Vinyl Siding Solutions Done the Right Way

Progressive Foam Technologies

Progressive Foam Technologies created the residential insulated vinyl siding market that it now dominates, keeping homes warm, cool, and looking good. What’s not to be delighted with about that? And yet this is not a company that ever stands still.

Progressive Foam Technologies is a foam insulation manufacturer based in Beach City, Ohio, with a plant located in Gnadenhutten, Ohio. Company President Jason Culpepper describes Progressive Foam Technologies as a third-generation EPS (expanded polystyrene) provider.

Culpepper’s grandfather originally ran an EPS plant in Fenton, Michigan, in the early days of the product (the 1960s-70s), a time Culpepper describes as one of exciting opportunity but not a lot of focus within the sector. By the time Culpepper’s father, Pat, founded Progressive Foam, the company was focused on building products by fostering relationships with aluminum siding manufacturers, who at that time formed the bulk of the cladding market.

The company would eventually figure out which type of insulation could go best behind this type of siding and also registered its patent for insulated vinyl siding; by 1992, the market for aluminum siding had shrunk, it’s place as market leader usurped by vinyl siding.

Progressive’s initial wave of growth was spurred by a two-part system of a foam backer contoured specifically to fit the shape of vinyl siding made by various manufacturers. The next breakthrough rapidly came to dominate the siding sector: its patent on insulated vinyl siding technology, where Progressive invented a one-piece insulated siding system with its foam insulation laminated to vinyl siding. It was truly a game-changer for the remodeling industry.

Innovating out of the downturn
Throughout the years, Progressive worked with the vinyl siding manufacturers, introducing new profiles and shapes to its repertoire, and continuing to grow until 2007-2008. The recession, which hit everybody hard, would see the vinyl siding market decline significantly. Despite this setback, the company continued to advance its technology, finding that the quickest way to get business back into growth mode was through innovation, and also diversification of its products.

Since 2008, Progressive has rounded out its offerings with nearly 100 new products and has grown significantly since 2013. Culpepper summarizes the company’s role within the industry: “We can provide the best insulation products no matter what their application… our customers need products that tell a great story, [and we] can supply products to customers for any applications that can help grow jobs and close deals.”

Culpepper confirms that insulated vinyl siding is Progressive’s most popular product, selling primarily into the huge market of home improvers and residential construction outfits. Culpepper says that the company also has good relationships with all major vinyl siding manufacturers, but admits that a “huge chunk” of the market doesn’t know that insulated vinyl siding even exists, as it was introduced relatively recently, around 1999-2000.

Progressive relies on raw materials suppliers to maintain its manufacturing, and the company looks for those suppliers that both want to be involved with the business and are committed to being exemplary partners. This has led to many, long-standing “win/win partnerships” – such as that with chemical company BASF – that are focused on creating a strong demand for superior products.

Potential for more
Culpepper observes that the industry is not always the quickest to adopt new products and processes, and so insulated vinyl siding is still nowhere near its full potential as a technology. However, the company is working tirelessly with its OEM (original equipment manufacturer) partners to exploit the technology to the fullest and “delight the marketplace” – an ambition that the company keeps front and center of its vision.

Progressive bases its business on the three pillars – product development, the advancement of process technology, and continually evolving better ways to install and market its product. The company’s focus is also on being a great partner itself, Culpepper says.

It’s not a company that is for sale either, neither owned by private equity nor publicly traded, but family owned, and with the long-term mindset of delighting its customers and maximizing impact on the market it serves. Insulation industry products are also typically sold by independent sales reps in a commoditized environment, whereas Progressive is quite the opposite – it heavily invests in its brand identity and in the markets in which it operates.

Culpepper explains that Progressive believes that “we have a responsibility downstream with distributors… a lot of our competitors look at success as putting foam on shelves… our salespeople don’t win by stocking shelves; they win when they set up partnerships downstream.“

Partnership approach
Marketing director Mike Kemper adds that Progressive’s partnership approach is a unique way of doing business, and that the company typically sells both to the wholesale distributors that sell its product, and to OEMs with which it produces products. Rich partnerships have been built this way with its clients, and it is clear that Progressive looks to benefit the remodeler and builder as much as the distributor.

Unlike many other companies, Progressive does not describe its work culture as “laid-back”; rather, it promotes an internal culture of respect, of having a beneficial impact on its community, and of constantly reinforcing core values (interdependence, integrity, excellence, service, respect, listening).

People first
This focus has seen a unique type of employee emerge and thrive in the halls of Progressive, and Culpepper believes that making life better for both customers and people in the business is more important than any bottom line.

Kemper agrees that Progressive promotes a “people-first culture” and a professional environment that translates to every level of the company, with an emphasis on charitable actions, of investing in what people are invested in. Culpepper specifically notes the support of microbusiness, education, health, and wellness in the third world as initiatives close to the company’s heart, especially in places like the Philippines, Kenya, and China.

Closer to home, Progressive supports its local Habitat for Humanity chapter, donating product and money generously each year, as well as sponsoring a house and motivating employees to join in the building process.

However, Culpepper observes that Progressive’s first and most important service to the local community is through its treatment of company employees, ensuring that there is rich opportunity and fair compensation for all at their place of work.

A booming industry
Culpepper describes the insulation industry as a booming one, particularly when it comes to siding. Before the recession, home improvement was driven by financing and home equity, but the crash led to sales of big-ticket items like siding, roofing, and windows dropping off. This has begun to change as the industry recovers, and Culpepper reports that the siding industry has thrived this year, as large home improvement companies grow and add sales staff.

In the insulation industry, the energy code is changing, meaning every builder must find new ways to insulate without driving up the price of homes and without cutting back numbers; thus, there’s a real challenge of trying to increase insulation without pushing costs above the selling point.

Culpepper says that for a busy and growing manufacturing company, finding dependable people to hire in a time of low unemployment can be a challenge as well. The company has put in place two strategic initiatives on that front – helping customers improve their installer-hiring practices, and themselves striving to be the best hiring and onboarding company in the market. Culpepper adds that if Progressive is going to be the best in its field, “we have to be better than the other companies at hiring, onboarding, training, and career-path communication.”

Progressive is a company focused on the long-term, and while significant growth is expected to continue, Culpepper remarks on the possibility of a slight slow-down in the economy between now and 2030. The product technology in insulated siding experienced a stalling of growth during the 2008 downturn, but with its vinyl-siding partners in growth mode, Progressive is now seeing its investment in product development shaping up to kick-start better growth than ever over the next decade.

Focus, focus, focus
The company will continue to focus on optimizing its manufacturing and supply chains, as well as innovating with its partners while investing in new infrastructure, product development, and commercialization of products that will drive growth in the business.

Progressive recognizes the need to have its manufacturing strategically placed throughout the country to optimize its market share, and to get its core product at the right price point to maximize potential. Culpepper estimates that Progressive’s product has not fulfilled its potential yet, and that there is an opportunity to double and even triple the volume of product technologies and unlock all the potential that products and company possess.

Progressive Foam Technologies shows every sign of having found firm footing again after a troublesome time for American companies, and is more dedicated than ever to its long-term vision of serving the marketplace with unique product and solutions.

Building the Next Generation

As thousands of experienced workers retire across North America every day, it is small wonder many industries are concerned about the future. It has been a decade since the oldest members of the baby boom generation started leaving their jobs, removing from the workplace decades of experience and skills that are tough to replace. The situation is so dire that, when younger workers are not available or knowledgeable enough to take over, retired staffers are often called back to work on a part-time basis.

November 17, 2019, 12:20 AM EST