Damian Pataluna describes the last four years as “brutal”.
Pataluna is the owner of Fischers SIPS, a manufacturer and distributor of structural insulated paneling. He says the best way to describe his product is to think of an Oreo cookie – it’s the framing, insulation and sheeting pressed together in one product. “It’s the fast way to put up a very sound, very strong building and a more energy efficient option to steel,” said Pataluna.
His own 20,000-square-foot building is made from his product and his average monthly energy bill is around $1,200. He also has another building made of steel that is half the size at 10,000 square feet and that energy bill runs about $1,400 a month.
Pataluna started with the company straight out of college as a sales person. He had co-oped at GE where he said he felt like just a number. “I never felt like I was making an impact on the business,” he said. He went to his career counselor at Bellarmine University and said he was interested in finding a small, growing company to start his career. The counselor knew of Fischers SIPS and encouraged him to apply for the open sales position. In a small company, Pataluna quickly learned that even in sales, he had to do everything himself. “There were no product videos and very few marketing materials to work with,” he said. “The owners were supportive, though, and told to me to create whatever Ineeded and they would pay for it.”
Pataluna became educated on every facet of the business and was soon promoted to general manager and plant manager as the business grew. He had a big part in taking the small company from $400,000 annual sales when he started to an over $3 million company. So, in 2001, he decided he wanted to be a partner and bought out one of the minority owners. In 2003, he bought out a second minority owner and then in 2006, went to the only other majority owner to inquire about owning the whole business. Several banks turned him down, but Pataluna said his tenacity is what paid off and in 2006, he was able to buy the whole business. “If I had just waited one more year,” he says, smiling. “I could’ve gotten it for a song.” Then, in 2007, the housing market crashed and 65% of his customers disappeared. Suddenly, his very successful business was losing millions in sales and Pataluna had to go into survival mode with nonexistent cash flow.
What Pataluna learned
He cut his full staff of 23 down to 15 the first year and then to 10 the second year. He immediately started only making purchases that made sense. He could no longer afford to make purchases betting that work would come in. Pataluna all but eliminated his own salary. The same tenacity and perseverance that got him the loan to purchase the business is what kept him in business. He borrowed from friends and family; triple mortgaged his house and maxed out his personal credit cards over the years.