If it weren't for a funeral home, Arthur Stephens probably wouldn't be where he is today.
Stephens was operating a company that provided services and supplies for the car wash industry when a client asked him how to solve a problem. The funeral home across the street was complaining about the noise levels of the dryers he was using in his car wash, which Stephens had sold to him.
International Drying CorporationInternational Drying Corporation2510 Route 176, Suite GPrairie Grove, IL, 60014(800) 736-6412internationaldrying.comYear founded: 2003
Top official: Arthur Stephens, president
Number of employees: 9
Manufactures: Car wash drying systems
Top products: Whisper dryer, Stealth dryer
"He asked me what he could do," Stephens said. "He loved the drying equipment, but the noise was too loud."
He took the challenge himself, coming up with a design for a quieter dryer called the Whisper Dryer. He then took the designs to the manufacturer, Worldwide Drying Co., to build and sell with the caveat that he received a royalty. However, differences between his specifications and what the company actually built led to that deal falling apart, Stephens said.
A couple of years later, Worldwide Drying ran into financial trouble and Stephens again had the opportunity to capitalize on his plans. He bought the company at auction in 2003 and created International Drying Corp. Today, the Prairie Grove-based company builds drying systems for car washes that are designed to be quieter and more energy efficient than other systems.
While the Whisper Dryer has been a part of International Drying's product line, the company debuted its Stealth dryer system this year, an energy-efficient, quieter dryer that Stephens says is a game-changer in a very competitive industry.
"Our industry has been in a very difficult position over the years looking for sound control and energy consumption," he said. "The dryers are the biggest use of electricity in a car wash and are also the largest contributor of noise in the industry."
Since unveiling the Stealth at a trade show in April, Stephens said, new orders and interest have grown exponentially.
"We sold the most equipment in one trade show than we had in the past 5 years combined," he said, anticipating selling up to 40 new systems this year, as compared to average yearly sales of 10 to 15 systems.
"It's a real piece of technology that answers a huge issue we had in the car wash industry for a long time," he said.
Stephens has a lot of hope pinned on the success of the Stealth and the competitive edge it has given his small, nine-employee company in a field dominated by several manufacturers of car wash equipment.
The company currently has about a 10 percent share of the market, he estimates, but sees sales of the Stealth increasing that share to 25 percent over the next few years.
All of International Drying's products are built in a facility in Cary, and are sold to businesses globally with the assistance of third-party distributors, Stephens said. International Drying's products can be found in the U.S., Costa Rica, Germany, Greece and Australia.
As a small company in a very competitive market, Stephens notes his reputation has been built on being upfront with customers and distributors, making sure they "getting more than what they pay for."
"The world has gotten to the point where everything is kind of online ... cheap as possibly can be," he said. "We're very focused on trying to provide the best service that we can to our customers and giving them more value than they expect.
"You don't worry if someone doesn't like what you say, as long as you tell them the truth," he added.
And that philosophy has been a solid foundation for Stephens to take the company to the next level with the Stealth system.
"I do a lot of traveling and knocking on doors," he said.
But since the Stealth was introduced, "now I have a lot of people knocking on my door. It's awesome."