ But there’s a lot of nuances that go with that, like starter strips and valley weaving.”

Looking to the future, Smith envisions ABC’s offerings expanding into areas like EV chargers, home storage, or possibly wind energy. As the sectors of roofing and solar continue to converge, Smith said his goal is to keep educating contractors so they’re safe and successful.

“It's going to be a lot of education and a merging of the two industries. Over the next five years, we’re really going to see the most successful roofing contractors getting into solar and solar contractors adding roofing to their services," he said. "Seeing these two industries merge, and ABC Supply being in a position to support them is absolutely huge, and I couldn’t be happier to be a part of that, helping educate both sides of the aisle.”