Rod Benson, Business Unit Manager Sika Roofing

Can you give us a bit of background about your role at Sika?

I joined the company in 2007 and have held regional and national roles before taking over the role as Business Unit Manager for Sika Roofing earlier this year. In this role I’m responsible for driving Sika’s Roofing strategy and ensuring the on-going success of our three roofing brands.

The roofing division encompasses Sika Liquid Plastics, Sika Sarnafil and Sika-Trocal. Is it difficult being in charge of the three divisions in terms of their respective market positions and offerings?

The three brand strategy was agreed at a senior level several years ago when Sika acquired Liquid Plastics. This works because each of the individual brands has a strong image in the roofing market and is familiar to the UK industry. This is unique within Sika on a global scale but we have found success by maintaining individual marketing strategies and individual sales teams.

Each brand has a distinct market offer, we get some minimal crossover on occasion, and for the most part it’s relatively easy to maintain the separation. Our customers understand the difference between the products and services, and it also means they know they have a range of options by working with Sika.

Sika-Trocal has been on the market for around 40 years and Sika Sarnafil for around 50 years, it’s great to have that heritage but how important is it to move with the times and develop the offering?

Sika Liquid Plastics is also over 50 years old now, between us we have a wealth of expertise and industry experience which in the current market where low cost ‘me too’ products are always cropping up, is absolutely invaluable.

Customers know they are working with tried and tested products but we aren’t complacent and innovation is a key aim amongst all three brands. We always aim to be at the forefront of new technologies, and the investment from Sika in Research and Development allows us to do this which means our customers will always have access to the latest roofing technologies. For example Sika Liquid Plastics recently launched Decothane Ultra, which is a low odour liquid membrane, something the industry has been waiting for.

The flat roofing market, particularly on the refurbishment side appeared to hold up relatively well throughout the recession compared to other roofing disciplines, why do you feel this?

The obvious answer is that if your roof is leaking you need to fix it. There’s no question about that. Otherwise you’ll end up with more serious problems within the building itself, which ultimately could lead to even greater expense. Better to spend a little on a roof refurbishment, than to spend a lot on fixing an entire building that has been damaged by water ingress.

New build also slowed down quite significantly as people looked to ‘make do and mend’ rather than spending money on new structures. But the demand for property is still out there, which is another reason why refurbishment is growing.

How have your customers’ needs changed and how has your offering in terms of support developed since the recession?

We are very busy on the refurb side and the need to continue providing proper training on how to install onto existing materials is paramount. All three of our brands offer comprehensive training courses for contractors so that our clients can be assured they’re getting a quality product and a quality installation.

Our sales teams are also busier with roof surveys, inspecting an existing roof build up and ensuring we agree the appropriate specification to adhere to building regulations, utilising the existing roof and meeting budgets with minimal disruption.

Sika has the three brand strategy, so that no matter what problem needs solving on a refurb, whether it’s rapid return to service or intricate detail waterproofing, we will always be able to provide a solution and we will work closely with clients as well as providing the best contractors to ensure that’s the optimum solution for them.

Is it fair to say reducing costs has dominated the specification process over the last few years? How has this impacted on the market in general?

Costs are always a focus, and we’ve seen this a great deal amongst specifiers, with the influx on the market of cheaper products with much weaker guarantees however, the long term impact will be that these roofs start to fail.

We always try to educate specifiers so they understand the impact of using these products and the long term effects, ultimately the costs are greater throughout the life of the building and there is no guarantee that new, untested products will last for the length of time the manufacturers claim.

It’s always important to seek third party accreditations such as BBA approvals.

How difficult is it to meet the balance between installation time, cost, quality and aesthetics?

For Sika it’s relatively easy because our products have been developed over many years to ensure we meet all of these requirements, however you do see some roofing materials that are applied quickly but don’t look great a few weeks later. It all depends on what the client needs and making sure the appropriate solution is chosen.

Are you seeing BIM being adopted on many projects and what sort of impact do you think it will have on construction?

We are seeing a growing number of enquiries. Our BIM objects are being regularly downloaded, which points to more people adopting BIM. Sika is working hard to provide the information needed from manufacturers like us, to ensure the full benefits of BIM can be realised. We believe it is the future of construction and is here to stay!

Skills shortages in certain areas of construction are high on the agenda. Do you feel more needs to be done to attract and train the next generation of roofers?

Yes absolutely, but those who work in the industry would argue that it is interesting, as an example, to work on projects for the Olympics or Commonwealth Games is a once in a lifetime opportunity! I think within the roofing industry, we are very good at supporting vocational learning, with the Institute of Roofing, SPRA, LRWA and the NFRC which all work very closely with educational institutions to provide hands-on learning and this needs to continue.

Poor payment practices are one of the big issues affecting the construction sector and have contributed to the demise of many companies. Is this something you have seen evidence of, and what can be done to overcome the issue?

Yes, unfortunately we have seen evidence of this and contractors suffer as a result. And again the industry bodies like the NFRC work hard to campaign against unrealistic payment terms. Government ought to do more for the industry with legislation that would support the smaller contractors who have minimal cash flow.

We are waiting on the GRO Code updates for green roofs. What are your views on the green roof sector, is cost / margins still an issue for roofing contractors when looking to get involved with green roofs?

It is perhaps more an issue of competence. While there are some roofing contractors who can install the greening, most have acknowledged that the ‘know-how’ required to design a successful green roof is more in-depth than many first anticipated. The one size fits all specification for a green roof, designed to make it easier for roofers to do the whole build-up, has been demonstrated to have its challenges.

We have heard quite a bit recently about the odour issues linked to certain liquid applied systems. Is this a big problem, and what can be done to overcome it?

It’s not a problem but where we have seen issues involves sensitive structures such as hospitals and food production facilities, where the air handling systems must remain active during the application.

I can’t speak for all liquid manufacturers but Sika Liquid Plastics’ products are all independently proven to be safe – the biggest issue is that the smell is unfamiliar to people and this causes concern.

Similarly, there is a great deal of debate regarding inappropriate use of gas torches on roofs and the subsequent impact on insurance premiums. We have seen the launch of Responsible Specification Checklist, but do you think more needs to be done in educating the market with regards to hot works? Where does Sika stand on this issue?

Hot works is something we have always campaigned against as even now we see buildings completely destroyed by roof fires. Often the fires can begin as the result of a very minor oversight but due to the flammable nature of the roofing products, and despite rising insurance premiums and strict ‘fire watch’ standards, it still happens.

Our aim is to educate specifiers, not only about the dangers of hot works but also the alternative safer options that are available.

What can we expect in terms of innovation from Sika moving forward?

As mentioned earlier SLP has recently launched the low odour Decothane Ultra product. Sika Sarnafil and Sika-Trocal are about to launch their induction welding systems, both also have SSM1 (Sika Solar Mount 1) an engineered solution for applying PV panel supports to the membrane and Sika Sarnafil will continue to lead the way with their adhered system technology – watch this space!