We’re excited to introduce you to the always interesting and insightful James Train. We hope you’ll enjoy our conversation with James below.
Alright, James thanks for taking the time to share your stories and insights with us today. To kick things off, we’d love to hear about things you or your brand do that diverge from the industry standard
Our biggest competitor dominates this industry with over 90% of the Foam In Place market. But they are arrogant and difficult to deal with. Amazingly, most of the other people in the Foam In Place industry tried to be like them! We are the first company to emphasize our differences from them, and it has resonated with our customers. Where our big competitor treats their customers like idiots, we treat them as intelligent people who have choices, so we have to take good care of them. And it shows. We’re consistently growing 10-20% per year, and are now about ten times the sales volume that we had when we started. Our customer retention rate is over 80% and we get E mails and phone calls every day from people who want to buy our equipment and our supplies.
James, before we move on to more of these sorts of questions, can you take some time to bring our readers up to speed on you and what you do?
I’m Jim Train, historian, inventor, engineer, among other things. I spent 20 years in industrial procurement in the electronics industry, until I realized that every company I ever worked for had either gone bankrupt, been bought out, or closed the division I worked for. So I decided to bet on myself. My friend Jim Langston had a small hobby business that he was running out of his garage, selling polyurethane foam dispensing equipment that he had designed himself. He wanted to retire and move, so we made a deal and I bought his little company. I had no experience at all with polyurethane foam, but I went ahead anyway. Now, we are well known in the industry and all over the US, even though no one connected with this company ever worked in this industry before coming here. That’s unique in the polyurethane industry, where people usually spend years familiarizing themselves with the chemicals and equipment before starting something like this.
We take care of our customers, and we make simple, basic, easy to use equipment, that the customer can quickly get used to working with.
Have you ever had to pivot?
About five years after we started, sales were low and falling. We were selling only the equipment at that time, because I didn’t want to compete with my customers, who were selling the foam chemicals. But we were not selling enough equipment to survive. We were deep in debt, with very little money coming in. So we had to start selling the foam chemicals and other consumables that go with the system. It was difficult at first, but we finally got some traction, and then a very large chemical company came and offered us a distributorship! After that, we’ve been doing pretty well. Getting into selling chemicals was a hard decision, and it was a major effort to start stocking them and to convince customers to buy from us. But now we have a consistent revenue stream. The lesson is, don’t be afraid to make major changes in your company when you can see that your business model is not working out!
Has your business ever had a near-death moment? Would you mind sharing the story?
At one time, about three years after we started, our total receivables was $33.00. We had about $5000 in immediate payables, so we were in trouble! It took a lot of hard work and sales effort to get some money in, but we did it. There were times when we had to ask our suppliers to wait for their money, but never more than a couple of weeks, and we made it a practice to pay everyone on time whenever possible.