If DaVinci Roofscapes LLC can grow its polymer roofing business a reported 30 percent in last year's sluggish economy, with plans to meet or exceed that this year, how much might it grow when the housing market rebounds?
“We're growing right now in spite of the economy,” said Ray Rosewall, the affable president and CEO of the privately owned company in Kansas City, Kansas.
“We are well-positioned in the marketplace. Once housing starts to come back, you will see explosive growth from us. I expect our sales to double in the next two to three years,” Rosewall said in an interview at the International Builders' Show, held Feb. 8-11 in Orlando.
The growth of DaVinci's synthetic slate and shake roofing tiles — which are engineered from virgin thermoplastic olefins and have a 50-year warranty — is taking place in a market whose low-double-digit growth is being primarily driven by asphalt shingles. The firm's slate tiles are one-half-inch thick — which it claims is thicker than competing products and shows more pattern details.
Rosewall credits the firm's surge in roofing tile sales to its multitude of colors and custom-color options, investments in more efficient machinery and the popularity of its lower priced, snap-fit Bellaforte slate tiles. The Bellaforte tiles, introduced just two years ago, use 20 percent less material than traditional synthetic and natural slate shingles.
“The Bellaforte line has really begun to take off,” he said. “Its lower price gave us access to a whole new group of roofing contractors, higher volume and more lower-end homeowners.
“The Bellaforte line grew sixfold in 2011,” Rosewall said. He said he believes the line will continue to grow faster than any other product line in the company's portfolio.
Not only do customers find the Bellaforte slate tiles “more affordable” than competing products, but the product's price is the same whether they pick from the 49 standard colors or choose a custom color — which they create themselves using a tool on the company's website, Rosewall said.
“It tells them don't let a color keep you from buying a roof,” he said. “Consumers clearly like to be able to pick from a pallette of colors, and we also give them the opportunity … to create a signature blend of their own. It sets us apart.”
The custom-color blends have also been a sales driver, according to DaVinci. A report the firm released in late February found that custom-color sales in its Bellaforte tiles rose from 4 percent in 2010 to 38.7 percent in 2011.
Similarly, more than 30 percent of DaVinci's Valore slate product sales — the next grade up from Bellaforte — came from custom blends in 2011 compared to just 7 percent in 2010.
“Homeowners are breaking away from the traditional monochromatic blacks and grays on a roof by adding in accent colors and varied shades of colors,” said Rosewall. “It's a matter of people becoming more educated on roofing color options and feeling more empowered to make personal design statements on their home's exterior.”
To help in that education effort, DaVinci's website has a 30-page “Fresh Home Exteriors Colors Guide,” written by color-trend forecaster Kate Smith. Consumers can download the guide to learn how to add color to the exterior of their homes.
With sales growing rapidly, Rosewall said DaVinci's “significant investments” in equipment last year were focused on producing more shingles more efficiently. The firm plans further equipment investments this year, he added.
“Last year, we purchased a new 700-ton Mitsubishi press and two four-cavity stack molds,” which work in tandem to manufacture the slate tiles, he said. With a cycle time of 30 seconds, each four-cavity mold can produce eight parts per minute vs. just four when it used two-cavity molds, Rosewall said. The company now uses two cavities mostly for accessories and smaller-sized products, he added.
“This year, we will spend double what we did last year,” Rosewall said. That investment will be to add an eight-cavity stack mold for 16 parts per minute, which will work with an existing 1,000-ton Husky press, he said.
“With the eight-cavity mold, we can make the tiles much much faster in a very short order,” he said. “When you look at the volume increases we had last year, we needed to make these investments. The new machines will give us a huge advantage in terms of rapid response to orders. If things go as planned, we may add another 1,000-ton press in 2013.”
DaVinci also staffs its molding room 24/7 so changes can be made at any time, he said. The company has also benefited from an initiative over the past two years to build a database and meet face-to-face with architects who specify products for multifamily housing.
“That is beginning to pay off now,” Rosewall said. “We have projects coming to fruition from sales calls we made 18 months ago.
“I'm excited about 2012,” he said. “If housing starts to come back up even a little bit, we will start to feel the tailwinds of that, and sales will take off even more. There is a great opportunity to grow and take market share [from asphalt roofs].”
He added that “being able to see [our] roofs sells our roofs” both to contractors and consumers.
Reroofing projects remain the dominant part of business, accounting for 70 percent, but in 2013 that could be as high as 90 percent, he said. “Most of our sales in 2013 will come from remodel and reroof projects. But as new construction markets recover, we expect our ratio of new-to-reroof projects to return to historical levels.”
All roofing waste and unused tiles from projects within 500 miles of Kansas City can be shipped back to DaVinci free of charge. The company encourages contractors to return their tile scraps, unused and used tiles, so they can be repurposed and recycled as starter tiles.
Private equity investment fund TGP Investments LLC, also based in Kansas City, has been the company's partner in providing access to working capital since 2006.