Case Studies

Burnham Insulation Sales Inc.

Industry connections and experience drive success for a global supplier

Founded in 1994 by brothers Mike and Sean Burnham, Burnham Insulation Sales Inc. (BIS) has become a leading supplier of industrial and commercial insulation supplies and materials over the last 22 years in the business.

Focused primarily on serving customers in the oil and gas industry, the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania-based company provides the high-performance insulation materials vital to projects such as liquefied natural gas (LNG) facilities, petrochemical plants, oil refineries and power plants.

BIS also supplies thermal performance materials for stadiums, hospitals and domestic and foreign military bases and has a strong presence in the commercial sector. While BIS have cultivated a strong portfolio of customers around the world, although a majority of its projects are focused in Pennsylvania, Ohio, New York and West Virginia.

“We do a lot of work nationwide as well, but our two largest projects are within driving distance,” says Sean Burnham, executive chairman for international business at BIS.

A slow burn

The family-owned and –operated company took root when the Burnhams, who grew up in their father’s contracting business, began looking to change careers. The two had always talked about getting into the materials distribution side of the business and thanks to long-standing industry connections, were able to quickly land a major client that allowed the brothers to get the fledgling business off the ground.

“It put us in a nice position where we didn’t have to panic to sell to meet overhead,” says Burnham.

With a marquee client under its belt, BIS was able to turn its focus to building a team of leading insulation and sales professionals. This financial breathing room allowed BIS to employ an exhaustive approach to hiring, which has resulted in an extremely productive team.

“We hire well; we’re known to interview a lot to find the right person. We also operate in a very efficient way — there are other companies in our revenue class that do what we do but have three times the amount of staff,” says Burnham.

Armed with a crack staff, BIS then turned its attention to building a reputation as a leader in insulation sales. “We already had a big customer, so the first four to six months we just focused on interviewing the industrial base,” says Burnham. “We spent the right amount of time laying the right foundation and the right building blocks to thrive; we didn’t pursue new customers for six months.”

Now, more than 20 years later, all that groundwork has paid off and allowed BIS to compete with much larger companies thanks to its reputation for quality products, competitive pricing  and customer service. “Despite being a single branch, we have expertise that they don’t. We don’t just sell materials; we understand and have great experience in the industry as well as a lot of practical application experience to draw on,” says Burnham. “Our strong relationship with our manufacturing base and industrial base also helps us compete with the larger companies.”

Experience minimizes challenges

BIS recently completed its largest project to date in 2013, providing all the insulation and metal cladding material for a series of Reliance Energy Plants in India.  Burnham worked closely with global engineering teams in the U.S., Liège Belgium and India to refine and redesign some of the thermal systems. Lending technical expertise and implementing practical applications design recommendations helped to form a strong business partnership on the project.

A slumping worldwide oil market has led to an overall slowdown at BIS, where projects are very closely tied to the ups and downs of the energy sector. “We’ve seen a fair amount of work fall off from a global level,” says Burnham.

Looking ahead, Burnham is bullish about the impending rebound in the energy sector, with sales for the last quarter painting an encouraging picture for the future. “There have been several large national projects that have come to fruition and we have received several significant contracts, so there is a bright future,” he says.

Burnham is also very active in foreign markets, spending significant time developing business in the Middle East in countries such as The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, The Kingdom of Bahrain, The State of Kuwait, and The State of Qatar, as well as Dubai, Abu Dhabi, and Sharjah of the United Arab Emirates. The company has forged strong relationships throughout the Gulf countries and hopes to evaluate formal Joint Venture Partners in the coming year.

Decades of experience in the industry allows Burnham to take the long view when it comes to current challenges, such as the current slump at the Marcellus Shale play. While those rate as little more than blips on the radar, there are some trends which Burnham sees as a little more troubling. “The largest obstacle is the vilification of fossil fuels by the current administration and we’ve seen a number of fossil fuel plants close,” he says.

As he plans for the future, Burnham takes a moment to reflect on the way success has been defined in that past at BSI. “The biggest success is to identify market trends, find ways to diversify and find new ways to make that business better,” he says.

Acceptance of change is also another key performance indicator for Burnham and the BSI team. While change typically amounts to little more than a management buzzword at many companies, Burnham says it’s a core tenant of the BSI approach.

“I always see small-business owners who say they want change, but they are not willing to commit to making those changes occur. The barrier to growth is typically the owners themselves, and success is being able to recognize that and implement and embrace those changes,” he says.

These principals, coupled with a strong reputation and longstanding industry connections, will allow Burnham Insulation Sales Inc. to not only survive, but thrive well into the future as a leading supplier of industrial and commercial insulation supplies and materials.

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Spring 2018



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