A Proactive Approach to Business

ISPA Store Fixtures

Established in 1968 and purchased by its current owners in the mid-eighties, ISPA Store Fixtures, the founding member of the ISPA Group of companies, manufactures customized quality indoor retail store fixtures for major corporate clients throughout North America and the Caribbean. It is ISPA’s quality workmanship and guarantees of on time and on budget delivery that allow the company to maintain long-standing relationship with its clients, something that AJ Sparkes, Business Development Manager, takes great pride in. “Our existing customers continue to be our primary focus,” he says. “They have sustained us for many years and it has been an excellent relationship with them.”

With its head office in Georgetown, Ontario and a warehouse and logistics operation in Mississauga, ISPA is a mid-sized company with a staff of over 75 serving blue chip entities such as Scotiabank, TD Bank, President’s Choice Financial, Canadian Tire Corporation, The Bay and Shoppers Drug Mart. “Long ago we discovered that it’s far easier to hold on to a client than to find a new one. We strive to build long term relationships with our clients,” says AJ.

A Business Strategy that Works

When it comes to completing projects on time, on budget and to client satisfaction, ISPA adopts a time honoured philosophy – “Not biting off more than you can chew,” AJ explains. He relates that too often competitors become overwhelmed with trying to do too much within a given time frame realizing, often too late, that many projects have to be dropped. “At the end of the day they lose customers… they wonder what happened.”

ISPA, on the other hand, invests heavily in its project managers who are assigned accounts and manage ship dates, on-site dates and essentially are responsible for everything that is happening on-site. “They are ultimately responsible for lining up the install crews and supervising on-site as required,” adds AJ. “Project Managers are the direct liaison with the customer.”

It is by implementing a system of controlled growth that ISPA plans for its future. Building long term relationships with clients, AJ explains, involves linear as opposed to exponential growth. Although this has meant a slower growth curve for the company, it was a very deliberate plan and has proven a sound one. “We don’t look to bring in a new client until we know that we have the capacity to service them… so a very conscious effort and decision goes into that type of growth pattern,” says AJ. “It was our decision is to be proactive on growth. It hasn’t been reactive,” he continues. “As far as overall globally expanding our business, it is a very linear and very conscious path that we’re going down.”

Keeping Ahead of Trends

AJ relates that he is seeing a greater influx of Asian manufacturers setting up in North America, who for years have been the material supplier to his industry. “That’s the biggest thing I see in terms of overseas competition that we get. Typically we’re able to trump them in spades with lead time,” he says. “My clients love the concept of overseas pricing. We source quite a bit of our materials overseas.” Overseas materials are becoming more of a rarity for clients, however, simply because they often can’t afford the timeline – usually weeks – for products to arrive. “I’m lucky if I get eight weeks on a production cycle,” he says. “When you are dealing with 10 to 12 weeks from overseas, it’s just not an option for us.”

ISPA is aware of quickly changing trends in the millwork industry. The company’s design and engineering team persistently seeks out new materials and innovative production methods. For example, much of its equipment is imported from overseas, specifically Germany, which manufactures top quality woodworking machinery. “We’re always looking into what is the latest and greatest and how we can be more efficient from the manufacturing side and then from the design standpoint, follow these trends.”

Trends, of course, are partly driven by the client; some clients don’t follow the latest trends, while others are looking to be leaders of the pack and approach ISPA to fulfill their design requirements with materials that aren’t readily available or are perhaps a rarity. Those clients “want their store to reflect materials that aren’t seen in other stores. They want uniqueness,” says AJ.

Meeting Client Needs

It is quality, consistency and indeed customization that are the keys to ISPA’s success. The company makes every effort to ensure that a client’s design needs are met – from the simple to the complex. “We don’t have a catalogue of goods that we’re selling,” AJ explains. “Our clients come to us with their design or often just a blank piece of paper… we never know what’s going to come through the door tomorrow. The custom element applies to every order that comes through the door. That is certainly essential to what we do.”

Once clients have a chance to experience ISPA’s expertise and quality workmanship, they are satisfied with the experience. “We get a lot of favourable responses,” continues AJ. “We don’t lose customers easily, that’s for sure… At the end of the day, we want to maintain that client. Our people go above and beyond the call on a daily basis.”

Encouraging Environmental Responsibility

AJ relates that more clients are coming to ISPA with directives in terms of environmental sustainability. They want to know that a company has a strong safety record with solid environmental policies in place. “They need to see something tangible… we see it more and more every day,” he says. Owners of companies recognize the need for their employees to work in a safe environment, and at ISPA the team maintains an environment where people breathe clean air and ensure that no harmful gases are emitted into surrounding neighbourhoods.

ISPA has a fulltime health and safety coordinator on site and an internal health and safety committee. Over ten percent of the company’s staff is certified in first aid, a measure they take on their own initiative. “Taking care of the employees has been paramount as the company has grown,” states AJ. “We have really taken the reins on safety a number of years ago and it continues to evolve.”

Globally, ISPA strives to minimize its environmental footprint. The company’s largest investment, at a cost of over $2 million, is its main production facility’s rooftop solar panels which produce enough renewable energy to power over 38 homes and have a life expectancy of 25 to 30 years. “It’s the largest solar installation in Halton. We’re proud that within our local community we’re trying to be a leader.”

Additionally, all cardboard, steel and scrap wood is recycled and reprocessed and all shipping cartons contain recycled fibre content as a means to minimize the impact of the company’s manufacturing process.

Looking to the Future

ISPA doesn’t employ any specific marketing strategy for defining its brand, as much of its business is generated by word of mouth. The company’s long term goal is not to be a corporate giant but rather, “Being this mid-size proactive player and taking care of our niche of long term clients,” says AJ. He admits that many are not familiar with the ISPA name. “We realize that we’re probably being a little too much of the industry’s secret… we’d like to get our name out there. We don’t want to be a total secret.”

To this end, ISPA is involved with high school and college co-op programs as well as apprenticeship programs, recognizing the need to pave the way for the next generation of industry professionals. “A number of our staff started with us while they were in college and graduated, so we hired them on and they’ve been with us for years,” explains AJ. It is the seasoned shop floor employees who recognize the need to take the neophytes under their wing, guiding them in the right way of doing things. “They too have partnered on this. It’s really all happening on the shop floor.”

With a generated revenue of $12 million last year, AJ hopes to see that number increase to $14 million in 2013. ISPA is currently in a conscious growth cycle and aims to bring in new clients by expanding its capacities and capabilities at its current location. It is an achievable goal attributed to the company’s broad skill set, proactive approach to business and ongoing commitment to client satisfaction, from design concept to mass roll out.

“Quite candidly, we don’t know what we can’t do,” concludes AJ. “We’ve always been able to execute. We’re proud of that.”

October 20, 2018, 5:15 AM EDT