NEW ORLEANS — The weather in this party-loving city on the Mississippi River wasn’t very conducive to the fun times this historic city is known for during this year’s International Roofing Expo. Rain fell throughout the three-day conference.

But many of the contractors who came here Feb. 24-26 didn’t seem to mind too much. As roofers, they’re used to working in all types of weather. The official tally said 9,337 people came to the event, which featured one of the event’s most populated trade shows in recent history. Altogether, the show took up 117,811 square feet of floor space.

“The trade show floor was the largest since the 2000 show,” said show director Tracy Garcia. “Exhibitors enjoyed steady traffic as they introduced hundreds of new and innovative products to high-caliber decision-makers.”

Commercial and residential contractors, remodelers, builders, owners, managers and manufacturers, architects and engineers came to browse the aisles of the Morial Convention Center and take in the numerous educational opportunities the show offered.

Fifteen of the 25 largest roofing and construction companies were represented at the event, organizers said. Contractors from all 50 states were in attendance, with the greatest numbers traveling from Louisiana, Pennsylvania, Texas, Illinois, Georgia, Ohio, Florida and Mississippi. International visitors were most commonly from Canada, Mexico and South Korea.

Busy floor

They had a chance to browse 1,178 exhibitor booths — a 13 percent spike from last year’s figures. Metal roofing, along with sheet metal works machinery, adhesives and sealants, was a major focus. The show again had a metal marketplace where many of the metal roofing equipment companies were grouped.

Of 465 exhibitors, 87 were exhibiting for the first time, including marketing firm Houzz, Ford Motor Co., Gaussan Technologies, Nissan’s commercial vehicle division, Roof Angel, Specialty Fastening Systems, Viewpoint Construction Software and Viking Barriers.

Nick Wood of exhibiting company JobNimbus, said he was happy.

“IRE 2015 was a huge success,” he said. “It exceeded our expectations by at least three times in terms of meeting new and existing customers and making great partner connections.”

Karen Edwards of EagleView Technologies said the International Roofing Expo is a show they don’t miss.

“The IRE is the most important show of the year for us to engage our customers in person and showcase our new products and technologies,” Edwards said. “We expect to see a great return on investment.”    

Among the new exhibitors was Lakeside Construction Fasteners.

“We have attended many construction trade shows in the past, and by far the IRE has been the most productive in terms of high attendance which has generated a great source of leads to grow future business,” said company spokesman Eric Velliquette.

First times

This year’s show was a new experience for many attendees — 42 percent of them were new.

“We had an awesome first year at the IRE,” said Cody Taylor of SupplyHog. “There were a lot of great vendors, great products and great people. This is an exciting time to be in the industry and we look forward to coming back next year.”  

Italian roofing company official Dino Vasquez said he was also impressed.

“My experience was fantastic because I have never seen such a large amount of roofing products together,” he said.

Many longtime attendees said they were also pleased.

“I have attended since 1980 and for a good reason — once each year I get to spend a few days gathering valuable information and resources,” said Alan Meier of Hi Tec Roofing Services. “It’s hard to imagine being in the roofing business and not being a member of the (National Roofing Contractors Association) or attending the IRE each year.”

Robert Andreu of Hunter Warfield said the expo is a must-see event for him.

“This was my seventh year attending and I feel the IRE continues to improve yearly,” Andreu said. “The location, vendors and show management each exceeded my expectations.”

It’s the kind of comments that Bill Good, executive vice president of show sponsor NRCA, which had an 800-square-foot trade show booth, isn’t surprised by.

“Business is strong within the roofing industry,” Good said. “The enthusiasm was evident throughout the buying and selling activity on the show floor.”

Education and inspiration

Before the show opened each day, expo organizers scheduled 44 educational seminars on topics such as business management and workplace safety.

Sheet metal works contractor Chris Adler of Adler Roofing and Sheet Metal said he always ensures his employees attend the classes.

“We brought seven members from our team,” Adler said. “We received really valuable information from the seminars that will help us improve our business, as well as protect our business as we move forward.”       

Rob Therrien of the Melanson Co. has a similar habit.

“I come to the IRE each year to reconnect with friends in the industry while getting the best roofing specific education from an extensive list of seminars offered each morning,” he said. “Each afternoon I visit the show floor to see the latest new innovations to come into our industry, from materials to safety, to help our team and our customers.”

Steve Pike of White Stone 1998 said he finds the seminars are full of useful information.

“The IRE show is extremely valuable to our company because the seminars are packed full of useful information that we can apply immediately and improve our bottom line in 2015,” he said. “We are very busy with our business, but this is time well spent with what we learned we are positioned to become a market leader.”

Among the popular sessions at this year’s conference was “How to Find, Train, Motivate and Retain Employees,” presented by Monroe Porter, president of Proof Consultants in Richmond, Va.

New company culture

It’s not easy employing people, Porter said.

“How many of you get discouraged by what employees do?” he asked the audience.

Workers need strong leadership, he said.

“If you don’t lead your jobs… the mavericks and the pain-in-the-butt people will,” he said. “Leadership is not optional.”

While it’s important to place trust in your staff, “Don’t assume your employees will do the right thing,” Porter said.

It’s important to remember when hiring that there are things you can train for — and things you cannot.

“You can change people’s behavior, but you can’t change people’s personality.”

And paying more does not keep most people happy, once they earn a certain amount, he added.

“Money has been proven to not be a particularly good motivator,” he said. “But the absence of money is a huge motivator. You have to pay a high enough wage to attract people. You’re going to have to have to pay more for entry-level employees.”

What does motivate people, Porter said, is the work environment, the amount of recognition employees receive and how well differences are respected.

“You must change your culture about recruiting employees,” he said. “You want to hire motivation and teach skill.” 

The misclassification mess

If you make use of a lot of independent contractors in your roofing company, state or federal officials could consider that a problem.

That was the message attorney Philip Siegel brought to his Feb. 26 session, “The Misclassification Issue: Understanding the Difference Between Employees and Independent Contractors.”

Simply issuing someone a No. 1099 tax form — as is typically done for nonemployees who are paid to perform work — instead of a W-2 does not make them independent contractors, he said.

“That does not get you through the issue,” Siegel said.

Using an independent contractor can save you 30 percent more in employee expenses, since regulations such as minimum wage laws and overtime pay typically do not apply. An added benefit: Employers are generally not liable for issues caused by independent contractors.

But if you are found to be misclassifying your workforce, be prepared to pay a lot in back pay, damages, attorney fees and fines.

A bill currently in Congress would require employers notify workers about the misclassification issue, although passage is unlikely, Siegel added.

Some states have more stringent requirements to prove someone is an independent contractor than current federal law, such as New York. There it is illegal to hire an independent contractor to perform the type of work the business is primarily engaged in. So a roofing company would not be able to use nonemployees to perform roofing work.

“If you’re relying on an independent contractor to do the bread-and-butter work of your company, they’re probably misclassified,” he said.

Do you provide tools, uniforms or other supplies to your independent contractors? That could be a problem, Siegel said.

“A true independent contractor… is going to provide everything they need,” he said. Employees typically are given supplies to do their jobs.

Organizations such as the National Labor Relations Board and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration have classification standards that each follows. Each uses slightly different standards.

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