This year, ISCO Industries celebrates 50 years of providing customers around the world with total piping solutions. The company illustrates a heritage that is unique in its history, growth and success as being one of the best in the industry for five decades.
Today, as it always has, ISCO Industries emphasizes quality in products and workmanship, and cooperative relationships among customers, business associates and employees.
Originally founded in Louisville, KY, in 1962 as the Irrigation Supply Company, a distributor of irrigation materials, ISCO Industries has expanded to serve multiple markets including water and sewer, environmental, energy, geothermal, industrial, landfill, frac sand mining, oil and gas, nuclear and power generation, golf irrigation and more.
The company now has U.S. operations in 25 states in addition to two locations in Canada and Australia, bringing its geographical footprint to more than 30 locations. ISCO’s workforce has grown to include more than 300 employees.
How it all started
The story of this family-owned and operated company goes back to 1962 when the late Jim Kirchdorfer, Sr. began the business out of the back room of his father’s hardware store in Louisville where the company is still headquarted today. At that time, Kirchdorfer owned and operated a contracting company called Kirchdorfer Irrigation Company. Specializing in golf courses, the company installed the first automatic irrigation system in the state.
Since underground golf course irrigation was a relatively new concept in the Midwest, there was no distributor outlet for Kirchdorfer to purchase sprinklers, valves and other necessary material. Rather than purchase from a distributor in another area, he decided to open a distributorship of his own. He named the new venture Irrigation Supply Company.
Through the 1960s, Kirchdorfer continued to operate both companies. Then, in the early 1970s, he expanded into the municipal and industrial markets and began to refer to the company as ISCO to reflect the changing nature of the business. The company was officially renamed ISCO Industries LLC in 1998.
Also in the early 90s, both of Kirchdorfer’s sons, Jimmy and Mark, joined him in the fast-growing business. In January 1995, Jimmy took over as general manager of ISCO, and is now the CEO. In 1998 Mark became the director of operations, eventually becoming president.
HDPE becomes key product
The focus of the company changed in 1975 when Kirchdorfer, Sr. was approached by Phillips Petroleum to become a municipal distributor for a new product called Driscopipe, a high-density polyethylene (HDPE) pipe. He immediately recognized the potential of the product for applications such as sewer sliplining, force main sewers and stream crossings for water lines. That same year, the company began distributing McElroy Manufacturing fusion equipment.
“Irrigation Supply sold its first Driscopipe project to the Quicksand Water District in Clayhole, KY,” Jimmy Kirchdorfer says. “In this rural Kentucky town, 175 residents and a school were without city drinking water because there was no suitable pipe available at the time to cross Troublesome Creek. Previously, the only water at these residences came from wells. Troublesome Creek had banks about 14-feet high and sloped sharply downward to a flat river bottom about 100-feet wide, and consisted of primarily sand. To make matters worse, the creek flooded every spring carrying trees and other debris down the river in a destructive fury.
“The town used six-inch PVC pipe to bring the water from the city supply to the creek and installed another main from the creek to the outlying district. The water district was puzzled as to how they could cross the creek. My father and Jim Fletcher [a Phillips representative] heard about the problem and recommended a solution. They installed 228 feet of six-inch Driscopipe across the creek. Its flexibility and ductility allowed for a successful completion.”
Irrigation Supply later supplied hundreds of miles of Driscopipe in the late 1970s for various municipal projects.
A critical year for ISCO was 1980. With the success of Drisopipe sales and a still robust irrigation business, Kirchdorfer, Sr. made the decision to phase out the commodity products that a typical municipal supply house carried. He hired Fletcher as a salesperson dedicated solely to the sales of Driscopipe. The company also expanded sales into the industrial market and opened a fabrication plant dedicated to manufacturing HDPE fittings.
Reflecting on his 32 years of service at ISCO, Fletcher, who now serves as vice president of customer relations, remarks that he “enjoyed every minute of it. It’s been a great time and a great part of my life.”
His close association with Kirchdorfer, Sr. began when he worked for Phillips when they visited engineering offices to discuss the merits of Driscopipe. Their unique working relationship included an agreement that if they had any problem with each other, they would sit down and discuss it, but that never happened according to Fletcher. He describes the late Kirchdorfer, Sr. as “one of the fairest men I [have] ever met.”
Expanding ISCO’s reach
Kirchdorfer, Sr. continued to reinvest the company’s successes back into ISCO and developed a fleet of fusion equipment for sale and lease to local contractors.
“With all this investment in the 1980s, ISCO was on the cutting-edge of bringing HDPE pipe to new markets and becoming a leader in fabrication and fusion equipment,” Jimmy says. “Fusion equipment, after all, goes hand-in-hand with HDPE pipe, making it a critical part of underground construction projects. Fusing HDPE pipe eliminates the need for mechanical joints in most cases as the fusion process creates a joint through heat fusion that turns the HDPE pipe pieces into one continuous, monolithic pipe. This helps speed up installations that might have had to rely on pipe that uses mechanical joints and is far more rigid and less flexible than HDPE pipe.”
In the 1990s and 2000s, ISCO made several acquisitions that provided ISCO with key people, who had knowledge of various markets and geographies, as well as new facilities.
Mark Kirchdorfer went on to explain that as ISCO expands into more markets and areas as the demand for their products and services grow, their commitment to quality is a mainstay.
“ISCO is not just a distributor of HDPE pipe and fusion equipment,” Mark says. “We also manufacture products for HDPE pipe, such as fittings, custom spool pieces, manholes, geothermal Circuit Maker Vaults, Snap-Tite culvert lining pipe and more.
“We also hold several certifications for quality, such as: Factory Mutual (FM) approval for fabricated fittings; the American Society of Mechanical Engineers’ (ASME) nuclear related stamps and certifications, which include the NPT and NA stamps and a Quality System Certificate (QSC); and most recently the ISO 9001:2008 certification for our quality management system.”
Jimmy also noted that due to the hard work and efforts of ISCO’s quality team, ISCO is the first and only HDPE pipe company to have all three of the ASME N-type stamps.
“We don’t just sell fusion equipment,” he continues. “We also rent, refurbish and maintain the equipment. McElroy Master Mechanics are on staff at 18 locations, and we also offer fusion services and training as needed. All of this is related to our commitment to quality.”
Heeding the demands of recent growth in other markets in North America and around the world has become a key point in growing the business according to the brothers.
Jimmy explains that with the recent growth in the oil and gas market, ISCO opened two new locations to service this boom – one facility is located in the Bakken Shale region in Williston, ND, and the second location is in Midland, TX.
“We’ve also experienced growth in our international business, which led to ISCO opening up a second location near Perth, Australia,” adds Mark, “and expanding our Brisbane, Queensland, Australia facility. We are also hiring additional personnel to help handle the growth in international markets.”
People make a difference
One thing that sets ISCO apart is the recognition that its employees are the backbone of the business who not only help the company thrive in periods of growth, but especially during the hard times. This commitment to its people began long ago with Kirchdorfer, Sr. who used to say, “In business, all you have are people and money. The banks end up with all the money, so all you really have are people. Give people the opportunity and watch them grow.”
And that commitment continues today.
“Both products and people drive our business,” says Jimmy, which is best reflected in the company mission statement: To provide long-term opportunities for members of the ISCO team by adding value to our products and services, leading through innovation, proactively executing our vision and developing mutually successful relationships with our customers.
“However, mostly, it’s the people of ISCO who drive the business. It’s the people who form relationships with our customers and add value to the products and services we offer. It is also the people who lead the innovation, and the creativity of the people, that fuels our progress and growth.”
“Everyone who works at ISCO is aware of and shares in our vision,” adds Mark. “Our business has grown because the people of ISCO all share a common ground and we respect one another. We also have what we call the “ISCOmmitment”, where everyone makes a commitment to improve.”
Celebration of company success is another way management builds its team.
Jimmy says, “We also have a new theme each year that we incorporate into our culture. For example, in 2008, we had a theme called The Bases are Loaded, which basically referred to the fact that we had the three bases loaded, the people, the facilities and the systems in place for future growth. We brought in everyone from the company to Louisville that year to celebrate the fact that we had all these things in place. As a result of having the “bases loaded”, we had a record year.”
Another aspect of ISCO that makes the company special is ISCO’s culture, which is one of respect, explains Jimmy. “We have a “no jerks allowed” rule in the sense that we work as a team; everything is a team effort, so self-entitlement just doesn’t fit within our company culture. We want to provide future opportunities for all members of the ISCO team. Our company culture resides in each employee, no matter what the employee’s title. It is not dictated from management nor created by marketing. It is the soul of our company. Sustaining our culture is imperative to our success. We’ve all seen companies neglect their roots and they decline as they vary from the culture that helped create their success.”
Rick Zipp, ISCO’s first full-time employee, began his career with the company in 1979 in the fabrication shop at Baxter. He currently works at ISCO’s Louisville-Riverport manufacturing facility. According to Zipp, “being surrounded by good people is what makes ISCO so special.”
His visits to company locations afford him the opportunity to work with various people who he describes as hard working and respectful.
“When I started [working at] ISCO, I immediately had a sense that this company would grow and I liked the people. I never expected the company to grow as much as it did, but I knew that if it grew, it would provide a lot of opportunities for me.”
Fletcher agrees that the main reasons he’s stayed with the company for so many years are due to management and the family atmosphere they encourage. “ISCO always provided us with the tools and the support to get our jobs done. You don’t have to go outside of the company to find the support that you need; they always have it available for you. I never had a reason to leave because it is a great family to for work for, and to work with.”
Recognition for commitment to quality service and products, and hard work, has paid off for ISCO with several honors and achievements.
For eight consecutive years, from 2002-2009, and then again in 2011, ISCO received the honor of being a ‘Fast 50’ business company in the Louisville area by Business First Magazine.
Early in February 2004, ISCO received an important call from the White House to host President George W. Bush in a discussion about the economy. The President arrived and took the stage, attended by more than 60 ISCO employees. James Kirchdorfer, Sr. welcomed the President – due in part to his administration’s economic policies.
That same year, Ernst and Young named Jimmy Kirchdorfer “Entrepreneur of the Year” for ISCO’s growth. He won in the Manufacturing Division for Kentucky and the Southern Ohio region.
Celebrating their company’s milestones and achievements, and having fun doing it, are reasons why remaining in business for 50 years is so important to Jimmy and Mark.
A few of those anniversary plans included creating a new special 50-year logo design to be used throughout the year that reflects ISCO’s 50 years in business and the importance that HDPE pipe has played in its development; sponsoring a company-wide trivia contest on, and in recognition of, ISCO’s Founder’s Day, on June 21; and creating an “ISCO Through the Years” slide show presentation and ISCO history table with photos, old marketing materials, artifacts and other items displayed at the annual sales meeting in January. More events are being planned for the remainder of the year.
As for what the future holds, ISCO Industries’ plans to hold the course while keeping abreast of the potential uses for HDPE pipe in the industry. “HDPE pipe is growing in market share,” says Jimmy. “But it is still underutilized in many areas. We know that HDPE pipe will continue to grow. As the product grows in market share, ISCO will also grow as a company because we believe in the product.
“We will also continue to add and invest in new locations to better serve our markets,” adds Mark. “From humble beginnings in a family hardware store, ISCO has seen tremendous growth over the years.”
ISCO’s investments in technology, equipment, people and facilities have all contributed to growth over the years.
On June 21, Jim Kirchdorfer, Sr. founded Irrigation Supply Company, which would later become ISCO Industries.
Irrigation Supply Company entered the municipal supply industry.
ISCO became a municipal distributor for Phillips Petroleum for a new product called Driscopipe, a high-density polyethylene (HDPE) pipe. Also begins distributing McElroy Mfg. fusion equipment.
Driscopipe changed the company dynamic and with it Kirchdorfer, Sr. streamlines product offerings. ISCO expanded sales into the industrial market and added a fabrication plant for HDPE fittings.
ISCO purchased the assets of Mid-Continent Pipe & Supply in St. Louis, MO.
ISCO purchased a McElroy 65-inch fusion machine. At this time, it was the largest transportable fusion machine in the U.S. ISCO also built a larger HDPE fabrication plant in Louisville.
Outside salespeople are hired for the states of Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Illinois and Missouri.
ISCO Industries LLC becomes the official company name.
Looking to expand into the Southeast, ISCO acquired Fluid Controls, a Driscopipe distributor based in Huntsville, AL. The Fluid Controls acquisition positioned ISCO as the nation’s largest distributor of HDPE piping products. ISCO also received Factory Mutual approval for fabricated fittings.
ISCO expanded into the west coast market and broke ground on a new production facility in California. The company began fabricating circuit maker vaults for ground source heat pump applications in the geothermal market.
On Jan. 1, ISCO acquired Fife Industrial Pipe Company from U.S. Filter. Fife was a distributor and fabricator of HDPE pipe in Florida. Fife brought additional fabrication capacity, a facility in the large Florida market, additional fusion equipment, a strong reputation in the state, and a group of talented professionals with years of experience in the HDPE piping industry. Responding to customer demand, ISCO continued to add more distribution facilities including a distribution site in Joliet, IL (near Chicago) in the summer of 2001.
The company acquired Cooper Wholesale in August and Poly-Fab in September. Cooper Wholesale, located in Pryor, OK, was the larger of the two acquisitions and specialized in HDPE pipe for oil fields. ISCO hired a distribution site manager and converted the Poly-Fab facility located in South Roxana, IL, near St. Louis, into a distribution site for pipe, fittings and fusion equipment.
ISCO acquired the assets of two HDPE pipe branches from National Waterworks with locations in Fresno, CA, and Vancouver, WA (Portland area). ISCO continued its expansion in September with the acquisition of Maskell-Robbins’ Houston branch.
The Maskell-Robbins branches in Tucson, AZ, and Salt Lake City, UT are purchased by ISCO. In February, ISCO hosted then President George W. Bush with nearly 60 employees looking on, in a discussion about the economy in which he praised ISCO’s steady growth and success over the past few years.
ISCO continued its expansion by opening up new locations and distribution facilities across the country. One expansion included relocating its fabrication facility after 14 years of the downtown Louisville Chestnut Street location to the southwest industrial park of Louisville called Riverport. The facility was five times larger than ISCO’s previous facility and allowed for more fabricating, storage and shipping.
Further expansion occurred into North America by opening up a facility in Alberta, Canada.
In March, ISCO purchased Fraser Mining and Industrial Supply out of Mansfield, TX, which had a 10,000 square foot facility site on 10 acres of property located within the Dallas/Fort Worth area. ISCO also expanded internationally by opening a new facility in Brisbane, Australia.
In January, ISCO acquired Wright Water and Waste in Solon, OH. This waterworks house helped ISCO to further diversify its products to customers.
ISCO officially opened a new distribution facility in Martinsburg, WV, in February. With 55,000 square feet of space, this facility is now one of ISCO’s largest.
ISCO received a registered trademark for the Circuit Maker Vault® on June 29.
ISCO built and opened a new facility in Kingman, AZ, that serves as a distribution center for pipe, fittings and fusion equipment, as well as a manufacturing site for ISCO’s Snap-Tite product line and geothermal products. ISCO is named one of the “Best Places to Work in Kentucky.” ISCO also received the ASME N-type stamps for nuclear applications.
ISCO added more space to the Riverport yard to meet increasing demand. Continuing on the path of investment, ISCO added three more locations, relocated a few existing locations to larger facilities and expanded others. The company receives ISO 9001:2008 certification for its management system.