One thing that always amazes us at the International Roofing Expo is the willingness among attendees to learn and try new things.
The construction and remodeling industries have been traditionally slow to move toward digitization, so at first glance you might not expect to see overwhelming interest in technology at a roofing convention.
However, the roofers we spoke with at IRE 2019 appear to be recognizing the efficiencies promised by new technology. In fact, many of them are wholeheartedly embracing multiple apps and other technology in their workflow.
Here are some insights from the conversations we had at the International Roofing Expo 2019:
Take-off and Measurement Apps are Rising in Popularity
Most roofing contractors we spoke with at IRE are using a combined take-off and measurement application of some sort to streamline their workflow. Many were even accustomed to using multiple platforms for these services depending on their specific goals with a customer.
Regardless of whichever app they used, the value proposition to roofers is straightforward: measurement apps help them measure and estimate the cost of roofing jobs quickly, without the need to climb on the roof or pull out the measuring tape.
Some measurement solutions involve taking several pictures of the property with a smart phone or drone, while others leverage pre-existing aerial imagery to automatically provide measurements without the need to even visit the home. The growth and variety of measurement apps is providing choice and convenience to roofers to streamline their workflow.
But measurement apps are not without complaints.
When discussing various measurement app alternatives, many roofers identified inaccuracy, slow turnarounds of information, and inefficient user experience of these apps as several downsides of current solutions.
Some measurement apps require on-site visits and multiple photographs (in the rain, wind and snow) while other measurement apps are shockingly inaccurate.
One contractor we spoke with said that a popular measurement app for quickly estimating roof squares caused him to order an extra 6 roof squares that were not even used on the project – that’s 600 square-feet of shingles!
But the number one complaint was speed.
Many contractors need measurements right away, and problems can arise when the measurement app takes days to provide measurements. One commercial roofer told us that he typically has only a small window of time to visit and measure restricted properties such as nuclear power plants or other sensitive areas – which means he needs measurements right away.
In the residential context, many roofing contractors spoke of the need to obtain measurements before or during visits with homeowners.
However, despite some complaints, the overwhelming opinion was that measurement apps are very useful, they are getting better every day, and they are here to stay. The fact that roofing contractors can speak to the pros and cons of the major measurement solutions just like they compare various roofing products is a telling sign to their value within the industry.
Manufacturer Loyalty Programs are Working
Over two-thirds of the roofing contractors we canvassed at IRE belong to at least one manufacturer loyalty program.
Most of those who did belong to a program tended to be monogamous when it came to manufacturers. In other words, they typically prefer one manufacturer’s products exclusively and appear to be generally very happy with their chosen brand of roofing products.
It’s hard to say what exactly drew these roofing contractors to a particular manufacturer. However, one thing we learned is that contractors really like it when manufacturers provide thoughtful resources to enhance their workflow or interaction with customers. These include promotions, free tools and services that either save them time and reduce cost, allow them to provide added value to customers, or simply quicken their workflow. Some manufacturers are starting to provide take-off and measurement services on their website or through a mobile app, which appears to be quite popular among roofing contractors.
Switching building products isn’t like switching telephone providers. There’s generally a very strong relationship between manufacturers and their preferred contractors that’s cultivated over years. In fact, many multi-generational contracting companies have a preferred brand engrained in their DNA.
It’s good to see that the manufacturer-to-contractor relationship is still strong and manufacturers are continuing to look for innovative ways to strengthen their relationship with contractors.
Roofers like drones
Drones were very popular at International Roofing Expo 2018, and the trend continued at IRE 2019.
Over half of roofing contractors and estimators we spoke with at the International Roofing Expo either had a drone or were in the market to purchase one.
The DJI series of drones was the most popular among the roofers we spoke with and the decision appears to usually come down to the Phantom or Mavic models. Contractors and estimators like how they can quickly deploy drones and obtain measurements through a pictometry service like Geomni. And with commercial drone sales projected to grow to $6.6 billion in 2020, such services and integrations will likely continue to grow.
In general, it’s tough to tell whether the rise in popularity of drones for roofing professionals is because of their utility or because they are fun. Many roofing contractors mentioned that they used their drones for both work and recreational purposes, so it appears to be a combination of both.
In any event, drones were popular at International Roofing Expo this year and we look forward to finding out how popular they are at IRE 2020.
Apps are Becoming Overwhelming
There’s never been more software, apps and services available to contractors to streamline their workflow and grow their business. However, some of the contractors we spoke with expressed their frustration about the amount of options out there.
For example, there are apps for take-off and measurement, visualization and design, estimation, contact management, marketing automation, lead generation and much more.
Each solution is generally quite affordable, but when taken together the costs can add up (especially considering most attendees have under $5m in annual sales). It seems likely that we will see more ventures that combine these services to provide an all-in-one solution for contractors that has a streamlined experience without the need to switch between different services.
Building material manufacturers already seem to be thinking in this direction (see above) by providing more and more tools on their websites to help their preferred contractors.
Overall, this year’s IRE exhibitors, attendees and event no doubt topped the previous. Though we gathered a great deal of information on the industry, our conversations revealed the best insights that weren’t all industry related either – we discovered the faces behind the industry and the motivations that drive them to grow it.
These key take-aways and the amazing experience interacting with each of them makes us excited for the year ahead and we look forward to seeing the trends develop and to the next IRE in 2020! We’ll be sure to see you again next year at IRE from February 4-6, 2020 in Dallas, TX!
Want to learn more about industry trends? Read our article on three trends that are making the construction industry more efficient.