Inclinator Company of America
C.C. Crispen, founder of Inclinator Company of America (ICA), was an inventive entrepreneur and a self-taught mechanical engineer. While visiting a friend who was confined to his second floor bedroom, Crispen had an epiphany. He wanted to make a movable seat that could go up and down stairs, allowing his friend better mobility and freedom within his home. Crispen’s act of kindness improved life for his friend and led to the founding of what would become the leader in the residential elevator industry. In 1923, Crispen invented the Inclin-ator, a folding wooden chair with footrests that moved up and down stairs on rollers on a steel rail along the staircase. The machine used electricity from the house and left enough room for residents and visitors to also use the stairs by foot.
Crispen secured his patent and the device was quickly noticed by the Philadelphia Electric Company. The business invited him to showcase the product in its showroom, boosting exposure and allowing him to manufacture the machine on a larger scale. In 1928, the inventor created the first residential elevator, the Elevette. Over the years, the business has diversified products, adding vertical platform wheelchair lifts and dumbwaiters to the product line.
ICA began with nine employees and has grown to a staff of 50 craftsmen, salespeople and office personnel. Steve Progin serves as president and CEO of the company working alongside fourth generation members of the Crispen family, as well as the family members of Crispen’s partner, Paul Krum. Though small, the elevator manufacturer serves national clients through a network of 400 dealers across the country.
“What really sets us apart is that our elevators are crafted by hand every time,” Progin explains. “As a result, there are nearly endless customization possibilities. We run a job shop and people come to us. Often they want to match the trim in their house, using the same paneling or wood finishing in the cab that is already throughout homes. We have even matched swatches of wallpaper to the elevator for our customers. All of our elevators are designed specifically for the end users and we draw each job up separately. The details are gone over very carefully with the dealer and the end user to create the exact product that end user wants in their home.”
The company also works directly with architects and builders to design elevators for new homes. ICA’s high quality products have attracted the rich and famous over the years. Famous customers include actress Vicki Lawrence, racecar driver Tony Stewart, as well as former President and first lady, George and Barbara Bush.
For many years, the target market consisted of older couples building a dream home for retirement. Now, Progin says more people can afford these products. “We have seen our market share expand,” he details. “Instead of people in the 55 to 65 range, younger couples have become more interested in elevators and lifts. Often, people are building homes now with stacked closets on top of each other on different levels so that if they want to install an elevator later, they can do it easily without changing the layout of the house.”
A growing business
ICA has been in business for more than 90 years, and Progin and his team back up this longevity with quality control. As the business remains relatively small, the team offers unparalleled attention to detail and a lasting impression on customers. The average employee tenure at ICA is 17 years and Progin refers to his staff as the backbone of the company.
“As a family-owned business, we are a tight-knit group,” he explains. “We call ourselves the Inclinator family. Our strong relationships with our employees have allowed us to stay strong, even throughout the economic downturn. Our sales are increasing and we predict a 15 percent increase over the next year.”
As the company grows financially, the team is also expanding its product line. In August 2014, ICA will introduce a new vertical platform lift for wheelchairs, guaranteed to be one of the best on the market. The team has also developed a new controller for residential elevators that is more similar in form and function to those in commercial elevators.
As ICA approaches one century in business, Progin is optimistic about the years ahead. “Our industry is growing,” he notes. “As residential elevators continue to gain in popularity, we expect our leadership position in elevator manufacturing to propel us forward even further.”
With strong relationships within the business and outside of it, Progin and his team are well-suited for continued growth over the next decade. The dedicated staff continues to support Inclinator Company of America’s vision and values as the industry grows.
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