The National Roofing Legal Resource Center (NRLRC) held its annual seminar in September; topics included a staggering array of emerging problems facing the roofing contractor community. For starters, lightweight structural concrete roof decks, a proposed Occupational Safety and Health Administration silica regulation and complying with the Affordable Care Act. During the seminar, I was struck by two simultaneous thoughts.
First, seminar attendees, which is to say our members, are smarter than ever. The quality of the discussions and questions was remarkable and covered a wide range of subject matter.
Second, they're smarter because they have to be. Call it the theory of roofing evolution. Roofing contractors now must contend with an unbelievable volume of government regulation, understand a complicated world of insurance, be tuned into federal and state legislative initiatives, and be prepared to explain roof system design to architects and project scheduling to general contractors. Oh, and in their spare time, they have to know how to apply seven or eight completely different types of roof systems.
It is tempting at such moments to long for the good old days when four or five manufacturers of built-up roofing products ruled the industry and (as we like to remember it) our problems were few and far between. But as college football coach Bobby Bowden noted, the good old days weren't so good if you were sitting in a dentist's chair.
In our case, the good old days weren't so good if you were tearing off a coal-tar pitch roof on a hot summer day.
What's happening in our industry, I think, is we're seeing a much clearer distinction between professional roofing contractors and others. It's a distinction born in part of necessity but also opportunity.
Our industry's customers need professional help when faced with complex decisions. They not only need to know how to keep their homes and buildings dry, but they also need to know the best roof systems to choose to save energy; the best roof systems to choose to protect the environment; and, yes, the best roof systems to choose to meet code, regulatory and insurance requirements.
In other words, when our world becomes more complex, professional roofing contractors become providers of expert (and complex) assistance. That provides a huge opportunity for professionals to differentiate themselves. And it helps to move the roofing industry a few small steps away from its natural tendency toward commoditization.
There's an important, straightforward role in all of this for NRCA, NRLRC and other industry associations: continue to attract the best and brightest in the industry, educate and train them, and promote the increasing value of professionalism.
This is at the heart of NRCA's agenda. And we look forward to the journey.
Bill Good is NRCA's executive vice president.