Total control of your business

Roofing contractors gain a certain power from owning their own roofing roll former … or roll formers  / 

By Jim Austin, senior editor  / 

You can purchase metal roofing products or you can manufacture them yourself. The smart businessman will do what is most profitable for his company. When considering the purchase of a roll former, he has to evaluate the cost of the initial investment as well as any additional cost in workload, staffing, warehousing, etc.

While there are still plenty of manufacturers who will produce panels and/or shingles for you, it seems a growing number of metal roofing installers have taken to manufacturing their own panels.

That requires the purchase of a roll former — as well as a place to put it — on a trailer or in a shop.

Every year at trade shows like METALCON International and the International Roofing Expo, our staff will talk with several roofers who are considering the purchase of a roll former. It’s not an easy decision. It’s a sizable investment … you can write a check for well into six digits for some of the larger “in-house” roll formers. And every year, the roll former suppliers sell those machines they have on the trade show floor. (They’d rather sell them than ship them home.)

We talked to several owners of roofing roll formers. Something pushed them into pulling the trigger on this major purchase and they were willing to share their stories.

Mike Hayes, Bay Sheet Metal, El Jacon, Calif.
The first 12 years he was in business, Mike Hayes of Bay Sheet Metal, always bought panels from a manufacturer for the metal roofing jobs he was bidding on. It worked fine until he landed a big job — a five-story apartment complex. Through his experience, Hayes knew there would be a “ton of waste” on this job if he had to order panels. The apartments featured metal mansards and lots of hips and ridges.

Bay Sheet MetalTo make that job — and future jobs — more profitable, Hayes purchased a Roll Former VS-150 roof panel machine with the company’s SOP-15 dies. That was about 15 years ago and it’s one of the best purchases he made for his business.

“It’s worked out great,” Hayes says. “It paid for itself on that first job, two 80,000-square-foot roofs.”

Now Bay Sheet Metal purchases its coil from Firestone Building Products and Rollfab Metal Products. Hayes says his Roll Former machine is pretty much locked in to run 19-1/2-inch panels with a 1-1/2-inch seam, so he can purchase slit coil 24 inches wide. “For a lot of jobs, we’ll crane it up with a 1,000-pound coil and run the panels right on the roof,” he says. “But we don’t always take the machine to the jobsite. If it’s a job with a lot of short panels, we’ll run them in the shop and truck them to the job.

“The only drawback to owning a machine is when a job calls for a specified system, a ‘name’ system. So we don’t do military jobs. We do primarily residential jobs, condos, apartments … jobs where they aren’t married to the idea of a name system.”

That’s not enough to get Hayes to give up his Roll Former. “This machine is bullet proof,” he says. “Adjustments are simple and I haven’t had to do any work on it in 15 years.”

Bill Pinkerton, Distinctive Roofing Systems, Weatherford, Texas
When you’re trying to keep customers happy, you have to be flexible.
Bill Pinkerton of Distinctive Roofing Systems in Weatherford, Texas, used to purchase his panels from a metal roofing manufacturer. One jobsite mishap prompted him to get his own roll former.

Distinctive Roofing Systems“Another subcontractor at the jobsite damaged some panels,” he recalls. “We ended up waiting eight weeks for replacement panels. Needless to say the general contractor was not very happy and neither was I.”

That was in 1997 when Pinkerton purchased the first of five roof panel roll formers from Zimmerman Metals. “That was the SL 1500,” Pinkerton says. “We run our 1-1/2-inch mechanical on that. That’s our favorite profile, it’s our No. 1 moneymaker.”

Distinctive Roofing Systems also has machines that manufacture a 2-inch mechanical seam, 1-3/4-inch snap-lock, 1-1/2-inch snap-lock and a 1-inch nail flange panel. Coil is purchased mostly from Sheffield Metals International and Culver Metals. Pinkerton says he and two other machine operators run panels for his company and up to eight other installers. That group of three also make sure the roll formers stay calibrated and running properly, a task ensured because the machines are UL certified. That means the machines are checked quarterly by Underwriters Laboratories. “These machines perform day-in and day-out,” he says. “And if we ever have anything come up that stumps us, we call Bruce (Pearson) at Zimmerman and he’s always there to help. These machines are a strong part of the success we’ve had. They’re making money for us.”

Owning his own machines allows Pinkerton to “get product to the jobsite faster. It gives us the flexibility to get materials and installers on a schedule to keep things moving at the jobsite. It’s a huge plus.”

He says with his own machine, there’s less waste because you don’t have to run any extra panels, “just to be safe,” or in case something extra comes up.

Jeremy Chrislip, Custom Metal Solutions, Flowood, Miss.
After more than 12 years of helping others grow their business, Jeremy Chrislip took his experience and knowledge and turned it into Custom Metal Solutions. Three years ago, he purchased his hardest working roll former, a dual-high machine from The Bradbury Company.

Custom Metal Solutions“I had an opportunity to get together with a lumber wholesaler and manufacture metal roofing panels,” Chrislip says. “We sell to the public and through other distribution channels.”

In the last three years, Custom Metal Solutions added a QuadroPlus roll former from MetalForming Inc. Chrislip says his shop, which features 36 years of combined experience in the industry, started from modest beginnings and is earning its way to being the preferred supplier of metal roofing in central Mississippi.

Chrislip says the 36-inch exposed fastener panels produced by Custom Metal Solutions are the big sellers in his area, but he’s looking forward to growth of standing seam. He’s particularly excited about the new paint systems that will be available in 2014.

“We’re looking forward to growth in the metal roofing segment and looking forward to doing more and more business with Bradbury and growing our businesses together,” Chrislip says. “We pride ourselves in saying what we’re going to do and then doing it. We have a gameplan and we stick to it because it works.”

Adam Parnes, Global Home Improvement, Morristown, N.J.
Everybody gets into the metal business in a different manner. In 2005, the owner of Global Home Improvements in Morristown, N.J., was in Florida, offering up services to those homeowners who affected by the hurricanes that ravaged the state. He put in a bid on a big commercial job and got it.

Global Home ImprovementsThat’s when Global Home Improvement bought its first MetalMan roll former from Englert.

“Then we brought it back here and we’re installing metal for homeowners in Pennsylvania and New Jersey,” says Adam Parnes, marketing manager of Global. “We cover a 90-mile radius and 98 percent of our work is residential.”

Parnes says the company purchased a second MetalMan machine in 2012 to save time on changing out the tooling to run a different profile, which takes a couple hours. Roll formers are making money for you only when they’re running panels. Global Home Improvement purchases coil from Drexel Metals and Englert. For Global Home Improvement, it’s a 50/50 split on manufacturing and installing mechanically seamed and snap lock panels. Parnes says jobs range in size from a bay window to 6,000 square feet. “We try to do two or three metal jobs a week,” he says. “Right now, we’re about 4-6 weeks out on jobs. If you know anyone who wants to move to Pennsylvania or New Jersey, and they know how to install metal, tell them to give us a call. We do things the right way and a lot of homes have a lot of valleys and dormers, we can be on jobs anywhere from two weeks to a month.”

While Parnes may not have enough qualified installers, his MetalMan machines keep working. “They don’t give us too many problems, but the guy who runs them is a mechanic and he knows his way around those machines,” Parnes says. “That helps because they are big machines.”

Nick Schley, Schley Steel Roofing, Clintonville, Wis.
The times, they keep changing. Nick Schley watched — and helped — his father build a successful post-frame business. In that 27 years, they occasionally installed some residential metal roofing and kept an eye on the growing metal roofing market. Almost four years ago, they jumped in with both feet and purchased a Schlebach Quadro roll former.

Schley Steel Roofing“I found it on eBay,” Schley says. “We drove down to Florida and brought it home. It was on the original open trailer it came on. Once we got it home, we put it in the enclosed trailer. It rides a lot smoother.”

That was the start of Schley Steel Roofing. Schley purchases most of its coil from McElroy Metal, one of its suppliers in the post-frame side of the business. The Quadro sits in an enclosed 36-foot trailer, complete with a Van Mark brake. Schley also owns and operates a couple of Swenson Shear Snap Tables so they’ve got an entire shop at the jobsite.

“We bought the roll former because it was complicated ordering panels the right lengths for these fancy architectural homes,” Schley says, with a touch of sarcasm. “With all the valleys, hips and dormers, it’s tough to order panels the lengths you need. We’d order extra pieces to make sure we had enough or if we screwed up and we’d end up with a lot of waste.”

Schley says the Quadro has almost paid for itself, so it was a good investment.

Schley also runs panels for other contractors and has set up demonstration days working through lumberyards this summer to show contractors, as well as interested homeowner do-it-yourselfers, how easy it can be. He will set up his trailer, complete with Quadro, brake and Snap Table, at the jobsite and lend any help he can to the crew or DIYer.

Schley’s Quadro is capable of running six different profiles, but for the most part, he sticks to the 1-inch snap-lock panel. With standard width coil, it produces a 16-inch pan, which is the works best with accessories like closures, manufactured for 16-inch pans.

In years past, Schley has manufactured between 30,000 and 40,000 feet of metal roofing panels. In the first half of 2013, Schley Steel Roofing has already topped 40,000 feet. Metal roofing makes up about 50 percent of the business, equaling the post-frame side of the family operation. “We doing mostly residential jobs, but we’ve done some bigger commercial jobs,” Schley says. “Having a machine makes it a whole lot easier and we already had the setup to store coil. We just need to keep it rolling.”

Aaron Iverson, AMI Roofing, Salt Lake City
Serving both the commercial and high-end residential markets, AMI Roofing worked itself into a position where flexibility was a requirement. After a few years of purchasing panels from major suppliers, Aaron Iverson was able to strike up a better deal with local manufacturers who had their own portable roll formers. Those local guys were running panels with their New Tech Machinery SSP.

“We finally invested in our own machine, it was in late 2007,” Iverson says. “It just made everything a lot easier to manage. We had our own sheet metal shop so it was a natural next step for us. We were already ordering coil for the local guys to run for us, so we had a pretty good handle on ordering and handling coil.”

The most popular panel AMI is producing is the 1-inch nail strip standing seam panel. The SSP has the capability to run other profiles, but that requires a time-consuming die changeover. Innovations by New Tech led to the SSQ roofing roll former, which requires much less time to change dies.

This summer, AMI purchased an SSQ with dies to run the 1-inch and 1-1/2-inch mechanical seam profile, the 1-3/4-inch standing seam and New Tech’s new flush wall panel.

“One man can change dies in an hour or an hour-and-a-half,” he says. “There are days we run two different profiles in the same day on one machine.”

Iverson believes the flush wall panel will be a big seller, both as an architectural wall accent as well as for soffits. As a wall panel, it can be installed horizontally or vertically, whatever the architect desires.

Depending on the job, AMI can run panels in-house or at the jobsite. Short panels are usually run in the shop and hauled to the job. If the job requires longer runs, the machine goes to the jobsite.

In addition to producing 24-gauge painted standing seam panels, AMI also runs 22-gauge weathered steel and that occasionally requires some minor adjustments. “You run a couple test panels and you’re fine,” Iverson says. “The machines can be a little temperamental, but not any more than you’d expect. That’s why we have one guy who runs the machines.”

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