Trade show promotes burgeoning industry segment

TAMPA, Fla. - Metal may be a relatively small niche in the roofing industry, but you wouldn't have known that from attending this year's Metalcon International.

Metal roofing was everywhere at the Oct. 28-30 metal-building trade show. There were at least seven seminars on the topic, and many exhibitors with related products reported heavy booth traffic. Attendance was up almost 6.5 percent from 2002 figures, with 6,623 registered as coming to the show.

"This is the best show I've ever been to in all my years of trade shows," said Charlie Joyner of MBCI, a Houston-based metal-roofing manufacturer.

Metalcon brought its 2003 show to Tampa, Fla., one of the nation's strongest metal-roofing markets. Environmentally friendly or "cool" roofing was a hot marketing trend again this year, with many exhibitors touting coatings and other products designed to mitigate the rooftop-heating effects of the sun's rays and save on energy costs.

Metal's role in environmentalism was also the focus of the Oct. 30 "Green Day" program. Keynote speaker Rick Fedrizzi, president of Green-Think, an environmental marketing firm, told contractors and suppliers they "absolutely must know what your products contribute to the green-building movement."

And it contributes a lot, according to Scott Kriner, technical director of the Metal Construction Association, who also spoke at the Green Day session. Installing a "cool" metal roof on some buildings could save up to 40 percent annual cooling costs, Kriner said.

Chuck Howard, P.E., of Metal Roof Consultants, talked about the opportunities for contractors in the retrofit market.

Solutions offered

He touted the material as part of a solution to the "urban heat-island effect," where pavement-covered cities are typically several degrees warmer than surrounding rural areas. Installing cool roofs may help reduce that effect, Kriner said. He cited a study that said if 15 percent of Los Angeles-area buildings converted to a cool roof, the energy savings "would be the equivalent of millions of cars going off the road."

But when it comes to selling building owners on metal roofs, in many cases it's not the energy savings but the idea of preventing a costly re-roofing project every few years that carries the most weight. That was the message of former roofing contractor Chuck Howard during his session, "Metal Retrofit Roofing."

Howard is the owner of Metal Roof Consultants, a Cary, N.C.-based company, and a licensed professional engineer. In his 30-year career, Howard said he's installed more than 20 million square feet of metal roofing, much of it on retrofit projects.

"I've made more mistakes than probably everybody in this room put together," he told the audience during his Oct. 28 seminar.

But the opportunity to do all that work - and make all those mistakes - just proves how large the metal-roofing market is, he said.

"There's a giant market that can be tapped out there," he said, adding that retrofit metal roofing is enough of a niche that contractors could have the local market to themselves. "You can be an expert, because there's nobody else out there doing it right now.

"The only thing better than being the low bidder is being the only bidder."

When he was a contractor, Howard said he had a lot of success selling school boards and other owners of institutional and commercial buildings on metal roofing's benefits. But when building owners are used to a flat asphalt roof, it isn't always easy, he added.

"You've got to tell people what you have the capacity to do," he said. "You've got to be passionate about it. It's not going to happen on its own."

Englert Inc. demonstrates the ability of its metal shingles with BASF Corp.’s Dark Gray Ultra-Cool coating to reflect the sun’s heat.

Marketing metal

Generating that passion is the same reason the Metal Roofing Alliance, a group of manufacturers and contractors, announced that it is starting a million-dollar media campaign to increase consumer interest in their products. MRA officials said they want metal to stand out from slate, concrete and other high-end roofing materials.

"We really want to position in the consumer's mind that a metal roof is worth every penny they put into it," MRA spokesman Tim O'Mera told contractors during "Marketing Metal Roofing to Consumers."

Plans call for national television commercials and ads in consumer magazines such as Southern Living.

O'Mera said MRA officials want the ad campaign to "do for metal roofing what Die-Hard did for batteries."

Automotive replacement batteries were largely seen by consumers as alike before Sears, Roebuck and Co. began heavily advertising its brand, now among the best-selling replacement car batteries in the United States.

Even without the MRA's new push, some metal-roofing contractors are already finding success. Metalcon officials brought several to the seminar. Frank Farmer says high-end advertising has certainly contributed to his company, Flushing, Mich.-based American Metal Roofs. Farmer has installed more than $3 million in metal roofs in the last two years, a figure he credits in part to the $357,000 he's spent on radio, TV and print advertisements.

But if you're going to advertise, Farmer said, you'd better know where your money is going, and where your results are coming from.

"Unless you track your advertising in some form, you're going to waste your money," he said.

American Metal Roofs' fleet of service trucks are professionally painted, with a patriotic red, white and blue American bald eagle as part of the company's logo. He insists on a neat and well-groomed appearance from employees, which includes uniforms.

Customers often mistake American Metal Roofs for a much larger operation, he added.

"People ask me all the time if I own this ‘franchise,' which tells me I did my job," Farmer said.

Jerry Iselin, owner of Metal Roof Specialties Inc. in Tacoma, Wash., said he goes so far as to pick the type of service vehicle he sends to a customer's house, based on the neighborhood. Customers who live in upscale neighborhoods are more likely to see workers in an expensive sport-utility vehicle such as a Suburban, while the same workers might visit rural-dwelling customers in a pickup. Iselin said he figures arriving in a vehicle that customers can relate to may help make a sale.

Next year's Metalcon is scheduled for Oct. 20-22 in Las Vegas.

A rocking chair made by the 5012 Series plasma cutter from AXYZ Automation Inc.

New products from the trade-show floor

Although Metalcon is a trade show aimed at all facets of the metal-building industry, there usually are still plenty of products of interest to sheet metal and metal-roofing contractors. Among those on display:

Annandale, Minn.-based Malco Products Inc. was displaying its Model No. TS1 TurboShear. The TS1 inserts directly into the chuck of a 1,200-rpm drill. It allows operators to cut 20-gauge steel and can navigate tight, curved patterns.

Berridge Manufacturing Co. was promoting several products, including its line of Energy Star-rated cool-roofing panels. Available in 10 colors, including Copper Cote and Deep Red, the panels help reduce energy consumption, according to Berridge officials. The company was also touting its Double-Rib roof panel and Zee-Lock curved standing-seam roof system. Also displayed was a new 24-gauge flush panel, available in 16 5/8-, 11 5/8- and 9 5/8-inch sizes. The panel is available with or without grooves and a ventilated version is available.

Swenson Steel Products Co. was promoting its Snap Table and Air Shear. The Snap Table is designed to help contractors cut standing-seam panels more efficiently. Model No. 48 is designed for snap-lock and stand-seam panels, while Model No. 42 was made to assist with installing exposed panels.

Triangle Fastener Corp. was showing its Blazer Ultra line of self-drilling screws for use in joining metals. The line includes the Blazer Hi-Hex, Low-Profile, Low-Profile HD and the Blazer Pilot.

Ivyland, Pa.-based Drexel Metals Corp. was displaying its DMC 150 architectural snap-lock panel, the DMC 100NS nail-strip panel and its Drexmet line of high-performance metal-roofing finishes.

Knudson Manufacturing Inc. promoted its EL2002 portable elbow machine and its KH-153 hat-channel machine. Company officials say the EL2002 can make elbows from scrap in 30 seconds and the KH-153 makes a metal retrofit of a flat roof easier.