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Business Observer Thursday, Apr. 30, 2009 13 years ago

Shutter survival

Steven Camposano has survived the construction collapse by staying focused on high-end motorized shutters. Installing his shutters on the National Hurricane Center in Miami was a marketing coup.
by: Jean Gruss Contributing Writer

Steven Camposano has survived the construction collapse by staying focused on high-end motorized shutters. Installing his shutters on the National Hurricane Center in Miami was a marketing coup.

Steven Camposano was hanging around his company's booth at a hurricane products trade show in Orlando last year when he noticed business was slow.

An energetic entrepreneur who speaks emphatically with hands waiving, Camposano isn't the kind of man who sits around waiting for customers. He's built his company, High Velocity Hurricane Protection, into the only manufacturer of motorized rolling shutters in the world. These are massive movable curtains of aluminum that wrap around buildings at the push of a button and can withstand the strongest hurricane forces.

Ever the salesman, Camposano went in search of customers, bringing back to his booth former National Hurricane Center Director Max Mayfield and Bill Read, its current director. He even cornered The Weather Channel's hurricane star, Jim Cantore, and persuaded him to shoot a video segment at the High Velocity booth.

A few months later, Camposano was installing his shutters on the National Hurricane Center, scoring a marketing prize. “It's like making shoes for the emperor. Everybody wants them,” Camposano says.

The folks at the National Hurricane Center learned what many developers and builders in Naples already know: High Velocity makes and installs motorized shutters that are custom-fitted to wrap around curved buildings, an engineering feat that no competitor has matched. He seeks out top-quality components such as motors from French manufacturer Somfy Systems, aluminum from Italy and the running gear from Germany.

But like so many of his customers, High Velocity has been hit by the economic downturn. For example, one of its biggest customers was residential developer WCI Communities, which filed for bankruptcy reorganization last year. “It was a huge disappointment, financially and otherwise,” Camposano says.

Because much of his business was tied to giant condo towers, Camposano's revenues have declined 45%, from $10.7 million in 2006 to $5.9 million in 2008. But it's a credit to Camposano's salesmanship and foresight that High Velocity is still in business today. Competitors, such as Fort Myers-based Rolsafe, are in bankruptcy.

“It's not been easy,” Camposano says. Employees recently have taken a 10% pay cut and Camposano himself has cut his own pay by 50%. “We're doing it as a preventative measure,” he says.

Fortunately, the construction of high-end homes in Naples hasn't stopped. One owner of a 28,000-square-foot home under construction in Naples is spending $200,000 on High Velocity shutters. Another homeowner is spending $100,000. Depending on the job, High Velocity's shutters cost between $25 to $55 per square foot.

While new construction has slowed dramatically on everything except ultra-luxury homes, Camposano is now focusing on the rehabilitation of older condo towers and hotels that were built decades ago and need new hurricane protection. He says the challenge of retrofitting older buildings is a mix between “opening Pandora's box and a can of worms.” But he says the company needs to reinvent itself to survive.

Camposano has shied away from doing work for the federal government's General Services Administration, which owns and manages most of the government's buildings. It's too time consuming to bid on government work and there's too much paperwork.

“They don't even have a category for hurricane shutters,” he says.

However, High Velocity is working on a newer and lighter version of rolling, motorized shutters that uses Kevlar instead of aluminum. The shutters will be available next year.

Meanwhile, expansion plans made during the boom are on hold until the company can get back to the $10 million revenue range, Camposano says. High Velocity owns five acres at White Lake Corporate Park, but construction of a new building was delayed when Collier County initially said the company had to pay $900,000 in one-time taxes called “impact fees” (Collier has the highest such taxes in the state).

For now, Camposano says it's essential to remain focused on providing the best shutters for upscale residences. “We own that niche and that's the niche we want to stay in,” he says.

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