Orlando roofing expo exceeds expectations with numerous exhibitors and educational sessions.

Marketing expert Gregory E. Stine said contractors must think of their roofing companies as “brands” and market them that way.
ORLANDO, Fla. - In its first year, the International Roofing Expo - formerly the National Roofing Contractors Association annual trade show - saw a 30 percent boost in attendance, according to figures released by Hanley Wood Exhibitions.

Media company Hanley Wood purchased the show from the NRCA in May 2004, taking over its operation and promotion while leaving the roofing association as sponsor. Official attendance was 7,492 - slightly less than the 8,000 Hanley Wood had predicted, but well above the 5,744 people the show brought to San Diego in 2004.

"We're thrilled about the 2005 International Roofing Expo being one of the largest events ever in terms of attendance," senior show director Rick McConnell said in a press release. "We look forward to working closely with NRCA and our industry partners to make the 2006 event even bigger and better."

The number of exhibitors was also up: 380 companies showed their wares at Orlando, Fla.'s Orange County Convention Center, compared with 318 in 2004.

Hanley Wood also credited the show's 37 educational sessions on topics such as metal roofing, marketing and business succession, with attracting attendees.

One such session was "Branding and Marketing Essentials for Builders," hosted by marketing expert Gregory E. Stine, founder and president of Oakridge, Ore.-based Polaris Inc.

It's not enough to just be a good worker, or to own a respectable, honest company, Stine said. You need to establish your business as a "brand" - something that stands out in customers' minds.

During his Feb. 17 session, Stine explained that since many consumers have become adept at ignoring most advertisements, it takes more to build brands and companies today.

The best way, Stine said, is also the oldest: "It starts with word of mouth."

And while that method of advertising is thousands of years old, it's how most companies evolve into "brands," he said.

Well-known ESPN commentator and former basketball coach Dick Vitale gave the roofing show’s keynote speech Feb. 16.

Creating ‘buzz'

Getting people to talk about your company, often called "buzz" in the advertising industry, isn't easy, but there are ways to generate some excitement. For example, he said when the first Krispy Kreme doughnut store opened in Portland, Ore., there were people who slept outside the shop's doors the night before, wanting to be the first to try the sugary Southern treat. Local newspapers and television stations covered the event.

The eager customers were probably planted there by the company, Stine said, because Krispy Kreme knew the event would get picked up by the media and create more interest than any ad.

"Working on generating that kind of word of mouth through the media is critical and it pays huge dividends," he said.

Contractors often ask Stine what they can do to make "news." The key, he said, is to find something different about your company, then spread the word about it. Create something "different" if you have to.

The Subway sandwich chain is a good example. It set itself apart from McDonald's, Burger King and other fast-food outlets by offering what it calls "healthy" fast food. Through its ad campaigns, it has created a niche for itself, becoming the market leader in that segment - a good place to be, Stine said.

"If you become a market leader, all you have to do is promote the product and not screw up," he said, adding, "If you're second, that's a good place to be, too."

Stine gave his nine branding principles that he said could be applied to most types of companies, including those in construction:

1. Keep the message simple. One big idea works best. People get quickly overwhelmed by sales pitches, Stine said. Presenting a simple message takes skill and patience.

2. Most brands are built by word of mouth. Smart public relations work can help accomplish this, although the results are not always predictable, he said.

3. Brands that are focused on one idea, message or product are stronger than those with multiple lines. Many companies don't follow this advice, Stine acknowledged, allowing their brand names to be put on products unrelated to what they became known for.

4. Your company has to be different. Make what sets you apart a component of your brand. If you're not "different," make something up, Stine advised.

5. The first brand in a category has a big advantage.

6. Don't create sub-brands of your main brand. It's better if each brand stands alone. Some car companies do this successfully. For example, Stine said, many people don't know that Lexus is a division of Toyota, since it's not mentioned in advertising and the brand has its own showrooms.

7. While quality is important, the perception of it is even more so. "I'm not saying you can peddle junk as premium, but quality alone does not sell," he said.

8. Building brands takes time. Be patient. He gave the example of the Quaker Oats Co. It started out more than a hundred years ago as a small group of Midwest oat-milling companies, the owners of which were not Quakers. But because the religious denomination stood for honesty and purity, they used a Quaker as their logo. With product packaging that has barely changed in a century, Quaker Oats has become an icon.

"You can't change all the time," Stine said, adding that sometimes, change is necessary, however.

9. Once you define your brand, write down the definition and refer to it often.

During his Feb. 18 seminar, “Time Management for Contractors,” Bob Whitten told contractors they should wait before committing to any extra tasks.

Finding time

The audience for Bob Whitten's Feb. 18 seminar, "Time Management for Contractors," was an overworked bunch. When Whitten, the owner of Orlando's SMA Consulting, asked the group how many of them worked more than 60 hours a week, most of the 40 or so contractors in attendance raised their hands. When he asked if anyone worked 40 hours a week or less, only one said he did.

It proved what Whitten said was human nature: "We put three or four times as many things on our to-do list as we can get done in a day."

And supposedly timesaving inventions like cell phones and e-mail only seem to make things worse, he added.

Whitten gave a number of suggestions for working smarter, not harder.

  • With mail, he advises, "When in doubt, throw it out."

    "If it has the IRS (Internal Revenue Service) address on it, I don't even open it," he said, adding that he immediately sends it to his accountant.

  • Use your body language to get people out of your office. When someone comes in to talk to you, stand up. After a few moments, begin moving toward the door. Most people will automatically follow. Another trick Whitten recommends: Touch people on the elbow and then walk to where you want them (back to their desks, for example).

  • Remember it's OK to say "No." "Most people, their standard reaction when someone asks them to do something is to say ‘Yes,' " Whitten said. He recommends telling the person you'll get back to them.

  • Have an agenda. When holding meetings, make sure you have a written list of the issues to be discussed and include an end time.

The 2006 International Roofing Expo will be Feb. 13-16 in Las Vegas.

(For reprints of this article, contact Jill DeVries at (248) 244-1726 or e-mail devriesj@bnpmedia.com.)