Organizers say about 5,500 people attended this year’s Metalcon conference.


LAS VEGAS - The number of attendees for 2010’s Metalcon were up a little from the year before - and in this economy, that made organizers pretty happy.

Official figures peg exhibitors and attendees at 5,445, representing contractors, fabricators and suppliers from 50 countries. About 300 companies exhibited during the Oct. 20-22, 2010, trade show at the Las Vegas Convention Center. And that was enough to please show director Claire Kilcoyne.

“The number of visitors was about 200 more than the 2009 show in Tampa, but the buying power was higher than ever,” Kilcoyne said. “The positive response from exhibitors was evident in the number of companies who signed up for 2011. We’re thrilled to have 87 percent of the 2010 exhibitors booked for next year’s show in Atlanta with 492 booths and more than 118,000 square feet of new product exhibits. We’ve always had a great relationship with exhibitors and it shows in our consistently high rate of returning exhibitors. This year in particular the number of companies signing up early and the serious buying power of attendees indicate a positive outlook not just for this show but the industry as a whole.” 

This year marked the show’s 20th anniversary. Longtime exhibitor Bill Coleman, vice president of MBCI, a Houston-based maker of metal roofing and walls, said his company was happy.

“Our leads from this show surpassed last year’s and the level of interest was much higher than before,” he said.

MBCI is one of just 25 companies that have exhibited at Metalcon since its inception.

A number of new exhibitors said they were similarly successful. That included Brian Nelson of Knight Wall Systems in Deer Park, Wash.

“We had great traffic,” he said. “There was a large diversity of people, including architects, contractors, engineers, and manufacturers. We even had an architect drop off some drawings so we could bid on a job for him.”
br>Knight was showing a rain-screen product.

Officials with another first-time exhibiting company, Sierra Metals, said they had a great experience at the show.

“It was very successful for us,” said Andy Russo, president and chief executive of the Henderson, Nev., company. “The first day of the show we had so many visitors we couldn’t talk with everyone who stopped by our booth. We have leads from architects, vendors and contractors, which represent all of our primary audiences.”

On Metalcon’s trade show floor, many exhibitors reported steady traffic. Harley Flagler Jr. of Flagler Corp. explains his company’s products to a show attendee.

Seminars

In addition to the trade show, Metalcon organizers arranged 33 educational sessions, most of which took place in the mornings before the show floor opened each day.

The first time Frank Farmer, president of Flint, Mich.-based American Metal Roofs spoke to Metalcon attendees, his new company was earning handsome profits selling roofing to the owners of upscale homes in the counties north of Detroit.

Thanks to easy access to home equity and surging home values, many of Farmer’s customers could afford to pay cash for their new metal roofs. American Metal Roofs was even featured in Fortune magazine.

Fast-forward a few years and it was a very different story. Michigan’s economy had been battered for much of the decade with its foundation industry - automobiles - suffering through bankruptcies that claimed General Motors and Chrysler along with numerous smaller automotive suppliers.

With unemployment rising to levels not seen in decades, the state’s home values started to decline, making it tougher to tap equity to pay for improvements. And then the U.S. housing and banking crises hit, wiping out years of appreciation in home prices and making credit hard to secure.

American Metal Roofs was in trouble.

“We had choices to make,” Farmer said at his Oct. 21 session. “Serious choices.”

The way he saw it, his company had three options: do nothing and hope for a turnaround; make small, temporary changes in the way it operated; or focus on areas of likely growth that complemented its core business. 

Midwest Tool and Cutlery Co.’s Robert Besser explains some of the attributes of the company’s Midwest Snips tools.

Options

The do-nothing option was popular among many contractors in the state, he said. Michigan’s cyclical economy had often quickly bounced back. But that did not happen this time. Many construction companies went out of business or left the state.

Farmer was determined to not let that happen to American Metal Roofs.

“We had to sit ourselves aside from everybody else who went into a home,” he said. “We had to reinvent who we were.”

For his company, Farmer decided offering high-performance venting, insulation and solar energy systems were the best way to stand out. And that meant making homeowners see the value in a thorough attic inspection and the need for good ventilation and insulation.

Well-vented attics lower consumers’ utility bills and can inhibit mold growth. By adding insulation, homeowners could qualify for tax credits.

And for American Metal Roofs, such add-on sales were easy to make and high profit.

And there was another benefit, Farmer added.

“We saw we were selling more metal roofs by solving a ventilation problem,” he said.

Solar energy was another area where Farmer saw opportunities - but not in the way it was typically marketed. Farmer said he went to trade shows where solar energy was featured, but left many of them shaking his head. Too much of the industry’s marketing and public image was rooted in the 1970s.

“When consumers were asked about solar, they said it was ugly,” Farmer said, adding that he did not like a roof full of black, rectangular panels, either.

The key, he said, was to devise an easy-to-install, yet attractive, solar system and take the fear and mystery out of the product. The company stressed the energy savings that came with the solar panels.

Salespeople were able to sell the product, dubbed “Freedom Solar Roofing,” to customers who might one day also be interested in metal roofing.

The effort was so successful it allowed American Metal Roofing to avoid the widespread layoffs that plagued so many other contracting companies in the region. 

Frank Farmer, president of Michigan’s American Metal Roofs, said he had to reinvent his company to survive in the state’s tough economy.

Socially speaking

When someone says the phrase “social media,” what do you think of? A community events calendar? Do you think Facebook is a just a new name for the high school yearbook?

If that describes you, your company could be missing out on one of the biggest Internet marketing trends of the last decade.

And Rob Waite, chief executive officer at Pennsylvania-based Drexel Metals LLC, said that would be a mistake. During his Oct. 22 seminar, “Creating a Social Media Campaign,” Waite used a joke to explain the most basic difference between social media and traditional marketing.

“What do the yellow pages and retirement homes have in common?” Waite asked. “Only old people use them.”

Contrast that with Twitter.com, a website where anybody can post short, 140-character updates on anything from the mundane to the truly news-breaking. Waite estimated that there are 75 million Twitter accounts - a number which is growing quickly every day, he added.

Another popular social media website, Facebook, is used by half of the U.S. population.

And if you haven’t thought about using cell phone text messaging services to reach your customers, consider this: 72 percent of Americans age 25 to 49 send text messages daily.

“People who use social networks are your customers,” Waite said. And 56 percent of such people prefer to contact companies through social media channels.

“This is a big change for us,” he said.  

Rob Waite, chief executive officer at Pennsylvania-based Drexel Metals, said the online world of social media has become too big for contractors to ignore.

Word-of-mouth

Social media use increases word-of-mouth marketing, which for many companies is the most valuable type. Nowhere else can you get the same kind of exposure, Waite said.

“You can’t fight it,” he added. You’ve got to get on board and you’ve got to start doing it.”

Any effective social media campaign cultivates followers, establishes what the company is and does and eventually, generates sales. Waite said a successful social media campaign is kind of like duplicating the efforts of your best salesperson, but online.

But you can’t just put anything on your company’s Facebook page or send mindless “tweets” and think you can be successful.

“Content is king and people want information,” he said. “Facebook is an amazing way to advertise and it’s very affordable.”

Twitter allows you to quickly post information to generate interest in your company and services. With Twitter, you want to “follow” a lot people, which means you monitor their messages. Hopefully, they will follow you as well. A goal is to have half as many people following you as you follow.

He urged attendees to create a “channel” on the website YouTube to promote their businesses and teach customers through videos.

“YouTube - that’s your place for education,” he said.

Alberto Gonzales, U.S. attorney general under former President George W. Bush, was Metalcon’s keynote speaker. At his Oct. 20 address, he said his father was a construction worker who worked hard to support his family.

Communication

The cell phone, especially high-end smart phones that come with high-speed computer processors, are becoming the No. 1 way many people use the Internet. Don’t overlook it or the importance of being able to send your customers text messages.

And don’t make the mistake of thinking cell phone texting is just a time waster for teenagers.

“I’m surprised how many companies are cutting off text message services as a way to save money,” Waite said. “You can’t do that.”

In addition, text messages are a great way to communicate quickly on jobsites, he pointed out. Use it.

As you try out Facebook, Twitter and similar sites, there are a few things to avoid, including infrequent updates, “hard” selling, bad grammar and droning on or getting into online arguments.

But whatever you do, don’t sit still, Waite said. Don’t be afraid to try.

“It’s not expensive to experiment in this medium,” he said.

Social media marketing has been so successful for Drexel Metals, only 10 percent of the company’s advertising budget is spent on traditional methods.

“(Social media) is a lot less expensive, but it’s a lot more effective,” he said.

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