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Entrepreneur thinks he has the wind at his back

Rochester Business Journal
June 27, 2014

The EkoStinger saves six gallons of fuel every 500 miles, says Parr Wiegel, founder of StormBlok Systems Inc. (Photo by Kimberly McKinzie)

A bit of serendipity and some diversification could mean the difference between a moderately successful small business and a multimillion-dollar enterprise for entrepreneur Parr Wiegel.

Wiegel, founder of StormBlok Systems Inc., a maker of hurricane protection products, was working with wind tunnel testing and simulations when it occurred to him that he could use what he had learned about weather to improve a product in a very different industry: commercial transportation.

“We started to see side skirts appear on trucks,” says Wiegel, 57. “I looked at them one day and said, ‘Those things don’t work, especially if the wheels are all the way back.’”

To improve aerodynamics and lower fuel consumption, side skirts are installed along both sides of trailers, between the drive axles of the truck and the rear axles on the trailer. Trailers entering California must be equipped with side skirts to comply with the Air Resources Board mandate for decreased emissions.

Though StormBlok Systems was founded in 2005, it was not until 2012 that Wiegel and fellow inventor Paul Medyn came up with their version of an aerodynamic system and began working in earnest on the EkoStinger division of the company. Unlike side skirts, the EkoStinger is an active aerodynamic system mounted under the trailer that can move forward or back to stay just in front of the rear axles as their position is changed to distribute the load in the trailer.

The EkoStinger saves six gallons of fuel every 500 miles, Wiegel says, noting that the average tractor-trailer driver puts 120,000 to 130,000 miles on his or her vehicle annually. With diesel fuel above $4 a gallon, that could save drivers $6,000 a year.

“These guys are saving almost the cost of the lease of the trailer by putting our system on there,” he says.

The arrow-shaped product also reduces road mist by up to 70 percent, Wiegel says, improving visibility for truck drivers and for other motorists traveling behind tractor-trailers. While California currently is the only state that requires aerodynamic devices, the Environmental Protection Agency and many truck manufacturers recommend devices that improve fuel consumption.

StormBlok has partnered with local tractor-trailer leasing and maintenance firm DeCarolis Truck Rental Inc. to market the product to its customers. Additionally, StormBlok and its EkoStinger division have partnered with AmeriQuest, a truck fleet management services company, and with HDA Truck Pride, an independent provider of parts and services to the commercial vehicle aftermarket, to place kiosks in its stores.

While StormBlok’s hurricane protection product generates revenues in the $200,000 range annually, Wiegel has much higher expectations for his newest creation.

“We’ve sold 81 trailers since we’ve been working with DeCarolis, and it’s $2,400 a trailer,” Wiegel says. “Our projected numbers are over $3 million this year and three or four times that next year.”

StormBlok has 11 employees at its facility in Palmyra, but Wiegel expects to hire a few new staffers in the coming weeks.

“We’re looking for space in Rochester to expand our manufacturing,” he adds.

Wiegel says that while there never seem to be enough hours in the day, his job is exciting because it continually brings new challenges.

“Along with these challenges there is opportunity, and we have a team that can take advantage of these opportunities,” he says. “My job is always fun because we have put together a great team of people who believe in the product, believe in each other and want to succeed.”

The biggest challenge he has seen as an entrepreneur is capital.

“As your opportunities grow, those opportunities create a need for capital, whether to purchase materials, get scientific help, engineering help or expertise in other fields of operations,” he explains. “There are smart people all over Rochester who can and will help. All it takes is capital, which is hard to find.”

Wiegel offers this advice to aspiring business owners: Be persistent.

“Hire and listen to experts, check your ego at the door and make sure you have enough capital,” he says.

Small Business is a biweekly feature focusing on entrepreneurs. Send suggestions for future Small Business stories to Associate Editor Smriti Jacob at sjacob@rbj.net.

6/27/14 (c) 2014 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email service@rbj.net.


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