Sonny Arwood, president and CEO of Ohio-based Fluid Applied Roofing, recently joined the CoatingsPro Interview Series of podcasts. In that episode, Arwood spoke at length with CoatingsPro Magazine about key trends and market insights involving the roof coatings industry.
With experience working as a contractor, manufacturer, and in growing his own business, Arwood offered useful perspective and lessons learned from his distinguished career in the roofing field. Read on for a partial Q&A transcript, and check out the full audio interview at the bottom of this article.
Q: One of the interesting things about your career is that you’ve had time on both the contractor side and the manufacturing side. Many times, we talk to people with expertise in one of those two areas, but you’ve seen it from both sides. What are some of the lessons that you took from your time out in the field as a contractor that you’ve used the last few years, now that you’ve transitioned to more of a manufacturing role?
Arwood: So, as I was first entering the commercial roof coatings space, one of the takeaways was that the manufacturer support was very limited. If I had questions — not specifically around their products but maybe about the roof I was working on — it was quite limited. So, the educational piece was really tough. It was missing, and I felt that we really needed to improve that. It was a weak link.
Q: What are some of the ways this industry has changed over your time in it?
Arwood: When I first started, there were products called fibered aluminum roof coatings, and that was one of the primary products. Then, you would also have an elastomeric roof coating. Beyond that, you didn’t have a lot of options.
One thing that stood out to me in the processes of doing roof coating applications was something called a three-course method. Basically, that’s where they’re detailing out the roof and trying to leak-proof it. I found that no matter what system we would install, the roof system worked very well except for at these details, flashings, and penetrations, where they would use this three-course method specific to a metal roof. It was causing corrosion and some damage, and so I felt there needed to be a change in that process.
That’s what really pushed me to start looking at other options, and maybe even to the development of my own system. I am seeing that trend, and in general, we’re seeing more manufacturers move to liquid applications around seams and penetrations… and moving away from this three-course method.
But I’m also seeing a lot of hybrid products come into play now, and even silicone roof coatings are starting to pick up in market share. I’ve been doing this for a while, since the early 1990s, and for the first 15 years of my career, it was pretty stagnant. Everything seemed to be kind of… they were stuck in their ways, for lack of a better word. Now, there’s been a pretty significant change.
Q: With the economic costs these days, are you seeing more clients look at roof coatings and restorations, as opposed to a total tear-off?
Arwood: Yes. It’s somewhere in the 30% to 50% lower costs in the restoration process, and that’s just the initial cost. When you start to look over lifecycle costs and consider that a fluid applied or roof coating is a sustainable system — so you don’t actually have to tear it off, you can just redo it at the end of the warranty period, and reinstall it — it’s significant savings to the customer.
When I first started, roof coatings weren’t really considered a roofing system. The reason we started driving the term fluid-applied roofing is because we want that perception to be, “Hey, this really is a liquid applied roofing system.” So, now we’re able to compete. We’re able to show the customers. The end users have actually been educated, to where they’re seeing these systems as a viable solution. They’re also looking for sustainability. So when you can bring all that and lower the costs, it becomes a win-win.
Q: When you talk to the contractors out in the field, in 2023, who are trying to install some of these new roof coating technologies, what are their pain points? What feedback do you get from them, in terms of what their technical needs are?
Arwood: It goes back to having a manufacturer that understands commercial roofing. When they enter this space, and depending on their level of experience in commercial roofing — some of them have zero, since some were painting contractors, like I was — they have to learn.
It’s really good to have a manufacturer that understands commercial roofing to support them and be able to answer those questions that they have about the roofing surface or substrate that they’re working on. If the manufacturer can’t provide that support to them, they’re left trying to find that answer on their own.
That can cause problems. That can cause issues with the installation. For example, they might install the roofing system when it should be tear-off and replace. So, one of the things that I encourage contractors to do is find a manufacturer to work with that can answer those questions for you, and to help guide you.
I say this all the time to our sales reps. We’re not interested in buying roofs. We’re interested in restoring them and making them a viable roof again. What I mean by that is if that roof is so far gone that it needs replaced, then let’s tell them to replace it.
That educational piece is critical, and that’s what I would tell contractors. Find a manufacturer that understands the roofing industry, so they can support you.
The complete interview with Sonny Arwood can be listened to below. For more information, contact: Fluid Applied Roofing, www.fluidappliedroofing.com.