My first exposure to low-slope roofing was back in 1999 as CertainTeed completed its acquisition of GS Roofing, a company boasting a national footprint of steep- and low-slope roofing products. The procurement of GS Roofing’s business launched CertainTeed, now a member of the Saint-Gobain family of brands, from a regional shingle manufacturer to a national player in the roofing industry.

Thankfully for many of us, much of the "low-slope talent" that enabled GS to succeed brought their expertise to CertainTeed to educate the rest of us. For some historical context, at that time, self-adhered membrane applications were still several years off from being on the market; the primary products used included hot-mop, built-up roofing, and cold-applied, torch-modified bitumen membranes.

I’ve never forgotten one of my earliest interactions with one of our new "low-slope" experts on a job site — the site, in this case, was CertainTeed’s headquarters. As we walked across the complex, he stopped me and asked, “Do you smell that?” The question was rhetorical as he answered, “That’s the smell of money!”

What we were smelling — emulsified petroleum vapor — was the hot-mopped asphalt being used on the BUR system of our building. I loved his enthusiasm, which sparked a new way of thinking about our business.

In a sense, he was right, despite that familiar but still noisome odor. For us manufacturers, asphalt meant “work, progress and profitability.”

Until about a year ago, there was an IKO plant several miles from my home, and when you smelled asphalt in the air, you knew the plant was in production, which was a good indicator for the industry.

But to most people greeted by the tangy smell of sulfur, whether inside CertainTeed’s headquarters or my neighbors living near the IKO plant, the smell was far from what they would describe as “money.” More often, reactions were like: “What is that smell?” “Is it going to affect me?” “Can that be healthy to breathe?” Those things are more likely to go through people’s minds and, without proper information, can lead to concern.

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I also worked in the healthcare field, and one day, contractors showed up to paint the standing seam metal roof, which left a horrible stench wafting throughout the building. One woman, expecting a child, left shortly after the first hints of odor hit her nostrils, worried because she was unsure how the "smell" could affect her fetus’ health. That concern, and her quick departure, were the catalyst required before the painters informed us of what impact, if any, the odor could have on our health. Lesson learned.

And, yes, as most readers will have concluded by now, both mother and, months later, baby Curtis, were OK.

Times Have Changed

Unfortunately, today, we live in a highly litigious society. Those scenarios above would unlikely go unnoticed by a subset of ambulance-chasing lawyers looking to gain compensation for their clients’ perceived injuries.

This, my supplier friends, is where you step into the breach.

Last month I talked about suppliers' critical role in helping their contractors prepare for difficult conversations with homeowners about price increases. While not fun, it’s an essential part of the job.

Today, I’m bringing potential “business-saving” conversations with your contractors to your attention: If you are lazy about the details, your customers may pay the price in the long run. It all comes back to simple, proactive communication in which you play a critical supporting role.

Here are four things to consider:

  1. Think like a consumer. As you are prepping an order for your contractor, think of the job and how it may or may not impact the occupant (homeowner) and consider the following pinch points: odor issues; obstructive scaffolding and ladders; loud and disruptive noises; having to close or block access to certain areas, etc.
  2. Safety first. Think of every conceivable safety concern an occupant might have, and then make sure your contractor is equipped with the proper signage and communication materials to address potential issues. If you don’t have all the answers, return to the product manufacturers for MSDS sheets and any other information that can support an open line of responsible communication.
  3. Safety second. It also doesn’t hurt to remind your customer (the contractor) of any additional PPE support needed for crew safety.
  4. Preparation. Ensure the contractor and/or project manager is well-prepared to brief the building owner and its occupants on any issues before starting the job. If you have a marketing or communications professional on staff, have that person support the contractor in preparing materials; it would be a tremendous added-value resource for your customers. If your company isn’t equipped with a communications professional, there are any number of skilled vendors and outside support professionals who can assist you.

Ultimately, it’s about the safety and well-being of the contractor, the crews, and the building occupants. But it is also about how you, the supplier, can support your contractor so they may be proactive, professional and responsible with their clients. It will earn you contractor loyalty in the long run and, hopefully, prevent unwanted or unwarranted legal action.