Case Studies

Burnham Insulation Sales Inc.

Supplying Global Insulation

Burnham Insulation Sales Inc. (BIS) is a Pittsburgh, Pa.-based comprehensive international supplier of industrial and commercial insulation materials and cladding. BIS is owned and operated by brothers Mike and Sean Burnham, who founded the company in 1994.

“Mike [president of BIS] and I were looking to change careers, to start a business together,” says Sean, executive chairman of international business of BIS. “We had always talked about working in materials distribution.” Shortly after inception BIS landed a handful of major accounts and contracts, allowing the business to grow exponentially.

The team quickly established a solid customer base and a reputation for quality and reliability. “We started off in a good position,” explains Sean. “We were never in a panic to meet overhead. We spent the first four to six months interviewing our industrial base. We spent the right amount of time laying the right foundation and building blocks to thrive.” After working on a business plan for months, the partners obtained financing and BIS was able to begin expanding on the initial customer base.

Business Philosophy

BIS has expanded its geographic footprint overseas, serving customers in countries all over the world in a variety of industries. The energy sector has become a growing source of business for the team. As production needs increase worldwide, BIS is providing materials to new customers on a regular basis. “We operate in a very efficient way,” notes Sean. “Other companies in the industry – ones that gross approximately the same annual revenue – require up to three times the staff.”

The group is small, with only nine employees. “We hire exceptionally well,” clarifies Sean. “We’ve been known to interview endlessly to find just the right person for our team. Everyone on our staff is responsible for marketing by maintaining and promoting our image.”

In that sense, the BIS team is comprised of an experienced and knowledgeable sales team. “We’re a multifaceted business,” Sean continues. A broad range of applications and key export clients require flexibility, solid communication and product expertise.

BIS offers a comprehensive range of insulation products to help industrial customers safely control operations in addition to operate efficiently, thus reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Textiles, adhesives, coatings, fire protection systems and even metal cladding are part of BIS’ line, which is on top of numerous insulation options available through a network of manufacturers.

BIS has established long-term relationships with manufacturers and suppliers alike, guaranteeing a business climate of communication. The company’s primary strengths and focus are within the energy industry, as the team supplies insulation materials for international and domestic projects. Such projects include oil and gas, LNG facilities, pharmaceutical, petrochemical and power general plants, as well as commercial, institutional and government facilities and military bases.

Maintaining a Market Share

Much of the company’s business comes from clients in the energy industry, so it is no surprise that when those markets fluctuate BIS is affected. “We were impacted by the recent recession,” explains Sean. “Business reflected the reluctance of many power companies to commit to constructing selective catalytic reduction systems [SCRs] intended to reduce harmful particulate levels to meet certain environmental standards. Although some were already past the planning stages, others were placed on hold pending environmental legislation.”

The industry is making a turnaround as energy needs soar. Recently, BIS supplied some major projects all over the globe. “When the cost of fuel oil is high, we see an increase in business overseas,” says Sean. “As oil production continues to be profitable, so does the production of cost-effective fuel source alternatives, such as liquefied natural gas [LNG]. As production increases, so does the need for our products.”

The team at BIS is ready. “In India, we just completed the first of a planned three-phase project,” explains Sean. “Each phase consists of six heat recovery steam generator [HRSG], combined cycle gas plants. We’re providing the insulation and metal cladding. We’re also doing a lot of the estimates based on drawings. Based on the specifications and drawings, we provide material estimates as well as technical and logistical assistance. This was an action-based finance project and the single largest project we’ve ever had.”

The first phase of the India-based project is complete, but there have been setbacks for initiating the last two. “They’re having problems with gas rights, so it’s on hold for now,” explains Sean. “We don’t install, we only provide the materials. The project in India is utilizing indigenous labor, which is pretty common overseas.”

Upcoming projects for the team at BIS include supplying material for LNG and solar energy plants, which are growing in popularity domestically and worldwide. BIS is looking to expand geographically through LNG and solar construction, as well as other growing energy markets. “In 2013 and 2014 we will be conducting business in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and throughout the Middle East,” says Sean. “Our footprint is growing.”

The family business will continue to offer streamlined, creative, cost-effective solutions for challenging projects. The BIS team proudly operates more efficiently than any other in the business. Although the current nine employees are some of the industry’s best, BIS may find the need to hold more interviews soon as the company continues to grow. However, the already-established professional staff at Burnham Insulation Sales Inc. uses a combination of expertise and common sense to provide unmatched service and products to facilitate a successful project.

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