Brian Rist, executive chairman, Storm Smart
Company: Brian Rist founded Storm Smart in 1996. He’s since helped grow the company, which manufactures and installs hurricane protection products, into one of the largest businesses in its field in Florida. With some 200 employees, it had record sales in 2018 and 2019 — $50 million and $49 million, respectively. That’s up from hovering between $22 million and $38 million in the previous five years. Part of the increase stems from a new line of Storm Catcher wind abatement screens, in addition to other innovations.
Storm Smart posted strong growth again in 2020, Rist says, up 46%. That growth came with some whiplash, and pandemic-led challenges. “To say 2020 was the craziest year of all time is putting it lightly,” Rist says. “Early on we thought the phones were going to stop ringing. All of us thought there would be no business in March. Then, all of the sudden the phones went on fire. Everyone was staying home and they wanted to do work in their house.”
“The problem was no longer how would we how would we stay in business,” Rist adds, “but how would we be able to keep up with all the business.”
Opportunities: One of the keys to handling the surge in demand in 2020, says Rist, was a decision made in 2019 to improve its internal sales and processes with a new program from Salesforce. That investment helped the firm track and close work during the 2020 pandemic flurry, when homebound people pounded the firm with orders.
Beyond the pandemic, more storms, even ones that hit Texas and Louisiana or the Carolinas and skip Florida, are counterintuitively top-of-mind marketing for Storm Smart’s products. And with more people than ever moving to Florida, a whole new segment of customers is on the horizon. “I’m extremely optimistic,” says Rist, with those factors at the forefront. “I think 2021 will be a great year.”
Threats: One dent in the projections, he says, is the pandemic, with all the unknowns, has made it difficult for his company to do actual projections. He and his leadership team normally do the next year’s forecasting in September and October. In 2020 they didn’t do forecasting until late November, Rist says, and even than “it’s still very uncertain.”
“We are taking a little bit longer with our planning,” he adds, “and thinking about what could possibly go wrong.”
A second, but notable, threat to the business is one that’s been with the manufacturing and trades sectors for years: a labor shortage. Finding and keeping talented and skilled tradespeople is an ongoing battle. “There just isn’t enough people out there that you want to hire,” Rist says. “It’s a real big challenge.”