In the past year, I've conducted meetings with roofing contractors in different parts of the country. Here are some of the issues they're most aware of.

The rising cost of liability insurance and workers' comp. I've talked with contractors who, without ever having had a prior claim, were simply dropped by their carrier. I've also talked with contractors who've experienced a 100% jump in their premiums over the past three years. It's frustrating for the guy who runs a tight ship when suddenly his premiums go from $47,000 to $87,000 for no apparent reason. I'm not surprised, then, that a lot of roofing contractors try to reclassify themselves as remodelers so they can pay a lower workers' comp rate. Rates for roofers are unbelievable.

Finding and retaining good employees. It takes a long time to find and train a good employee. Then, once you've got him up and running, he's your new competitor. It happens all the time. People handle it in different ways. Some have employees sign noncompete clauses. Some expand to give employees new opportunities. Some put a plan of succession in place so that employees have an opportunity to grow toward greater responsibility. It's an ongoing problem.

Job safety. A lot of residential roofing guys think the safety issue is a nuisance, and if they have a safety plan it's either because somebody had an accident or OSHA did a drive-by and they weren't using proper equipment. Yet zero accidents is a goal small contractors should try to achieve, and a safety plan would be a real benefit for most small roofing contractors. It's like wearing a seat belt: If you've ever been in a car accident and had one on, you were glad you did.

Licensing and/or the lack thereof. I spent 20 years as a sales manager in Texas, a nonregulated state where there is no licensing of roofers or remodelers. I saw a lot of political effort there by the roofers association to get licensing. The thinking is that if everybody had to carry insurance and meet minimum licensing requirements, it would rein in the fly-by-nighters.

Service and warranty issues. Looking for a different and better way to get into someone's living room and deliver your message without being irritating? Here's where after-care and warranty issues come in. Some guys look at warranty and after-care as part of the job to begin with. Some offer workmanship warranties of 10 or even 20 years. Should there be any issue with the work, they go back and repair and replace as needed. With so many double-income homes and single moms, with people having greater work commitments and less time to commit to service and maintenance projects for their homes, this is a marketing opportunity. Unfortunately, while many roofing manufacturers are now moving in the direction of extended warranties, contractors aren't as enthused.

Business on the Internet. My sense is that somewhere between 40% and 60% of guys doing business as professional roofers are using the Internet. Within that group there's every level of engagement, from an e-mail address to a sophisticated Web site. There are discussion forums, bulletin boards, and chat lines where contractors can go to share information. This resource wasn't around 10 years ago. Five years ago, everybody was predicting that people would be buying roofing on the Internet. It didn't happen. What we've seen, though, is consumers doing a lot of research. The first thing they often want to know is, Does this guy have a Web site? They often make their decision on which contractor to use based on whether the person they encounter matches up with the image on the computer screen. This is only going to be more of a factor, because almost everyone under 40 is Internet-savvy. —Bo Jackson is contractor marketing manager for the exteriors systems business of Owens Corning.

Does your company have a business practice or installation technique to share with the industry? Call Jim Cory at 215.923.9810 or e-mail