Today’s assignment is to write features for an upcoming issue of Roofing Contractor about my recent trip to China and Vietnam. 

Today’s assignment is to write features for an upcoming issue of Roofing Contractor about my recent trip to China and Vietnam. The China part was to visit our friends at China Building Waterproofing and Roofing Engineering, magazines I went to Vietnam to take part in the Jimmy & Rosalynn Carter Work Project with Habitat for Humanity International. Just today I had on my calendar to consider traveling to India for a roofing expo in April. This is the 9th Roof India expo, which is supported by the National Roofing Contractors Association and other industry groups around the world.

China and India. Combined their populations consist of TWO BILLION more people than we have in our United States. These sleeping giants are scarcely sleeping and that is the reason I am interested in what goes on there and why I have invested in several visits to China - and why I must consider traveling to India (which may not happen this year but must in the next couple of years for sure).

Vietnam. This developing nation has started doing some of the heavy lifting formerly handled by countries such as India and China. As those economies mature it makes room for emerging countries such as Vietnam. While our relations with their government may not be that great we seem to be importing more of their goods year after year.

In the roofing industry we have historically felt ourselves insulated from the emergence of competition from foreign countries. After all, the bulk of our products are made in the USA and our roofs are built here so our labor force must be located here. But look at our labor force. A quantifiable percentage of roofing work is done by workers from south of our border. Our plants may not have moved to Mexico like some car makers, but many roofing jobs are now the property of foreign workers. Not making a value judgment on that … just an observation.

So I have been back from China for over a month and while there doing my reporting thing and visiting friends I also managed to pick up some roofing samples for one of my roofing distribution associates. China quarries a variety of slate colors that are not available elsewhere in the world. We have historically been cautious with Chinese slate since the quality of some is not so great. But it does not all come from the same quarry and for some the quality rivals the rest of the slate world. Have not dealt directly with the Chinese for slate yet, but it is coming.

The Web site for one of my distribution company’s trade operations is designed to attract leads for roofing contractors in Georgia and Florida. Got a note from our VP of sales and marketing about a lead we just received from a Chinese skylight manufacturer. He was not looking for roofing materials in the Southeastern United States, but was very keen on us taking a look at his line of skylights. Interesting way of marketing on his part, huh? I offered to go back to China for a tour of the skylight plant, but I’m not holding my breath.

Trading across borders is not new to the roofing industry. Back when I sold equipment to roofing contractors we imported telescopic towable hoists from Germany. These machines are still all made in Bavaria. But they could be made in China some day. Or Vietnam. Or the Philippines. Or Bangladesh. Many small hand tools for roofing are made overseas now. Was not that way when I sold them 25 years ago. Nearly all of the computerized metal folding machines are made in Europe, as well as the truck-mounted knucklebooms that we use to deliver roofing every day. But it is conceivable that they could be made here or anywhere else on the civilized planet.

So do not be surprised to see flashings, accessories, skylights, or darn near anything else that can be stuffed into an oceangoing container show up in your roofing distributor’s showroom. I do not think they are shipping entire homes or buildings yet, so we should be OK for a while. A small world indeed - and getting smaller all the time.