ORLANDO, Fla. - Many roofing contractors are still waiting for an economic rebound, but for organizers of the International Roofing Expo, things are already looking up.
Attendance at the Feb. 22-24 trade show was the best since 2008. And in an era where many trade shows are still struggling for exhibitors and visitors, that made people such as show director Lindsay Roberts very happy.
“We are very pleased that the show generated an increase in attendance for the second consecutive year,” Roberts said. “The state-of-the-art products, the cutting-edge conference program, the show floor demonstrations and clinics, along with the strong partnership with NRCA, resulted in an all-around compelling event.”
The total official attendance was 8,382, a 3 percent increase over the 2011 event in Las Vegas, which saw an 18 percent bump over year-before levels.
Diverse attendanceAttendees represented all 50 states and international visitors included people from Japan, Columbia, Ecuador, Germany and Brazil.
“This year’s IRE was the best I have been to yet,” said Dan Cupit of Professional Roofing and Exteriors in Arvada, Colo. “I received a wealth of knowledge and made valuable contacts that will pay dividends for us this year. I was happy to see a good mix of new and established exhibitors. I was able to find new suppliers, service providers and sources of information that will provide a direct benefit to our business.”
Trade show exhibitors were equally diverse, representing a wide section of the country. The show had 415 companies taking up 932 booths, both figures an increase over 2011 levels. The Metal Marketplace, a special section dedicated to machinery and tools linked to metal roofing, had 39 companies using 72 booths.
Several exhibitors had good things to say about this year’s show.
“The IRE met our expectations and we feel it was a tremendous value,” said Richard Spanton Jr, CEO at AccuLynx.com. “The quality of contractors gets better every year at IRE.”
Mike Gore, national sales manager at Sealoflex, agreed.
“This year’s show was very successful for Sealoflex as we were able to showcase our new Enviroflex product with great success,” Gore said. “We were very pleased by the number of attendees and the amount of time they spent at our booth.”
And Chris Fagan, a sales manager at DCI Products, said his company was very impressed.
“We thought this year’s show was a huge success,” Fagan said. “We were able to see some existing customers, meet some prospective new customers and also network with other industry professionals in our market.”
Many first timersOf the companies at the show, 99 were first-time exhibitors or those that haven’t attended in several years, including 3C Network, Classic Metal Roofing Systems, Direct Metals, Global Wrap Interior Protection, HailAppointments, HailStrike, Kyocera Solar, Peak Fall Protection, Solar Energy International, and Storm Leads.
Greg Morrow, president of first-time exhibitor FlashCo Manufacturing Inc., a maker of roof flashing products, said they were very impressed.
“I was absolutely blown away by the overwhelming positive response,” Morrow said. “The number of attendees that were decision-makers exceeded my expectations. This was the best trade show FlashCo ever did.”
Bill Good, executive vice president of show sponsor National Roofing Contractors Association, said his group heard good things from visitors at its 800-square-foot trade show booth.
“Reports from exhibitors of solid business, coupled with rave reviews from attendees about the show floor and educational offerings make this show a real success,” Good said.
Every morning, before the show opened, the expo attendees had the chance to take one or more of the 43 seminars on industry issues.
New attendee Rayson Sanchez of Millennium Roofing & Construction LLC said they were worthwhile.
“We brought a team of four to the IRE for the seminars,” Sanchez said. “The things we learned totally changed the way we do business.”
‘Brandstanding'One well-attended session was “Brandstanding - Stand Up and Stand Out,” given by Rodney Menzel of GreatWay Roofing Inc., based in Southern California.
Roofing was not always where Menzel saw his future, he told the audience of his Feb. 23 session. He decided to try roofing after finding a career in banking less than fulfilling. He started out calling his company Great American Roofing, but quickly found there were numerous companies in his territory with very similar names: All-American Roofing and the Great American Roofing Co. among them.
He couldn’t differentiate himself in the crowded Southern California market.
“To get somebody’s attention, you have to be different,” Menzel said. “Radically different.”
He enlisted the help of a Seattle-based marketing firm. They asked what his long-term goals were and who the company’s target audience was.
Through the process, Menzel said he discovered that “branding” was not a logo or the result of advertising.
“A ‘brand’ is a person’s gut feeling about a product, service or company,” he explained. It’s like your reputation; it’s only what others say it is.
Menzel told the marketing experts that he wanted to be known for quality, attention to detail and a professional image.
New beginningsThe result: the end of Great American Roofing and the beginning of GreatWay Roofing, with the slogan “Expect a great experience.”
He repainted his work trucks with the logo and slogan and overhauled his website.
“(That) was expensive too, but I will tell you it’s well worth it,” he said.
A new website boosted his visibility on search engines such as Google.
But no matter how good the new slogan and branding was, the experience for its customers did not match the rhetoric.
“We were going out and saying how great we were,” he said, adding they quickly realized they really weren’t.
“Everything was OK, but it wasn’t ‘great,’ ” he said.
The company usually cleaned up after itself on jobsites and often - but not always - brought all the tools it needed.
He set to work to change that. He ensured company trucks were clean and homeowners’ property was as neat when GreatWay employees left as when they got there. He ensured employees wore neat shirts and khaki pants.
Looks countThe difference in customers’ expectations was quick and noticeable.
“The way you look changes everything,” Menzel said.
He even bought a portable toilet so his employees would not have to bother homeowners by asking to use the bathroom.
GreatWay instituted a six-point pledge on pricing, honesty, accuracy and other issues important to customers.
It worked. Business went way up.
“The more you ‘wow,’ the more they talk,” he said of customers.
They encouraged people to write positive comments of the company on the Internet.
“We strive for people to go on to Angie’s List, we strive for people to go on to Google and write a review about us,” he said.
Although the new ways of doing business were not all easy, Menzel said the company had no choice.
“If we didn’t make the changes … we would not be here today,” he said.
Marketing tipsMarketing expert Dave Harrison also recommended contractors make changes in his Feb. 24 seminar, “Sales and Marketing: World-Class Approaches That Generate Extraordinary Results.” A former chief marketing officer at roofing materials company GAF, he gave attendees dozens of marketing tips.
Don’t think of yourself as selling a roof, Harrison said.
“You are in the business of helping people buy ‘experiences,’ ” he said. “People buy emotionally.”
The key, he said, is to build trust. Many salespeople go about that the wrong way. They spend too much time “telling” and don’t “share.”
We share with friends, people we trust, Harrison said.
“For people to buy from you, they have to trust you,” he added. “Believe that you are doing something special.”
A great way to build that trust is to offer educational seminars - without selling anything - to neighborhood groups. “The Top 10 Ways Home Improvement Contractors Rip Off Seniors” is a topic likely to generate interest among chambers of commerce, rotary clubs and similar groups.
People who work in the roofing industry are not held in high regard, according to polls, Harrison said. Giving consumer-oriented speeches is a good way to change that.
“Great selling is about great helping,” he said. “The key to being world-class is to forget (customers) are strangers. Act like a friend; not like a stranger.”
Friends “explain”; strangers tell because they want to show off, Harrison said.
“The best (sales staffers) don’t even look like salespeople,” he said.
The old ways of marketing - direct mail, the Yellow Pages - don’t work as well today. Try new things, he urged attendees. Try giving free roof inspections in exchange for putting a lawn sign advertising your company on homeowners’ property.
Other tips from Harrison:
• “Keep things visual. People can see 25 percent faster than they can hear.”
• “Always take notes. The notes you don’t take potentially communicate something you don’t want (to).”
For reprints of this article, contact Jill DeVries at (248) 244-1726 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.