A Conversation With Mitch Clifton – Director of Business Development, NCFI
By Ryan Spencer
NCFI was one of the world’s pioneers of polyurethane foam in the 1960s, and since has developed product lines in residential and commercial SPF insulation, commercial roofing, geotechnical applications and OEM technologies. Spray Foam Magazine spoke with Mitch Clifton, NCFI’s Director of Sales, about the company’s new products, website, and leadership.
Spray Foam Magazine: So I understand you have a pretty extensive history with NCFI.
Mitch Clifton: First off, my father worked here for 42 years, so I was born into it. I started with NCFI at 15, working through summer breaks in high school and college, and then while working on and receiving my MBA. I’ve had the opportunity to work in multiple roles within NCFI, which has given me an ideal way to understand the entire business.
SFM: How is NCFI doing these days?
MC: We’re a 51-year-old company this year, we serve a lot of different brands, and our business focus, as well as the focus of the new website, was to pull back a bit from the product brands and focus on the NCFI brand. It means a great deal to people who’ve been in the industry for years: experience, exceptional technical and business support, great equipment and training. The NCFI brand means a real partner you can trust in a changing industry.
SFM: What spurred the development of the new website?
MC: We had multiple URLs for insulation and roofing, and we were driving people to a lot of different sites through our marketing efforts. As we looked back at NCFI and who we are in the market, people know us, so we wanted to promote heavily the NCFI brand again and bring everybody to our official home site and then make it very easy to get them into our other business lines. We turned it all around and designed it from the customer’s perspective.
SFM: How has the reaction been?
MC: It’s been amazingly positive. The navigation has been much easier than it was in the past and the information that we added to help our customers was tremendous–now they can get documents, tools, and information in a simple, timely, efficient way. That was the goal.
SFM: Steve Riddle retired at the beginning of this year. What was his legacy at NCFI?
MC: Steve was a really good leader. We came a long way under him, and he left us in a good position, with good attention and focus on our continued growth. NCFI has always been a very strong company, and he left us with a lot of insight.
SFM: NCFI’s new President, Chip Holton, came on board in late January. What does he bring to the company?
MC: Chip comes from outside the industry. He’s a West Point grad, and has a good history in process improvement. He brings new eyes, and deep experience with processes from other industries to help broaden our thinking. Chip constantly asks how can we make this company stronger, and how do we make our customers business better?
SFM: How have the first several months gone?
MC: Chip’s been very positive. He’s brought in a lot of new, fresh ideas–we look at things a little bit differently now. We’ve opened up some good lines of real substantive communications with our customers and our supply chain. He’s been out in the field visiting our markets, so the shift has been very positive for our customers and for NCFI.
SFM: I’ve seen that NCFI’s word for the future is “shift.” What does that entail?
MC: We’re not completely changing NCFI, but rather creating an environment–a culture–so that we can shift in any direction to take advantage of opportunities. We can shift our manufacturing in a short period of time, or shift our focus on markets, or the focus of our associates. We’re getting leaner and quicker. We’re also creating an operational excellence program, which involves a good deal of new product development, continuous process improvement, continual skill development, and preventative maintenance. We’re really looking at driving our operations to a place where we don’t worry about competitors, but rather our own ability to meet our exceptionally high standards.
SFM: How does that extend to installation excellence?
MC: Bottom line, yes. NCFI is focused on health and safety of the installer and the consumer, and we’re focused on sharing our expertise. Many of our associates have 25, 35, 40 years of experience, so we’re excited about sharing that to help our stakeholders grow responsibly and safely in this market space. All of our account managers are SPFA PCP-certified, and we’re also certified by the ACC through their health and safety program, so our commitment starts not only with our customers, but with us as well.
SFM: What is NCFI doing in the new product development area?
MC: We’re very focused right now on residential and commercial [ICC-ES AC 377] Appendix X foams and next generation low-GWP blowing agents for our closed-cell insulation and roof spray. That’s the reason we brought out the new, innovative OCX, which is very user-friendly.
SFM: What makes OCX so user-friendly?
MC: Contractors who tested it say it’s the best open-cell on the market. We designed it to have exceptional yield—the highest in the industry at 16,000-18,000 board feet, to spray in a wide range of equipment and ambient temperatures, and to not require pre-heating. We eliminated the problems of most Appendix X foams.
SFM: Can the industry expect more new products from NCFI in the near future?
MC: Yes, of course you can. We pioneered SPF in the U.S. and we’re committed to continuing our leadership in the market. We’re committed to filling roles in the R&D department, and we’re heavily focused on our new product development here. We will have a number of new products in the marketplace in the next 6-12 months.
SFM: Speaking of R&D, can you talk about NCFI’s work with NASA?
MC: We spent years developing systems for the Delta IV Heavy three-core rocket and Orion spacecraft with NASA and Lockheed Martin, and we actually received a Supplier Quality Excellence Award.
SFM: What exactly was the purpose of these systems?
MC: What we were targeting was a product that would stay on the Delta IV while traveling up to 17,460 miles per hour in escape velocity and enduring temperatures down to -423 degrees Fahrenheit for the liquid hydrogen tanks and -297 degrees Fahrenheit for the liquid oxygen tanks. We had to do multiple trials to bring new technology an innovation into that product.
SFM: Did you have to train NASA on the SPF installation process?
MC: It’s actually applied robotically, so it’s a very cool installation–it’s not like what we normally see in the spray foam industry.
SFM: What is NCFI focused on in the coming years?
MC: We’re heavily focused on shifting back to the residential market. It used to be our bread and butter until the crash of 2000, but we’re seeing life there. It’s starting to turn the corner. I think some people jumped the gun by saying that market had come back in 2013, but we believe the growth is coming in the next 1-3 years.
SFM: What do you think is driving the growth?
MC: We’re seeing foam now go from high-end custom homes down into mid-level homes. The consumer is starting to choose spray foam insulation for houses that are not the typical custom home, which is good for the industry. Codes are changing, and legacy insulation can’t keep up. SPF is the future of insulation, and we’re out ahead of the wave to make sure it’s the best foam that meets the future needs of homebuilders and homeowners.
SFM: And beyond the residential market?
MC: We’ve seen a lot of growth in the commercial market space, and that’s a market we believe will continue to grow. So, we’re committed to staying our course with getting products specified and getting new low-GWP products out in the market place with new blowing agent technology.
SFM: What makes NCFI a standout company in the spray foam industry?
MC: Our commitment to serving our customer. We treat everyone we deal with regardless of size or size of the order, like a partner. Our desire is to make them successful and help grow their businesses. We do that through promoting and doing all we can from a service standpoint: technical service, customer service, and a support system through building codes/building science, health and safety. After 51 years, we know if we keep our customers in the know about what’s going on in the marketplace, be their on-call partner, we make them successful, and if they’re successful, we’ll be successful.