A Conversation with the John and Jack Stahl, owners of Preferred Solutions Inc.
By Juan Sagarbarria
Spray Foam Magazine: After over three decades in business, Preferred Solutions Inc (PSI) is an absolute reference in the spray foam industry. Why would you say so many choose to attach themselves to the PSI brand?
John: I believe our products and services provide the spray foam contractor excellent value. High-quality, differentiated products offered at competitive prices enable contractors to sell more projects and earn higher profits compared to many of our competitors. In addition, we work hard to generate qualified leads for our authorized installers and then, once a project gets under way, to support them from start to finish, ensuring the project gets completed successfully.
SFM: As a father-son team, what are your respective roles and what is each responsible for?
Jack: Our skill sets are a good complement to one another. I’m responsible for the overall day-to-day operations of the company while John focuses mostly on sales and strategy, but as with many family businesses the duties overlap to a certain extent. When it comes down to important strategic decisions, we share the responsibility 50/50—we have an excellent personal and business relationship and I have always been thankful for the fact that no matter how much we may disagree over the merits of a particular decision, it’s never personal. Once the decision has been made, it’s full speed ahead and knowing we have each other’s back provides great sense of latitude to take those big chances.
SFM: Why are PSI’s products in such high demand?
John: As I mentioned earlier, I think we provide tremendous value to both the spray foam contractor and building owner. For example, our Staycell ONE STEP® 255 product is the only spray foam on the market today that is code compliant without a 15-minute thermal barrier. Typical material savings of the ONE STEP system compared to foam covered with intumescent paint range from $0.40 to $0.70 per sq. ft. On a hypothetical 10,000 square foot project, that amounts to between $4,000 to $7,000 savings that the contractor can either pass on to the building owner, thereby increasing the chances of closing the project, or stick it in his pocket. In addition, many architects specify the ONE STEP for their projects even though it will eventually be covered with half-inch gypsum board for enhanced fire safety during construction, where the foam is exposed to welding sparks, cutting torches, trash fires, and/or vandalism.
Another example would be our Stayflex® System, our company’s original product. This is the only spray foam and thermal barrier coating system on the market that is used primarily as a steel corrosion control system in industrial facilities. The beauty of this system is the building owner essentially gets the corrosion protection for free through payback from energy savings provided by the SPF. Contractors typically charge $7.00 to $10.00 per square foot for $3.00 worth of materials. It’s a win-win situation – high margins for the contractor, excellent value for the client. Unique products equal unique opportunities.
SFM: What has been your recipe for success?
Jack: I think owning and operating a business is the ultimate meritocracy, where your skills and talents are put to the test every day. Hard work, perseverance, calculated risk-taking, the willingness to go the extra mile to do the best job possible. But more than anything else the spray foam business, like any business, is about relationships and as long as you make the needs and wants of your employees and customers a priority, then you’ll be successful in the long run.
SFM: You seem to be strong advocates of sustainability. Is that a strong component within your product line?
John: One of the rewards of working in the SPF industry is the opportunity to improve the impact of the built environment on our planet and people’s lives, whether it’s formulating next generation SPF systems or designing durable, energy-efficient building envelopes. For example our ONE STEP product incorporates an inert, proprietary flame retardant package, partially offsetting traditional halogenated and chlorinated fire retardants, both improving fire performance and health and safety at the same time. I think SPF has an extraordinary opportunity relative to other building products and technologies. Greater use of SPF is an example of low-hanging fruit—we can achieve dramatic improvements in energy efficiency of a building without having to reinvent the wheel—by continuing to push for greater adoption. Most of your readers are familiar with the features and benefits of SPF but once you get to sit down with someone and explain the benefits of SPF relative to their other options, the choice becomes obvious.
SFM: Aside from top-of-the line products, what other resources do you offer your customers?
Jack: For the first 15 years in business, we had a contracting division, so I have personally sprayed millions of square feet of foam, which I think gives me a different perspective than most of our competitors. I always try to look at any problem or opportunity through the eyes of the contractor because if the solution is not workable for them it won’t get done. For our SPF contractor customers we aim to be a one-stop shop, whether it be SPF systems, coatings, equipment, building code and health and safety training, technical service and support or sales support. For the architectural and building owner community, it’s all about educating them on the myriad uses of SPF. We assist with product selection, spec writing, interfacing with local code officials, give lunch and learn presentations, site inspections, whatever’s necessary to get them to choose SPF for their upcoming projects. We like to think of ourselves as our customer’s trusted advisors—if we don’t know the answer, we’ll work hard to find it, and if there’s a better solution out there than what we can provide, so be it. It has to be done right.
SFM: How big of a component is spray polyurethane foam to your business and why?
John: SPF is very central to our business, as all of our systems are a combination of SPF with or without
a fire-protective coating. The SPF market is big enough and PSI’s offering is unique enough that we have built our own niche within the industry that we have enjoyed for many years. Luckily, we’ve never had the need to stray from our core competencies to be successful.
SFM: What is your industry outlook overall in the next
Jack: I expect accelerated growth in the use of SPF over the next 10 as the larger building community gets more experience with spray foam, as well as further advancements in the understanding of building science and energy-modeling software, which clearly demonstrates that SPF is frequently the simplest, best-performing option due to its all-in-one multi-functionality (thermal insulation, air barrier, water barrier, vapor retarder). I do not expect future energy codes to require higher R-values, but I do expect it will be more stringent regarding air leakage. Energy modeling that permits trade-offs to be made between R-values and air leakage, which usually justifies reduced foam thickness, will help SPF be more cost competitive. That is the ultimate win-win for spray foam. •
Photos courtesy of Preferred Solutions, Inc.
For more information, visit www.stayflex.com
Take a look at our previous Executive Outlook.