By Eric Peterson | Mar 25, 2014
Polymer chemicals for industries
Working in chemical distribution in the 1980s, Charlie Harris saw a need for resins for epoxy flooring and decided to hang his own shingle in the business. "I started out with one employee, myself, in 1993," he says of EFI's start.
At first, the company was named Epoxy Formulations Inc., and focused on flooring, but that changed in 1999 when Charles Schroeder and Mitch Horwat joined the company with backgrounds in electrical potting and specialty coating. It follows that the company expanded into these areas and rebranded as EFI Polymers.
The company's facility near I-70 and York Street in Denver, a former medical depot for the U.S. Army, collapsed after a record spring snowstorm in 2003. "We had a huge disaster on our hands," says Harris, EFI's president and CEO. (Schroeder and Horwat are both VPs.) "We lost our office and all of our manufacturing capabilities."
But thanks to a second space the company owned -- and a pre-demolition chance to recover what was in the rubble at the collapsed building -- EFI was back up and running in just five days, says Harris. By the end of the year, the company relocated about two miles east to I-70 and Holly Street, where it remains today.
Selling to about 400 customers in an average year, the company manufactures for three markets: electrical potting (or insulation), specialty coating and adhesives.
"We've always been a business-to-business company," says Harris. "We've always made products other companies use with their products."
Electrical potting represents about two-thirds of EFI's sales. The products are used by other manufacturers that "have electrical components that run outdoors or under the hood of a vehicle or even underwater," says Harris, spotlighting the solenoids on Rain Bird Sprinkler Systems.
The potting begins as a foam-like material that's applied to electrical component in question. "It chemically reacts and forms a rigid plastic that protects the component from water, heat, dirt -- that type of thing."
Specialty coatings for highway tapes are about a quarter of EFI's sales. The adhesive division accounts for about 10 percent of the company's business by making laminating adhesives for acoustic ceiling panels.
EFI also collaborated with Encore Rail Systems in Broomfield to develop a better way to maintain and repair concrete railroad ties, which are susceptible to sunlight. "Over time, the concrete begins to crumble," says Harris. EFI and Encore's epoxy-based solution reduces repair time from "hours to seconds" with an assist from an ultraviolet light.
Today EFI serves an international market, with about a third of sales going to customers overseas. "We're able to follow our customers around the world, wherever they're manufacturing," says Harrie.
"The company has grown quite a bit," says Harris, forecasting $18 million in sales for 2014. "We've grown every year we've been in business with the exception of two years [1994 and 2009]. Otherwise, we've been growing the top and bottom line every year."
Challenges: Staying on top of relevant industry regulations. "Because we're in chemicals, we're in a complex regulatory environment," says Harris. "It's not as rigorous as pharma, but it's closer to that than operating a lumberyard."
Because of this, any expansion requires "a year or more" of lead time, he adds. "That can be a crystal-ball look at where you're going to be in 12 months, and that can be difficult."
Opportunities: Smart technology, says Harris, as everything from gas meters to the electrical grid is getting an intelligent upgrade. "All that stuff will have to be insulated with materials that can be outdoors and work with computers," he explains.
A good example is lighting for swimming pools made by EFI customer Pentair Pool Products. "Those lights used to be simple white lights," says Harris. "Now it has a brain, they have LED lighting in there, and a motor."
The biggest opportunity is the "smart grid," he adds. "The smart grid is going to evolve and as it does, they're going to need our types of products."
Needs: Recruiting and fostering telent, says Harris. "We occupy a small niche in the chemical industry, so finding salespeople, technical staff, and managers is difficult."