Today we’d like to introduce you to Jeff Longmore.
Jeff, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
I had worked in the “Industrial Paint” industry for about 25 years when I was recruited into the “Coatings” industry. Most folks on the outside have no real concept of the difference. In a nutshell, “paint” is relatively old, traditional technology which is sold in large volumes, with low profit margins and relatively low technical assistance to the end-user. In contrast, “coatings” have a much higher technical content, sold at higher prices and margins with a lower volume. Technical assistance to the end user is generally much higher in all areas from initial specification to the final use.
My primary recreational interest has always been Scuba diving. In 1988, I started Thin Film Technology with the objective of combining this interest with coating technology by formulating and manufacturing coatings for underwater application by divers. To the uninitiated this might sound a bit odd, however the demand for these coatings is quite large.
Structures such as underwater pipelines and shore facilities simply cannot be made dry for normal painting. Areas such as damaged ship bottoms are more practically protected by underwater coating than by expensive emergency drydocking.
when TFT was started I lived in a waterfront house in Nassau Bay, TX. We converted part of the garage into a laboratory where trial formulations were made. When test applications were necessary I simply jumped into the canal and coated test pieces of steel – great work on a hot summer day! After a couple of years with negligible income we began to make small progress however it was obvious that the business model of underwater coating manufacture was a difficult one. Our big break came when we answered a call from the USPS for an extremely surface tolerant coating to encapsulate vinyl asbestos floors, (VAT). These floors were very old, after years of service there was a problem of releasing fibers into the air that could only be solved by repeated applications of heavy floor wax. Although an encapsulating coating was the obvious solution OSHA regulations prohibited proper cleaning prior to application. Fortunately, we had overcome the problem of coating challenging surfaces through our underwater application research and were able to make a seamless epoxy coating which worked well and very poorly prepared VAT. We eventually provided several million square feet of epoxy coating to the USPS which helped both financially and also by pointing us in the direction of manufacturing protective coatings for above water on hot, wet and poorly prepared surfaces.
We have now been in business for almost 30 years with steady growth in protective coatings over that period. A major change started about four years ago when we started into the epoxy/fiberglass and epoxy/carbon composite repair field. This now represents almost 50% of our business with epoxy composites being supplied for applications as diverse as high pressure hot piping and underwater composite applications to piping in areas as diverse as the Persian Gulf and cold fresh water lakes.
We export about 50% of our production worldwide which is made in a modern factory in South Houston. We have plans for a major expansion in 2018. Our staff of ten has been recruited locally, my son Scott, a proud Aggie, is set to take the reins shortly.
We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
The first years were tough – limited income and heavy expenses. Fortunately, we had savings and my wife worked at a local hospital.
My experience was strictly in the technical side of the industry – I had no real business experience. We managed to get cheated and conned just a little – not enough to put us out of business but enough to make us aware that there are some pretty unscrupulous folks out there.
Starting manufacturing was a challenge. I sent out formulas to paint manufacturers for production because we didn’t have a factory. This got us started however it was at a high cost. When we built our present manufacturing facility we gained control over scheduling and quality control as well as reducing manufacturing costs.
So let’s switch gears a bit and go into the Thin Film Technology story. Tell us more about the business.
Because we started with underwater coatings we were forced into making our products with no solvents. Solvents underwater are a non-starter. Our solvent-free coatings are actually in the vanguard of the industry for reasons of environmental acceptability, safety and technical performance. The big paint manufacturers are making their products “high solids”, i.e. lower solvent content however they still have a long way to go to even come close the standards of the coatings industry.
Although we are a small company we have made a substantial impact in the nuclear coatings industry. Our nuclear coatings are in service world-wide and we even have achieved approval for the most difficult degree of service with large scale underwater applied nuclear coatings – an industry first!
Our business ethic is the treat all customers as VIP’s. We have a “just-in-time” approach and are proud to give great service.
Has luck played a meaningful role in your life and business?
Good luck has been a factor – no question!
A) We avoided the worst business mistakes by good luck rather than good management. The few deadbeats we came across were educational more than life-threatening.
B) Our initial business model forced us into environmentally acceptable formulations which are critically important today.
C) We stumbled into the composite industry simply because we had good epoxy technology. This is proving to be an important path in our future with great potential in areas as far apart as the North Sea and Malaysia.
- Address: 802 Utah Street, South Houston, TX 77587
- Website: www.thinfilmtech.net
- Phone: 713-910-6200
- Email: email@example.com