Where Will the Challenges Be? The Opportunities?
As we emerge from the holidays and head into the new year, it's a great time to reflect on what we learned in 2017 and look forward to what's to come in 2018. There were a few key themes we noticed, reflecting on our interactions with building and remodeling professionals in Michigan and Ohio over the last year:
Labor Continues to be a Challenge
Finding and retaining skilled labor remains a challenge. The Great Recession saw a generation of new workers essentially pass on our industry from 2008 to 2012. Now as the economy has rebounded, everyone is scrambling to fill labor positions. Low unemployment (4.1% in October) compounds the issue, making it more challenging to hire and retain top talent. From local community programs like Grand Rapids' MiCareerQuest to state-wide initiatives like the Going Pro program (see video), many efforts are underway to make our industry attractive to the next-generation workforce. In the meantime, contractors unable to increase capacity must find new ways to work more efficiently and increase profitability on every sale to grow their business.
Despite the labor challenges, there was a lot of optimism surrounding our industry in 2017. Right out of the gate, there was quite a bit of buzz surrounding Spring Show season - our biggest ever, with over 2,700 attendees representing over 1,000 different companies! People were ready to work, and first-time and long-time homeowners were ready to buy - making for a robust Spring, Summer, and Fall for builders and remodelers all across Michigan and Northern Ohio.
NAHB’s Remodeling Market Index showed that the majority of Midwestern remodelers have felt that market conditions have improved every quarter in 2017 (based on Q1-Q3 data).
Additionally, we all benefited from prolonged warm weather stretching well into October, making for a great opportunity for contractors to work down backlogs and book new business, versus past years when there may well have already been snow on the ground.
Innovation Provides New Opportunities
Advancements in technology are changing the way contractors sell and do business - from new options in materials to mobile tools that assist in measuring and selling jobs. It all adds up to a lot of new ways for savvy contractors to create an "unfair advantage".
Major shingle manufacturers like CertainTeed and GAF have recently developed SBS-modified shingles, whose flexibility and granule retention can better withstand the freeze-thaw cycle of the Midwest. It makes for a great sales demonstration too - allowing homeowners to flex an SBS shingle side-by-side with a standard shingle makes a powerful impression. If you didn't try SBS shingles in 2017, you'll want to check them out in the coming year as they get adopted into sales presentations by more and more contractors.
Advancements in vinyl siding manufacturing have allowed manufacturers to offer more dark colors than ever before. Dark is in - homeowners love the look of a dark exterior accented with bright trim. When you sell siding, the feature differences and nuances between .042 this and .044 that will not resonate with your clients as much as color choice. Dark colors started appearing in manufacturers' high end (.046+) offerings many few years ago, but recently have migrated down to .044 and even .042 offerings as the manufacturing process has become more economical. Some manufacturers, like Mastic Home Exteriors, are even debuting new dark colors exclusively in their economy lines! Be sure to augment your exteriors portfolio with dark vinyl offerings.
It's not just tech advancements in materials, but tools as well. Tech companies are discovering new ways to save contractors time and money through technology. Aerial measurement can be used to obtain accurate material estimates without ever setting foot on the roof. Visualization technologies allow salespeople to demonstrate roofing and siding products realistically on clients' actual homes. There are dozens of apps available for running leads and costing jobs. Drones are being used for purposes ranging from estimating and inspection to capturing breathtaking imagery for marketing. Savvy roofers are shifting advertising dollars away from yellow pages and into targeted Facebook and Google ads.
2018: Let's do this!
2018 is looking a lot like 2017. A steady economy should provide no shortage of opportunity for work, while the labor shortage will continue to be a challenge. Innovation in manufacturing and mobile technology will create new opportunities to set your offering apart from the competition, increase sales, and work more efficiently than ever before. It's truly an exciting time to be in our industry... here's to a prosperous 2018!
At Wimsatt, we're always excited to share new innovations and opportunities in exterior building materials. Subscribe to our monthly e-newsletter, the Gold Standard Post, to stay on top of what's happening!
About Dave Karras
Dave Karras is the Marketing Manager at Wimsatt Building Materials.