SAN ANTONIO, Texas - There is one five letter word beginning with "M" that has many roofing contractors smiling these days.

L-r at the opening luncheon: Kevin Kennedy, Evans Service, Elmira, N.Y.; William Taylor, D.C. Taylor Co., Cedar Rapids, Iowa; Randall Crowe, Greenburg Roofing & Sheet Metal, Grand Forks, N.D.; and Joan Crowe.
SAN ANTONIO, Texas - There is one five letter word beginning with "M" that has a lot to do with why many roofing contractors are smiling these days. And the word isn't Money. It's Metal.

By most accounts, with the national economy still in the doldrums, things in the construction industry are still a tad slow. The previous year at the National Roofing Contractors Association (NRCA) convention in Atlanta, one recurring theme you heard was "labor shortage." Not so this time around. What a difference a year makes!

Today, however, there is more than doom and gloom on the horizon. Several, including MetalForming Inc.'s Geoff Stone and Mike Weller of EuroPress Metalforming Technologies Inc., said it's because of the trend towards metal roofing. New products, technology and design trends are making metal roofing shine very brightly indeed.

Others, such as AEP-Span, Una-Clad, Owens Corning and Rheinzink Canada showed Snips examples of metal roofing that are helping create excitement and new demand in this industry (more news about metal appears in the Metal Roofing and Sheet Metal Machinery features this month.)

Celebrating its 115th year, the NRCA convention held here in February was one of the most successful ever. Floor traffic at the trade show was brisk.

This year's convention theme was "Limitless Possibilities." And despite the "challenge and uncertainty of the economy," said the keynote speaker, "I'm optimistic about the future." That man was this country's 41st President, George H.W. Bush.

Former presidents, it should be noted, do not normally turn out to keynote your lesser conventions. Mr. Bush recounted several warm-hearted stories about life in the White House and since then. Knowing from personal experience how difficult the job can be, he said he refrains from criticizing the actions of George Jr. - "but all bets are off with Barbara" who continues to admonish our current president about, for example, keeping his feet off the coffee table.

Perhaps linked unfairly with the recession of the early 90s, Mr. Bush noted that quarterly economic activity was actually on the increase for much of his administration. He also mentioned that at age 77 he has been busier than ever in retirement, touring many countries - he has even been invited to Iraq, he stated wryly, although he would agree to "go there only if accompanied by (General Norman) Schwarzkopf."

Author James Bradley (left) signs a copy of his book for John Champlin, with Centimark of Canonsburg, Pa., who holds a copy of his own MVP award for the Mid-Atlantic region from NRCA. In the background is Bob Alling, Perfect Roof Systems, Kansas City.

Achieving the impossible

Feeling a little nervous about the economy? Maybe a little frightened about an upcoming OSHA inspection, an IRS audit, or your rising insurance rates?

Author James Bradley told roofing contractors at the NRCA convention here a story about achieving the impossible. It had to do with the strength of the human spirit, and what it is capable of accomplishing and overcoming. Bradley is the author of the best seller, "Flags of Our Fathers." It is the true story of his father, John "Doc" Bradley, who is one of six soldiers pictured in that famous photo of the World War II flag-raising by Marines on the island of Iwo Jima, which at the time was held by the Japanese.

Bradley calls it "the worst battle in the history of the Marines" for fatalities. It involved 80,000 invading U.S. troops on an island five miles wide defended by 20,000 Japanese. Impervious to days of air strikes and Navy shelling, the island was riddled with tunnels and an entire underground city. When the Marines landed, "it was American flesh against Japanese concrete," according to Bradley. Almost 7,000 Marines would die on the island, including three of those shown in the photo, which was taken on February 23, 1945. His father's platoon suffered 84% casualties. John Bradley was awarded the Navy Cross for heroism during the battle.

Ironically, he never mentioned any of this to his family, not even to his wife. It wasn't until after his death in 1994 that James became intrigued and began researching the facts behind this famous photo.

"The flag raising on Iwo Jima became a symbol of the island, the mountain, the battle; of World War II; of the highest ideals of the nation, of valor incarnate."

Roofers left the banquet hall a little more informed, a little more patriotic, and a lot more in awe of a battle few of us knew much about going in.

Hoss, Little Joe and Adam? Nope, it's (left to right) Steve Gross, Thomas Reed and Ricky Adams, all with Mile High Construction, Boerne, Texas. They're waiting to get into the trade show.

Marketing to the nanosecond customer

Marketing your services to customers has never been more important, or ever more urgent.

"Marketing to the Nanosecond Customer" was a talk at NRCA by professor Richard Honack of the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, Evanston, Ill.

Honack defines the Y generation as the "snowboard generation," unable to save money, willing to spend, but also wanting things to happen immediately, if not sooner. Consequently, "You need to understand what your customers want immediately. Define specific target markets. Develop a competitive position. Tell people you're out there."

Back up your service with guarantees, and leave out the fine print. Customers, if they have a problem, want hassle-free relief. And your business can't afford any bad word-of-mouth. Customers talk more freely these days about their experiences, and there are many more ways to vent their frustration. Some unhappy campers vent their frustrations on the Internet, and their experiences can be read by thousands virtually overnight.

In return, you have to use all available weapons. Get a website if you don't already have one, Honack said.