CHICAGO -- A substance that dates back thousands of years may actually be the future's roofing material of choice.

A substance that dates back thousands of years may actually be the future's roofing material of choice.

As more and more architects and companies become concerned about the environment, recyclable, long-lasting and energy-efficient metal is being specified more and more.

That was one of the main themes at this year's Metalcon, held Oct. 1-3 at the Donald E. Stephens Convention Center in Rosemont, Ill. More than 6,000 contractors, architects and others in the metal building industry descended on the convention center outside Chicago for the three-day event.

Metalcon's annual trades show proved to be the most popular draw. Many attendees came ready to buy, and booth staff for many companies reported steady business, better than last year. At least one company said it sold out of everything it brought to the show.

Many exhibitors expressed optimism about the U.S. economy and the show itself.

"It was good this year," Tapco Product Co. representative Steve Ashley. "Things are coming back around."

Tapco was showing its Max-I-Mum II Port-O-Bender, a portable brake.

Others said business at Metalcon was slower than last year. But many attendees weren't complaining at all.

"It's pretty impressive. Real impressive actually, with all the equipment set up," said Matt Brickey, a manager with Lakefront Roofing Supply in Chicago.

Everything from plasma cutters to hand brakes were on display. Show organizers the Metal Construction Association sponsored live metal roofing and steel building demonstrations.

At the trade show, John Doswell demonstrates the Piranha Model 70.

'Cool ' roofing

Off the show floor, almost 30 seminars were held as part of the convention's educational program. Designed for both the metal building newcomer as well as the near expert, the seminars covered everything from recent scientific studies to legal issues.

Receiving special attention this year was metal roofing's role as an environmentally friendly material. In addition to being recyclable and long lasting, homes which sport a metal roof are often more energy-efficient as well. That's what MCA technical director Scott Kriner told attendees at his seminar, "Environmentally Friendly Roofing."

The concept is called "cool roofing." It generally refers to roofing products that absorb less heat (and energy), saving money on heating and cooling bills as well as protecting the environment. It's touted as a possible partial solution to the "heat island" effect in heavily developed areas: dark, paved areas (and asphalt roofs) in cities are typically up to 10 degrees warmer (and absorb much more energy) than greener, less developed regions. These areas typically use much more energy as well. Metal roofs reflect much more heat than their asphalt counterparts, and since that keeps the buildings they cover cooler, they use up to 20% less energy.

Metal Roofing" and "Everything You Wanted to Know About Cool Roofing (But Were Afraid to Ask)."

Sales consultant Bob Chapman told seminar attendees they would not sell anything if they were not sold on themselves.

Sales suggestions

A number of seminars offered tips on improving sales techniques. During "Sell More by Selling Less," Ohio-based sales consultant Bob Chapman told seminar attendees that they wouldn't sell anything if they weren't sold on themselves.

"We perform relative to how we feel about ourselves," Chapman said. If your self-esteem is so low that you don't like yourself, chances are prospects won't like you either - and they certainly won't buy from you.

Even if you do like yourself, your job isn't over, Chapman said. You still have to get the customer to like you to make a sale. How do you do that? Don't "sell," Chapman said. Avoid the fast-talking spiel. Don't push too hard to close the sale early, and flatter your customer.

"Complement them on their home," he said. "Complement them on anything, but make it sincere."

Also avoid the "features and benefits" conversation - most customers will tune you out. Instead, Chapman suggested asking questions to qualify the customer.

Think of yourself as a doctor and a prospect as the patient who is in pain, he said. For a roofing company, the customer's "pain" might be a leaking roof. Explain how you can take that hurt away.

"It's my belief that you can do magic things through selling. If the customer has pain, it makes selling easier."

At "Best Practices of Residential Metal Roofing Contractors" a sales and management-oriented seminar, company owners shared what's worked for them, and in some cases, what hasn't.

Frank Farmer is the owner of American Roofs, a Flushing, Mich.-based company. Although American Roofs is only a few years old, Farmer says he's been successful by projecting a professional image and backing it up with quality employees.

"The key to having a high quality metal roofing business," Farmer said, "is putting your money in high quality people."

Farmer said he insists on uniforms for his employees, and "if they didn't shave, they aren't going to work that day." The company has a fleet of new vans with the company's patriotic logo in on the sides. Many customers are surprised to learn the company is only a few years old and is locally based, he said.

For Florida roofing contractor Paul Marshall, success means telling a story to potential customers. He tells his sales staff to talk about other homeowners in the area who have installed metal roofs. Even a story from another contractor can be adapted and used in a sales presentation.

"Listen to what the salesmen are saying in these booths out here. Maybe it's a story you can use in your presentation," he said.

Another suggestion from Marshall: Leave potential customers with a jobsite photo album or something else you have to return to the home to pick up - it's another chance to close the sale.

Attendance-wise, this was a disappointing year for Metalcon. Officials estimated the attendance at 6,127, which was almost 400 less people than last year, and 2,000 less than the event's attendance record two years ago. Metalcon 2001 took place in Las Vegas a few weeks after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, and organizers blamed the attendance drop last year on lingering travel fears.

Now, however, it's the down economy that organizers say is scaring away attendees.

"The trade show industry in general is hurting," said show Manager Claire Kilcoyne. "Many shows are down 40-, _50-, even 60%. We're holding our own."

Kilcoyne said she is hoping for a better turnout for the 13th annual Metalcon, scheduled for Oct. 28-30, 2003 in Tampa, Fla. Organizers say more than 88% of this year's exhibitors have already committed to attending.