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Entrepreneurs
Business Observer Thursday, Nov. 19, 2009 13 years ago

Stormy Dreams

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The hurricane shutters industry has endured two major problems the past three years: A recession and few major storms to draw attention to drive demand. One entrepreneur hopes to beat back the trend.
by: Mark Gordon Managing Editor

Herb Wutz thinks he has a million-dollar idea for an industry that's been battered and bruised by the recession: attractive hurricane shutters.

Wutz, a German-born entrepreneur who has lived on Siesta Key for 20 years, wants to bring Florida style and design to the functionality and necessity of hurricane shutters. His answer is a product manufactured through a company he named MFS Engineering — multi-functioning shutters.

Wutz's shutters are a patented design of plywood and aluminum that is permanently placed into the wall of the home on the sides of a window. The shutters come with a built-in slide and tracking mechanism, so each one can open and close easily. The shutters also come in bright colors with Florida-style designs painted on the front, a major improvement from most of the dark and dreary hurricane shutters currently on the market.

“The product is here and ready to go,” says Wutz, who hasn't lost his thick German accent since moving the United States 20 years ago. “Now I just need some money to get going.”

Therein les the stormy rub.

Wutz says he has already spent between $50,000 and $100,000 on design, patent applications, retrofitting his shutters and having the prototypes tested at speeds up to 150 mph. But Wutz believes he needs at least $250,000 in startup funds to get to the point where he can start mass-producing the shutters.

Wutz, who worked for German engineering firms and started a few of his own companies in his native land, is looking for partners and investors in the company. With startup capital, Wutz projects he would be in a position to begin marketing and manufacturing the shutters in a matter of weeks.

Given the recession, Wutz realizes this isn't the best time to be out hunting the region for investors who are willing to put money into a startup. That is even more so for a product in the building and construction industry, which has been hit particularly hard by the downturn.

But Wutz hopes that by sticking to a niche of older homes, he will find some niche investors. The shutters will be sold to homeowners for $35-$50 a foot. “This isn't for big doors,” says Wutz. “It's not for new construction.”

Wutz also hopes the testing process he put the shutters through will win over deep-pocketed skeptics that are considering investing in the company. Wutz has taken the shutters to Venice-based window manufacturer PGT Industries for tests and he has also brought some shutters to an independent testing facility in Tampa.

Both tests were rigorous, Wutz says. At PGT, examiners shot wood beams at 30 mph into the shutters. Then they subjected the products to hundreds of wind cycles with speeds greater than 150 mph.

Wutz discovered the idea for his hurricane shutters three years ago, when he attempted to replace the decaying shutters at his Siesta Key home. He couldn't find the right combination of design and protection in any shutters on the market. And the ones he had used in Germany wouldn't survive a hurricane.

“I wanted a permanent shutter that could withstand hurricane force, be attractive, be easy to operate, save energy and be relatively inexpensive,” Wutz says. “Then I thought, I'm an engineer — I can design a shutter that meets this criteria.”

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