Foam specialist expands offerings to bedding manufacturing, retail segments
BY DOROTHY WHITCOMB
Executives at Innocor Inc., a Red Bank, New Jersey-based producer of foam products for both commercial and retail channels, expect to see significant growth in annual sales over the next several years. They believe their strong commitment to consumer research, comprehensive product development efforts, and ongoing investments in technology and human capital will spur that growth. A culture that fosters both entrepreneurial action and collaboration, they say, will help to solidify it.
Innocor was born from Sun Capital Partners’ 2012 acquisition of Sleep Innovations, a West Long Branch, New Jersey-based specialty mattress manufacturer, and its 2014 acquisition of Flexible Foam Products, a foam producer headquartered in Spencerville, Ohio. Sun Capital, a private equity firm based in Boca Raton, Florida, subsequently merged the two companies, hired Carol Eicher as chief executive officer and renamed the new entity Innocor Inc.
“I felt strongly that we should rename and reposition the company to give our employees something to wrap their efforts around,” says Eicher, who had spent 30 years in the chemical industry and joined Innocor from Dow Chemical where she was business president of its global coatings and construction division. “The name reflects the fact that innovation is at the core of everything we do.”
Sleep Innovations and Flexible Foam Products now have been integrated into Innocor as two symbiotic divisions. Sleep Innovations became Innocor Comfort, the company’s consumer products division. It manufactures foam products, including mattresses, pillows and mattress toppers under the Sleep Innovations, Novaform and Serta brands.
“Sleep Innovations is our heritage brand and goes to market on e-commerce sites,” Eicher says. “Our Novaform brand is exclusive to Costco and includes a broad range of products that are sold both in Costco clubs and on the Costco website. We have been a Serta licensee since 2009 and service specific retail outlets. We sell a lot of Serta branded pillows and toppers to retailers who focus on having nationally recognized brands.”
Sun Capital’s second acquisition, Flexible Foam Products, became Innocor Foam Technologies, the division of the company that manufactures foam products for the bedding, furniture, packaging industries, etc. “We are the second largest producer of flexible foam, with our foam sales highly concentrated in the bedding industry,” she says. “Bedding has been and will continue to be our primary focus.”
Eicher sees the beneficial relationship between the two business units as “a unique aspect of our business plan because we dedicate a large portion of our overall marketing budget to understanding consumer preferences.”
Innocor fields a dedicated marketing team whose sole job is to “execute a variety of quantitative and qualitative research techniques, asking consumers about their behaviors and preferences,” she says. The insights gained from that research are then translated into new products that, the company believes, have a high chance of success in the market.
“We try to understand what makes a better product and take that all the way back to the manufacturing process,” Eicher says. “It’s helpful to our retail business, but also helpful to the business-to-business segment of our company because we can tell manufacturers what consumers are looking for.”
In February, Bain Capital Private Equity, a Boston-based private equity investment firm, bought Innocor from Sun Capital, keeping Eicher and her management team in place. “Bain has a long history in bedding, likes the space and sees it as a great growth opportunity,” she says.
“Our vision remains unchanged from that of the previous three years,” Eicher continues. “Innocor is recognized as a leader in the flexible polyurethane industry, and our focus remains where the material is most relevant—bedding and furniture.”
Innocor has about 2,000 employees and makes its products in 23 facilities spread throughout 17 states. The company’s commercial products include memory, specialty and conventional polyurethane foams; polyester fiber; and carpet cushion.
Innocor’s broad operational network fuels one of its key strategic advantages. “The nature of the bedding industry is that it has a very short supply chain,” Eicher says. “Our customers expect same-day or 24-hour delivery, and there’s a trade advantage to the territory around each manufacturing facility.”
Other strategic advantages include what Eicher calls a “continuous improvement mindset.” “We’ve invested significantly in driving continuing improvement in technology, customer service and safety,” she says. “We never think what we did today was good enough, and all of our metrics have stretch goals.”
Innocor also has invested strategically in human capital by adding a number of Six Sigma Black Belt-certified employees to its workforce. Six Sigma is a set of techniques and tools for process improvement, and Innocor looks to these technicians “to find opportunities to reduce any form of waste in the manufacturing process,” Eicher says.
Most of Innocor’s research and development efforts occur at its facility in Baldwyn, Mississippi, with several of its other plants used for testing and scaling up purposes. According to the company’s website, the R&D facility is ISO/IEC 17025 certified and provides engineering and technical expertise, product testing, and marketing and product launch support.
Innocor augments its own R&D capabilities with those of “trusted (chemical and component) suppliers across the United States who have global in-house R&D teams,” its website says. This integrated and collaborative approach is a central component of the company’s culture and supports its ability to understand how polymeric innovation ultimately affects customer preferences, Eicher notes.
A focus on integration and collaboration extends to other aspects of Innocor’s corporate culture. “We have brought the best of business process discipline and entrepreneurial action to the company,” Eicher says. “We have clear goals for achievement at all levels of the organization that cascade through all of its parts. We understand that goals are well-articulated so that we can measure achievement and hold each other to task in a respectful manner.”
Eicher believes that the people who work for Innocor are its greatest strength, but she also finds recruiting new people to be her biggest challenge. “Manufacturing is not perceived as being sexy anymore, and bringing new talent into the company is a key challenge,” she says. “As a result of the shift in the U.S. economy from manufacturing to service, there’s a labor shortage at all levels from manufacturing through management.”
Executives at Innocor are hoping that its many philanthropic and outreach efforts help “elevate the presence of the company,” Eicher says, and make it an attractive employer. Various plants have held bone marrow drives and open houses so that community members can come to the plants and learn about what is done there in a fun and family-friendly environment, company executives say.
Other outreach efforts have included stocking local food banks, raising money for breast cancer research and veterans organizations, and the Sleep Innovations Holiday Best campaign. The campaign focused on encouraging people to “be their best” during the holidays by living a healthy, balanced lifestyle so that they could give back to those in need, spend more time with their families or enjoy their favorite winter activities.
The company upped the ante by encouraging its customers and social media fans to become involved. With each use of the hashtag #SIHolidayBest, Sleep Innovations donated one dollar to Feeding America, a Chicago-based nonprofit that facilitates a network of hunger relief organizations throughout the United States to help end hunger and ensure future food security.
Eicher’s personal commitments include serving as treasurer of the board of directors of the Fairmont Park Conservancy, a nonprofit organization that raises funds to support marketing and infrastructure development for Fairmont Park, a 10,000-acre green space owned by the city of Philadelphia.
In addition, she serves as a member of the board of trustees of the International Sleep Products Association. Of her tenure at ISPA, which began in January, Eicher says: “I am honored to join the leaders of our industry on the board and look forward to working with them to promote positive advancements in the bedding industry. At Innocor, we are passionate about innovating products through technology, materials and design. I’m excited to share that passion with the board to tackle the current issues, advance industry goals and better the industry as a whole.”
Eicher also is excited about the future of the company she leads. “I have an amazing amount of passion and energy for the journey that Innocor has been on and the trajectory of what it is yet to become,” she says. “We will continue to establish ourselves in the marketplace and grow at a pace that exceeds the market. I see significant opportunities for both organic and inorganic growth in the next couple of years.”