David and Goliath: A Tale of Two Industries
Welcome back to the Executive Report, a twice-monthly source of sales, marketing, and installation tips for the metal roofing industry. Our last article covered the basics of passive house design and how metal roofing might play a major role in its rise.
Most of us are familiar with the old story of David and Goliath, the shepherd boy and the towering giant. An uneven fight that, surprisingly, swung towards the underdog. The lumbering Goliath and the brave David highlight some interesting truths about the relationship between the favorite and the underdog. Malcolm Gladwell, the bestselling author and creator of the 10,000-hour rule, brings this comparison to life in his book David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants.
Part One, titled “The Advantages of Disadvantages (and the Disadvantages of Advantages),” examines the way we typically view advantages and disadvantages. Goliath’s immense size rendered him slow to react against David’s quick thinking and quicker sling. David’s unimposing stature, too small for armor, gave him the speed to take down the giant in his own way. Goliath’s advantages had their limits, and David’s disadvantages gave him a unique edge, allowing him to operate outside the standard rules of engagement. Instead of hefting a sword, spear, or shield, weighed down in armor, and charging Goliath straight on, the shepherd boy outranged him with his trusty sling, slaying him like any other predator who would harass his flock.
Like David, the metal roofing industry is facing down a titan, the asphalt roofing industry. Many of the spectators in David’s bout thought that by most metrics, the favorite wins. A greater size, greater mindshare, and cheaper economies of scale all weigh in asphalt’s favor. On the other hand, metal is smaller, less-known, and costlier, all traditionally seen as weaknesses. But, like the Biblical battle, things aren’t what they seem. Metal roofing has a chance to set their public perception, target specific customers, and cater to an audience interested in a premium roof. While asphalt owns most of the market, its generalized approach might miss customers interested in a better solution.
This flows into Gladwell’s next point: it pays to be a big fish in a small pond rather than a little one in a big pond. He introduces the Impressionist painters of the 1800s, who couldn’t break into the art scene with their bizarre style. They made their own art show, tired of being turned down for the big one, and the rest is history. We know their names now, Renoir, Monet, and Degas, all respected masters today. Instead of breaking into the established market, they made their own and drummed up interest through their uniqueness, drawing the market to them.
In many ways, metal roofing as an industry has taken this advice to heart. By choosing to appeal to a smaller, focused audience (small pond) and dominating the premium market for re-roofing, metal roofing has grown tremendously (big fish). Instead of taking on the entire residential market (big pond) and being content as a minor player (small fish), metal has chosen to split off and refine its strengths. Like the Impressionists in Gladwell’s example, starting another art show paid off. Metal roofing has advanced leaps and bounds in technology and public perception. Metal has carved out a niche and is doing well, providing manufacturing, installation, and sales careers. Not to mention, thousands of happy customers along the way have benefited from metal roofing.
Like David and Goliath, there are upsides to being the little fish and downsides to being the big fish. The underdog can be agile and reinvent himself when necessary, while the favorite has known weaknesses and a winning reputation to uphold. Metal roofing has been the underdog for years now, but it’s pulled off some resounding victories. Now the second-highest re-roofing material, metal is the conscientious consumer’s choice. Asphalt’s popularity has continued but, amid calls for green products, faces a new challenge.
Todd Miller has spent his entire career in the metal building products manufacturing industry. He is president of Isaiah Industries, an organization recognized as one of the world’s leading metal roofing manufacturers. Todd is currently Vice President of the MRA (Metal Roofing Association) and a Past Chair of MCA (Metal Construction Association). Through his website, he strives to raise the bar on standards and practices to provide property owners with the best possible products for successful roofing projects.
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