Despite COVID-19, Western Roofing Contractors did All Right
by Marc Dodson, editor
Our annual survey of roofing contractors resulted in positive comments about the state of the Western roofing industry. Despite the COVID-19 crisis, according to our readers, this past year was good for business and the outlook for the 2021 Western roofing market is looking better. Additionally, architects are also reporting an increased amount of work on the boards, so there are more projects on the horizon.
Once again, the biggest problem roofing contractors face is finding enough trained workers, or workers willing to be trained in the art of roof application. This ongoing problem of not enough boots on the roof is limiting the growth and future of the industry.
From the Rooftop
What do Western roofing contractors have to say about this past year and what they see on the road ahead? Here are a few of their responses.
Leo Ibarra, Blue’s Roofing, Milpitas, California, and current Western States Roofing Contractors Association (WSRCA) president, notes, “Overall dealing with the pandemic has been OK. It’s definitely more to think about in regards to safety. Safety should always be put at the top of the list. Our office staff has been working from home as much as possible and working fewer hours when we are in the office. Precautions had to be tightened up in the field due to the unknown. Production has not been affected too much, but anytime you have tighter regulations it will affect productivity a little.
“Our company is still working only on commercial projects. We are slightly down, but we do have a good backlog going into 2021. It appears a lot of contractors are concerned going into 2021, but we will continue to be optimistic. We’re hoping to get back to some type of normal in 2021, but only time will tell.”
Travis Nelson, Brown Roofing Company, The Dalles, Oregon, and former WSRCA president, says, “Like everyone, we have had to work hard this year to adapt to working during the COVID-19 pandemic crisis. We work in more than one state, and each state has had different requirements, and each state has had different approaches to locking down. It has been a challenge for our workforce to learn the new and evolving rules and practices. Each day, we have had less time to work on actual roofing since we have had to add many steps to our normal safety procedures. Also, it was hard at first trying to get everyone to take the new rules as seriously as the state and the company would like. As time went by and a culture was in place, it became easier to manage around the COVID-19 safety requirements.
“We have found that our residential to commercial roofing work percentages stayed the same in 2020. Demand for both stayed the same despite the affects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Each had similar challenges and also unique challenges. Working around homes meant working around people’s families, while commercial projects many times meant working around general contractors or other sub-contractor trades. As far as commercial projects, each entity or trade had similar needs and requirements for working safely, but sometimes they were different in the approach or in how important the various rules and procedures would be to them. We had to adapt often to match the needs of others as well as the requirements of the various states in which we work.
“Due to a slower work pace in 2020 and some lost time to employee quarantines, we are needing to push 2020 work into 2021. We feel like we have a good backlog going into 2021, but we cannot help but think that the demand will slow at some point due to political changes that we know are coming, as well as the ongoing and worsening pandemic this winter.
“We have heard of supply issues that might dictate which products we will be using more often and which we might use less. Some of these supply issues seem to be driving up prices, so that may also cause us to choose certain products over another. We may also pivot to more effort spent on repairs and maintenance if supply problems or a slower economy become a reality.
“I have a feeling our Oregon economy will be similar to other areas of the Western region. However, it has been harder to find out what is happening in other states due to less contact with other roofing professionals. Without meetings and expos, it is hard to know how everyone is feeling about this year and the coming year.
“This has been a very stressful year for families of our employees and for our staff, just as it has been in the general population. Therefore, I really feel we need to pay close attention to the overall mental health of our workers and staff, as well as with the necessary safety procedures.”
Brad Baker, Professional Roofing, Bellevue, Idaho, and former WSRCA president, states, “This past year has been the worst and best of times for 2020. Older relatives have passed away and you couldn’t even go to funerals with more than 20 people. COVID-19 has been a cruel and lonely disease for the people affected. On the bright side, Idaho has been ranked as the number one U-Haul® destination this past year and the West Coast people have been coming in droves from California, Washington, and Oregon. Our local area for custom housing is out two years and sub-contractors can’t keep up with the building going on. Life is good, but the stress level is up and there has to be a happy medium. Hopefully the COVID-19 vaccine will help keep us alive to roof another day.
Bill Baley, CI Services, Irvine, California, and former WSRCA president, notes, “Business was still fairly strong this year. The biggest change was the lack of face-to-face meetings with customers and a bit slower decision making from customers. After that, we of course had to spend extra money on disinfectants, masks, gloves, etc. for office and field staff. Plus extra care about social distancing and allowing people to stay home when health was questionable all cost money, but needed to happen.
“We had a few of our crew either get infected with COVID-19 or were with someone infected, which required quarantine time for those workers. Luckily, we shifted personnel as needed and got through it.
“Our commercial business was the same as always. Whether it will be up or down in 2021 is the million-dollar question for everyone right now. The recent election could change things a lot. We need to wait and see. We’re praying for another strong year, assuming the vaccine gets out and works. As far as using different products go, business offerings may change a little, with more focus on repair and maintenance, but we think our current system and manufacturer focus should not change.
An Arizona roofing contractor who wished to remain anonymous states, “COVID-19 has not impacted us much. We had a few projects get delayed, but only two that got cancelled. Construction as a whole remained strong. We are hoping to be up in 2021 because in Arizona we had a record hot and record dry 2020. If we can have more normal weather and more economic recovery, we should have a stronger 2021. Manpower is still a problem.”
Sam Chamberlin, D&D Roofing, Sparks, Nevada, notes, “COVID-19 definitely slowed our business in 2020. We expect business to improve in 2021. We won’t be changing our business strategy. I expect our area will rebound during the second half of 2021. I think Biden will screw all business people.”
Andy Clarke, Global Roofing Group, Phoenix, Arizona, says, “2021 is our 50th anniversary and we are excited for the new name change to Global Roofing Group to better represent our ever growing presence around the country, and not just the Southwest. We have recently opened offices in Denver, Colorado, and Salt Lake City, Utah, this year.
“COVID-19 has effected our workforce, but mostly from missed time. Once anyone has either tested positive or has reason to be concerned enough to be tested, we send them home. We also have to send home anyone else that has been directly in contact with that person to contain the spread. We have lost complete crews off of jobs for several days working through COVID-19 tests and quarantines. Earlier in the year, we were very proactive and had 75% of our staff working from home, typically from the accounting and sales part of the company. Operations and production did not have this liberty for obvious reasons. Everyone returned to the office over the summer after the numbers in Arizona had settled down, but we still have strict policies of no unnecessary visitors or large in-person meetings. Everything is virtual, including all our leadership trainings. We also had to cancel our annual Safecon event, in which we host over 350 of our employees for a full day, as required by OSHA. This year we are going to be doing that virtually, which we don’t feel has the same personal impact as doing it together as a company.
“Fortunately, the pandemic has not dramatically impacted our overall volume. However, we have seen some decreases in the multifamily and reroof market in the commercial arena, but that is also typical in an election year and there has been no rain to speak of for the last six to eight months, so it is probably a combination of all of these things.
“We will continue to grow in 2021 mostly due to our efforts in large national projects that we have excelled in and as we have opened other branches in other markets. We’re just not seeing as much reroof for the time being so it’s really only affecting our steep-slope division.
“We know unemployment is high, but we still can’t find people that want to do roofing. Overall, it appears the economy is holding up, but we will see more once the new president and Congress is in place and what kind of policy changes will happen that may or may not be business friendly.
“We have seen several product cost increases over the last couple of months and labor continues to be unstable, so we don’t see that getting any better. We will know more if tax increases come or if there are any change of regulations.”
Johnny Zamrzla, Western Pacific Roofing, Palmdale, California, and former WSRCA and National Roofing Contractors Association president, states, “Business is good. Unfortunately, with trying to work under the changing local and state COVID-19 restrictions, it makes it even harder. I’m on the board of one of the hospitals in our area, and elective surgeries have dried up. They’re not busy, but people don’t want to go to a hospital unless they have to. The county built 632 emergency beds at the fairgrounds and none are being used.
“Our residential business is outstanding. All shops are busy and we just hired new workers, but it’s tough to get employees. Since people can work remotely, they’re moving into vacation homes or remodeling. We have difficulty getting permits, also lumber and metal prices have gone up.
“We’ve expanded into metal buildings and more online marketing. We’re also traveling to jobs less by making use of drones and other services. Right now, there’s an excess of brick-and-mortar office and retail spaces. More people are shopping and working online. That’s probably not going to change once we’re clear of this pandemic. It’s a whole new world with a different set of challenges and opportunities.”
Ron Lloyd, Kokua Roofing Services, Kailua, Hawaii, says, “Safety has always been a priority at Kokua and we start each day on a project with a safety meeting. With COVID-19, we now have had to implement more safety measures to include daily temperature checks of the folks on the job. In addition, we have had to invest in more PPE for our employees. From a service prospective, interisland travel restrictions have made our ability to be nimble more complicated.
“The Kokua team is always looking for ways to be more efficient and effective. Unfortunately, COVID-19 has affected the speed in which we can complete projects while maintaining the quality our customers expect. Between travel delays and the additional safety steps we are taking, we are not performing at our usual optimal level. However, our business has always had a healthy and diverse portfolio of projects, and that has not changed. Despite the challenges we have all faced, I feel confident that business will continue to grow in 2021. While it’s hard to project how things are going to shake out location by location, it’s my estimation that our Hawaii economy will remain in line with the rest of the West.
“With more and more people continuing to work from home, we have seen a surge in our roof maintenance and service work, and our reroof business. Whether it’s residential because folks are home and realizing things about their house they may not have had time to address, or commercial properties that are temporarily empty, allowing time to address building issues without disturbing occupants.”
Wendy Marvin, Matrix Roofing, Vancouver, Washington, notes, “Due to the pandemic, we’re down about $750k this year, mostly from the shutdown during April and May when things were super slow, and the delays in installations, shipping and manufacturing issues, and staffing problems contributed. We definitely have a backlog and could easily hire about ten workers now; we just can’t find them. After the initial shock of everything and the chaos of moving to remote working, we’ve fared fairly well. Additional resources from the government would surely help, as we were poised in February to begin building out on our new facility and have been stuck in permitting for seven months. With the material costs skyrocketing, we’re looking at alternatives now.
“Overall, COVID-19 was a good time to do some introspective work, which we accomplished. Our company will emerge stronger and more nimble, which is good.
“Our workforce has been super impacted here by COVID-19. Work is slow due to additional precautions and inspections. There’s a slowing of performance as we have periodic scares of contamination and people have to take the mandatory 14 days off, even though they have no symptoms. We never had to do layoffs, which are good, but overall everyone is taxed and tired of the stresses of this disease.
“We definitely moved closer to our residential customers and away from bidding bigger commercial jobs, which are easier to manage and less risk. We completely shut down our government bidding due to cash flow issues.
“We may change our mix of materials and products, most likely due to massive changes in manufacturing. We do not want to run around right now, but if something isn’t available, we have to find alternatives. We’re putting more resources into our remodeling department, hoping to capture more work during roofing’s slow time. It’s worked so far.
“The economy is really uncertain. Talk of massive company closures in our farming industry could greatly impact the state of Washington. Real estate is up, but we’re already at a home shortage and our city government permitting agencies have been inept for a long time. They’re trying to hire more people now, but most likely too little too late for Clark County and Southwest Washington. We can’t build the homes fast enough. We’re trying to be prepared for when the moratorium on evictions ends. This could be another foreclosure boom, and work from realtors as lenders tighten requirements.
“Hopefully our industry partnerships and lobbying organizations can get the idiotic tariffs shut down, and the sooner the better, especially on lumber. We’ve watched plywood go from $14/sheet to $37/sheet now. It’s absolutely absurd.
“We have to form alliances to get our hands on some of these displaced workers. In our state we have Workforce Southwest Washington, who has federal funds to place displaced workers. Our industry doesn’t know about this. We need marketing. We need to get them to see our industry as a viable and fairly stable work option. We need to get moving on this ASAP.”
Pete Schmautz, Star Roofing, Phoenix, Arizona, and former WSRCA president, says, “Due to COVID-19, we are having to do more up-front screening of employees before entering jobsites. This has ranged from health questionnaires to temperature checks. Many general contractors and jobsites are beginning to require quarantine periods for anyone suspected of having COVID-19. It has definitely slowed production.
We anticipate 2021 being the same or down slightly from 2020’s numbers. We do not anticipate using different products, but we strive to increase our reroof percentage. We expect that our economy will fare better than some of the states in the West that have, again, implemented lockdowns.”
Steve Nash, Waterproofing Associates, Mountain View, California, states, “2020 has been an extremely challenging year. We were shut down for a few months early in the year because of the COVID-19 pandemic. All work ceased except public works. We shifted our focus to public works only to have new criteria of essential public works added to the list. Each job required a designation of deemed essential, which very few public agencies were willing to specify for fear of liability. Once we were able to resume working, we needed to put our COVID-19 protocols together, which required daily certification of jobsites, temperature checks, health screening questions, disinfection of tools, and wearing masks.
“Overall, 2020 has been a year of protecting our people and business with a goal of living to fight another day. Having accomplished our short-term goal of survival, we look forward to 2021. We expect there to be a pent-up demand for our services once businesses resume normal operations with the distribution of the vaccine.”
Stan Robinson, Pacific West Roofing, Hubbard, Oregon, notes, “With COVID-19 ever-present, we’ve been requiring masks be worn in vehicles, in the office, and at the shop. We’ve kept the same work force other than a few losses due to non-illness reasons. We had one employee contract COVID-19 and they were quarantined for the time needed. We test anybody who comes in our office and document their temperature and recent activity to determine whether or not they were around anyone with symptoms. Our job performance time has not changed.
“There have been less commercial opportunities due to jobs being shut down or postponed. We are a minor player in the commercial world anyways and only choose owner-operated buildings with maybe a few property managed commercial condominiums. We feel that 2021 will take a jump in volume by at least 10% to 15% and look forward to increasing our crew sizes this next year.
“We are pretty convinced that the mix of products we have now are solid and don’t plan to make a change in product brands but possibly adding additional not ordinary products such as rubbers and plastics slates shakes tile.
“I can only speak for the Portland, Oregon, market when I say most of my fellow contractors feel it will be a strong year, regardless of the presidency, merely on customer demand. I’ve heard no different information across the West speaking to my fellow contractors and other cities and states.
“I don’t think many of the roofing contractors feel an extreme difference when there’s a change in presidency or parties and only can speak to the demand of the public, even though we keep an eye on the TV for things happening such as Portland being completely under attack by ANTIFA, yet the market increases.”
Misty Stoddard, Rainproof Roofing, Anchorage, Alaska, says, “Figuring out how to work as an essential company during this pandemic has proven to be challenging at times for sure. From creating a daily online COVID-19 health questionnaire that is easily and quickly executed and also easy to track from a management perspective, to having a mitigation plan filed with our state and figuring out everything in between when working on site for general contractors. As a company we have definitely taken on the mind-set of if this is what it is let’s do it the best we can. Our employees have been extremely flexible during this process and an integral part of being successful during these strange times. Planning and communication has never been more important than it was this year.
“Our mix has remained fairly normal for our company with a 70/30 commercial/residential split. It’s hard to project what 2021 will look like when we could have never imagined that we would still be dealing with as long as we have. Government shutdowns and mandates will play a huge role in what the coming year looks like.
“Alaska often trails behind the lower 48 when it comes to economic swings, whether they are up or down. Again, with the current pandemic, it appears economically each state will be at the mercy of their elected officials. Government shutdowns and mandates will clearly have an impact as we head into 2021. It’s likely the commercial real estate market could potentially experience wide-spread vacancies from restaurants, bars, and small businesses that are no longer able to operate as a result of these shutdowns, and of course, that will affect our market as those building owners will be unable to maintain their properties at the same level.”
Stoddard sums up the feelings of many with, “The current COVID-19 pandemic has been a good reminder of how important it is to invest in our people, how we react in times of hardship are a true indicator of character.”