Like all areas of the construction industry, the roofing sector has undergone significant change over the past 20 years, with new products, trends and legislation all influencing specification, installation and quality standards. The companies that have been most successful in adapting to change are those with the experience to identify and embrace opportunities while playing to their core strengths.
Here at Firestone, we understand just how much experience matters, which is why nurturing talent and retaining our team is not only a commercial priority; it’s also embedded in our company culture. Many of our team have been with us for over a decade and risen through the ranks during their career at Firestone. One of them is Regional Technical Manager, Carl Bailey, who celebrates 20 years at Firestone this year.
To mark this milestone in Carl’s career, we asked him to tell us about what life at Firestone was like when he first started working here and what’s changed during his career. This is what he told us:
When I first moved to Firestone I already had ten years’ experience in roofing and I wasn’t particularly looking for a move but the stars seemed to align to make everything fall into place. I’d begun my career as a draughtsman, using a set square and a drawing board to create tapered insulation layouts. These days, you’d struggle to find the tools of the trade I used every day back them, let alone anyone who actually knows how to use them! It was around the time that CAD design was just starting to become used in the industry and, as one of the younger members of the team at the company I was working at, I’d embraced the use of that technology, so, looking back, I probably had skills that were in high demand.
At the same time, due to expansion of the business, Firestone had just relocated to the North West of England and it was necessary to build upon the team to capitalise on the future prospects. I’d worked with James Cave, our MD, at my previous company and he offered me a job as technical co-ordinator. I was immediately impressed by the famous brand name and apparent focus of the company and saw it as a great opportunity to take on a new role and make it my own and move into the growing EPDM single ply membrane market, so I jumped at the chance.
I was part of a small team back in 1999, not the 100+ people that the Firestone Building Products Europe organisation has today, and initially, I was responsible for setting up the systems and computer-aided design package we needed to offer customers a full design and specification service. That early development work has undergone several iterations since then but it still forms the basis of what we use today.
These days, as Regional Technical Manager, my remit has grown. Now I’m responsible for a team of technical reps and it’s my job to ensure that all technical enquiries are handled efficiently. I also ensure that the team delivers the site visits needed for surveys, training, inspections and any troubleshooting customers might need and I’m also responsible for answering customers’ specification and estimating requirements, including wind uplift and thermal performance calculations.
That’s one of the many ways that the industry has changed for the better during my career: we’ve moved from selling a product to selling a system as part of a service-focused package that provides a best-fit solution for the project.
We’ve also increased the focus on training and quality assurance. When I first started working at Firestone we did offer training in the UK but we could only provide it on a limited basis so it usually involved taking people out to Belgium, so it had to be done in limited numbers. Now, we have purpose-built training facility with both a classroom-style training room and a demo/practice area with roofing rigs that are ready and waiting in the UK for trainees to test their skills on the product when they arrive.
As well as the changes I’ve seen within Firestone, I’ve been part of an evolution in the roofing industry too, much of which Firestone has helped to drive.
In my early days with the company, we had no products intended for use in the residential market, but the introduction of RubberCover™ changed all that and Firestone is now one of the biggest brands in domestic roofing.
Back then, very few properties were built using modular construction but now that’s a huge growth area, particularly in sectors such as schools, student accommodation, hospitals and hotels where completion dates and quality are both business critical. With our factory-friendly, RubberGard™ EPDM system, we’re successfully capitalising on this market. And with ambitious targets for social housing units due to kick in two years from now, there’s lots of modular opportunity ahead for Firestone too.
It’s not only modular that’s created opportunities for Firestone over the past 20 years either. The introduction of green roofs, brown roofs and increased use of PV energy production on roofs have all required the use of a hard-wearing, long-lasting and resilient membranes, and our EPDM systems have been the ideal choice.
Changes in building regulations and an increased awareness of the need for sustainable construction have also been catalysts for growth for Firestone. The 50+ year service life that EPDM can offer answers the sustainability agenda while our insulation ensures we can offer both warm roof and inverted roof build-ups. One of the most recent developments is the new Firestone production factories in Spain and Germany, ensuring we can offer excellent product delivery and response times to customers, leveraging our global capabilities with a local focus.
Doubtless there will be more change ahead. As a member of the Institute of Roofing and the SPRA Technical Committee since 2016, I am working with colleagues from across the sector to ensure best practice lies at the heart of single ply roofing. It’s a segment of the market that continues to go from strength to strength: in the course of my Firestone career, EPDM has not only earned its stripes amongst specifiers and contractors but now has the backing of a very credible industry association. One thing’s for sure, whatever the future holds, the Firestone team has the experience needed to make the most of it.