It’s coming up to seven o’clock on a Thursday evening. Frankie, who runs a small business called Northern Roofing, is craning over a set of drawings as he works on a proposal for a job he knows he’s got, at best, a 50% chance of winning.
Like many of the thousands of roofers up and down the UK, Frankie counts takeoffs and proposals as the most stressful, most time consuming and usually least rewarding parts of his job. Using the same, manual pencil-and-ruler techniques he’s used since he entered the roofing trade, Frankie faces the same issues as thousands of his peers.
He needs to pick up some full-scale architectural drawings, and then using a pencil, ruler and his notebook he needs to measure a potential project, count off or estimate his materials for a job, and then prepare a full proposal for a potential new job (which he may not end up winning).
Just getting the drawings is stressful enough. The nearest printer is miles away, printing up multiple plans to measure a roof is becoming more and more expensive year on year, and ensuring that the drawings are the correct scale adds an extra layer of difficulty to something that should be the simplest part of the process.
The actual measuring is anything but simple. Scaling and drawing is painstakingly slow, and can often be an inaccurate science. Roofers from all over the UK have tales of receiving a takeoff from a supplier and realising that a roof billed as 150sqm is actually more than double the size.
Already, Frankie has been working on this task since finishing on-site at 5pm, and he knows he’s not even half way done. At this point, he’s wondering whether it’s worth the half a day’s time and expense to drive up to a (potential) client’s property and measure up the job on-site tomorrow. At least then he’ll avoid forking out for yet another set of drawings.
Roofing contractors are wasting £30k of working hours per year
Frankie’s experience is anything but unique. The average roofing takeoff is a five-hour task, with most contractors carrying out two or three takeoffs per week.
That’s 780 hours per year that roofing contractors spend on takeoffs. 32 and a half days of each year, spent measuring, writing and scribbling. Over a month of working hours spent, for free, on a task that can’t be avoided.
Going by the UK’s average contractor day rate, that’s £29,250 worth of billable hours spent chasing printers, working out surface areas, and estimating the number of tiles or slates.
Across the roofing sector, that’s millions of pounds of unpaid work happening in site offices, on kitchen tables, and spread out across living room floors the length and breadth of the United Kingdom.
Add on to that the money lost by scaling errors which lead to over-purchasing of materials, or underestimates that add lengthy – and costly – delays to jobs, and it’s hard to believe that any roofer still does a takeoff or estimate by hand.
Especially when, as Jonathan Goulstine of RapidQuote believes, there’s a far simpler way.
“A computer can’t climb a ladder. But it can count.”
“We’ve been working with contractors in the building, electrical and roofing trades since the 1980s” says Jonathan, “and in that time the whole process of putting together an estimate hasn’t changed. Materials have changed, design processes have changed, safety processes have changed. But takeoffs still come down to one man, at his kitchen table, with a pencil, a ruler and a calculator.”
As competition has risen in the roofing industry, companies have continued to look for anything that gives them an advantage. Contractors will change suppliers to keep costs low. They’ll embrace all sorts of working methods to increase productivity, but for decades, the process of bidding and tendering for work has remained static.
Tradespeople and contractors learn how to carry out manual takeoffs when they’re starting out, and even as their careers progress, they remain wedded to a process that isn’t just time consuming and costly. It’s also inaccurate.
“With some of the stories we hear, it’s amazing that roofers haven’t been trying anything and everything but traditional takeoffs. We’ve had contractors handed calculations by suppliers that have led to them undervaluing a project by a factor of four. We’ve had people tying themselves in knots trying to work out the area of this really wonderful but intricate roof for a listed building.”
“I’ve even spoken to one contractor in Kent who claims he’s worked until 11pm, four nights a week, for the past ten years. Unpaid!”
After hearing tales of overworked tradespeople and wildly inaccurate estimates, Jonathan and the RapidQuote team decided to approach the problems faced by roofing contractors the same way they approach problems in any trade: by seeing what tasks can be handed off to a software algorithm.
“There’s a seeming reluctance in the trades to rely too much on computers. We’re dealing with contractors in demanding jobs, who see the value in hard work. Tell the average roofer that computer software can help him in his job, and he’ll usually tell you that a computer can’t climb a ladder.”
“He’s right. It can’t. But it can count. And it can count very quickly and accurately.”
The first step for Jonathan and his team when designing the RapidQuote system was to take the estimating process off the kitchen table and put it onto a laptop or computer screen. Simply by creating a toolkit that would allow contractors to work straight from a PDF instead of a full-size printed drawing, RapidQuote removed the time and expense involved with printing drawings.
From there, it was simply a matter of talking to roofers, builders and electricians to discuss what functions they needed to complete an estimate in a reasonable amount of time.
“RapidQuote has always been contractor-led. There are problems we’ve been asked to solve that we wouldn’t have considered. Take the plans themselves. A roofer gets sent this huge zip file of PDF drawings. 15, 20 or so. Some are electrical blueprints, some are for the plumbers. It can take ten to fifteen minutes just clicking in and out of files to find the ones you need and make the copies, which then have to be taken to a printer.”
“What we did was set up a quick review function. All these plans are pre-loaded and shown to you. Ten seconds of yes or no questions, and suddenly you’re ready to begin. It’s just a matter of saving time by being efficient. We even added a feature where you can scale without the plans. You can work direct from an image from Google or Apple Maps.”
“The same applies to area calculations, or automatic counting. The processes are the same as those a contractor uses in a manual takeoff. It’s just that where it’d take me or you hours to measure every section of a roof, find the right sum to calculate the area – it takes a computer a second to do that.”
Contractors need to start thinking digitally
In independent tests, RapidQuote has helped contractors save up to four hours every time they prepare a quote, and feedback from roofers who’ve signed up for the service has been extremely positive too.
But while the industry as a whole stands to save millions of pounds in unbilled hours each year by adopting computer-assisted takeoff practices, there is a stumbling block.
“Contractors, as a rule, are hesitant to embrace computer technology” explains Jonathan. “There’s this widely held belief that anything involving software involves these long, drawn-out training schemes with all this jargon and all sorts of support tickets and email conversations.”
“We wanted to make it simple. If a feature couldn’t be explained over the phone, or in a short video clip, we kept simplifying it and simplifying it. Now, we’re proud to have a product that any contractor can pick up and use to save huge amounts of time.”
Frankie from Northern Roofing decided to try out RapidQuote software for a few weeks, and already he’s a convert.
Following a telephone consultation and a guided walkthrough of the system, Frankie claims to be spending half as much time on his estimates – and he’s only getting quicker.
Less time wasted, less money spent
It’s coming up to seven o’clock on another Tuesday evening. In his armchair, Frankie has just finished using Google Maps to bring up an aerial image of a potential client’s property. In ten minutes, he’ll have used his estimation software to calculate all the areas, hips and ridges.
Once the computer finishes the scaling and counting a few seconds later, Frankie will close his laptop screen. The time he’s saved tonight is worth about a hundred and fifty pounds, but Frankie isn’t thinking about that. He’s just pleased to have his first guilt-free evening off in months.