Between the pool table in the reception area and the dogs romping in the hall, you’d think little would get done in this small warehouse/office space in suburban Chicago. But you just wouldn’t be looking closely enough. The very walls—smooth and painted in neutral tones—are hard at work in this $9.5 million operation. Started with a small wad of cash and a lot of big ideas, it’s no surprise that this thriving enterprise was launched by this year’s Fred Case Entrepreneur of the Year Award winner, Nick Richmond. Among those big ideas: a new twist on an open-house marketing campaign, and producing the product he sells.
Begun during the recent recession, Matrix Basement Systems focuses solely on basement refinishing using a structural insulated panel (SIP) wall system that Richmond manufactures in-house employing a unique installation process. Behind the smooth walls, play space, and offices, a small warehouse cranks out panels and readies them for the approximately 375 jobs that Matrix completes each year, as well as for sale to other businesses. “Bringing manufacturing in-house was more innovative and cutting-edge than what other applicants were doing,” says Bruce Case, one of the three award judges.
The wall system itself is fairly simple: 4-by-8-foot panels made of two ¼-inch magnesium oxide skins that sandwich a 3-inch layer of closed-cell foam between them. Installers slide the panels into aluminum runners attached to the home’s floor and ceiling and also to vertical supports spaced every 4 feet. Panels include electrical and plumbing chases. Seams are covered using an antimicrobial tape. Only light mudding and sanding is needed—it’s a pretty clean operation—and, depending on the job size, a basement project usually takes between 10 days and four weeks to complete. (Watch the installation process.)
Everyone in the company is a basement evangelist. After all, “it’s taboo to put drywall in a below-grade space,” Richmond says. “In the core of our DNA, we feel this way.” And everyone at the company can expound on the virtues of the panels: R-value of 18; waterproof, as well as fire, mold, and mildew resistant—unlike “the other guys” competitor Owens Corning; look just like regular drywall when finished; can be painted or wallpapered; and can hold pretty much anything a client chooses to hang on them. Richmond is confident: The product carries a 50-year warranty.
In the past three and a half years, he has done extensive research and development on the panels regarding adhesives, splines, seam elimination, and the effects of humidity and air temperature, as well as streamlining the installation process to squeeze out the most profit.
Director of operations Brian Barrick says they continue to tweak the system but are willing to take risks only when they feel they have enough knowledge to move forward. That said, he adds, “while we wouldn’t release something prematurely that’s not safe, you can’t wait for something to be perfect before you roll it out.” Richmond feels so strongly about the product that he plans to invest $100,000 in testing it for possible applications in new construction.