By Eric Peterson / CompanyWeek | Feb 19, 2018
Employees: about 100
Industry: Built Environment
Products: Solar shades
With a background in door manufacturing and distribution, Pease launched a reseller of window treatments, Innovative Openings, with co-founder David Friedlander in 1980.
"What the business is today isn't what we started with," muses Pease. "In the first year, we started selling solar shades, which weren't very popular in the United States back then. That's where we first got a glimpse of the future."
Doing business as Insolroll, the company moved into manufacturing, starting with rolling shutters in 1981. Solar shades, blocking ultraviolet rays and heat but remaining transparent enough to see through, emerged as the focus in the late 1980s. Manufacturing became the dominant part of the business, and that remains true today.
The main reason for the pivot? "We wanted to control the quality," he says. "We had a vision for the product we couldn't acquire."
Part of that vision involved motors and remote controls. "We've always had an interest in motorization and automation," says Pease.
Starting with patio shades, Insolroll "grew from there," says Pease, and moved into interior solar shades in the 1990s. "We're better off being all-in with what we do," he says. "We started focusing exclusively on solar shades over time."
The market has changed markedly in the new millennium. "Until 10 years ago, it still was a specialty product in the U.S.," says Pease. "Now they're the most popular window shades."
Hotels, banks, and restaurants started installing them, and then people wanted them at home. "It was blocking the sun and not the view," says Pease. "That concept caught fire with the consumer."
Popularity has a price: Cheap imports have flooded the market. Insolroll has stayed on the leading edge through innovation, using new fabrics, improving child safety, and offering in-house digital printing. A recent hotel ordered custom patterns for the entire building. "They tend to like bold prints in the hospitality world," says Pease.
Pease says both indoor and outdoor solar shades are both hot. "Outdoor living has gone crazy in the last 10 years," says Pease.
To meet demand, Insolroll has opened a new 15,500-square-foot facility for exterior shades in February 2018. The company now has three buildings totaling 57,500 square feet on its campus in Louisville.
"Everybody's got to find their place in the sun," says Pease. "For us, it's about quality and service and being as competitive as we can be." The strategy has catalyzed "pretty solid growth" in recent years, he adds. "That's why we built a new building."
The model works especially well in the solar shades market. "Everything we do, we have to stock it to be able to ship in five days," he says. "Everything's custom, so it's not like we can just make concrete blocks and wait for someone to buy them."
That puts Insolroll about two weeks up on the competition, and that's huge. Window treatments are one of the last things to get installed, so contractors are happy to pay a premium for speedy delivery.
"We win a lot of our business because of lead time," says Pease. "Our top three competitors are shipping out of Mexico."
Challenges: "The global changes in our industry, with Mexico and China entering the market," says Pease. "We have a lot of challenges because we're moving from a specialty product to a commodity product. There's a lot of price pressure right now."
"The people factor" is another challenge, adds Pease. "That's been the biggest factor limiting our growth. We could not hire enough people last year."
Opportunities: Energy efficiency is driving demand in the commercial market, where solar shades can significantly lower air-conditioning bills, says Pease. "It's more of a challenge for the commercial market because they generate heat from lighting," he explains. "They tend to want to build a big glass box."
The smartphone boom has catalyzed home automation. "Everybody wants to control everything with their phone," he observes. "Motorized shades have always been popular with the high-end residential and high-end commercial markets. The apps have made them more accessible. There's a cool factor that comes into play."
Needs: "It's continued reinvestment," says Pease. "The new building is part of that, the R&D space is part of that, new employees and training are part of that. We're trying to plow [profits] back into the company and be the best we can be."