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By Gary Thill
While some of the top roofers report minimal impact from coronavirus and remain optimistic about the rest of 2020, most roofers have seen a decline in sales. At the same time, roofers are struggling to understand how best to protect employees amid equipment supply shortages while maintaining their business. And even though questions remain, many are reaching out for — and in some cases receiving — new government assistance.
Those were the key takeaways from an April 14th NRCA call-in townhall that drew about 6,000 roofers. Hosted by NRCA CEO Reid Ribble, the townhall’s panel featured Doug Duncan, Nations Roof LLC, Villa Park, Ill.; Bryan Karel, Garlock-French Roofing Corp., Minneapolis, Minn.; Kyle Thomas, Thomas Roofing Co. Inc., Mobile, Ala. Along with Ribble, NRCA panelists were: Tom Shanahan, vice President of enterprise risk management and Duane Musser, vice president of government relations.
One of the biggest and most pressing questions roofers asked during the townhall was when the economy might reopen. Ribble said based on conversations NRCA has been having with Congress and the White House that likely won’t happen until June.
“This is really in the hands of the states,” Ribble said. “It was a hodge-podge of closures, so it’s likely to open up again in a hodge-podge way.”
While several states — Washington, New York, Pennsylvania and Michigan — have shut down or partially shut down construction, the roofing panelists largely said their work hasn’t been affected by cancellations, customer delays or material delays. Panelists were also optimistic for the second quarter and a quick rebound once the economy opens back up.
“Right now, we think this is going to still be a very good year,” Karel said. “We’re not quite sure what’s to come, but overall, we have a good backlog we’re still working with.”
That optimism stood in contrast to a poll taken during the townhall showing that 81% of callers had seen sales decline, while 19% said sales have not declined.
Many questions centered around the $349 billion Paycheck Protection Program aimed at helping small businesses cover payroll, rent and utilities for 8 weeks. Musser said all roofers are eligible for relief and there is no requirement to show a decline in sales. He warned that the program is first-come-first-serve and funding has already run out. But he added that Congress is considering adding another $250 billion to the program, and “we do expect it to pass,” but there are no guarantees.
“If you want to play defense and protect your business, you should apply and you should apply soon,” he said.
Ribble said some roofers are already receiving PPP funds, while many others, including all of the panelists, have applied and are still waiting. Ribble added that smaller banks seem to be turning applications around quicker than larger institutions.
Musser told a roofer with more than 500 employees that his firm is eligible for the $600 billion “Main Street Lending Program,” which offers four-year loans with principal and interest payments deferred for one year, and should be available in a few weeks. Firms that have taken advantage of the PPP may also take out Main Street loans. “Beyond PPP there are other options coming online,” Musser said.
Along with relief funding, roofers had multiple questions about how best to keep employees healthy while staying within government guidelines. Shanahan told roofers that OSHA had recently relaxed requirements for roofers to determine whether employees have coronavirus. “We’re finally starting to get some helpful guidance,” he said. But he added it’s still important for roofers to take precautions for jobsite social distancing, protective equipment and the like. “Put together a plan, have it in writing and follow it,” he said.
Roofing panelists offered a number of suggestions for maintaining workers’ health:
“We’re doing the best we can with what we have,” said Karel, who had to shut down for two weeks due to an employee testing positive.