Creating a new environment Featured

9:46am EDT July 22, 2002

Georgiana Riley relishes being in the thick of things in her business.

“I love to get out with the reps; I love to get in front of the customers,” says Riley, owner and president of TIGG Corp., a Bridgeville-based environmental engineering firm.

Few could doubt the value of a hands-on executive who possesses the sales and marketing know-how that Riley does, and the bottom-line pressure that small businesses feel means that, yes, at times, she has had to step in to smooth over a problem or close a deal with a client.

But making the transition from company executive to business owner has meant that her view had to become more strategic than tactical. Riley says she realizes that to survive in the industry and put TIGG firmly in the black, she’s going to have to resist the temptation at times to throw herself into the fray of the day-to-day.

Riley clearly likes to stay on the fast track. In addition to her responsibilities at TIGG, she serves as a township supervisor in Independence Township and helps her husband run their Foxfire Farm, where they raise purebred Angus cattle.

She spent most of her career selling for big companies in the chemical industry and, more recently, spent four years in sales at TIGG before becoming its president and, ultimately, its owner, last year.

She joined TIGG in 1993 as director of sales, and by 1996 was president, leading the company to a 25 percent increase in revenue. TIGG came off a record year in 1997, only to turn in a disappointing performance in 1998. Last year was better, says Riley, and she expects the company to return to profitability in 2000.

TIGG was founded in 1978 by Don Tigglebeck and his wife, Carole, as a manufacturer’s representative and chemical trader in plastics and intermediates. In 1980, TIGG recognized a growing market for pre-engineered, ready-to-use modular “adsorbers,” particularly in the emerging pollution control market.

Adsorption technology is used in a variety of applications. It can, for example, remove toxic chemicals from ground water, surface water or waste water, or toxic or odorous gasses from storage tank vents or paint spray booths. It also can be used to recover valuable solvents in manufacturing processes.

It involves the use of an adsorption medium, such as activated carbon. TIGG also provides other methods, such as ion exchange and oil/water separation systems.

More recently, the business has evolved into a more comprehensive solutions provider, offering engineering, consulting and turnkey solutions for its customers, in addition to off-the-shelf solutions.

Surviving in a big pond

In the early 1990s, Riley says, the market for TIGG’s products grew increasingly competitive as industry consolidation took place, squeezing margins and hurting small suppliers like TIGG. Meanwhile, the federal Superfund Program, established in 1980, and more stringent environmental regulations are creating a need for remediation efforts, retrofits of older facilities and new installations of pollution control equipment, all expanding opportunities for firms in the environmental industry.

Although TIGG is a relatively small player, Riley says, she realized even before she acquired the company that there were opportunities to improve its performance. She is guiding the company by playing to its strengths and working in collaborative ways with other companies in the industry, as well as improving its information systems, restructuring its marketing effort and ramping up its manufacturing capabilities.

Retooling the plant

Riley saw that one of the strengths of TIGG is its 60,000-square-foot in-house manufacturing facility on a 10-acre site in Heber Springs, Ark., where the company fabricates tanks, ranging in capacity from 20 gallons to 1,600 gallons, and other equipment for treatment systems.

Last year, Riley hired a superintendent for the plant, to not only supervise operations, but to make recommendations for improvements to make the facility more productive. Following his suggestions, TIGG is investing in new welding and handling equipment, which Riley says will increase output without requiring additional labor and bring in house some of the work that was being subcontracted to outside vendors.

Finding the opportunities

TIGG used to rely solely on its in-house sales team to generate leads and identify projects. But Riley found that referrals from manufacturers’ representatives in other, complementary businesses were feeding business to TIGG.

She put together a network of manufacturers’ representatives to identify opportunities for TIGG through their day-to-day selling activities. The company now has 10 such representatives in a variety of related fields, ranging from chemical processing to remediation, concentrated in the eastern United States.

Now, TIGG’s in-house sales team acts in a support role for the manufacturers’ reps. The arrangement has worked well, says Riley, and usually involves TIGG providing some component of the project or taking on management of the entire project.

That allows it to get in on projects it might otherwise not have been able to take on and share the risk with one or more partners. The company manages six to 10 such ventures a year, a number that Riley would like to see grow in the future.

Finding an adviser

Riley realized it was naïve to believe she could lead the company without any outside counseling, and found PowerLink, an organization that assembles groups of business experts to act as boards of directors for growing businesses.

This year, TIGG will have the benefit of a board of directors from PowerLink that will help Riley guide the company. A group of seasoned business executives, she hopes, will help her stay focused on the big picture.

Says Riley: “The hardest thing for me to do is to step back.”

How to reach: TIGG Corp., (412) 257-9580 or www.tigg.com

Ray Marano (rmarano@sbnnet.com) is an associate editor at SBN.