Chip Macdonald is the owner of Best Safety LLC and Roofing Contractor’s safety columnist. I spoke with him recently about the prospects for the roofing industry in 2009 for our State of the Industry report, and he was quick to point to several signs of a tough road ahead, as well as some hopeful trends.

Chip Macdonald is the owner of Best Safety LLC and Roofing Contractor’s safety columnist. I spoke with him recently about the prospects for the roofing industry in 2009 for our State of the Industry report, and he was quick to point to several signs of a tough road ahead, as well as some hopeful trends.

“If you'd asked me nine months ago, I might have a more encouraging response,” he said. “The American taxpaying homeowner is suffering from PTSD, while many Wall Street stockbrokers enjoy their summer homes in the Berkshires and Adirondacks. Add SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) to that this winter and it won't be pretty. Currently homeowners in my neighborhood aren't inclined to spend discretionary dollars on their property unless they're being forced to sell out. Unlike most winters, concrete and masonry contractors don't have any foundations lined up for next spring.”

He does point to some encouraging signs, among them the resilience of the roofing contractor. “If I see just one successful social model in our future, it's ‘Buy Local,’” he said. “From the extreme communal living experiments to a boom in farmer’s markets, we're circling the wagons in our own hometowns. The 19th century New England community model was a self-sufficient village - one miller, one blacksmith, one doctor, one lawyer. Where I live, roofing is seasonal. In the winter we work on ice dams, tree damage, blow-offs and split firewood while dreaming of spring. This is a service-driven market with a tendency to keep the competition low in numbers but strong in value-added features Successful contractors might have 10-year old trucks but they show up when they said they would, take 100 percent responsibility for callbacks and act and dress like professionals guests at someone's home. They show up one day at no charge with a repair crew 12 months after an installation and make it a policy to donate an extra square of same-lot shingles for their customers. Local businesses depend on repeat customers to survive. That's just the way it is.”

In a tough economy with doom-and-gloom predictions abounding, the roofing industry has some bright spots. “The good news is that every building needs a roof and, with a few exceptions, most roofs will require repair or replacement every 20-plus years,” said Macdonald. “Writing a new business plan as if you were going to present it to a bank will help to keep you focused. Historically, having the good luck to be at the right place at the right time has always been a key survival factor. As Ted Turner once quipped about luck's role in his life, ‘If we weren't all lucky, we'd be born mosquitoes.’”

Our State of the Industry report will be published in our February issue. For a sneak peek at the data, visit www.roofingcontractor.comand sign up for our free State of the Industry webinar, which will be held Jan. 30.