ESP evolves into manufacturer with national footprint
Insulation production is a fairly stable process that doesn't change much. That makes getting established in the industry very difficult for upstart companies. The kings of insulation production remain industry giants like Owens Corning and Dow Chemical.
Then there's Environmentally Safe Products Inc., which produces its patented reflective insulation products from a sleepy side street in New Oxford, near the border of Adams and York counties.
Cory Groft, one of the founding partners, remembers the years of struggle in the early to mid-1990s.
His wife, Veronica, went door to door selling the company's patented Low-E insulation to anyone who would listen, Groft recalled. Driving an old, beat-up van, Veronica Groft always parked a couple of blocks from the offices she visited so prospective clients wouldn't see it.
“Insulation is such a dog-eat-dog, penny-pinching industry,” Cory Groft said. “It's not an easy one to break into.”
The efforts eventually paid off, and ESP began growing steadily. Initially selling roof insulation for pole barns, Groft and his partners branched out into new-home construction. Today, he estimates that residential insulation accounts for 60 percent of sales.
The company set a sales record in 2014 and expects to break that figure this year. The first year ESP topped $1 million in sales was 1995, said Tom Wright, company president.
“We were dancing down the halls,” he said with a laugh. “Now it's a monthly goal.”
Roots in solar
Cory Groft began in the solar power generation business more than 25 years ago, tinkering with various ideas. That gave Groft and partner Tom Dauber plenty of insight into radiant heat and conduction. They quickly saw better opportunities in reflective insulation.
“We went out and visited chicken farmers and all those kinds of people who were building pole barns,” Groft said. “Out of that, we designed Low-E.”
The product self seals around fasteners and has more malleability, which provides a better seal against roof leakage that was common at the time in pole barns, Groft explained.
For a short period, Low-E was manufactured by a subcontractor. In 1993, the ESP partners bought their first machines and began producing insulation themselves. They continued asking questions and fine-tuning the product until it was patented in 1994, Groft said.
“It was just sincerely going out and spending time with people and figuring out how we could build a better widget,” he said.
The company later developed Low-E Slab Shield, designed specifically for use under concrete slabs. It became ESP's second patented product. By the late 1990s, the company's commercial clients included 1-million-square-foot steel buildings.
Competitors — from fiberglass companies to spray foam insulation makers — went after ESP, Groft said, prompting the company to prove its product claims via third-party testing. “It was a real war for years,” Groft said.
The key to the Low-E design is its solid form that doesn't settle, Groft said. The patented process flame bonds the foil to the foam and is done without glues. Low-E stops 97 percent of radiant energy that it encounters from passing through, which ESP claims is the best-performing insulation for cutting heating bills.
“One thing about reflective insulation — it doesn't change, because it doesn't collapse,” Groft said.
Dan Wisotzkey, sales representative for Yorktowne Roofing & Siding in York, said ESP is a winner with clients because it increases the “insulation factor” without the need for a house wrap product, which is normally added to keep out moisture. “With this you don't need it, because you're going over top of the wood.
“It seems like they started slow, and they wanted to try and find a little niche market,” added Wisotzkey, also vice president of the York Builder's Association. “I think they went about it the right way. Really, the vendors spread the word.”
The company is branching out to household uses, such as dog-bed insulation, and selling those products over the Internet, a market that is “growing like crazy,” Groft said. ESP has a facility in Carson City, Nev., and is looking for a building in Tupelo, Miss.
A full truckload of Low-E weighs just 6,000 pounds, which makes it cost-prohibitive to truck freight long distances. Insulation is fairly cheap, and manufacturers must sell a lot of it in a lot of buildings to make a good profit. ESP hopes to cut down on costly transportation of Low-E by opening five manufacturing centers across the U.S., Groft said.
ESP employs nearly 50 people, all of whom receive full medical coverage with no employee contribution.
“When the employees in the back realize they're most important, you don't have to worry about them turning out a bad product,” Groft said.
One thing that isn't on the agenda is selling ESP, he added, or moving out of New Oxford. Groft has fielded three offers for the company.
“We're not for sale, because my employees are not for sale,” he said, adding that the plan is to pass ESP on to family members. “We've got people here 20 years, 15 years. For me to take the money and run, to me, it isn't worth it.”