How to Break into and Succeed in the Commercial Metal Roofing Industry

How can you break into the commercial metal roofing industry? In this article, we take a look at the different steps you can take to succeed.

Working in the metal roofing industry can be very rewarding, as it offers the chance to participate in a growing industry, learn valuable skills, and work on a variety of different projects. Still, contractors can face many challenges and obstacles when completing jobs, so it’s important to continue learning and gaining insight into the industry whenever possible.

Sheffield Metals International (SMI) is a distributor of bare and coated metal coils and sheets, along with other metal roofing accessories like clips and fasteners. With a committed sales and technical team on staff, Sheffield Metals helps metal roofing contractors find the information they need for jobs and answers any questions they may have for projects.

One question Sheffield Metals commonly gets is how to move from the residential side of the business into commercial metal roofing projects. When you’re just starting this process, this can seem like an intimidating jump. With the right information, you can set yourself on the right track. In this article, we’ll offer guidance for breaking into the commercial metal roofing industry.

9 Steps to Succeed in the Commercial Metal Roofing Industry

While there is no one sure, specific way to start getting jobs and succeeding in the commercial metal roofing industry, there are concrete steps you can take to set you on the right path. These insights come from others in the industry who are currently working on the commercial side and have learned how to succeed there.

1. Contact Local Builders and Contractors

As with many industries, one of the most effective ways to find commercial metal roofing opportunities is to network and reach out to others in the business. Contact local builders and contractors in your area to inquire about commercial work you can provide a qualified bid for. Generally, they will be more than happy to take those bids if you talk to them.

Building authentic relationships and talking directly with other contractors can be very effective, as it allows you to network and make a name for yourself in the business while you work to get a commercial job.

2. Start Small

Regal blue aluminum metal roof in the Cayman Islands

When you’re just beginning to work in commercial, it may be more manageable to start with smaller projects. With the various requirements you need to meet, it can be easier to start small as you learn the process and get familiar with the differences in commercial work. Everything required for commercial projects will be dictated in the project specifications and plans — smaller projects could pose less of a challenge when you’re first starting out.

3. Understand Weathertight Warranties

Most commercial projects will require a manufacturer’s weathertight warranty. Keep these considerations in mind as you start working in the commercial world:

  1. Know if you can be qualified to perform work on weathertight warranty projects with the manufacturer you’re using to bid on or win a project.
  2. Do your research and familiarize yourself with the manufacturer’s weathertight warranty process and requirements. This is essential, as you don’t want to infringe on the warranty at any point during installation.
  3. Keep good communication with the manufacturer’s onsite representative during the project.

Failure to follow the warranty process on a commercial project could incur unnecessary material and labor costs that will come out of your profit. And keep in mind that failure to obtain a weathertight warranty on a commercial project could also see a contractor being removed from the project altogether.

4. Find the Right Equipment

a low angle photo of a New Tech Machinery roof panel machine on a trailer

Different panel profiles are preferred for residential and commercial projects. Because of this, contractors may need to purchase additional equipment than what they already have.

Contractors looking to purchase a portable rollforming machine, for example, should keep in mind that certain panels may require specific machines to form them.

For those considering purchasing a rollformer, it may make sense to buy one suited for residential work and another suited for commercial work in case you want to pursue commercial projects in the future. Or, you could find a single machine that is versatile enough to do both types of work.

5. Carry Liability Insurance

You must carry liability insurance and workman’s compensation for commercial work. Some general contractors require you to carry more insurance for commercial than residential work. You may also have to carry more insurance on your vehicles, too.

You can work with your insurance provider to understand what specifically is needed.

6. Stay on Top of Scheduling

Montana State University's American Indian Hall featuring an eagle feather standing seam metal roof

Scheduling for residential projects is more flexible — customers will typically cater to your schedule. Commercial work, however, is different, and you’ll have to be there when it’s convenient for the general contractor.

One of the common issues residential contractors run into when they transition into commercial projects is staying on top of scheduling. Commercial projects can run into complications, causing them to take more time than initially thought. This may cause you to have to delay other projects.

Commercial jobs also take much longer to complete than residential projects in general, so this is something to keep in mind when scheduling. Sometimes, scheduling issues don’t have anything to do with the roof — other parts of the building may need to be finished before the roof can even be started.

When delays happen, it’s essential to be honest and up front with customers to let them know what’s happening and causing the delay. Honest, clear communication is the key to keeping customers aware of your situation, and in most cases, they will be willing to work with you.

Use our Interactive Trim Calculator to estimate the amount of 4'x10' flat sheets you need!

7. Understand Payment Options and Schedules

In the commercial world, there are different processes of getting paid and documents you’ll need to fill out, versus residential, where you’ll likely just send an invoice. For commercial jobs, there can be AIA documents, progress payments, and sometimes you may have to get into certified payroll. Also, be aware of how payment schedules differ from the residential side — you’ll likely have to wait longer to get paid for commercial projects.

Commercial customers will also keep a percentage — typically 10% of your contract. This is known as retention, and it essentially acts as a security deposit for the general contractor. Once all the work is complete, inspected, and signed off, then retention is released for the job. Sometimes, this may be as soon as your work is finished. Other times, you may have to wait until the entire project is completed to receive that last percentage.

8. Learn the Product

One of the most significant differences between residential and commercial work is the knowledge of products. For residential projects, customers will likely rely on the contractor’s expertise and connections for most of the process. The residential customer will know they want a metal roof and have some design considerations and aesthetics in mind. However, they may not be aware of technical details such as testing requirements and design criteria.

On the commercial side, architects and general contractors are typically much more knowledgeable and know the technical details of their metal roofs and the various design criteria they need to meet.

Metal roofing contractors need to know the products they’re dealing with, such as testing standards and design criteria, so they can make sure they can meet the requirements set out in the spec. It can also help to partner with a professional metal roofing supplier that can offer you the information you need and gain insight into the more technical details of projects.

Download the Panel Profile Quick Reference Guide here!

9. Partner with a Trusted Metal Roofing Supplier

Especially if you’re just starting out, partnering with a trusted metal roofing supplier can be very effective. Companies with a technical team on staff can be invaluable to those working on commercial roofing projects, as this team can answer questions related to meeting the project, design criteria, and testing requirements.

Metal roofing suppliers can also help in cases where certain standards need to be met, but the wrong product is chosen for those requirements. A metal roofing supplier can collaborate with you to find alternatives that will make a roof look better and even cost less, while still meeting the required specifications.

Finding local companies near you can also offer advantages, as you can quickly find the materials you need. This local angle can also be a selling point to architects and builders, as it provides excellent availability and support for projects.

Looking for Help with Your Next Commercial Metal Roofing Project?

Even with articles like this one to use for guidance, it can still be challenging to find your way into the commercial side of things in the metal roofing industry. Luckily, you don’t have to set out on that process alone. Various metal roofing suppliers can offer you the guidance and support you need to grow your business, whether that be gaining the correct information to know your next steps or consulting with a technical department to find the right engineering for a project.

At Sheffield Metals International, we pride ourselves on being more than just a coil and sheet provider. With our library of metal roofing resources, and our dedicated sales and technical staff, we partner with customers to help them grow their businesses and find success in their endeavors.

For more on breaking into the commercial roofing industry, or to answer any lingering questions, feel free to contact our expert team today.

Contact Sheffield Metals today!