A Conversation With George Spanos – President, Spray Foam Distributors of New England, Inc.
By Jen Kramer
A drive to be the best and an uncompromising work ethic combine to create one of the most successful spray foam distributing companies on the East Coast, if not in the U.S.: Sprayfoam Distributors of New England, Inc (SFDONE). Spray Foam Magazine spoke with George Spanos, SFDONE’s President about the creation of his company and the role he plays in the industry he so strongly supports.
Spray Foam Magazine: How did you arrive at your current position at the top of one of the most influential companies in the spray foam industry?
George Spanos: I started my company over 10 years ago. I was building my own house and wanted to have spray foam installed. There weren’t a lot of SPF contractors out there and I had two contractors that I called for estimates. The first one I met with came by and I had a few questions. He started measuring the house immediately and I followed him around to ask my questions. On the third or fourth question, he told me that he had eight jobs to measure that day and didn’t have time for all of my questions. He then proceeded to tell me that it would be $35,000 to insulate my house and he needed a check for $17,500 then and there to be put on the schedule! The second contractor wouldn’t give me a time to meet at the house. Instead, he went when I wasn’t there and left his estimate for thirty-something-thousand stapled to the framing inside. This frustrated the hell out of me and I thought, “I am in the wrong business.” Shortly after, I found a company in Georgia selling the equipment and chemicals to do the foam myself. No training and I would learn the hard way, without support, but that was the birth of SFDONE.
SFM: As President, what are your daily challenges? Daily objectives?
GS: I have a lot of my original customers that still call/text/email me on a daily basis. We haven’t grown to the point where I just pass them off to someone else, nor will I. They like dealing with me and I enjoy the relationships that I have built with them over the years. Without them in the beginning, we wouldn’t be where we are today. Some days it is challenging though. I know a lot of them personally, like family, and some of them like to talk a lot! My main daily objective is making sure that those customers and all others are taken care of – especially the ones that are on a job and are shut down because of an issue. Those get top priority, and my team knows it too. Take care of the guy that is shut down before you take that new sales call, unfortunately, is opposite of most in this industry.
SFM: This sounds very demanding in addition to just running the business. How do you achieve business goals?
GS: I don’t set a lot of goals for the business such as sales targets or growth projections. The phone rings, you answer it. If you can’t, you call the customer back. Answer texts and emails ASAP. Don’t sell the customer stuff they don’t need. Treat the customers like you would like to be treated. Talk straight, no BS. This is an interesting industry and contractors know if they are talking to a salesman or to someone that actually knows what they are talking about. We do all of these things and we surpass any goals that we could have set.
SFM: That is a unique approach – one that your customers must appreciate. How did you happen to develop it? What sets your company apart in the SPF industry?
GS: Like I said, I bought my equipment from a salesman with little technical knowledge of the equipment. I was fortunate, I am very mechanically inclined and even though I had a steep learning curve, it wasn’t as bad as I have seen with others over the years. I think because of this, we go completely the other way. As far as I know, we provide more training and support than anyone else in the industry by far. We hold three-day, hands-on training classes every month. They have been filling up. We had two classes for January and February of this year, one in March, and we have two for April as well, all at no charge to our customers. Not to mention, we are having a Gaco ProFill one-day training and hosted an Energy Efficient Building Association (EEBA) seminar sponsored by Covestro on April 1.
SFM: What challenges did your company overcome in the last year?
GS: I assume that in any company that has had double-digit growth for 10 years in a row there are going to be growing pains. Keeping up with demand and keeping everyone happy is challenging at times. Sometimes you have a bunch of rigs lined up to build and then you have two or three rigs come in for emergency repairs. Scheduling can be tough as you never know when a rig is going to go down. Hiring new people is a challenge to keep up with demand.
SFM: You have New England in your name. What other markets do you target?
GS: We mainly focus on the New England market. We really only want to sell to customers that we can service and support. Some distributors try to sell nationwide and will sell almost at cost just to make a sale across the country. They figure its incremental income and they won’t have to deal with the service and support of that customer. We don’t do that. That being said, we do have customers all over. Contractors call in and you help them and they want to buy from you, sometimes over a great distance.
SFM: Does that “great distance” include the international market?
GS: We don’t target international sales, even though we have a regular customer in Barbados. We have sent equipment to Ireland, Canada, and a few other foreign places I can’t remember off the top of my head. We sent SPF equipment and foam to Uzbekistan, along with a trainer to show the people there how to operate the equipment and correctly install foam. We sent many containers of foam and equipment to Camp Herat in Afghanistan. We were prepared to send a trainer there if needed, but the U.S. military had their trained contractors on site and it was simply not possible to get a non-military trainer onto the base.
SFM: Tell us a little about your training programs. They seem to be a large part of your service offerings.
GS: We offer the whole package, from start to finish. We have been a Top 20 Graco Distributor for six years in a row. From choosing the right equipment; to building a rig; to training (both in our classes and then on the job); to technical support after the sale; and all the best spray foam chemicals as well. They are all shipped free overnight anywhere in New England, NY, NJ, PA, and DE. The main goal is proper training and support for my customers.
SFM: Are there any new products on the horizon?
GS: We are constantly looking at new products. The nice thing about being the leader with a good reputation is that a lot of companies want to partner with you. We are constantly looking for new formulations that offer the best value to our customers. If we find something that we think the customers will be interested in, we ask them and if there is enough interest, we carry it. We currently stock five different brands of closed-cell foam and three different brands of open-cell foam.
SFM: What does the future hold for your company?
GS: Only good things. We will just keep doing what we have been doing for the last 10 years. We never want to get away from our core way of doing things, but we also want to keep an open mind and an eye open for other opportunities.
SFM: What challenges face your company in the coming year?
GS: I think the challenge we face is the same for the SPF industry as a whole. Despite our efforts to only sell to contractors who have been through our training class, we can’t do it alone. It is still too easy to buy SPF chemicals without any training. Like any industry, there are still some unscrupulous operators out there selling substandard chemicals, possibly imported from China or other places that don’t even have all of the proper testing to be installed in homes here. There were two fires that I know of in the last month that were possibly because of these substandard materials. Not to mention, the foam failures that we have seen over the years by untrained applicators who either don’t know, or don’t care what good foam looks like. None of these things are good for my company, or anyone else here for the long haul.
SFM: What is your outlook for the SPF industry in the next 10 years?
GS: If we can all work together to do our best to make sure this phenomenal insulation is properly applied, I can see SPF taking more and more market share in the residential and commercial market. I also see some consolidation phase coming with more smaller companies getting swallowed up by the big boys out there, but that remains to be seen.