Today we’d like to introduce you to James Train.
James, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
E-Z Flow Foam Systems manufactures polyurethane foam dispensing systems, for packaging, flotation foam, structural foam, insulation, void fill, and many other applications (our customers keep surprising us). We also offer the foam chemicals and other consumables.
I bought this company out of a friend’s garage in 2001. His annual sales were less than $200K. Our sales this year will be over $1.7 million.
For the first five years, we struggled to be recognized in the Foam In Place field. Now, our name is recognized by everyone in the polyurethane foam industry, and foam manufacturers look to us to help market their products.
We have had our problems, including bankruptcy of major sole source suppliers, a very difficult economic climate ten years ago, and a catastrophic fire in 2016 that destroyed our entire facility. But we have proved ourselves to be resilient and tough, and we have survived and prospered.
Polyurethane foam tends to be a closed industry. People who are in this business stay in it, and companies are founded and run by those with experience in the field. And yet, no one connected with E-Z Flow, myself included, had any experience with polyurethane, with Foam In Place, or with packaging, before coming to work here.
It was just me when I started. Now, there are six of us: three full time and three-part time. These are the people who have made E-Z Flow successful, who have pulled us through the tough times, including that terrible fire, and who are now responsible for our continuing prosperity.
Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
Our first year, our major supplier, who had been in business for over 90 years, suddenly declared bankruptcy. They made heater elements for us. No one else in the United States made those. We had to quickly find someone who could and would manufacture them for us, or we were out of business. I had to negotiate with a supplier to do something they had never done. Now, they have a new customer base, and we have a good long term supplier.
Banks would not touch us. We could not get loans to save our lives. During a crisis, I got an emergency loan from the man I had bought the company from (and who is still a close friend, and who still receives royalties from us). Other than that, we have been entirely self-financed from the beginning. Now, the banks that slammed doors in our faces are pleading for our business, and we laugh at them.
Bill was my first employee. He had been a ship fitter in the Navy, and there isn’t much he can’t do. He’s been a great strength to us. Now, he’s retired, and comes part time to help out.
John came to us from running a hotel. I had to convince him that he was an industrial salesman. His wife kept asking him when he would get a “real job”. Now, he’s making more money than in any other job he’s ever had.
Chris is in charge of production at a major subcontractor, making heater assemblies. He volunteered to come here on his lunch hours, and test heaters for us. He does a lot of other things for us besides, and we’re grateful to have him.
Jeff came to us after the fire, as a temporary helper. Now he’s our full time assembly and warehouse person. As terrible as that fire was, I’m glad that Jeff’s working here was one of the results.
Gene, my wife, was here from the beginning. She comes here after her regular job, and does the accounting and much of the clerical work. She believed in me and in E-Z Flow, even when it was hard for me to believe in myself.
The fire was on March 25, 2016. The entire operation was destroyed. It was the worst time of my life. But all of our employees rallied, our customers were understanding, our suppliers were incredible, and our landlords gave us a nice large space “temporarily”, until the burned unit could be rebuilt. Well, we stayed in the “temporary” space until we didn’t want to leave, so we’re still here.
E-Z Flow Foam Systems – what should we know? What do you guys do best? What sets you apart from the competition?
At the start, we just sold the Foam In Place equipment. It was only supposed to be for packaging. But we kept finding other uses for it, and now our customers have hundreds of applications for our little system.
Then we started selling the foam chemicals too. We are honored to represent BASF Chemicals, our largest supplier, and the largest chemical company in the world. We also sell the cleaning solvents and the poly film used for packaging. We provide turnkey solutions, not only for packaging, but for a wide variety of applications.
In a cutthroat industry, where no one trusts anyone else, I’m proud to say that everyone trusts us. We get samples of foam chemicals from almost every manufacturer and blender, and we test them through our equipment (at no charge!), and provide samples and a detailed report. As far as I know, we are the only company that does this, that is not a fully owned branch of a manufacturer. We are certainly the only people who do it for everyone, without charge.
We can customize our equipment for specific applications. including automated or robotic dispensing. We are proud of saving our customers a great deal of money compared to the solutions they used previously.
There are only three companies in the U.S. that I’m aware of that do what we do, and the other two are multibillion dollar companies, much larger than us. But we keep competing with them, head to head, and we keep growing every year.
What is “success” or “successful” for you?
I spent many years in the electronics industry, working in the purchasing and materials management field. During that time, I saw a lot of really stupid decisions made by senior management, even when it was obvious that they should have known better. And many times, I said to myself, “I’m going to run a company and run it my own way, and I won’t make mistakes like this.” Well, I’ve made mistakes, but not like those. So, based on all my previous experience, to me, success means not having to work for idiots.
Here in my shop is my beloved 1924 Model T Ford. When customers admire it, I take them out for a drive. This also is a measure of success: I can have what I want, within reason. I don’t want or need a Ferrari. My Model T is a quiet reminder of a simpler time, and being able to indulge my passion for historical artifacts like that, and like the 1912 Victrola in my lobby, is indicative that I must be doing something right.
Perhaps the single largest criterion of success, to me, is the ability to refuse to deal with someone. If I don’t like an employee, I can fire him (if I can build a case against him); fortunately, that’s never come up here. If I don’t like a supplier, I’ll find another one, and I’ve done that several times. In fact, I bodily threw one man out of my office after I caught him lying to me. And if I don’t like a customer, I can tell him so, if I’m willing to lose the business. A few months ago, I was arguing with a director level person at one of our biggest customers. He said, “After all, we are your customer, so you have to do anything we want, don’t you?” I said, “No, we don’t, and we’re not going to.” He said, “What? Are you willing to lose our business? What would you do if we cancelled all our orders tomorrow?” I told him flatly, “We’d have a party.” There was a long silence after that…
After repeatedly trying to coach one customer through a simple procedure, shortly after they had bought one of our systems, I finally said, “OK, that’s enough. Put the whole thing back in the box, and return it to us at our expense, for full credit. You’re too stupid to own an E-Z Flow system.” I hung up, we got the system back, and gave them full credit. Yes, I think that’s a good measure of success.
- Address: E-Z Flow Foam Systems Inc.
8205 Ronson Road, Suite C
San Diego CA 92111
- Website: www.ezflofoam.com
- Phone: 858-279-3569
- Email: email@example.com