Project1_Layout 1 07/05/2013 PITCHED ROOFING INTERVIEW: PART 1
Holly Miles: Can you tell us about your career
history, how you ended up in construction and
John Mercer: In 1977, I studied architecture at
Huddersfield Technical College, and we were then
told that for every six of us that qualified, only
one of us would actually get a job, so I decided
I would get a job. I went to work for a builders’
merchant and that is where my association with
Wienerberger began. I joined Sandtoft in 1985 as
a trainee salesman, and then in 1992, I became
an assistant sales manager. Because my natural
inclination was towards technical, I eventually
became technical manager.
HM Why did you hooe the roofing indutry
JM: I always liked architecture and enjoyed
working at the builders’ merchant. It was just
something about dealing with Sandtoft
that I liked, so when a job came up, I
applied and got it! My architectural
background has always come in handy
as I frequently use AutoCAD, so all
that architectural training which I
thought was a waste of time has been
HM: What was it like when you were
starting out in the sector? How has the
industry changed over the years?
JM: Roofing has always had an image problem.
People think of those guys who turn up at your
house with ladders and a bucket and rip you
off by charging you hundreds of pounds to fit
a ridge that only cost £1.50. In a lot of ways, I
don’t think the image has really changed that
much. That said, there are many great roofing
craftsmen around and many more coming up
through colleges. Products have got better.
The construction industry is still based on an
adversarial model, which means that people
don’t work together that well and BIM is
hopefully the thing that will improve that model.
HM: What have been the drivers for growth
within the market?
JM: Our perennial shortage of homes has
continued to drive the market. The government
has always said we need to be building 250,000
homes a year and we never have. Families have
changed; more people live on their own and the
building industry hasn’t particularly adapted
itself to cater for all those people, as well as the
people that come into the UK from abroad.
Housebuilders tend to have a model that suits
them, so they can only build a certain number of
houses per year and they stick to it. So, no matter
what the government says, it’s very difficult to
move the industry to build a lot more houses. We
also have a very large stock of old houses which
we like to hang on to – we are quite precious
094 JUNE 2018 RCIMAG.COM
The end of an era
After writing regularly for RCI for six years, John Mercer is hanging up his hard hat and is retiring as technical manager at Wienerberger. RCI’s Holly
Miles talks to John, looking back over his long and fruitful career and discussing the state of the industry. Part two will follow next month
about our old buildings. On
the roofing side, we have a
thriving market in re-roofing,
modernisation and renovation.
HM: How have your customers’ needs
changed over the years?
JM: The need for good quality technical
information from the manufacturers has
increased enormously over the years. When I
started at Sandtoft, we didn’t really give any
technical assistance apart from telling them
how big the tiles are and what gauge you put
them on at. Now customers like us to supply
all the technical information, including the
architectural specification for buildings, which
I think is a really good thing as it gives us the
power to produce and sell all the other products
that are part of a roof.
HM: What are the biggest issues affecting the
JM: Shortage of materials and skilled labour.
Roofers are often treated unfairly by main
contractors because they can be quite vague
about the specification, so the roofer tends to get
the blame when things go wrong.
There is always a lag between the demand
and supply, if demand increases it takes months
to increase our production. You can’t just turn
on the taps and start producing more roof tiles.
One minute you’ve got surplus stock and then
you have shortages and customers just blame
manufacturers like us.
The skills shortage is an endemic problem
caused by the industry and the government. I can
remember as a teenager that they pretty much
stopped apprenticeships and even now they have
not really come back in the way they used to.
Currently, the only way we can get skilled labour
is to import it from abroad.
HM: What have been the stand out projects
your products have been used on?
JM: We worked on the re-roof of The Reform
Club in London, and although I wasn’t directly
involved, our heritage service manager Nigel
Dyer was. It was interesting because it was so
technically difficult that we had to build replica
parts of the roof in our factory to test on. We
won an award for that one and The Reform Club
was the subject of Jules Verne’s novel Around
the World in 80 Days, Phileas Fogg made a
wager that he could go around the world in 80
days and he started and ended at The Reform
Club. I studied that novel as a teenager, so it had
some significance for me.
HM: Is there still innovation and development
to e done ith roofing tile
JM: Yes, there is. Manufacturers have done a
lot to improve the performance of roof tiles, one
of the things we have done a lot of is to remove
material without compromising strength. In terms
of innovation of the roof, I think there is more
that we can do to harvest power from the roof. In
between the roof tiles and the underlay is a cavity
which gets very hot and people are looking at
ways of harvesting heat from that. I also believe
that we need to think about faster and easier
ways to fix roof tiles, because on the horizon are
factory-built houses which don’t lend themselves
to putting roof tiles on them, putting them on a
wagon, and then being sent out to site.
Check out part two in the July issue of RCI