When my four-year-old self thought of insulation, she thought of the Pink Panther packages in her family’s warehouse. Now an adult, I realize insulation is more than a cartoon character. Insulation is a worldwide industry and a critical component of the home building industry.

On the frontline is the independent insulation contractor. They currently make up 35 percent of the insulation contractors with decreasing numbers every year, as mergers, acquisitions and natural attrition happen. With less representation, I wondered what was on the mind of the independent contractor.

During the National Insulation Contractor’s Exchange LLC summer meeting, I decided to find out.

NICE is a group of 70 independent insulation contractors nationwide with 175 locations. NICE President Dennis Barrineau leads the group. Since its creation in 1996, NICE strives “to foster the growth and success of independent insulation contractors through the efforts of Members and Supplier Partners.” In other words, NICE was founded by independents to support independents.

I sat down with a few of their members. Joining me were Kevin Kinzler of Kinzler Construction Services, Keith Combee of Combee Insulation, Brent Dudgeon of North Central Insulation, Tom Hayes of The Hayes Company, Erick Fiske of Anchor Insulation and two of the founding members, Dewayne Goley of Goley Insulation and Jerry Palmer of Southland Insulators. The conversation quickly moved from topic to topic, starting with family business.

Images courtesy of NICE Education Days.
Images courtesy of NICE Education Days.
Images courtesy of NICE Education Days.
Images courtesy of NICE Education Days.
Images courtesy of NICE Education Days.
Images courtesy of NICE Education Days.
Images courtesy of NICE Education Days.
Images courtesy of NICE Education Days.

Independents Value Family

Families, both owners and employees, built most of these companies. “Our business is our family,” Kinzler says. “Many employees have been with us for multiple decades. I have watched them come into the business and get married, divorces, births, deaths, all of life’s events we have weathered together.”

From installers, office staff, sales teams and managers, employee families across departments gather to celebrate the holidays and support each other as a diverse community. “Family businesses supporting the community keeps the money in the community,” Palmer comments.

Another concern raised was succession. Many have been family-owned for consecutive generations. Patriarch independents are often asked if their children will be successors.

Dudgeon says he gave his kids “the opportunity to choose.” If second and third generations are truly interested, they’ll decide to stay. The children who decide to stay will be the ones best suited to take over the family business.

“If you promote your kin over the others and they aren’t into it, it impacts your company negatively,” Kinzler notes.

Successful workers put all their efforts into their work. Someone pressured to work for their family isn’t going to give all their efforts. In business, work ethic is thicker than blood. “Many second gens don’t want it, and then they take it and it fails,” Combee says. The children who choose to return to the family business will work hard to maintain and grow the business.

How do new generations confront changes in their transition into the business? “You adjust,” Goley advises. “If you don’t, you die.”

However, what if young independent contractors don’t know how to adjust? The senior NICE members said the best chance to adjust to change is to seek counsel from others who are willing to help.

Be a Leader

Admitting defeat to acquire guidance can be daunting. Fiske says to try never to show how hard it is to the rest of the team. Who wants to look inferior to their coworkers, employees or competitor? Don’t let pride steer you away from finding a solution. Allowing your problems to engulf you wastes your time, your co-workers’ time and your employees’ time. Sometimes the smartest person in the business isn’t the one who knows the most information, but is instead the worker who seeks wise counsel.

NICE offers knowledge and wisdom to its members. “NICE provides a wealth of knowledge all over the place,” Hayes says. Senior members have years of experience working in the insulation field. They’ve seen changes in construction regulations, relations with OSHA, employee testing, technology evolution, business operations and more. Besides senior members, NICE offers skilled advisors in other business disciplines, including marketing, human resources, cybersecurity, law and finances.

“NICE gives access to advisors that we would not have had, but levels the playing field,” Dudgeon explains. “We have resources available to us that independents would not have been able to afford without NICE putting it together for us.”

It’s clear from the robust conversation that the independent isn’t going anywhere. Independents continually evolve and adapt to the morphing industry. Through organizations like NICE, independents support each other and are better able to compete with larger corporate entities. Despite the never-ending problems the world musters for the insulation industry, the independents will remain fighting.