The market waited for us

ISOCELL is celebrating a birthday. For the past 25 years the company has been committed to delivering a more sustainable future in house building. On this anniversary, the founder and managing director, Anton Spitaler, talks about the role of clients as pioneers and future possibilities.

Herr Spitaler - looking back on the last 25 years of the company’s history we see unbelievable progress. Was this growth actually part of your vision or did it just happen?I would put it like this: you have to be in the right place at the right time and able to recognize needs. People also laughed at Elon Musk when he had the first Lotus electric car made. Who would have thought that Tesla would turn out to be so successful? We were an insulant wholesaler and by importing cork and coconut offered the only alternative insulants on the market. However, we did not like the idea, for example, that we had to import cork from Portugal. We then thought of working with recycled materials and soon had the idea of making cellulose from recovered paper. Our clients are the real pioneers, though: they too were looking for the insulation of the future.

In your start-up phase, did you look for partners and others willing to join your cause, rather than clients?
We naturally had allies who helped us to promote our idea. I am a team-player and one of my strengths is being able to bring people together and gather the right talents. This is what helped the good ship ISOCELL to set sail. But of course, we looked for clients wherever we could and had a lot of discussion with them. We frequently met people who had been waiting for a sustainable insulant. We were, and still are, part of a boom started not by the industry but by people who wanted to build things in a more sustainable and ecological way.What kind of clientèle did you have in the beginning?They were people who had made the conscious decision to stop using mineral wool. People had known for a long time what paper can do. To this day people still stuff damp shoes with old newspapers to soak up the moisture. There were old houses where newspaper was stuck to the walls to make them wind-proof. So, there has always been an awareness of paper’s properties.

Was there a lot of backlash from the established industry?
No, people just smiled at us in a patronizing way. We were underestimated and there was no real resistance. But the material was appealing and extremely emotive. A lot of other alternative insulants, such as sheep’s wool, straw, hemp or cotton – also came onto the market at this time. It was only cellulose that experienced an explosion in popularity.  We did not have a strategy to force this explosion. We simply went out there and tried to bring our product to the consumer – in the beginning we did this primarily in Southern Germany. We were located in Neumarkt so this area was in our immediate vicinity. As we expanded we tried to find people who wanted to spread our values and vision – and we then recruited some distribution partners and were able to expand further. Out motivation was always just to get on with job, without making any big plans.

Are you still able to work in this way now that the company has reached the size that it has?
Not entirely. We have had a strategic plan for three years. Of course, growth is always challenging. Nevertheless, we try to retain our informal character and to focus on people. Our staff our crucial here: team-play and the human factor play a very prominent role. For a long time too, we found people ourselves or they were recommended to us. Because word of our great working climate has spread, we find today that a lot of people want to work with and for us. None of this should be taken for granted, though. It doesn’t happen by chance. We are very eager to learn and took external experts on board very early to explain to us which steps we should and must take to grow. We have a tradition of asking for external input. Rather than being satisfied with what we are doing, we constantly take a critical look at ourselves. At ISOCELL it is important that the system is stronger than each individual member of staff. We never terminate work contracts either. Resignations come from the team and we just announce them.

In previous years, did you make a conscious attempt to enter the market in certain regions?
For a long time we did not really have the structure for specifying the percentage sales increase we would like to see in certain regions. It may sound rather old-fashioned but in the field, we have people a bit like state prime ministers who govern their particular area and bring us ideas on how we should develop. Every region has its own needs and that is why this system has proved to be a success.

As well as selling products in many different countries, ISOCELL also has production facilities in Austria, Belgium, France and Sweden. What are the next steps for ISOCELL in terms of expansion?
Our preference is to support markets that we have already entered, but that we perhaps have not been able to devote as much attention to as we would like. But for us, standing still would also mean falling behind. So, we will definitely continue to grow, if only because the renovation and wood construction sectors will grow. There is a lot of potentional, particularly in multi-storeyed wood construction.

Thinking back to the start of the company, and if you were able to give a tip to other young companies, what would it be?
I would definitely advise them not to put a business plan above everything else. We started as a garage-based business and actually assembled our machines there. We held training sessions in hotel meeting rooms and we grew slowly, as and when we needed to. We renovated a residential building to house the company headquarters and because we did not have the funds, our first warehouse was outsourced to a construction company. Every month we calculated how much space we used and how many hours the fork-lift operator worked for us. We didn’t open our first warehouse until our ten-year anniversary. Our credo has always been to invest what we earned and today we are proud to say that this path paid off.

This year ISOCELL is celebrating 25 years. What would you like to see over the next 25?
We will continue along our current path. We have so many ideas on the shelf that we want to put into action over the next 25 years, always in close cooperation with our clients. It’s them we have to thank for the position we are in today and we want to continue to offer them the very best service and expertise.