Brent Neudorf of Swenson Shear demonstrates the company's Snap Table, which notches and shears metal.

LAS VEGAS - This city built on gambling turned out to be very lucky for the International Roofing Expo. Attendance for the Feb. 13-16 event at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center jumped 20 percent over the 2005 Orlando, Fla., show's figures, according to organizers.

The official, verified attendance released by Hanley Wood Exhibitions was 9,007, compared with 7,492 for last year's event at the Orange County Convention Center in Florida.

"With the 20 percent increase in attendance, the International Roofing Expo's aisles were completely packed and nearly all of the conference sessions were full," said Rick McConnell, vice president of Hanley Wood Exhibitions. "We are committed to producing the strongest business-to-business event for our industry."

Hanley Wood, which publishes several trade magazines and manages several conventions, purchased the show from the National Roofing Contractors Association in 2004.

The 2006 International Roofing Expo, held at the Mandalay Bay Convention Center in Las Vegas, again included a Metal Roofing Marketplace, where many of the metal-roofing manufacturers and tool companies gathered.

With 435 exhibitors taking up 97,500 square feet of space, the trade-show floor was bustling for much of the convention. The floor included an area dedicated to metal roofing, where many of the companies that made metal roofing materials and related tools gathered. Show hours were staggered so that attendees could go to seminars in the morning and spend the afternoon among the displays.

The arrangement seemed to work well.

"It's very clear, attendance-wise, that this is by far the best show we've experienced," said Doug Goehler, marketing manager with TruFast. "Traffic on the exhibit floor is great and I think the quality of attendees is equally as good."

Jeff Schultz, founder of Mi-Roof and Mi-Property, agreed. This was Schultz's first time at the Roofing Expo.

"Overall, the show's been great. I'm really happy with the results and looking forward to next year," he said. "You can't pass up this opportunity to be exposed to this many people."

Carl S. Granetzke, president of Wisconsin-based Excalibur Tools, shows how to use the company's new sheet metal cutter, which the company has imported from Australia. The tool, designed for one-hand use, can cut flat and corrugated metal up to 16 gauge and up to 18-gauge stainless steel. Officials say the hardened spring-steel blades produce a clean, motor-powered cut. It is distributed by N.A. Bocker.

Seminars

When they weren't on the show floor, many contractors were going to educational sessions. Organizers said 5,200 attendees registered for at least one seminar at this year's Las Vegas show, 50 percent more than at the Orlando show.

One well-attended seminar was Linda Leigh Francis' Feb. 15 session, "Love 'Em or Lose 'Em! Employee-Retention Strategies That Really Work."

Francis said there is a U.S. skilled-labor shortage and it won't be getting better anytime soon.

"This is not a short-term problem, folks," she said.

That means companies have to start working harder to attract employees and keep the good workers they already have, she said.

Organizers of the 2006 International Roofing Expo said just over 9,000 people attended the event.

"We have to start marketing this as a great industry to get into, because nobody else is going to do it for us," Francis added.

She cited figures from the U.S. Department of Labor that said every time a worker leaves a company, it costs one-third of their salary to find someone qualified to replace them. For management-level workers, the figure is even higher: up to twice their annual pay, she said.

Regardless of the skill level required to do the job, the problem persists. Francis referred to a study commissioned by Coca-Cola on the cost of employee turnover in the supermarket industry. According to Coca-Cola, employee turnover costs a typical grocery store $199,000 a year and $5.8 billion to the industry as a whole. The figure is 40 percent more than the industry's annual profits, she said.

A number of exhibitors were showing sheet metal equipment, such as New Tech Machinery, which had a large booth.

On the move

Part of the problem, Francis said, is most workers, especially those in their 20s, no longer see one company as a place to build a career. Up to 15 percent of the work force is self-employed, which means many freelance their jobs. The government says most Americans have eight jobs between the time they're 18 and 32 years old.

You might think money is the main reason workers, regardless of age, leave a company. But that's wrong, Francis said. Most leave because "their manager was a jerk."

She gave the example of a California forklift company who had five mechanics quit the same day. The reason was their supervisor. The work the mechanics performed represented $600,000 in annual revenue. The mechanics' action made the owner realize he had a problem.

During her Feb. 15 session on employee retention, Linda Leigh Francis advised roofing contractors to tailor jobs and benefits to meet the needs of their employees. Remember that younger workers want different things out of a job than those over 50, she said.

Francis gave these suggestions for improving employee retention. With younger workers:

Offer projects with short-term deadlines.
  • Give them multifaceted assignments.
  • Provide a career plan.
  • Help develop skills, encourage learning.
  • Give feedback.
With older workers, she suggests:
  • Asking what the worker wants.
  • Be flexible.
  • Adjust compensation to reflect their needs money may not be most important.
  • Make assignments interesting.