FiberGlass Coatings Inc.
Composites for one and all
Business View Magazine interviews Bill Higman, President of FiberGlass Coatings Inc. (FGCI), as part of our series on growth in the American composites industry.
FiberGlass Coatings, Inc. had its beginnings in 1961 with a man named John Hicks who owned a chemical packaging company in St. Petersburg, FL. Hicks saw a need in the industry and developed a solution: he created a distribution side to the business where he sold fiberglass and resin solutions and achieved great success. In 1990, the current President, Bill Higman, purchased the company. Since then, FGCI has grown to be the largest independently-owned composites distributor in Florida, serving thousands of customers in diverse industries ranging from marine to amusement, construction, DIY, and everything in-between.
“I’ve got 28 years into it at this point,” says Higman, speaking with great pride. “Our headquarters is still here in St. Petersburg, along with our manufacturing plant, and we also have another location in Ft. Lauderdale.” Higman explains that FGCI understands composite materials and the projects as they relate to various industries, allowing them to provide superior service, pricing, and products to their customers, whether it’s the individual hobbyist or major manufacturers.
FGCI has a multi-faceted business model to meet the needs of its wide range of customers, including an online retail presence, selling to consumers through its website as well as Amazon and eBay. Its impressive showrooms are a huge draw for walk-in traffic – DIY customers and hobbyists who buy the products onsite. The company also sells to boat builders, fabricators, and composite trades alike who purchase products to repair or build items for their own customers.
FGCI also does a considerable business with the entertainment sector – a lot of façade work in Florida for restaurants and projects for theme parks in the amusement industry. For resellers who want to sell FGCI products under their own branding, FGCI offers private labelling and will do special development work to provide customers with exactly what they need, whether it’s a special formulated product or an add-on. According to Higman, “We look at each segment of our business as a specialty and have appropriate people available to support customers in each area. The walk-in showrooms and internet sales are the busiest for transactions; but volume-wise, most sales are to OEMs, fabricators, and custom builders of products.”
Carrying an immense inventory of over 30,000 items for distribution requires massive warehousing facilities. For FGCI, that amounts to more than 120,000 square feet of total space, with a larger selection of products than any of the standard composite distributors. Geographically, FGCI has a fleet of delivery trucks that deliver to the entire state of Florida and southern Georgia. The company also services the Caribbean, South America, across the U.S. and Canada, and other parts of the world.
FGCI’s success is credited in part to pricing the product appropriately for the user. Higman explains, “A lot of hobbyists and do-it-yourselfers need to be walked through what they’re doing; we provide that support and offer a product that’s still competitively priced. And we also do some things that the industry doesn’t typically do, such as incoming quality control (QC) on all our products to make sure they’re within manufacturer specifications before we send them out.”
According to Higman, it’s a problem in the industry – products that don’t meet specifications, and no one knows it until they reach the end user. It can be very expensive for the customer and the supplier if the product is returned or causes problems during application. Implementing stringent quality control measures puts FGCI in a stronger position to head off any issues before they occur. The company employs 80-plus skilled workers, including chemists, and a technical staff with years of hands-on experience. They take pride in the quality and service they provide to all of their customers.
“We have an excellent tabletop epoxy that can be made in thick pours, which is important,” Higman explains by way of example. “We have one of the clearest products in the market today.” FGCI’s inside and outside sales team work with their customers to maximize their return on investment, both of time and money, by helping them purchase the correct products and equip them with the knowledge of how to use it.
The importance of vendor relationships can’t be understated. Higman mentions Interplastics Corporation, headquartered in St. Paul, Minnesota – FGCI’s largest vendor. “They’ve been a very good partner. We’ve helped them grow their business down here, and they’ve helped us. We typically deal with national manufacturers; we buy material in bulk and sell those products in smaller FIBERGLASS COATINGS INC. quantities.”
In addition, FGCI actively networks with the industry through memberships and trade shows, including ACMA (American Composites Manufacturers Association), CAMX (Composites and Advanced Materials Expo), and IAAPA (International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions). The amusement industry, Higman says, is a market they have worked with for years, including popular Orlando theme parks.
One of the biggest challenges FGCI has faced is having an IT system capable of servicing its diverse range of customers, orders, and its vast amount of inventory. In 2017, the company invested in a new computer system that allows it to personalize sales, which increases efficiency, builds great customer relationships, and will last for years to come. The tightening of environmental regulations has a large impact and presents another challenge. FGCI, along with the entire composites industry, works hard to comply. Higman notes that meeting EPA requirements is challenging because their products are, in fact, chemicals. FGCI contracts with experts to ensure they are in regulatory compliance and employs chemists who are continuously working to develop products that are environmentally- friendly and are available to every customer, from the largest to the smallest.
Higman believes the composites industry will continue to grow, with more penetration into the transportation industry, noting that “we’re seeing a lot of composites going into automobiles.” He even thinks that composites will soon be used for buildings, explaining that “they are lightweight and continue to grow in strength. These days, composites show up in so many places that people don’t even realize how important they are to their daily lives.”
As for future objectives, Higman says he would like to see FGCI “accelerate the penetration of our markets and continue to meet our customer’s de mands.” The company is always watching for new opportunities and continues to grow its online sales sector. Higman adds that “export is certainly an area we continue to look at for growth, as well as trends in the technology sector.”
Higman says that the most important thing to know about FGCI is its uniqueness as a company. “We cover local, national, and international markets and deal with the DIY hobbyist, boat builders, resellers, and manufacturers,” he states. “The industry is evolving, but the biggest change is that composites are being used in unique ways to meet more and more needs in our society. If you’re looking for composite materials, equipment or supplies, FGCI has the selection and customer support to provide the products you need at the appropriate price to satisfy your purchasing needs.”
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AT A GLANCE
WHO: FiberGlass Coatings Inc (FGCI)
WHAT: Independently-owned composites distributor
WHERE: Headquarters in St. Petersburg, Florida