The Latino community is said to make up more than half of those working in the roofing industry, yet only a small fraction of them are business owners. It’s a discrepancy that, thanks to the efforts of roofing manufacturers and distributors, is changing for the better.
Roofing Contractor’s 2022 State of the Industry report shows the vast majority of its respondents (93%) are white, while 6% are Hispanic or Latino. Around 69% all respondents listed themselves as either executive or general management.
Julissa Chavez, program manager for Latino sales and marketing at SRS Distribution, estimates about 57% of the roofing population is Latino, but 10% to 20% of roofing business owners belong to the community. She said, however, that this percentage is only increasing, with more workers climbing the ladder to become managers and owners.
“Because we’ve already seen those transitions within the industry, it prompted us to say we want to be the first distribution partner to talk to that customer and loyalty as we know these changes are happening,” she said.
Anyone who attended the International Roofing Expo in the past two years saw clear evidence of this growth. The “Para Latinos” booth debuted in 2022, offering a space where presentations were held in Spanish. This past year, the booth’s programs, along with the number of sponsors and partners, expanded. More than 1,000 attendees entered the lounge during the three-day event.
None of this happened by chance. It’s the result of members of the Hispanic community within roofing stepping up and offering solutions that speak to the Latino community – figuratively and literally – and roofing suppliers can be an integral part of this effort.
The Makings of a Movement
Around 13 years ago, Alan Lopez took a chance and applied to GAF, one of the largest roofing manufacturers in the country, to join its Center for Advancement of Roofing Excellence [CARE] training team. An immigrant from Mexico living in the U.S. since age 16, he earned a degree in Spanish literature as well as history from the University of Utah, all while occasionally working at a roofing company.
“[GAF was] asking for three requirements: somebody that knew how to train, someone that was bilingual, and somebody that knew roofing,” he said. “I was confident I had two out of the three, so I applied.”
Lopez’s career took off, starting with training efforts on the West Coast before switching to the Midwest. In 2018, he approached GAF with the idea of helping Hispanic roofing workers with business development, as most training for them centered on installation. He said at the time, of GAF’s 3,000-plus certified and Master Elite contractors, less than 5% were Hispanic owners.
“It became very apparent that we were the highest ethnicity represented in the roofing industry, yet we were the minority when it came to ownership of business,” he said. “We weren’t focusing on developing them as business owners like we do with the English speakers, and I decided to take a shot.”
GAF agreed, making him manager of bilingual CARE training operations. When thinking of what difficulties face Latino roofing contractors, language is likely to be at the forefront, but Lopez knew it went deeper than that. He explained that members of the Hispanic community can be slow to trust, so by having Hispanic trainers who present in Spanish, it helps establish confidence between companies and contractors.
“By just simply affirming to them that we understood who they were as Hispanics and honoring and celebrating that diversity, that opened the door to the second and third generation [Hispanics], but also open the door and allowed us to do even more business with those contractors that we already had,” he said. “They felt better represented, they felt GAF cared, they felt GAF understood who they were.”
This trust can then be extended to the distributors who are willing to offer training and seminars in Spanish.
“Distribution is great because those that believe in what GAF does, they don’t have a problem bringing GAF in because GAF isn’t going to tell them ‘Hey, come to GAF, leave brand A or C.’ What GAF is going to do is help them build their business, build their reputation, and they’re going to continue buying from them, but then the contractor is going to make that change naturally,” he said.
Distributors Making a Difference
With the success of GAF’s program, others have taken notice and are doing what they can to support the Latino community. SRS Distribution entered the arena around the end of 2020 with its “Para Latinos” program, hiring Chavez to serve as program manager for Latino sales and marketing. Working as a territory manager in Atlanta, she was charged with reaching out to the Latino community for business opportunities. She reached out to Lopez for assistance, as GAF was the only entity at the time focusing on business development for Latinos.
“Prior to us coming to them and saying ‘What do you guys have and what are you guys doing,’ there wasn’t a lot,” Chavez said.
The programs have helped remove roadblocks for the community. Similar to other ethnicities, Hispanic workers entering the roofing industry lean toward the trades versus academics, so they may not have a fleshed out background in business education. Lopez said the training ranges from “business 101” information to more specific ideas, such as how to successfully work a storm market, ways technology can help, and in-home sales training.
Naturally, all of this is presented in Spanish. The State of the Industry report shows the average percentage of senior management who speaks non-English languages is 20%, but respondents said Spanish is the most commonly spoken language, followed by English.
Chavez said even if Latinos are bilingual, creating spaces where information can be presented in their native language not only coveys concepts easier, it makes them more comfortable asking questions when they don’t understand something.
“A lot of these contractors are comfortable selling in English, but when it comes to us really understanding of the concept of offering financing, how do we do SEO and social media, some of that stuff needs to be communicated in Spanish, in your own native language,” she said. “Then you can run with it and go sell it in English.”
It’s not a matter of simply translating roofing terminology through Google Translate or AI systems. Chavez said depending on the region, non-English speakers may have different words they use for products or items. To remedy this, SRS has a hotline that allows customers to call and speak to someone in their own language.
By working with distributors, the Latino-based programs have grown in size and success, reaching more of the Latino roofing community each year. As a result, other distributors are looking to join the effort. Lopez said as of this year, GAF has been working with other suppliers like Beacon, Pacific Supplier and ABC Supply to have their own Latino-focused training programs.
“Partnering with distributors plays a big part of it, as they are the ones meeting and seeing these contractors,” he said.
Lopez warned, though, that approaching the Hispanic community isn’t merely plug-and-play. Roofing distributors who want to tap the Hispanic market – contractors and their customers alike – need to commit.
“If you’re going to jump into this and try to engage with the Hispanic community, it cannot just be everything you do in English translated and dump it,” he said. “It’s got to be methodical and you’ve got to plan it. If you want to embrace the community, you have to be a part of it.”
In addition to the Latinos in Roofing and Para Latinos, there is a contractor-led group known as “Latinos en Roofing” that is providing similar educational and networking opportunities. The group held a presentation at the 2022 Best of Success conference and shows no signs of slowing down.
“We try to partner with more companies, that way we can bring more knowledge to our friends,” said Amparo Sancen, principal and founder of Sancen Contracting, during the presentation. “We feel like a family. Every time we have an event, we try to support each other.”
Roofing Supply Pro Managing Editor Bryan Gottlieb contributed to this report.