Fireproofing with a Side of Education
Specialty Spray Systems, Inc. has a heart of rock and roll that beats to the tune of progress
As a teenager, Scott Sellers, the CEO of Specialty Spray Systems, Inc. (Specialty Spray), dreamed of becoming a rock star. He struggled academically and socially in high school, but rock music was his consolation and passion, from Elvis Presley to Kiss. After graduating from the prestigious Musicians Institute in Los Angeles, his dream came true—he toured the nation and the world as a drummer for the band Uncrowned.
His introduction to the fireproofing business came during a part-time job while he was back home in Georgia between tours. While scraping and cleaning floors for $6 an hour, Scott noticed the worker applying the fireproofing and learned that he earned $18 an hour. “I thought, ‘If I could make that much, I’d be rich,’” Scott recalls. When the supervisor told him that it took years to attain that skill level, Scott asked, “What is the very next step I can take today?” He committed to learning the trade and worked his way up, then started his own business in 2007.
Today, Specialty Spray, based in in Kennesaw, Georgia, provides fireproofing, spray insulation, industrial fireproofing and coating, firestopping and building insulation, and commercial and industrial painting for projects across the United States.
Setting Up for Success
Fireproofing is typically performed for large-scale projects such as airports, office buildings, schools and higher education. “Not all general contractors are familiar with fireproofing,” Scott says. “We are committed to being their source of expertise and education.”
Scott takes time to explain the process during budget and pre-project meetings to help clients plan sequencing and scheduling. “It’s messy work,” Scott says. “Planning well minimizes the impact on schedule and budget and on subcontractors performing work after fireproofing is complete.” For a 20,000- to 30,000-square-foot project, for example, it takes a crew approximately five days to complete its work in an open, clean floor space that is clear of other materials.
He quips, “The two happiest days for the general contractor are the day we arrive and the day we leave!”
Specialty Spray’s approach to projects has generated repeat business with numerous general contractors, says Scott. The company partners with customers at every step, from estimating, pre-job planning and value engineering to executing effectively and efficiently in the field. Past projects include Grove at Grand Bay, a two-tower residential development in the Miami neighborhood of Coconut Grove. Its unique layout and design left some areas of the concrete structures exposed to the Florida sun. Specialty Spray installed ceramic insulation to those areas to prevent radiant heat transfer into the structure, increasing energy efficiency for the building owner and its residents.
Another notable project involved installing 40,000 bags of fireproofing material during construction of The Mall of San Juan in Puerto Rico, the island’s largest construction project at that time. The success of this project set the path for increasingly larger projects. The company’s extensive portfolio also includes Davis Wade Stadium at Scott Field, home of the Mississippi State University Bulldogs in Starkville, Mississippi; Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport in Atlanta; and Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Oak Ridge, Tennessee.
Specialty Spray is building on its success and expanding, recently adding a commercial and industrial painting division under the direction of industry veteran Luis Vissoni. “It blends well with our industrial fireproofing work,” Scott says. “It gives us the ability to add more value and options for our customers.”
Life Lessons to Share
As his business has grown, Scott has discovered how to marry his passion for entertaining with being a CEO. “I’ve learned that I can entertain by sharing life lessons—the ups and downs of my experience as a high school dropout to running a multimillion-dollar construction company,” he says. His colorful observations resonate with his team, customers and others looking for a good success story, whether in person, on social media or as part of a live audience.
His goal is to reach and motivate as many people as he can to live their best lives. “No matter where you are in your life, if you focus and surround yourself with like-minded people, you can find yourself living a completely different life just a few years from now,” he says.
The camaraderie Scott relished as a band member is an intentional part of the culture at Specialty Spray. “People are looking for that sense of belonging, of feeling like they are part of a family, not just punching a clock. We provide a path forward to those willing to learn, to read, to study and to ask questions,” he explains.
“Our culture attracts people who want to be successful, to make money and provide for a family, and to be good examples for their kids and others,” he adds. “People come here to get better at life.”
Scott’s first mentor was his grandfather, Bradley Culverhouse, who grew up during the Great Depression, went to work as a laborer and retired as CEO of Columbus Water Works in Columbus, Georgia. “When I laid out my idea for starting the business, he listened carefully, said the magic words ‘I believe in you,’ and handed me a check to buy my first machine,” he recalls. That crucial encouragement was the start of something big and influences how Scott manages the business today.
Because Scott and each managing team member worked their way up in the construction industry, they can relate to employees at every level. “We know how to do the work; that’s how we got here. We let everyone know that we are all important and all serve a purpose within the company. This has resulted in a great culture reflected in how we interact with our customers,” he says.
Part of this work-ethic culture is a willingness to take care of customers, even when the task is not in the job description. Even if it means working in the heat. “We have a team that will do whatever it takes to get things done and be successful, including Project Manager Thomas Johnson and Estimators Nathan Petty and Landon Hamby,” he adds.
Specialty Spray Book Club
Scott first thought about starting his own company after reading “Rich Dad Poor Dad” by Robert Kiyosaki at a friend’s house. “I was not a big reader at the time. That book changed my life,” he says. Now reading is an integral part of his company culture.
The idea for starting a book club for employees came from Mike Downs, CFO for Specialty Spray. “He’s always been a big reader. I have become one also,” Scott says. The goal is to encourage employees to educate themselves at their own pace by providing recommended books on topics such as finance, the construction industry and leadership development. Employees have access to the selection on Audible through their company phones—currently 40 titles that either Mike or Scott have read and found valuable.
“This program underscores the message they need to hear from us: We believe in you. Backing up belief with action is sometimes all people need to go down a path of greatness. Mediocrity is the worst thing that can happen to a human being,” Scott says.