In San Antonio, at the International Roofing Expo on Feb. 6, the crowd — five deep in the aisle — watched with fascination as a screen displayed what looked like a topographical map featuring strips of numbers.

What it’s all about, in a word, is hail. The numbers are the size of the hailstones, in inches.

Hail Strike’s second visit to the annual International Roofing Expo featured a “patent pending” system that draws on National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration radar data to plot the moment-by-moment movement of hailstorms in any locale, though hailstorms are mostly a South Central and North Central phenomenon.

What fascinated roofers attending the three-day trade show was a technological tool, available by subscription, that provides the opportunity to identify not just the scope and path of the storm — by duration and size of hailstone — but to plot out where the hail hit, neighborhood to neighborhood, and drill down right to individual properties.

Hot Topic

Hail Strike, two years old, wasn’t the only company charting hailstorms. Not far away a pair of meteorologists chatted with roofers, also five deep, in the booth of Weather Fusion, also two years old. Weather Fusion offers a similar service, similarly address-specific, and also available by subscription.

What has made companies such as Weather Fusion and Hail Strike possible, says Weather Fusion’s Matt Van Every, vice president of business development, is today’s enhanced computer power that can assemble, manage, and correlate vast quantities of data. The tool, he says, gives local contractors a means to compete with large national storm chasers who are already experts at tracking and following large weather systems and the damage they can bring.

Maximizing Efficiencies

Technology seemed much on the minds of attendees here. Five years ago the IRE was all about green roofing. This year vegetative roofs were passé, though “cool roofing” materials that deflect solar rays or block heat transfer through the roof were often in evidence.

Technology and the efficiencies it can bring to roofing management were more on the minds of many. Jeff Petrucci, owner of Bloomfield Construction, in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., an insurance restoration contractor mostly engaged in roof repair, says he and his roofing division manager Russ Enfield came to the show to, among other things, check out Labor Sync, a company offering a cloud-based time-keeping system that allows owners to monitor workforce activity anywhere at anytime by means of an app installed on smartphones or tablet computers.

Field guys like to give themselves a five-to-10-minute break every hour, Petrucci notes. “With two guys, it’s not a big deal. But when you get to 20, that’s a lot of money.”

Six months ago Dataforma, a company offering integrated software that tracks the customer acquisition and service process from leads to bids to sales and beyond, introduced an app for its ever more sophisticated product. That, said company president and COO Daryl Maronic, between well-attended presentations, is aimed at the growing number of roofers and subcontractor installers whose smartphones are the office in their pockets.

Maronic says he would guess that about 20% of roofing companies are using mobile phone technologies to render jobs virtually paperless. “In 10 years, 1% will still be using paper,” he anticipates.

Roofing on the Upswing

IRE attendance figures are two weeks from being finalized, but show management released preliminary numbers indicating that IRE square footage was up and the exhibitor count was holding roughly steady at 410 vendors. IRE, sponsored by the National Roofing Contractors Association and owned and managed by Hanley Wood, the company that publishes REPLACEMENT CONTRACTOR, was evidently benefiting from an uptick in roofing demand.

Demand for residential roofing fell 21% between 2005 and 2010, according to Hanley Wood chief economist Jonathan Smoke, in a well-attended presentation on identifying local prospects for roof replacement by customer type. Smoke noted that roofing sales in 2012 were “an improvement over 2011” and will be better still in 2013, when 4.5 million roof replacement projects will be completed. “The market will be close to fully recovered in three years,” Smoke predicted, citing the fact that existing home sales “are back to normal levels” and evidence of pent-up demand for home improvement projects such as roofing.

Roofers attending the show cited positive developments in their own markets. Bob Kulp, owner of Kulp's of Stratford, in Central Wisconsin, anticipates that both his residential and commercial business will be up in 2013, in part due to the new showroom his company opened in Wausau. “For the last two of three years,” Kulp says, roofers he knows “sat around talking about how bad the economy was. The way I see it, it’s going to be a good year for roofers.”