The BeginningI knew on that April night in 2010 that my hometown of Albertville Alabama would never be the same. I was on my front porch and could hear the massive storm ripping through the center of town, which was only three blocks from where I listened on the porch, I didn’t know that my parents were in the hall under a mattress as their house basically exploded from the direct hit as the storm rolled by. Luckily they were barely injured at all but their house was nearly a total loss. Immediately, both my Mom and Dad said they would never do that again without a storm shelter, and it was up to me to rebuild their home, INCLUDING A STORM SHELTER.
I found a company in Oklahoma and started placing orders for neighbors, family, friends, and soon learned there was a demand for storm shelters here, but that they weren’t widely available. I learned very quickly that I could not provide the service I would expect myself when relying on another company to meet my demand for products…thus Steelsafe Shelters was born. I found my own fabrication, hired a sales guy, an office assistant, and talked my dad into running my install crew. I was ready to go now…
Developing Our Own LineI quickly learned that to be the best shelter company it was a must for us to develop and fabricate our own line of shelters. I knew it would be very expensive but also knew our future depended on it. I quickly learned that to get a shelter from concept to the point it can be available to the consumer was much more expensive than I had initially estimated. If I was going to do it then I was going to do it right. I started with 1 model, this included conception, designing, engineering, load testing for various soils, a fully functioning prototype, and lastly, the unit passing the impact and wind tests for final certification. This is costly and I built my product line to a total of 9 models one by one as our company grew so that we could provide sizing and pricing options, as well as model types, to meet the various needs of clients.
Why Not Aim High?We added a few more models as we could afford to and we continued to expand our professional client base. Soon we started taking on independent dealers, which proved to be a good decision. Our little company was growing at a steady pace. Things were good with the business yet I could not get past hearing the same thing, over and over, day after day, the story was always the same. I just could not get past that most of the people I encountered each day had no idea that storm shelters were available for their homes. These were normal people, business owners and other professionals, who had no clue they could have a storm shelter. I could not accept that more than likely Americans were being injured or possibly killed by storms every year while having no idea that they do have the option for storm protection should they want a shelter of some type. I quickly realized these weren’t available, or as available, as they should be and got the bright idea to knock on the door of one of the largest home improvement stores in the country. I thought things were going great! We were continually adding homebuilder clients, we were building our own line, and believe it or not, that home improvement company had real interest in our products. Believing things were in order, I went on a rare family vacation. I had no concerns… Three days into the vacation without being able to reach my office manager at the time told me something was not exactly right. After a week of vacationing overseas and without any response or answer from her, I knew there was a real issue. I drove from the airport straight to the office to find I was essentially closed and out of business. In short, my office manager, fabricator, and sales guy formed their own company without me, and WITH my client base. It was not enough that I no longer had anyone to work in our office. It was not enough that I no longer had anyone to build shelters. To really make sure my business would not survive, they decided to also go to my two highest volume producing dealers and bring them over to their new shelter company. I had to focus on the positives. I had the most solid contractor base in the southeast. I had, at that time, several certified models that were doing well in the market. I had this little (BIG) home improvement store interested in my products also. Did I roll over? Hell no, it was time to get up and fight! I needed to get up and stop feeling sorry for myself and do something about the situation I was in. Within a week, I had formed a great partnership with a great company, owned and operated by really, solid people. My costs went down over 30%, which we passed directly to our clients and our quality increased much more than that. My prayers had been answered when I soon realized I struck gold with an amazing new fabrication partner! With a solid fabrication team on my side, I set my sights high! I aimed for one of the largest home improvement centers, and they offered me the opportunity to provide my storm shelters to their client base. Wow! I felt thankful and ready to get to work setting up this new account. Fast forward a few hundred thousand dollars of investing over a few years to see that this was NOT the path for our company. We were a small vendor in a “big box” world. Providing the best customer service and quality control have always been top priority, and we weren’t willing to compromise that for national exposure for our products. Again, I initially thought this would be another setback. Another time when I would need to sit down and dig deep to figure out the path forward. I never allowed this latest setback to get to that point. There was no need at all to have regrets or get discouraged. There were too many positives to build on, and the insight we gained while in the giant retail world taught me more than what I could have paid to learn.
The Clear Path ForwardI often think back to a saying I must have heard as a teenager. I cannot recall who said it, but I could never forget hearing the words “what doesn’t kill you will make you stronger.” Although I had to go down a rocky road and learn many lessons the hard way, I would not trade it all if I could. The combination of it all, the highs and the lows, the good times and the bad, have shaped our past and have given me a clear path to future growth and success. I made the commitment to myself, my friends, my family, and my associates that I would learn from the mistakes and build on the positives. I learned that we can service clients on the national level without sacrificing the level of quality that our clients expect. More importantly, I learned the value of great dealers while my big box contract prevented me from adding any to our team. We are moving forward full speed ahead as we continue to provide products and service to our homebuilders while adding new dealers to our team. Through dealers, we are able to offer the products at a low, fair price across several states. We have taken what we’ve learned and applied that to the everyday valuable lessons that we continue to face as we build our brand. We couldn’t be more grateful for the opportunity to provide a safe place for friends and families and we hope to continue to serve our customers for many years to come! God Bless!
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