When it Rains it Pours
You can learn a lot just by listening to people. The Western States Roofing Contractors Association Western Roofing Expo was recently held in Las Vegas, Nevada. Some of the biggest advantages of attending any trade show are the camaraderie and the exchange of ideas and opinions of your peers. This year was no exception and people had plenty to say, especially about the booming roofing economy in the West. We were able to talk to manufacturers and contractors about coping with a good economy, and what they were doing to keep their customers happy.
Almost every manufacturer stated they were having one of their best years ever. Many had put on second and third shifts in order to keep up with the demand. There doesn’t seem to be a roofing material shortage, so that’s good news. Where the process bogs down is actually getting the material applied to the roof, and roofing contractors had plenty to say about that problem.
It’s no secret that there is a serious labor shortage in the roofing industry. With a nationwide unemployment rate at a record low of 3.2%, workers are in high demand. Convincing them to enter the glamorous life as a roofing professional is no easy task. Finding skilled workers is even harder, and many contractors have taken several different approaches to attack the problem.
- Adjusting the Backlog: Some roofing contactors have simply increased their prices. They admit that their backlog has dwindled from six or eight months down to four, but it’s still a backlog and their crews are constantly busy. Additionally, they have been picky about which jobs they make a bid. Since bidding costs time and money, there is no use going after clients only interested in the lowest cost. Overall, they’ve increased their profit-per-job and their bottom line.
- Luring Workers from the Competition: This is nothing new, but recently some contractors have stepped up the pace and have actively been going after their competitors’ experienced and skilled workers. Promises of promotions and better wages are always high on the list. If successful, this means more work can get done and will result in an increased bottom line. It’s not so much fun, however, if you’re on the receiving end of this strategy.
- Switching Roofing Materials: In the past few years, many new materials, application equipment, and techniques have been introduced to the market that are less labor intensive. If the same roof can be installed with less labor, not only is this a savings and more profit, but also it allows the same number of workers to apply more jobs in the same amount of time. If you missed this at the Western Roofing Expo, you weren’t paying attention. Again, the result is an increased bottom line.
- Staying the Course: Some have simply turned down new work to focus only on their most loyal and best customers. They are not expanding their market or their crews. Their strategy is long term. Everyone who has been in this industry for any length of time knows that eventually the economy will turn sour. These contractors are banking on the idea that if you take care of your best customers now, they will remember and award you their jobs when business is down. They’re forgoing current windfalls for future stability. These contractors are happy with a smaller portion of market that will sustain them in later years.
Whatever the strategy, the labor shortage in the roofing industry isn’t going away anytime soon, and it must be addressed on a national and local level. In order to attract more workers long term, the image of the industry needs to be addressed, but that’s the subject of another editorial.