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Brad Van Dam - Price Relief, Quick Shipping and Manufacturing Leadership - PODCAST TRANSCRIPTION

Brad Van Dam - Price Relief, Quick Shipping and Manufacturing Leadership
August 10, 2022 at 3:28 p.m.

Editor's note: The following is the transcript of a live interview with Brad Van Dam of MTL Holdings. You can read the interview below or listen to the podcast. 

Speaker 1:
Welcome to Roofing Road Trips with Heidi. Explore the roofing industry through the eyes of a long-term professional within the trade. Listen for insights, interviews, and exciting news in the roofing industry today.

Heidi Ellsworth:
Hello, and welcome to another Roofing Road Trips from RoofersCoffeeShop. My name is Heidi Ellsworth, and I am road tripping cross-country to visit with one of the thought leaders in the roofing industry. I have to tell you, Brad Van Dam, with MTL Holdings, or you may all know, Metal-Era. Brad, welcome to the show.

Brad Van Dam:
Thanks, Heidi, and I'm blushing from that introduction. Thank you, as always, for calling me such nice things.

Heidi Ellsworth:
Well, I have to tell you, you guys are doing some... In fact, I was just talking about you earlier today with Mischa Fisher, the Chief Economist from Angi, and I actually was telling him about your price relief program. And how really thought leadership, taking the reins, doing something that really matters to roofing contractors. So, I'm excited to talk about that today.

Brad Van Dam:
Awesome. Very cool. We hope contractors are getting the message loud and clear, and platforms like yours are doing that for us, and with us, so we appreciate that.

Heidi Ellsworth:
I love it, I love it. Okay, so before we get into all that good stuff, let's start with the important thing. Can you introduce yourself? Tell everybody a little bit about you and the company?

Brad Van Dam:
Yeah, you bet. So, I am Brad Van Dam. I'm the VP of Sales for MTL Holdings. We're the parent company of Metal-Era and Hickman Edge Systems, the two largest brands, and now the largest combined manufacturer of fascia and coping in North America. We employ about 200 employees in two locations; Waukesha, Wisconsin, and Asheville, North Carolina. I think I may have mentioned before, both great beer towns, full of good people, and fun places to be and to work.

Brad Van Dam:
Couple things we're really proud of. The last couple years, we've been Top Workplaces in Wisconsin, and we continue to value our employees and teammates, and are very excited that through the pandemic, we've been coming out kicking, and punching, and doing everything we can to be a force in the industry. So, that's a little bit about us. This is my 10th year at Metal-Era, now MTL, and I'm really excited to continue to drive the industry on the edge metal side.

Heidi Ellsworth:
Yeah, I love it. I love what you all are doing over there, and you're right, you have two amazing towns to be working in. Wow. Well, MTL Holdings has been doing a lot to expand manufacturing capabilities, and you're putting a lot of investment back in. I mean, you just talked about your people, that's one of the top investments. Tell us a little bit about that expansion of capabilities and investment.

Brad Van Dam:
Yeah, so a little over a year ago, when we acquired Hickman Edge Systems, at the time called OMG EdgeSystems, and the facility in Asheville, we made a commitment to restore the Hickman Edge Systems brand. It meant a lot to a lot of people. Been around for 75 years, oldest edge metal company in the United States, and the brand meant a lot to a lot of people. So we chose to bring that brand back, restore the independent reps, that model, bring that back to fruition.

Brad Van Dam:
In order to do that, we wanted to align manufacturing processes, and that required a large investment in additional equipment, additional people, and additional processes, and updating the facility in Asheville. So immediately after the acquisition, we started investing in new equipment. We bought some additional press brakes. We aligned a cut-to-length process for fabrication, some additional automation for our fabrication of coping cleats, and we installed a paint booth.

Brad Van Dam:
We went down, basically, the process of aligning products, people, and process. That required a significant amount of investment, in the seven figures, into the facility and updating what we did down there. It also required some retraining, it required aligning the cultures, working together. I can just say that it amazes me, and certainly very proud, to see what the company has done in trying to reach out to employees, and make them a part of the MTL family.

Brad Van Dam:
A lot of people have put a lot of effort into aligning products, learning new processes. Folks that have been in Asheville or Waukesha for many years have learned new things. It was a great challenge during probably one of the toughest times in the roofing industry, but that group, the entire 200, have really fought to try to make a difference, and use this investment to bring faster products, more cost-effective products, and essentially, to deliver our spec promise to more people. So, big investment, but it was fun to do, and it's been fun to do, and we're seeing kind of the fruits of that now pay off.

Heidi Ellsworth:
Yeah, I love that phrase; people, product, process. Investing in those three together, and getting everybody to work together. I know it's out there, it's not anything brand new, but it's powerful. I love that.

Brad Van Dam:
Yeah, it's a good way to look at it. When you step back, not everything's going to be perfect on that path. You have to learn things as you go, but when you're focused on the people, the product, and the process, and just continuing to try to improve, you're going to get better. That's what we've noticed, and we're really starting to see that come together now with the new equipment that's coming online, that's come online, the new processes, the new products, and certainly all the new teammates that have now started working together. That's what's been the most fun of everything here.

Heidi Ellsworth:
I tell you what, I saw firsthand when you were so kind, I was part of a tour, and when I see what you've done with robotics, with process, with all of that put together, it makes total sense to me, because it allows you the efficiencies that you need. Something that I think happens, probably more than we want to know, is a lot of times these efficiencies are made, but it's not passed on, and it's not part of the bigger picture.

Heidi Ellsworth:
You guys really looked at this different, and said, "We're going to pass on these efficiencies. We're going to pass this on." You announced a Price Relief program in May. Contractors have to be over the moon. I mean, when was the last time you heard anybody say that? I just think it's brilliant. Tell us about it.

Brad Van Dam:
It seemed logical at the time, and certainly the accountants probably didn't enjoy that first conversation. Like, "Hey, we're going to lower pricing right now, while everything else is going up." But when you sit back and look at it, we had a choice to make, right? We automated some manufacturing of products, and it reduced our costs to produce those parts. We are still, just last week or the week before, took a huge increase from another raw material supplier on steel and aluminum, and chose not to pass that on to our customers, and that's difficult to do.

Brad Van Dam:
You have choices to make. You can put those additional funds in your pocket, you can reinvest it, you can look at different ways to do it, but in our experience, the last two years really has taught us that we've got to find ways to work together with folks. This seemed like a way to share, right? It seemed like a way to say, "Okay, we took this view 12, 14 months ago, that we were going to invest, and become faster and better at what we do, let's go ahead and take that savings, and that investment, and share that back with our customer.

Brad Van Dam:
So some people appreciate it, some people look at it and go, "Wow, how are you doing that?" Some look at it and say, "Hey boy, I wish it was deeper. Can we put that lower?" Certainly we all do. Sometimes just taking that approach, and doing something that maybe not everybody else is doing, or taking that approach, at least lets folks know you care and are trying to work with them. I think that's been probably my favorite part of the response.

Brad Van Dam:
I took a call from a contractor that asked, "Hey, I saw this 12% was coming off the price, can I get a re-quote?" I said, "Well, that's the purpose of it, right? That's why we did it. Get a re-quote from what it was." He's like, "Well, you're not mad about that?" I said, "No, this is what we did."

Heidi Ellsworth:
Cool.

Brad Van Dam:
This is why we're doing it. So ask us, let's try, let's work together. That contractor has their own metal shop, but certainly fab the parts themselves. But many contractors, they're struggling to find labor. And this is a solution where they can buy the part, versus manufacturing themselves, and then whatever labor they have, they can redeploy to things that make them money, like installing roofs. So we're pretty excited about the response. A lot of contractors have said they appreciate it. And you know, that means a lot, goes along way with us.

Heidi Ellsworth:
That's great. I totally understand that. I feel the exact same thing. When you're really looking at what we've been through, and you're kind of working through that, I always want to say, "Okay, this is the time that we have to work together more than ever." Now that we've got inflation going. We've got the supply chain delays, still. The little last remnants of COVID is still out there, making people sick here and there. So how important is it for the industry to work together for this recovery?

Brad Van Dam:
Yeah, I've used this phrase a couple times. Think global, act local has always been tough in a industry that's made up of thousands of different buying decisions, right? We have thousands of different contractors that all make choices in products they buy, or processes they follow, or people they hire. And being able to pull yourself back from what you're doing in that day, or that moment, and saying, "Okay, this is the bigger picture, and I want to find a way to contribute to that bigger picture." It's not the easiest. What's made me, in my 10 years now in roofing, what's been amazing to me, the roof industry does that more so than the previous industry I was in, than a lot of other places I've seen. Now there's a lot more opportunity to get involved with groups that look at the bigger picture.

Brad Van Dam:
You can go and be a part of NRCA's roofing day. You can get involved in NRCA. You can get involved in Spry. You can get involved in IIBEC. There's a lot of different avenues that you can contribute one notch above just your day-to-day workload. And then, if you really want to go further, you can certainly find ways where those groups are trying to work together to solve supply chain issues. They'll bring an item up. I was on an industry call the other day, where we were addressing, well, how do we make this message that there's a labor shortage more impactful? How do we make sure the folks are getting the real message that we don't want to be necessarily like the trucking industry was five years ago, knowing they have a problem, and saying, "Look, legislators, you got to hear us, otherwise we're going to have a real problem."

Brad Van Dam:
And now here we are today, in '22, having a real problem with trucking and freight. That alarm's been sounded by NRCA, and other groups are saying, like Spry, and IIBEC, are looking at that and saying, "Hey, this is a problem. How do we work together to solve this particular issue?" Whether it be immigration, whether it be other items. The other thing that I think is amazing to me, that really has come out the last couple calls, and I think this is important for folks to understand about roofing, and I've learned it over 10 years, that I didn't know before, it's probably one of the most diverse industries out there. And when you think about the employment groups, there's a lot of minorities that are involved in the business.

Brad Van Dam:
There's a lot of folks that are finding paths to equity, that are finding paths to being included. When an industry is hurting for workforce, as much as this one is, what a great way to lift up other groups that are underrepresented.

Heidi Ellsworth:
Yes.

Brad Van Dam:
And I think that's one I really enjoyed about roofing, is that it's a path for a lot of folks that want to find their place. I mean, it's a great place to make an impact. So I think it's critical that the industry continues to work together. I think it's important that the industry, in ways that benefit all of us, find solutions for the problems that we're facing. Labor being the number one. Can you buy part, versus manufacturing? Can you find ways to get involved with additional CTE training in your area? Are there ways to get kids, and/or youth, and/or minorities, and/or females, into the roofing industry? How do we do that better? And that's an industry problem, because just 3,000 different buying decisions, or business decisions, don't have that same view.

Heidi Ellsworth:
Ah, no. Oh, I agree with you so much. And you know, it's interesting, you said something earlier that just resounds with me, and that is the roofing industry is unique and I've had other people who have said, "Well, just go to other trades, or work in other trades or other companies. It's kind of all the same." But I have worked in HVAC, and done some siding, and some solar, and different things. And really, I've always found, and I'm totally prejudiced Brad, but I have always found that roofing is like just this really special place.

Brad Van Dam:
Yeah, it is. I was on the concrete side prior, and spent roughly 18 years in that. And to me, the roofing industry certainly has been very unique. Having such a large industry organization in NRCA, having the manufacturers with Spry, having the third-party consultants and IIBEC. Having them actually like each other and talk. The things that Reid did with One Voice. The initiatives you see with Roofing Alliance. The RCI Foundation. There's just so many pieces, that if you want to go find a way to make a difference in roofing, you can.

Heidi Ellsworth:
Right.

Brad Van Dam:
And seeing some of the unique ways others are doing it right now, NWiR, what a great launch. The Para Latinos lounge, IRE, how cool was that? I mean-

Heidi Ellsworth:
I know, I love it.

Brad Van Dam:
It was just neat to see. I mean, for me, it's just fun to be a small part of that. And that's what's kind of cool. So our little thing, price relief, doesn't hold a candle, necessarily, that some of those other initiatives, but we felt it was a way for us to kind of help the industry. Especially when they're dealing with struggling lead times, and all the other shortage issues.

Heidi Ellsworth:
Everything. Well, I tell you, I think stepping forward and being that leader to say, "Hey, we have efficiency. Here's some price relief." That goes a long ways. And we all know roofing contractors, especially, have a very long memory. So, very long memory. We know that. And you're just talking about, too, wait times, lead times, and how hard that's been. You have also put together on, with both Metal-Era and Hickman, a QuickShip option. What is that, and how's that working?

Brad Van Dam:
Yeah. So one of the things we... We've always offered certain products to be express shipping. A lot of the parts we make robotically are next-day ship. So about 65% of what we produce can be shipped next-day. I don't know that that message has found its way out to the world as loud as we always wanted it. And again, 3,000 different buying decisions, you've got to find your voice with all 3,000 folks, and it always registers different. So a lot of folks would want to try to manufacture that themselves.

Brad Van Dam:
What's interesting is, in this case, is through the shortages, while the lead times we're extending, we also learned that contractors were getting last minute calls of, "Hey, I've got material. Let's go ahead and get it in," and, "Hey, this contractor is selling some of their leftover stuff," or, "This distributor had an order cancel, and do you want it?"

Brad Van Dam:
And so a lot of contractors, who maybe had a process for... Let's say they did a pre-job walk two to four weeks before the job started, and then they would order their materials at the pre-job, and then they'd have two to four weeks to deliver it. Now they may pre-job it, and be waiting six months, but then get a call X months later, that, "Boy, this has opened up," or, "A job canceled, can you pivot?"

Heidi Ellsworth:
Yeah.

Brad Van Dam:
And we wanted to be able to respond for that. So we created a list of products that kind of cover the common parts that a contractor would self-fabricate normally, maybe a drip edge or a gravel stop. We have all of that being made robotically. Those types of parts are, that gives us the ability to ship it quickly, gives the contractor the ability to redeploy that labor on their own installations. It also frees up speed, right? It's fast to the job site for the contractor. They can get it quickly, and get the roof dried in. We felt that you needed to hit both of those targets, right? Price and speed. And that's just kind of a natural with Metal-Era and Hickman components. You get good quality.

Heidi Ellsworth:
Yeah.

Brad Van Dam:
I mean, it's repeatable. It's being done to a standard. It's ES-1 or FM tested. So, it made a lot of sense for us to say, "Okay, here's two really awesome things we can do. Get it to you fast, and get you an inexpensive price."

Heidi Ellsworth:
I love it.

Brad Van Dam:
Or relatively speaking, discounted price. Short of that, you know it's going to be good quality, so take advantage, utilize us to help you overcome perhaps your labor struggles, or the last minute job that you need to get in.

Heidi Ellsworth:
And, just having done the tour, seeing everything you do, you have to mention in there customer service, too. When I see the experts that you have, who are working with the contractors to get it shipped, to make sure they have the right products, the estimates, the technology with Falcon, all of those kind of things come together. It's really impressive.

Brad Van Dam:
Yeah. Thank you. That is definitely the entire team's effort. It's amazing to me also to watch how one group will hammer away on getting the Falcon ready, another group will work on price speed. The customer service team will figure out how to get those orders processed faster. I mean, technical sales will quote in 27 minutes or less. I can't keep up with all the things they're doing. It's great to watch, but it just kind of goes back to, you have to have good people that are committed to doing better. And that's fortunately what we have; a lot of good people and folks that have been around a fairly long time in the industry. So, it's been great to be a part of that team and to serve that group.

Heidi Ellsworth:
Well, I have to say, being a fellow salesperson, I love sales, and I always tell people, "You really can't sell it unless you believe in it." And I believe in RoofersCoffeeShop so much, and I can tell from you, leading that sales effort, I mean, it just makes sales such a delight when you have that kind of quality, customer service, thought leadership, behind you. The sales makes it really fun.

Brad Van Dam:
I do have a lot of fun with it. Love the teammates I work with. That's made it very enjoyable. When I celebrated my 10 years this last month, it was really fun to look back and say, "There's been a lot of folks that have contributed to where we are at today. Some are certainly with us, some have moved on to other things, but all of them had a hand in getting us to where we are." And certainly, there's no intention for us to go backwards, right? We want to keep developing, and growing, and you'll continue to see new things from MTL, and our family companies with Metal-Era and Hickman, and we're excited for that. So yeah, it's a lot of fun to be a part of.

Heidi Ellsworth:
It's a lot of fun. So you just almost answered, but not quite, my last question. And that was, as you're looking at all of this, what's in the future? What's in the future for MTL Holdings? Anything you can share?

Brad Van Dam:
Well, I'll share two things. One, we showed the Falcon, and launched that at IIBEC. We're planning to bring that to the contractor in a larger scale, with some demos, at IRE next year, and we're pretty excited about that. That has expanded now, we've got more of those units going into the field, so we're going to be offering that field measurement service for the contractor. We just hired three new Region Technical Associates to go out and do that, and we've got three more open positions in that. Really allows the contractor to shift a lot of the concern or liability over measurement back to us, right?

Brad Van Dam:
We'll use the Falcon, go out, measure the project. You got a radius, you got a coping wall, you got some weird conditions. We work our way through that. And if there's an issue with the measurement we provided, we step in and solve that problem. So, that's item one. You'll see us move that Falcon out more, because one of those region techs can service 10, 20, 30, 50 contractors in a year.

Heidi Ellsworth:
Yeah.

Brad Van Dam:
Whereas contractor, to deploy one person with that kind of knowledge, that's generally a really talented person that could be making you money on installation or supervision. So that's kind of a unique thing, and not something everybody else is doing. I'm not aware of anybody else offering those services. Certainly not to the extent we are throughout the US. I think the second thing, I'll be a little more coy on, but I will say that we believe the building envelope is another place where our mission to protect our family and neighbors, where they work, is important.

Brad Van Dam:
And so, ways that we can get involved in ensuring that the envelope as a whole is protected, easily installed by the contractor, and something that's basically pre-manufactured, those all align with our strategy. So I think you'll see us trying to figure out, "How do we move further into solving for continuous insulation? How do we move further into tying the roof to wall condition more effectively with our partners and for contractors.

Brad Van Dam:
So how do we make that so simple that a specifier says, "Boy, I just need an MTL edge, just solve this problem from roof the wall, and let's move on." I think those are all areas you'll see some good news from us in the next six to 12 months, and certainly you'll start to see us really move the needle there as another partner. And that's really what we want to be. We just want to be a partner to a lot of contractors, helping them solve the labor issue, and getting a quality product.

Heidi Ellsworth:
I love it. I love it. And the building envelope, and it's not just even roofing, on professionals working with the exterior, the curtain wall. Roofing companies are moving into doing the whole building envelope, too. So you're really opening up. You already have the relationships, and now you're opening it up to help them even further. I love it. And I love the technology of the Falcon. So fun. So Brad, thank you. This has just been so great. And thank you for, I mean, everything the MTL holdings did together to bring that price relief, and to really be that leader in the industry. I know we're going to see each other in the next couple weeks, probably at the NRCA meetings. And so you guys are constantly giving back. I just have to say thank you.

Brad Van Dam:
Ah, no worries, Heidi. Thank you for all you do, and thank you for helping to amplify the voice of One Voice, and the industry. It's awesome to hear.

Heidi Ellsworth:
Ah, love One Voice. Yes. So, thank you again. Thank you for being on this Roofing Road Trip with me. And for everyone out there, to find all this information on the Falcon, on the price relief, on the efficiencies, everything that's going on, be sure to check out Metal-Era's and Hickman's directories. There's two on RoofersCoffeeShop. You can see on both of those directories, get all the information, and find out how to get ahold of Brad. It's all there, how to get ahold of the team at Metal-Era and Hickman, two great companies. So thank you, Brad, one last time.

Brad Van Dam:
Thanks, Heidi. Great to talk to you again.

Heidi Ellsworth:
Great to talk to you. And thank all of you for listening. We don't want you to miss a single podcast. We're always bringing this kind of great information, so be sure to check us out on rooferscoffeeshop.com, under the RLW, Read, Listen, Watch initiative, for all the podcasts, or on your favorite podcast channel. Be sure to hit subscribe, and get notifications, so you don't miss a single Road Trip, and we will be seeing you on the next Roofing Road Trips.

Speaker 1:
Make sure to subscribe to our channel, and leave a review. Thanks for listening. This has been Roofing Road Trips with Heidi from the rooferscoffeeshop.com.

 



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