ICON Building Systems:
A high-tech metal building supplier with a human touch
Systems, Seguin, Texas, is not your typical company. There are no
bosses or managers, and many of the employees had no knowledge of
the metal building industry prior to working there. The CEO often
wears shorts, flip-flops and a baseball cap to work.
The unorthodox setup, however, has not hurt business. A technology
company (first) that sells metal buildings, ICON has grown 60
percent annually since 2000. It supports hundreds of dealers and
private labels and thousands of customers both in the United States
and abroad. The company, which claims to be the first
pre-engineered metal building supplier to develop a free software
system giving customers the ability to design and price virtually
any building in minutes, expects to generate $35 to 40 million in
sales this year.
It's a far cry from the two-car garage the business started in,
where an old Ford tractor was used as a makeshift forklift. It was
in the early days of ICON's existence that 37-year-old founder Mark
Moore went on a mission to build an e-commerce system that would
design buildings anywhere, at any price. With some help from his
brother, a computer programmer who passed away a few years ago,
Moore believes the system he created sets the company apart.
www.metalbuildingdepot.com, you can download (for free) a software
program called IQS, which allows users to design and price an array
of PEMB box buildings, including airplane hangars.
"Big ones, small ones, 50,000 square feet [4,645 m2], 100,000
square feet [9,290 m2], whatever you want," Moore said. "Once an
order is placed, you go through the design, detailing and the
building is delivered to their job site-all the materials needed to
Moore says 60 percent of ICON's customers are contractors and the
rest are people who want a building for their backyard. ICON's
biggest projects have been factory applications of more than
100,000 square feet. For larger projects, they also do business
outside the U.S.
"We are the Google
or Microsoft of the metal building [industry]," Moore said. "They
don't have anything that's better. Most of them don't even have a
system. It's a lot of paper and Post-it Notes. Our sales guys
manage over 500 customers at a time."
Internally, the 25 to 30 employees at ICON handle everything
through an intricate chat system of instant messages, and Moore
said customers receive feedback within seconds when they have
"Everything is digital, everything is hyper-efficient," he said.
"There's a ton of stuff that completely makes us totally unique.
We're not normal. Take any metal building company out there, and go
180-degrees from what they do and you'll find us."
Along with its
focus on technology (the chief information officer is an MIT
graduate), there's a human side to ICON's operation. Free lunch is
served every day, incentives are given for quitting smoking and
losing weight, and there is a history of hiring married
"Every person that works here is part of how much better we are
than the next guy. Everybody is very neutral and harmonious. We
have the ability to do untold amounts of work," Moore said. "I look
at other businesses and I've seen the way that they run them, and
they're militaristic. This may sound stupid or weird, but there's
no love. It's hard, and it's cold. I'm the anti-corporate guy, I
wear shorts to work. I want people to be comfortable."
Moore's philosophy seems to be that if he can help his employees
grow as people and give them a work environment they enjoy, the
company will run more efficiently and, thus, have more success. He
claims he rarely looks at financial statements and instead focuses
on the best way to get things done.
It may sound a bit touchy-feely, but Moore's approach is rooted
in personal experience. His mother died of lung cancer, and he lost
a brother "because he was overweight and he sat in front of a
computer and programmed."
"From that day forward I decided that a person's health is number
one, a person's happiness is number two, everything else falls
behind that," he said of the impact his brother's passing had on
him. "Work is 50 percent of everyone's life. If you're respected
and treated right, you're going to do what you need to do better
and you're going to want to get things done. My motivation is to
help somebody realize they can have more out of life."
In one instance, Moore was out to eat and he recruited his waitress
to come work for the company because she offered him onions and
bell peppers for his beef tips.
"I said, 'absolutely not. I would rather eat hair.'" Despite
passing on the onions and bell peppers, he said he saw something in
that waitress. "When she came back to the table I handed her my
When Moore found out she smoked, he offered her $1,000 to quit, and
another $1,000 for every year she didn't smoke after that.
It's not what you would call standard practice, but ICON likes to
"roll our own." There is a do-it-ourselves mentality to the
"We make our own Christmas cards," Moore noted. "I would rather
hire someone to perform a task and then be a part of what we're
doing than to farm it out."
As the company was growing in the late 1990s, there was a
realization that they didn't have the tools bigger companies had.
The company's solution was to make the tools. According to Moore,
the company built jigs, clamps, a CNC plasma cutter from scratch
and even a 70-foot- (21-m-) long auto-welder.
If there's anything they can reuse, the people at ICON are
"relentless" about recycling.
"I have people bring their trash from home," Moore said. "It's not
about tree-hugger, but why throw it in a landfill? Take two seconds
…and it will go somewhere good instead of going somewhere where
The recycling, the free lunch, the people-first philosophy and the
high-tech day-to-day operations are all what seem to make ICON more
of an overall experience than just a company. Whether or not any of
that makes a difference to the customers is up to them. But Moore
insists his company is a cut above, both because of what they offer
and who they are.
"If you download the [IQS] program and go to every other metal
building Web site on earth, there's absolutely nothing else out
there like this. Our key customers love this software. We have our
own data center, full IT staff.
"I ask people what's your perception of this job, and they say,
'It's not a job, it's my life. I couldn't stand the thought of not
being able to come here.' It's the culture, it's the
designed their new 13,000-square-foot (1,208-m2) office building,
which is currently under construction.