SAN ANTONIO — Headed in the right direction. That sums up the attendance for this year’s International Roofing Expo.

Organizers Hanley Wood Exhibitions said 8,491 people came to the Feb. 5-7 event at the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center in San Antonio, an increase of 1.3 percent over 2012 figures. 2013 also marked the third-straight year of increased attendance, officials said.

“There was a noticeable energy on the show floor among the attendees and exhibitors,” said Lindsay Roberts, expo group director. “The energy was evident throughout the show, solidifying the IRE as the industry’s most trusted source for leading-edge products, education and networking.”

For the keynote speech, the expo booked former astronaut and U.S. Navy Capt. Mark Kelly. Perhaps best known as the spouse of former Arizona congresswoman and shooting victim Gabrielle Giffords, Kelly discussed his wife’s recovery as well as his long military career.

Expo attendees came from all 50 U.S. states and around the world, including large numbers from Canada, China, Mexico and Germany.

Positive comments

Christopher Knott came to the show from the Canadian province of Ontario. The sales manager at Cherry and Clark Roofing in Mississauga said he was impressed by what he saw.

“I attended the show for the great sessions as well as gaining better insight into new and existing products,” he said. “IRE is a must-attend event for any roofing contractor serious about their business and gaining the competitive edge.”

Among the other international attendees was Rey S. Batomalaque, president at Colorsteel Systems Corp.

“I attended the show for both the seminar and the exhibits, which provided information and updates for our metal roofing business in the Philippines,” Batomalaque said. “IRE is indeed a great experience outside Asia.” 

There were 987 booths at this year’s expo, a 6 percent hike over 2012 numbers. Seventy-two of the 410 exhibitors had never shown at the roofing expo before.

Among the happy exhibiting companies was Advanced Estimating Systems.

“This show had the best turnout in over five years,” said spokesman Dave Chapman. “This show paid for itself on the very first day.”

Dean Logan of Labor Sync was similarly pleased.

“I found the show to be exactly what I have been looking for,” said first-time exhibitor Dean Logan of Labor Sync. “Attendance was great and the response to our product was phenomenal.”

Al Saiz of Saiz Tool Co. said this year’s International Roofing Expo was better than he thought it would be.

“The show was great; much more than I expected,” he said. “I had non-stop attendees at my booth and excellent leads.”

As in past years, organizers grouped many metal roofing-related companies into the “Metal Marketplace,” which had 76 booths showing designs, panels and tools.

Educational opportunities

Off the trade show floor, Hanley Wood scheduled 44 educational seminars on topics such as money management and green construction.

Allen Lancaster, president at Metalcrafts, liked what he saw.

“I was very pleased with the business education programs that I was able to attend,” he said. “I received verification that a lot of what we were doing in our business was what was being recommended.”

Among the well-attended sessions was “Cashing Out and Moving On: An Owner’s Roadmap to Exiting Their Business.”

Kevin Kennedy, the founder and owner of Beacon Exit Planning LLC, told attendees of his Feb. 6 statistics-filled session that they need to remember a simple truth when selling their companies: “It’s not how much you get; it’s how much you keep.”

The key is to avoid getting clobbered by taxes when you sell.

Too many company owners lack exit plans, he said. Some owners believe they are irreplaceable. They’re wrong.

“Each and every one of you will be exit your business — voluntarily or involuntarily,” Kennedy said.

No exit

But most owners don’t handle it very well. Only 30 percent of people who attempt to exit their companies do it successfully.

“If you’re common with most owners, you have 70 percent of your wealth trapped inside your business,” he said.

Kennedy speaks with experience. His first attempt to exit his construction company didn’t work.  He attempted to do it himself, without a plan. It ended up costing him $250,000.

One problem, he said, is most contractors have no idea what their company is really worth. Another is that many try to sell to a competitor. But selling to the competition rarely works. Fewer than 5 percent of people are able to pull it off. Less than 20 percent are able to sell their companies to anybody.

Joseph Bazzano, a certified public accountant with Beacon Exit Planning, told the audience that they need to put their exit plans on paper. Those that don’t almost certain to have an uncomfortable retirement.

“One of the biggest (problems) in this industry is fear of outliving your money,” Bazzano said. “The idea is happiness, right? That’s the main goal here.”

He suggested having a professional appraisal done to determine the value of your company. And understand that the value will likely be different depending on whether it is to be sold to a private equity group, bought out by management or gifted to your children.

“When you are talking about appraisals, start thinking about your company as an investment,” he said.

Social engagement

It seems no conference these days can get away with not including at least one session on the fast-growing world of social media and Internet marketing.

For the roofing expo, this year’s session — “Social Media and the Digitally Empowered Client,” was hosted by Chris Marentis, founder and CEO at Surefire Social.

Marentis likes to compare Internet marketing to a giant math equation. Getting the answer right equals online success.

Despite the Internet now moving beyond its original incarnation into something some call “Web 2.0,” many construction companies still don’t understand the power of what was once called the information superhighway

“All of your customers are looking for your services on the Internet,” Marentis said. 

But the era when just you linked everything back to your home page is gone. You need to have dedicated, specific links that encourage potential customers to act.

Visuals and information are still essential. Marentis recommends you encourage customers to post positive comments on review websites such as Yelp and upload videos that feature your company to YouTube.

It doesn’t have to take a lot of time, he added.

“If you do one to two reviews a month or one to two pictures a month, you will be so far ahead of your competition,” he said. “Start trying stuff. The key is to get in the game and start doing things.”

Fresh content is key, but don’t try to game the system, Marentis cautioned. Google looks for fake reviews, and you could hurt your search results. Most review sites no longer permit anonymous posts.

“The whole thing for this new Web world is it has to look natural,” he said.

And while some say that the heyday of blogs has passed, Marentis disagrees.

“Having a blog on your site is probably the biggest thing you can do for visibility,” he said.

 He recommends regularly monitoring your website traffic to ensure its reaching your search engine optimization goals, he said. Consider outsourcing much of your social media work.

If you only have time for one social media medium, make it Facebook, he said. If you are just starting out in online social marketing, “Twitter is probably the last thing on your agenda.”

For reprints of this article, contact Renee Schuett at (248) 786-1661 or email schuettr@bnp