Simplify to Magnify
Spray Foam Magazine – Winter 2022 – During the last few months, the Spray Foam Magazine Team (SFMT) has been inundated with submissions for 2022 Contractor of the Year. Every year the SFMT goes through these submissions and asks the most crucial question, What makes someone a winner? This year, the competition was intense and, not to sound cliché, but from the entries we read, everyone’s a winner to some degree.
However, there can only be one cover winner, or should we say winners. Yes, that’s right—this year the winner is actually a team. These spray foam business owners stood out by combining their unique skills to excel in the industry. Just as the late and great Winston Churchill stated, “History will be kind to me for I intend to write it,” these guys have taken charge of foam and molded their business, filled the gaps, and insulated their strategy to protect the core of their company’s objectives for years to come. May the industry please stand up and give a big “Excellent job,” to Spray Foam Magazine’s Contractors of the Year for 2022…Slade Foster and Joe Davila, owners of High Caliber Spray Foam Specialists, LLC.
Let’s start this story at the beginning, when Slade was growing up in Montana and Joe in Mexico. Although miles apart, Slade and Joe had something in common: ambition. Little did they know at that time their paths would someday cross. Slade recalls his childhood, “My dad was in the oil business and we moved around a lot. I was born in Louisiana, but I consider Montana to be the place I grew up as we often ended back there. My parents loved the outdoors.”
Years later Slade found himself living in Austin, Texas. It’s a place he was familiar with because his mother grew up there, and his grandparents owned a Mexican restaurant in the city. With Slade’s mother’s Hispanic roots and Joe originally coming from Mexico they would soon discover their cultural connection.
Slade’s fond memories of time spent in Austin, led him back there after receiving his degree in computer science from Montana State University, and then a graduate degree in computer science at the University of Tennessee. That was back in 1997, when, as Slade puts it, “Austin was a real boom town for high-tech.”
Joe moved from a small town in Mexico when he was fourteen years old and finished high school in the U.S. He started working in construction soon after leaving school and spent most of that time working on farms. He moved to Houston where he was working on the highways and then moved to Austin where he started his own business in farm construction with 100 people working for him. He wanted to try something a little more challenging, so he began working with a guy that specializes in bridges, railways, and architecture and Joe worked there for about three years before he met Slade. Joe and Slade were to become brothers-in-law, united by marriage to the Hannigan sisters.
When Joe was working on bridges, he met a guy who ran a spray foam company. Joe would see this guy every month who would keep saying to Joe, “You really need to start a spray foam business.” Months passed and Joe decided to investigate the SPF industry. He asked Slade if he wanted to be a business partner and High Caliber Spray Foam Specialists, LLC was established.
Joe and Slade soon found that they had a great advantage to their business plan. They just happened to be living in an area which is one of the fastest growing counties in the USA, Hays County in Texas. “The amount of construction going on in that county is off the chart, and COVID really accelerated that, with people wanting to get out of places like California and New York and move to places like Texas.” Hays County sits on the west side of Austin, Texas in Dripping Springs, the gateway to the hill country. The median home prices topped $375K in 2021 as the area captured explosive growth from Austin, with home prices surging 30%+ over the last 18 months. With a mix of custom homes on acreage sites and ranch properties, High Caliber Spray Foam Specialists span new construction, remodels, and retrofits as well as a mix of metal buildings, from barndominiums to shops and commercial buildings. They also do periodic concrete lifting out of their rigs and recently expanded their business into a larger shop. Additionally, they have partnered with other foam companies to take on large commercial projects and/or handle work that they cannot get to. Over a year later this Hispanic minority owned business generated $1.4M in revenue and employs eight contractors.
Joe and Slade care deeply about the community they live in and are active members of the chamber of commerce. Recently, they foamed the orchestra suite for the iconic Zilker Park Hillside Theater in Austin. This 501c3 charity has been putting on summer shows in the park for more than 30 years and Joe and Slade were glad to be able to give back to the community.
High Caliber Spray Foam Specialists have worked hard to cultivate a reputation of honesty and integrity and if they don’t get something quite right, they are there the next day to fix it. They also note how important it is to take care of their employees, having had the same core crew with them for more than a year. High Caliber is now on track to break $2M in revenue in 2022, and while they have expanded into complimentary services like batts and installation of mini splits, their core business remains spray foam.
Both Joe and Slade attribute their success to their business method, which is simplify to magnify.
Basically, planning the project, explaining the process to their client, and then achieving this objective. By applying Slade’s project management background in technology and Joe’s construction knowledge they are a winning team. Slade is a 23-year veteran of the technology industry across various roles, most recently focusing on artificial intelligence and machine learning. He brings his project management discipline, logistics and supply chain knowledge as well as sales experience to make sure projects run smoothly. He’s also diligent and contacts builders on a regular basis to make sure everything is on track. Something Slade notes, “They seem to really appreciate that. They are the ones trying to herd all the cats, like the contractors, so by keeping them informed and being flexible helps the project run smoothly. Joe and I also hear from customers who tried several spray foam contractors, and we were the ones who picked up the phone or replied to them in a short amount of time. This factor alone can even win us business,” comments Slade.
Joe, an experienced ranch hand, has been in the construction business for the bulk of his career and according to Slade, “His breadth of knowledge across all phases is invaluable. Joe really leads the technical side of the business like managing the spray rigs and proportioners. He also hires and trains the High Caliber crews, where his bi-lingual fluency is critical.”
High Caliber Spray Foam Specialists spray both open- and closed-cell with one of their favorite brands being Accufoam by Creative Polymers. They also love working with NCFI products, “The quality of these foams are high and consistent,” the crew says. Another aspect the team takes seriously is their presentation. Joe is very thorough with keeping the equipment clean, maintaining the guns and when the crew isn’t spraying, cleaning the rig. According to Slade, they get a lot of compliments about their rigs and how nice they look.
Their rigs are built by Profoam, based out of Rutledge, Georgia. Slade sings this company’s praises, “If it wasn’t for Profoam we seriously wouldn’t be anywhere like where we are now. Not just because they built our rigs, but they helped train us. We also have ongoing support from them. They have a local rep near us, Marc Ford, who we’ve become close friends with. He has helped us left, right and center. We have two rigs from them now. Our first rig, which is really the Mercedes Benz of spray foam rigs, has a diesel generator, it’s big and all finished out with paint and closed-cell spray foam. There are two PH2 proportioners, they are a little old school but the right choice as they continually work and have never let us down. Profoam does a great rig build out. We basically took that first rig and started making money with it immediately and ended up buying a second rig.”
Joe and Slade love working in the spray foam industry for the diverse buildings and projects they get to work on and the interesting people they meet. They feel like they are really contributing to the overall building they are working on. Slade points out that they put in long hours and how Joe is extremely focused when he gets behind the gun, “We did a job once in San Antonio, staying in a hotel with our crew. We were on that job site until 2 in the morning. The crew didn’t mind as they get paid that overtime. They always go that extra mile when the job requires it, but they also balance that with the time they spend with their families,” said Slade. Joe and Slade feel lucky to have a great crew behind them but it’s not just the bonuses that make the crew happy.
Joe and Slade make a point to pass their knowledge onto their crew.
Joe coyly remarks, “I teach everybody everything I know so they can grow their mindset and maybe one day go out on their own and start their own business. I want them to learn it right.” Slade, realizing his partner’s modest approach, continues by stating, “Joe deserves a lot of credit here. Part of the success of our business is the loyalty of the people working for us. There is typically a high turnover in this job and the fact that Joe takes the time to teach and invest in people and they see that they’re not just the person pushing the broom all-day, they stay with us. Due to that training we are so efficient when we turn up to a job site, we don’t even need to say anything, everyone knows what they need to do. More importantly, Joe has passed his knowledge on to our crews. A custom home that used to take us four days to complete we can now do in two days. As Hispanic business owners, being fluent in colloquial Spanish is also very advantageous, whether it is speaking with our crew or communicating with other trades at a job site.”
Joe and Slade have built up a folder of impressive projects but one of their favorites was in October of last year. Slade received a call from a property manager at a ranch outside Johnson City, TX. The manager told Slade about a 48ft wide x 190ft long Quonset hut style building with a decaying silicone roof over spray foam. He visited the job site and on the road leading back to the building he saw some sculptures amongst the trees.
It turns out that the owners purchased the ranch from Benini, a famous Italian-born artist and sculptor who produced works from the ranch, maintained a museum of his work, and held art classes and tours of the property. Investigating further, Slade found that the ranch was the old Lyndon B. Johnson ranch, where he would vacation when he was president. He died of a heart attack in the main house at the ranch.
As to the project, the family that bought the ranch inherited an expensive problem as portions of the silicone roof and underlying roofing foam had to be scarfed off, a new layer of roofing foam applied, followed by a completely new silicone roof. This huge job consisted of:
- Power washing and cleaning the entire roof (14,667 sq. ft.)
- Scarfing off the spots of the decayed roof and exposed foam which had disintegrated (approx. 30% of the roof)
- Applying a fresh one inch of 2.8lb NCFI roofing foam, requiring seven sets
- Applying a coat of ArmorKote primer
- Applying a new grey colored silicone roof over the entire structure (215 gallons) of GE Endurance
The project lasted for almost two weeks and required rental of a boom lift for getting on top of the structure as well as portable stadium lighting to enable the crew to work at night. The crew also rented a Graco 833 Big Rig hydraulic sprayer for the silicone.
The building had a stunning stained-glass window at the front of it that the property manager asked for Joe and Slade’s help in removing. It turns out that the window came from a church in London that survived the Battle of Britain in WWII.
High Caliber Spray Foam Specialists brought in a handyman whose house they had recently foamed, and who built a custom spring-loaded encasement for the window and Joe and Slade used their boom lift to lower it down. The project was just shy of $100K including ongoing quarterly inspections. The crew have also been back out to do more work for the owners on some other structures. The clients generously gave Christmas bonuses to the entire High Caliber crew and have referred other work to them.
When they are not on the job, both Slade and Joe like to spend time with their families and their hobbies. Slade is on the verge of being an empty nester with his daughter Haley in graduate school at SMU in Dallas, while his son Jackson just graduated from high school and is about to leave for Montana State University just like his father did. Slade also loves to get on his dirt bike when he gets the chance. Joe and Jaime’s children are younger and therefore more demanding of their time. Their twins Lucas and Cruz are amazing athletes who have recently taken up Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. They are both also in the band and active in a local mariachi group where they can connect with their heritage. Joe has instilled his own work ethic in them, and whether it is wrangling cattle on a friend’s ranch or helping Slade and Joe on their spray foam business, they work hard. Levi is Joe’s youngest and is essentially into everything, from sports to gaming. Both Joe and Slade are appreciative of their wives who have helped them build the business to what it is today. Joe’s wife Jamie authored their original business plan, and Slade’s wife Susanne is their CFO and is also in charge of payroll and invoicing.
The question is: what makes High Caliber Spray Foam Specialists successful? Meekly put, it’s their ability to combine their backgrounds and skill sets to their business with a beneficial result. Slade’s high-tech background allows him to handle the SEO aspects of their website, and he has brought as much automation into their processes as possible to allow them to grow efficiently, from automatic monthly orders from Amazon to spreadsheets that directly feed their quotes and invoicing. Slade also applies analytics to the business’s historical data to maximize foam yield and profits. These skills compliment Joe’s intimate knowledge of all phases and trades in the construction business. He knows exactly what to do and what materials are needed to demolish a wall, keep the proportioners running in tip top shape, and how to repair a diesel generator. He is an expert at prioritizing work tasks on a job site in a way that best uses available resources. What Joe and Slade have in common is an overarching desire to share information with their customers so that they can make the most informed decisions. They find that the customers appreciate this level of detail, it engenders trust, and in turn High Caliber Spray Foam Specialists win business repeatedly because of this philosophy.
High Caliber Spray Foam Specialists has developed rapidly, but they are also aware they need to grow in a smart way. Slade concludes the interview by adding, “There is so much business in our area that it would be easy to overextend ourselves. If there is a downturn in the construction industry, we would be having to make payments on any extra investments we make. So, we must be smart in the way that we grow.”
Congratulations to Joe and Slade owners of High Caliber Spray Foam Specialists. Not only are you succeeding in the industry, but you are also inspiring others. A prime example of why combining skills, industry education, passion, and honor results in a winning team!
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