Andrew Hobbs credits the Business Innovation Zone (BIZ) with putting him on the right track in finding a way to expand his business in a manageable manner. The company, HOBBS Building Systems, an Urbandale maker of exterior wall systems, is enlarging its sales territory from the Midwest to the continental United States and Canada.
“I was struggling with the best way to distribute the systems,” said Hobbs, 39, the company’s president and founder. Hobbs considered selling directly to dealer-installers, but that would have meant dealing with hundreds of individual companies.
Mike Colwell, executive director of the BIZ, suggested working through wholesale construction product distributors, instead. The distributors know their market areas, and have a ready-made list of dealer-installers that might need Hobbs’ product, sold under the name HOBBS E-Rated Walls.
Working through distributors, Hobbs is able to reach a broad market, while dealing with a smaller number of companies. It’s faster and more cost-effective than trying to contact hundreds of dealer-installers directly, Hobbs said. “It’s a great business model,” he added.
HOBBS Building Systems is a virtual company, built around an innovative design that Hobbs created for energy-efficient, environmentally friendly, pre-fabricated exterior wall systems. He has a patent pending on the product.
The system, designed for residential and light-commercial buildings, includes a concrete form made out of plastic foam, with studs attached to the form’s inner wall. Concrete is poured into the form to create a concrete wall below or above ground. The foam form remains part of the finished building to provide insulation. With the studs already in place, work on installing interior wallboard can begin quickly.
Hobbs says his system is long-lasting, and more energy efficient than competing systems, and uses 43 percent less concrete. Most of the components are made of recycled materials.
“I have the greenest system on the market,” Hobbs said.
Based in Urbandale, Hobbs founded his business in 2005, deciding that he could design a better system than those already on the market in a product category known as insulated concrete forms. He spent 18 months developing his system and then began selling it. He contracts with suppliers in various parts of North America to manufacture the components of the system.The system is assembled on the construction site.
Born and raised in Marshalltown, Hobbs attended Marshalltown Community College before beginning a career in sales and management in the construction industry.
In an interview, Hobbs talked about his company and the help he has received from the BIZ:
Q. How is it that you turned to the BIZ for help?
A. I started looking for state programs and assistance in 2006 when the company was getting to the level to be able to expand in North America and abroad. The Iowa Department of Economic Development referred me to the BIZ.
What is really important is that I want to maintain my business here. I’m Iowa born and raised and I want Iowa to continue to be my home and base of operations. I have a really strong personal conviction to support Iowa. I hope to get to the point where the company could be expanded to produce more of the components locally. I have an 11-year-old son that I hope to turn the business over to one day.
Q. Was the BIZ helpful to you?
A. Extremely. Mike, with his level of corporate experience, has been able to help me not only as a mentor, but to connect me with other resources – networking resources of people and services to help build the company.
Q. Did the help from the BIZ help your company reach a higher level?
A. Yes. It’s definitely been a good experience working with Mike. He’s a good sounding board. He can help me look at things from different perspectives before making decisions.
Q. Where are you now in the development of your business?
A. We’re in what we consider Phase 3. Phase 1 was developing the product, taking it from concept to prototype, doing product testing, doing market research and establishing the supply chain.
Phase 2 was selling and installing products and fine-tuning the design in central Iowa. Phase 3 is expanding sales and marketing throughout North America and abroad. Phase 4 will be creating additional product lines or finding additional lines that complement our current product offering.
Q. What is the outlook for your business?
A. The industry growth is significant because of the push toward green construction. My system is environmentally friendly. It uses no wood and a building using our system typically will use 50-70 percent less energy. Federal regulations will require buildings that reduce the amount of energy needs. We’re really in a wonderful position to offer a product today that can do those things.
Q. Is help from the BIZ ongoing?
A. We’ve signed a one-year agreement for Mike to work with me and we can renew it. The BIZ membership has been the best investment I’ve made.
Q. How do you feel about the help that you got through the BIZ?
A. It’s been a great experience, bouncing ideas and being directed toward other resources for help. Mike referred me to the Institute for Physical Research and Technology at Iowa State University for physical structural testing of our wall system.
Q. What is the eventual goal of your business?
A. To get the business to a point where I can turn over the operation to a management team, and I can go on to start other companies and continue to be an entrepreneur and develop other products in the construction or other industries. Also, I’d like to help build other companies with other products, teaching others to do what I’ve done from the knowledge I have gained.
I want to expand HOBBS Building Systems to increase product offerings and market penetration, eventually looking for an exit strategy such as selling the business to a Fortune 500 company.