Bill Collins on Creating a Direct Ecommerce Channel

When Bill Collins asked to join our online Human Scale Business Network, I was uncertain of the fit. After all, Bill is the founder of Sealant Technologies, which makes and sells devices and systems used primarily by commercial contractors to apply insulating polyurethane foam to buildings. We focus on consumer products sold online. However, when I learned that Bill was in the process of creating a direct e-commerce channel, I was intrigued. It turns out that Bill’s motivations and challenges have a lot in common with our community of business owners.

What is Air Sealant Spray Foam?

Foam Sealant Around Doorframe

Polyurethane Foam Sealant Applied Around a Door Frame

Polyurethane foam is applied as a liquid and (through the magic of chemistry) expands to fill a lot of space. It’s commonly used to fill chinks around doors, pipes, and other parts of a building that would otherwise allow drafts. It’s handy. In the past, spray foam applicators came in a couple of different forms. For $20 you can buy an aerosol can of the stuff at any Home Depot or Lowe’s. Cans are good for quick, do-it-yourself projects, but they are not an effective way to apply foam to an entire building. At the other end of the spectrum are commercial systems that can cost tens of thousands of dollars. They are too expensive, cumbersome, and complex for most contractors, much less ambitious DIY-ers. Bill’s company has developed a third way. His products appear to fit in a zone between the traditional consumer and commercial markets. I’ll let Bill explain:

Selling Innovation

Innovation can be a tough sell. Most people need to be persuaded that they can trust an alternative to familiar ways of doing things (however imperfect). Bill considered – and rejected – regular wholesale channels such as Lowe’s for a couple of reasons:
  • He wanted to be able to offer his new products at an attractive price point and still make a good gross margin. Selling direct offers that possibility.
  • Bill felt he needed a platform from which to tell the product story directly to the end user. Big box stores are good for moving familiar product in volume, but they aren’t going to tell your story for you.
In other words, Bill’s motivations for launching a direct, e-commerce channel are very similar to those of makers of consumer products. His intimate familiarity with users’ needs and Bill’s attempt to connect at a personal level through his use of video in which he speaks directly to the audience are also characteristics and techniques I tend to associate with business-to-consumer marketing. Even so, if it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck. Notwithstanding my initial skepticism, Bill Collins is a founder of a human scale business after all.