EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

Business

June 2, 2013

Tornadoes are good news to storm shelter industry

DECATUR, Texas -- Brett West says his storm shelter business was having its slowest year since 2005. It was so bad that when a key employee left, his position wasn’t filled, and out of desperation, West discounted $3,495 in-ground shelters by $500 to drum up sales.

Then came the mid-May tornadoes that thumped North Texas, heavily damaging a subdivision in Granbury, followed by powerful twisters that rolled over Edmond and Moore, Okla.

“People don’t think about storm shelters until a tornado occurs. It’s human nature,” said West, 46, who has seen the buying pattern repeat itself again and again since he and his father, Ron, started the business eight years ago. “Now everyone’s terrified and everyone wants a storm shelter.”

From hardly any requests, his U.S. Storm Shelters LLC now has a five-month backlog.

“Just since the Granbury tornado, we booked in excess of 150 shelters and the list is going up,” he said. “And there are 200 emails in my inbox; I have not begun to look.

“I talked to other companies in the industry and they are as busy as we are,” said West.

Said Mary Peters, who runs of Ken-Mar Storm Cellars in Cleburne, Texas: “We have sold all of the storm cellars in inventory.”

“It’s insane,” West said. Each time he has an extended telephone conversation, there are usually 10 to 15 voicemails from prospective buyers trying to get through to him.

The family-owned business is now working seven days a week building the fero-concrete structures, as well as heavy steel C-channel plate safe-room structures that start at $2,995. From four workers, he’s adding three part-timers and one full-time worker next week “and we’re looking for two or three more at least, full-time.”

West waited until Thursday to end the sale price on shelters to show he wasn’t trying to take advantage of the disasters, and he isn’t raising his regular price to exploit the high demand and limited supply, he said.

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