With their high-yielding, high-R-value, AppendixX-passing, bio-based spray polyurethane foams, SES Foam has made an important contribution to green biocontent technology in the spray polyurethane foam industry. Not content, however, they continue to innovate and to support the industry with focused customer training and contractor education. Spray Foam Magazine spoke to Charles Valentine, SES Foam’s Chief Operating Officer, about his role as a leader in such a dynamic corporation and in the industry he so proudly champions.
Spray Foam Magazine: How did you get your start with SES Foam?
Charles Valentine: Although I am a chemical engineer by training, I have worked in just about every position in the industry – sales, sales management, technical service, research and development, production, marketing, and business management. And I have worked at just about all the major corporations, so I truly know this industry and this marketplace. In 2010, Howard Scoggins found out about a new technology and asked if we could start a business around this technology. We then started SES Foam from scratch, based on this new technology. Scoggins, a contractor, believed that sucrose-based foam was the future of the industry and I believed that we could build a business around that product. Scoggins directed the company to always have a strong focus on contractor support and success.
SFM: Foresight and knowledge help, but so does technical ability. Given your background, how quickly were you able to engineer a success?
CV: The initial technology involved didn’t work. So, with my chemical knowledge, we went back to the lab and tried a new approach with sucrose and urethanes. By 2011, we had a new product, which eventually became SucraSeal, our ½-pound, sucrose-based foam. To this day, SucraSeal is the backbone of our company. SucraSeal has been copied many times and we are proud to state that none of our competitors have been able to reproduce the performance of this superior product.
SFM: A green foam that early on? That must have been successful from the beginning.
CV: It took a lot of pounding the pavement, a lot of trials by our growing base of contractor partners, before we gained momentum. In fact, it wasn’t until we increased the yield and continued to pass the Appendix-X Fire test – as a high yield product, without a top coating – that’s when we really started to be separated from the rest of the crowd.
SFM: You mention “contractor partners.” How do they fit into the SES corporate model?
CV: As mentioned above, Mr. Scoggins started the company to always be cognizant of the contractors and the effects our decisions would have on their businesses. As a supplier, we can be the difference between success and failure. Many SES employees are former contractors. We understand the challenges that contractors face. We know just how hard it is to try and succeed in this industry without being given the proper tools. Take a look at other urethane applications such as car seat manufacturers or mattress manufacturers. These industries use urethane and employ chemical experts to try and make the final outcome the best that it can be. For years the spray polyurethane industry did not do this, but rather tried to minimize the complexity involved with using chemicals. The contractors were typically given very little training. This is all changing now – thanks to the hard work of industry organizations such as the SPFA (Spray Polyurethane Foam Association), ACC (American Chemistry Council), SFC (Spray Foam Coalition), and CPI (Center for Polyurethanes Industry), to name a few. We also feel that it is very important to support our contractors as much as we can with training and field support. At the end of the day, we are partners in business together.
SFM: So not only are your products “Green,” but also your approach to business is holistic?
CV: Supporting our contractor partners is a very important part of our business model. By providing comprehensive field support, we try to help manage each relationship to a win/win. We absolutely want our customers to be successful and try to help wherever we can. I once had someone tell me that they refused to do the “Tom and Jerry Thing” when it came to working with their contractors. I’d never heard that expression, but it fits so perfectly that I now use it. Remember the Tom and Jerry cartoons? Remember how Tom and Jerry would beat up on each other and everyone would laugh? That is exactly what you want to avoid – fighting with your team and becoming a laughing stock. It is so much better when everyone functions as a team and helps one another. Their successes not only help them grow, they also help us grow as well.
SFM: The industry has grown since your first days in the chem lab. Where do you see it in 10 years?
CV: I see greater commoditization of products, with fewer larger suppliers controlling the manufacturing side. I see companies walking away from contractor support and limiting their investment in the customer. Who knows, perhaps the fiberglass manufacturers will finally figure it out and take on a bigger role. It seems strange that they haven’t already diversified their product lines, since they are essentially in the best position to take advantage of the situation. Quite often, commoditization forces an industry to push responsibility downstream. That would hurt our industry, but commercial forces cannot be denied.
SFM: Would a fiberglass-involved marketplace worry you? Where do you see SES in 10 years?
CV: At SES we forecast trends. We are in the process of so many new developments, that a narrowed market with competition from fiberglass manufacturers is something that we’re already able to accommodate. It wouldn’t disrupt our plans in the slightest. In 10 years’ time, we will be a full-service provider of urethanes. Our unique technology can and will minimize the competition, allowing our contractor partners to provide full service cutting-edge technology. We still expect our proprietary technology to differentiate us for the near future, and the new technology we have on the shelf will propel us even further ahead of the marketplace. We have already introduced a sucrose-based polyol line that is patent-pending and proving to be a game changer in many areas of polyurethanes.