LAS VEGAS — The numbers for 2010’s METALCON International were up from the year before — and in this economy, that made organizers pretty happy.
Official figures peg attendees at 5,445, representing contractors, fabricators and suppliers from 50 countries. About 300 companies exhibited during the Oct. 20-22, 2010, trade show at the Las Vegas Convention Center. And that was enough to please show director Claire Kilcoyne.
“The number of visitors was about 200 more than the 2009 show in Tampa, but the buying power was higher than ever,” Kilcoyne said. “The positive response from exhibitors was evident in the number of companies who signed up for 2011. We’re thrilled to have 87 percent of the 2010 exhibitors booked for next year’s show in Atlanta with 492 booths and more than 118,000 square feet of new product exhibits. We’ve always had a great relationship with exhibitors and it shows in our consistently high rate of returning exhibitors. This year in particular the number of companies signing up early and the serious buying power of attendees indicate a positive outlook not just for this show but the industry as a whole.”
This year marked the show’s 20th anniversary. Longtime exhibitor Bill Coleman, vice president of MBCI, a Houston-based maker of metal roofing and walls, said his company was happy with the show. “Our leads from this show surpassed last year’s and the level of interest was much higher than before,” he said.
MBCI is one of just 25 companies that have exhibited at the show since its inception.
A number of new exhibitors said they were similarly successful. That included Brian Nelson of Knight Wall Systems in Deer Park, Wash., who was showcasing a rain-screen product. “We had great traffic,” he said. “There was a large diversity of people, including architects, contractors, engineers, and manufacturers. We even had an architect drop off some drawings so we could bid on a job for him.”
Officials with another first-time exhibiting company, Sierra Metals, said they had a great experience at the show. “It was very successful for us,” said Andy Russo, president and chief executive of the Henderson, Nev., company. “The first day of the show we had so many visitors we couldn’t talk with everyone who stopped by our booth. We have leads from architects, vendors and contractors, which represent all of our primary audiences.”
In addition to the trade show, METALCON organizers arranged 33 educational sessions, most of which took place in the mornings before the show floor opened each day.
The first time Frank Farmer, president of Flint, Mich.-based American Metal Roofs, spoke to METALCON attendees in 2002, his new company was earning handsome profits selling roofing to the owners of upscale homes in the counties north of Detroit.
Thanks to easy access to home equity and surging home values, many of Farmer’s customers could afford to pay cash for their new metal roofs. American Metal Roofs was even featured in Fortune magazine.
Fast-forward a few years and it was very different story. Michigan’s economy had been battered for much of the decade with its foundation industry — automobiles — suffering through bankruptcies that claimed General Motors and Chrysler along with numerous smaller automotive suppliers.
With unemployment rising to levels not seen in decades, the state’s home values started to decline, making it tougher to tap equity to pay for improvements. And then the U.S. housing and banking crises hit, wiping out years of appreciation in home prices and making credit hard to secure.
American Metal Roofs was in trouble.
“We had choices to make,” Farmer said at this year’s session. “Serious choices.”
The way he saw it, his company had three options: do nothing and hope for a turnaround; make small, temporary changes in the way it operated; or focus on areas of likely growth that complemented its core business.
The do-nothing option was popular among many contractors in the state, he said. Michigan’s cyclical economy had often quickly bounced back in the past. But that did not happen this time. Many construction companies went out of business or left the state.
Farmer was determined to not let that happen to American Metal Roofs.
“We had to set ourselves aside from everybody else who went into a home,” he said. “We had to reinvent who we were.”
For his company, Farmer decided offering high-performance venting, insulation and solar energy systems would be the best way to stand out. And that meant making homeowners see the value in a thorough attic inspection and the need for good ventilation and insulation.
Well-vented attics lower consumers’ utility bills and can inhibit mold growth. By adding insulation, homeowners could qualify for tax credits. And for American Metal Roofs, such add-on sales were easy to make and high profit.
And there was another benefit, Farmer added. “We saw we were selling more metal roofs by solving a ventilation problem,” he said.
Solar energy was another area where Farmer saw opportunities — but not in the way it was typically marketed. Farmer said he went to trade shows where solar energy was featured, but left many of them shaking his head. Too much of the industry’s marketing and public image was rooted in the 1970s.
“When consumers were asked about solar, they said it was ugly,” Farmer said, adding that he did not like a roof full of black, rectangular panels, either.
The key, he said, was to devise an easy-to-install, yet attractive, solar system and take the fear and mystery out of the product. The company stressed the energy savings that came with the solar panels.
Salespeople were able to sell the product, dubbed “Freedom Solar Roofing,” to customers who might one day also be interested in metal roofing.
The effort was so successful it allowed American Metal Roofing to avoid the widespread layoffs that plagued so many other contraction companies in the region.
Sun Shines on Solar Bay
For the second consecutive year, the increased awareness of the value of pairing metal and solar systems was reflected in METALCON International’s Solar Bay, which showcased the benefits of solar technology with metal roof and wall systems. Daily education sessions covering product selection, system design, installation, and funding drew steady crowds and constant traffic flow to Solar Bay and surrounding exhibits. METALCON’s educational conference also featured seven programs focused on solar and roofing applications.
Keith Lipps, Vice President of sales and marketing for Colorado Springs-based S-5!, helped develop many of Solar Bay’s programs. “There was standing room only for Solar Bay presentations and the questions from visitors to were all about how to get into the market and how to fund the systems. There definitely is more interest in solar this year. We could tell that by the number of people who stopped at our booth asking about solar,” he said.
Another active spot was the MCA Demo area where daily live-action demos provided insight on the latest roof and wall technologies and trends. This year the demos were configured differently. In addition to the series of daily live demonstrations, each of three areas dedicated to residential roofing, commercial roofing, and wall panels were open for attendees to walk through and have one-on-one discussions with experts who presented the demos. Attendees also saw hands-on tool demos and were able to test commercial grade tools for drilling, sawing, cutting, bending, and fastening.
All those who attended METALCON had a chance to cast their vote for the best new product on display in New Product Harbor. The winner was the Ultimate Bracket, one of three brackets for standing seam metal roofs produced by Metal Plus LLC, Winsted, Conn.
METALCON is sponsored by The Metal Construction Association and more than 100 related industry organizations and publications. The 2011 METALCON runs from Oct. 11-13, 2011, at the Georgia World Congress Center in Altanta. For more information about exhibiting or attending METALCON, visit www.metalcon.com or call 800-537-7765.