From Dairy Queen to Fixture King
Innovation Industries has grown from humble beginnings to become a powerhouse provider of a range of products.
by Kaija Wilkinson
A former Dairy Queen on a decommissioned U.S. Air Force base in Roswell, New Mexico, was the unlikely first location of Innovation Industries, Inc. in 1972. The company was launched by four business partners who designed and patented an infrared photo detection system to protect elevator passengers from closing doors — Duo-Path® 1004.
“This was the first no-contact product in the industry that addressed a need to protect the passenger from moving elevator doors,” CEO Paul E. Horney, IV says. “The product was incorporated into the design of most major manufacturers’ elevator packages as standard door protection, in conjunction with a retractable safety edge.” Dover, later acquired by thyssenkrupp, was a big customer for years, and Innovation Industries still supplies “a very few” Duo-Path replacement orders today, he added.
A family of New Mexico ranchers, the Horneys became involved in Innovation when one of the original founders needed a business loan, and the late Zola Horney (ELEVATOR WORLD, October 2014), Paul Horney, IV’s grandmother, stepped in to help. When the loan couldn’t be paid back, the company offered shares in lieu of payment to Zola, and the family’s transition from cattle ranching to vertical transportation (VT) began. Prior to becoming CEO in 2000, Paul Horney was manufacturing manager, then general manager. He holds an Electrical Engineering degree from New Mexico State University and a Master of Business Administration from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.
Fueled by demand for Duo-Path, in 1980, Innovation Industries moved out of the old fast-food joint and into a new, 30,000-ft2 space in Russellville, Arkansas, to be closer to suppliers and customers. One of the founders had family ties there; plus, it was strategically located in the center of the country, facilitating access to the entire U.S. elevator market. It didn’t hurt that the governor at the time offered business incentives such as tax abatements and low-interest financing.
A Turning Point
Shortly after the move, Innovation received a request from a local customer to build fixtures for a small project. Also, at that time, light curtains with infrared beams spaced every few inches (rather than the Duo-Path, with only two beams) became the product of choice. “That request for fixtures was the beginning of a change in focus that has blossomed into our main product category,” Horney says.
Today, Innovation fixtures can be found in elevators that serve:
- The Space Shuttle launch pad at the John F. Kennedy Space Center on Merritt Island, Florida
- AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas, home of the NFL’s Dallas Cowboys
- Yankee Stadium in NYC
- The Los Angeles set of Grey’s Anatomy
- Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut
- Atlanta Motor Speedway
- Walt Disney Concert Hall in L.A.
- Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian at the National Mall in Washington, D.C.
- Target stores nationwide
This list only scratches the surface, as Innovation fixtures are in many more places throughout North America and the world.
When asked which fixtures are Innovation Industries’ top sellers, Horney is hard-pressed to answer. “We have about 75 button options, for example,” he says. “We’re big everywhere. I wouldn’t say there is one particular sector that we’re better at than any other.”
“That request for fixtures was the beginning of a change in focus that has blossomed into our main product category. ”
— CEO Paul Horney, IV
Manufacturing elevator fixtures requires specialized equipment and expertise in sheet-metal fabrication and finishing, as well as electronic assembly and testing, Horney points out. As such, Innovation has continually invested in advanced manufacturing technology and Lean manufacturing techniques to reduce lead times and increase quality.
The company had a noteworthy achievement in 2000, when it received the internationally recognized International Organization for Standardization (ISO) 9001 certification. The process is rigorous, and industry experts note that ISO certification sets manufacturers apart as having achieved the highest levels of product quality, reliability, safety, environmental quality and conformity with international trade and service standards.
As volume grew, the company’s Russellville headquarters underwent multiple facility expansions, to the current footprint of 75,000 ft2. A new, 8,000-ft2 office building is under construction to house the administrative, sales, engineering and support staff.
Innovation Industries has more than 200 employees in Russellville, its hub of operations. Horney states:
“Throughout our years of growth, Innovation Industries has maintained the philosophy of providing quality products and service to the elevator industry. We are proud of all of our timing metrics. We have some of the shortest lead times in the industry — to when we quote it, to when we draw it, to when we build it. We maintain some of the fastest manufacturing times in the industry in all categories and adapt those as market conditions demand.”
Company leaders believe that, in order to be successful, “We have to take our company directly to our customer,” Horney states. Innovation has regional sales managers strategically located throughout the country. “Direct and timely feedback of our progress is paramount to our success,” Horney says. “We want to be part of the local elevator markets and assist our customers locally.”
“Direct and timely feedback of our progress is paramount to our success.— Horney”
Besides the South (Texas in particular), the company is “huge” in Midwest markets like Chicago, Horney says. Regional managers cover the Southeast, East Coast, Midwest and West Coast.
Growth Through Acquisitions
In addition to organic growth, Innovation has grown through acquisitions. In 2014, it purchased Monitor Elevator Products (MEP) of Hauppauge, New York. Established in 1957, MEP is a locally recognized leader in fixture manufacturing in the Northeast corridor. “With a focus on high-quality, custom fixtures and an excellent reputation, this was the perfect acquisition to leverage the combined knowledge of both companies and grow market share in New York,” Horney observes. Monitor operates from a 30,000-ft2 facility in Hauppauge’s Long Island Innovation Park and employs nearly As of this writing, most were working from home.
“Staying open is a challenge in areas where they’re shutting down cities.”
— Horney, on the coronavirus pandemic
In 2019, Innovation entered a new product category with the acquisition of elevator control manufacturer Virginia Controls. VC’s newest product, Vision 2.0, is a full serial-communication controller based on a simplified installation protocol. VC employs approximately 30 employees and is growing in Richmond. “VC has worked closely with customers to design a product that dramatically reduces installation complexity and time,” Horney says.
Company representatives make it a point to attend “every industry convention there is” and sponsor events. Like his grandmother, Paul Horney is involved in the National Association of Elevator Contractors (NAEC) and Canadian Elevator Contractors Association and has held numerous leadership positions with each. He served on the Elevator World, Inc. Board of Directors in 2004-2016 and the NAEC Board of Directors in 2009-2012.
While industry involvement is important, Horney says the main way to generate new business is word-of-mouth. “We’ve always worked very hard to provide the best customer service. It’s always been huge for us; it’s in our DNA.”
In some markets, the coronavirus pandemic meant, at the time of this writing, offices were operating either with skeleton crews or employees working from home. Horney says:
“We’re pretty much like all companies associated with the VT industry. We’re considered essential, and we’re trying to stay open as much as possible. It’s a challenge in areas where they’re shutting down cities. In Russellville and Richmond, Virginia where VC is based], we’re taking all the recommended safety precautions and are fully operational. Hopefully, we can continue that for the foreseeable future.”