Standing seam metal roof

Last April, Miami metal roofing supplier Metal Master Shop sponsored its fourth metal roofing conference. Day One featured presentations about marketing and selling the product. Day Two offered attending installers the full-day hands-on course they needed to be certified to install metal.

Roxana Neira, who manages marketing and sales for Metal Master Shop, says that the conference was set up for 30 attendees—mostly roofers, but also some architects and even a civil engineer. Metal Masters squeezed in another five attendees but had to turn a number of people away, Neira says. The company’s October conference on metal roofing, also in Miami, is expected to draw 100 people, mostly roofers interested in offering the product.

Greater Demand

Sales at Metal Master Shop, which makes accessory items such as fascia covers and chimney caps as well as metal panels and flashing, are up 35% to 40% this year. “It’s crazy,” Neira says.

The operation started seven years ago with three employees. It now has 25. Although metal roofing is a regional product, and the Southeast U.S. is the region where its market share is greatest, what’s driving accelerated demand is the perception that metal will stand up to hurricane-force winds better than any other roofing material. Better than tile, better than asphalt shingles, at a fraction of the weight.

“In Florida it’s the strongest roofing you can use for high winds,” says Frank Istueta, owner of Istueta Roofing, in Miami. “We are in the high-velocity wind zone.” Fastened top to bottom, the standing seam panels that Istueta Roofing attaches to the roof deck using hidden fasteners are less likely to detach in high winds. Today 60% of the roofs sold and installed by Istueta Roofing, once primarily a tile and asphalt roofer, are metal, almost all of them mechanically locked standing-seam panels.

And roofers aren’t the only ones getting excited about metal. In York, Pa., Appleby Systems, a window and sunroom company with branches in the southeast corner of the state, is moving to finalize a marketing budget for the metal roofing shingle system it has been selling since the beginning of the year.

President John Kailian says that he was looking for a product that could fill the void left when basement and sunroom sales waned with the recession and its credit crunch. The need for re-roofing was evident everywhere the company does business, Kailian says, “but it’s tough to differentiate yourself when all these people are selling the same product,” that is, asphalt shingles.

“Metal roofing gives you a good price point without the hassles” of sunrooms, he points out. “You don’t have to get an electrician, obtain variances, or have engineer-stamped drawings.”

What They Know, What They Don’t

Tom Black, executive director of the Metal Roofing Alliance, an industry group consisting of both manufacturers and contractors, says that metal roofing’s share of the residential re-roofing market steadily grew from the mid-’90s right up to the 2008 recession, when slightly more than 10% of re-roofs were metal. That fell back to somewhere between 8% and 9%, he says, because steel-manufacturer advertising dried up during the economic downturn.

Homeowners are drawn to the product, Black notes, because they see it as the last roof they’ll ever have to fool with. “Durability drives sales,” he points out. But tradition has always been a barrier to even larger market share gains for metal roofing. According to the National Roofing Contractors Association, 80% of homes in the U.S. are roofed in asphalt shingles. And homeowners are unthinkingly prone to replace what they have with more of the same—unless someone’s marketing tells them that there are other options.

Installation Challenges

For Appleby, with a marketing budget in the double digits and a marketing operation well-honed from nearly four decades promoting window and sunroom sales, the challenge of metal roofing is more about the installation than generating interest among Pennsylvania homeowners.

Roofers’ workers’ compensation rates are among the highest in construction—nationally averaging 0.28 worth of premium for every dollar paid in gross wages. Right now Appleby Systems is using subcontractor crews to install because the company’s workers’ comp rates would rise dramatically if its employees were working on a roof. But in two years, Kailian believes, it’s likely that Appleby will be using employee crews as demand for metal roofing grows, fueled by the company’s TV and other advertising.

Black foresees that if home improvement companies, with their large marketing investment—and not just roofers—are offering the product, growth will be similar to that of other innovative building products such as fiber-cement siding, or even vinyl siding in its heyday, which established itself through a process of education driven by marketing. “There’s still a dearth of knowledge with the consumer,” Black says. At the moment, people find out about the metal roofing option only when they need a new roof. “A roof is not something they’re seeking out,” he says. “So our job is to raise awareness.”