KEMP, Texas – When fans of the Rising S Company see its logo, it inspires questions and even debates about the meaning.
But one thing is indisputable: the Kemp, Texas, bunker company that sells some of the survival industry’s most complex and expensive products is growing at an admirable pace.
In a recent article by Realtor.com, Clyde Scott, the Rising S Company founder and CEO, was quoted as saying the business grew 20-25 percent in the last two years.
While Scott downplayed the comment for an interview with Paratus Business News, saying it was more about an expansion of product lines, the facts are clear: in any industry, by any definition, growth means customer demand.
And considering that the Associated Press recently reported that storm shelters are some of the hottest wedding gifts in parts of the country, the success of Rising S should not surprise anyone.
For some businesses, achieving growth and maintaining demand for its products for more than a decade may be easy to understand. Good marketing, inexpensive products, great timing and centrally-located business are often common elements of the formula. But it’s not that simple for this company.
A key challenge is the price itself. Rising S bunkers range from $40,000 to well over $8 million. It’s a lot of money for a product no one is supposed to see, and no one really wants a reason to use.
Yet their growth has been steady.
The 37-year-old Scott said the bunker business historically is driven by politics. Controversial election years, political wars, unstable social systems are traditionally what motivated sales.
“Today, those things aren’t trends, they are common factors,” Scott said.
He emphasizes that customers are coming in all shapes and sizes, from bankers and oil barons to blue-collar business owners and church pastors. And each customer has his or her own unique set of concerns.
“The concept of having a place to seek refuge isn’t exclusive to any particular tax bracket or social status,” Scott explained. “Most people can see how turbulent things have gotten in the world. It’s only natural to want to find a way to insulate yourself from that.”
Although the company hasn’t increased its prices in five years, customers who want to protect their loved ones still must spend tens of thousands of dollars. That kind of investment requires a significant amount of trust.
For most business owners, finding an organic path to a business that inspires a customer to make a significant investment might be impossible, yet Scott found a way.
A Fateful Call
When Rising S launched its bunker business in 2003, Scott owned a metal fabrication, construction and excavation business.
So when a customer called and asked if Scott could build and install a storm shelter with bunks and beds included, it seemed a no brainer. Scott had the metal fabrication and excavating equipment; he knew plenty about construction too.
But it was more than just luck. “I had already been a prepper my whole life, so when the opportunity arose to transition to other forms of metal fabrication including storm shelters, I felt it was my calling,” he said.
That opportunity became a natural segue into the survival industry. Now the company has approximately 30 employees, and more than 45,000 square feet in manufacturing space. Since its launch, company officials believe they may have served as many as 500 bunker customers (there is a reason the figure is inexact).
At any given time, up to 15 shelters are under construction, with the most popular being the $118,000 Silver Leaf model.
Depending on “bells and whistles,” the standard 10-foot x 50-foot Silver Leaf model takes about three months to build, and there is always a waiting list.
Over the years, the Rising S bunkers evolved apace with technology and design innovations. For instance, the original models used 10-gauge steel. Now it’s ¼-inch plate.
The bunkers also have an exoskeleton that enhances structural strength and acts as an anchor or cleat in the ground.
Those early models were also “dog-eared” to round out the ceiling and corners. Today, all the designs have flat tops and hard corners, which adds livable space. Also, the original models were eight feet wide. Today, they’re ten feet wide.
“It feels roomie and spacious on the inside and, on a lot of fronts, it’s stronger,” says Brad Roberson, the company’s marketing director. “It makes the product more desirable. And it sells itself.”
As the company matured, other important and popular features were added. The shelters now include robust water and air filtration systems to provide nuclear, biological and chemical protection. Customers can add alternative power sources, and electromagnetic pulse protection. In addition, everyday conveniences are routine including big screen televisions and comfortable couches.
One of the reasons the Rising S leadership doesn’t have an exact count on the number of customers it has served since the launch in 2003 is because one of most important features desired by its clients is privacy. Customers are spending thousands of dollars to hide and protect their loved ones during a disaster or civil unrest; privacy is a critical feature that cannot be overlooked.
“We take our customer’s privacy very seriously,” Clyde explained. “That’s why we take multiple measures throughout the sales process and the installation process to ensure that our customers purchase is kept confidential.”
To achieve this goal for its customers, the staff destroys all of the paperwork that can identify a customer to outsiders.
In addition, only its employees perform the majority of the work to bury the shelter. No matter where the customer is located, the Rising S staff travels with the shelter to personally deliver it, bury it and ensure its operation.
Sometimes local contractors may be necessary for an installation and, if that’s the case, Roberson says the company has hired contractors from markets hours away to ensure they won’t find the location during a catastrophic event. Moreover, the contractors are never told exactly what they’re burying. “For all they know, it’s a water tank,” said Roberson. “And the company picks up those travel costs.”
Of course, customers and competitors alike know that product design and secrecy are not the only areas Rising S considers important.
The company works hard to stay on the forefront of the digital marketing world too. For instance, instead of transporting a 35,000-pound bunker to trade shows, the marketing department plans to give potential customers a tour with immersive 3D videos.
While the Rising S web page meets or exceeds the industry standards for web marketing, some of the company’s methods do attract controversy. One of those methods is the company’s willingness to “compare and contrast” competitor products and designs.
In the marketing world, when the “compare and contrast” method is used accurately and honestly, it is considered a fair and effective strategy. Corporate giants like Ford, Chevrolet, Verizon, and AT&T, to name a few, use the method often.
After all, the point of marketing is to give a company the greatest opportunities to increase sales and achieve a sustainable competitive advantage.
But Roberson, who also serves as the company Webmaster, says some competitors describe this method as “dirty.”
“I understand where they are coming from,” he said. “Its just business. We’re trying to show people the difference between one product and the other. I’m not trying to run anyone down.”
Compare and Contrast
The title of a key section of the company’s website is called “Risky Shelters and Poor Designs: Bad Ideas.” It seems designed to cast doubts about protecting a customer’s family with the competitors’ products.
The page points out that some manufacturers are using culverts and concrete septic tanks as storm shelters, and others use two sections that are crimped, not welded together. And they’re sealed with silicon.
“They leak,” Roberson explained. “If you’ve been in a basement, you see what the ground can do to cement over a decade.”
Throughout the “compare and contrast” section, the marketing team implies most other designs are unsafe. In one instance, the website cites a New Hampshire Materials Laboratory study to criticize fiberglass bunkers, calling them “a dud” and “prone to failure.”
On another page, they claim cement shelters are prone to mold, flooding and collapse.
In contrast, the Rising S steel bunkers are “maintenance free” and “never affected by leaks, moisture, cracking or mold.”
To bolster its claims, the company offers a lifetime guarantee against any possible defects on welds and workmanship. Additionally, Roberson says the coating manufacturer guarantees its product for 50 years even when immersed in salt water.
For Scott though, it’s more than strong marketing and roomie designs that drive his company’s success. Responding to customer needs with a quality product is critical.
“I truly feel that we have no real competitors,” Scott said. “In order to be considered a legitimate competitor, a company would need to provide a product in similar likeness, built to the same standards and have a staff as knowledgeable in the business as we are. I can’t say that I’ve seen any evidence that suggest that such a company is out there.”
To meet the varied demands of a diverse customer base, Rising S developed seven different series of bunkers to appeal to a broad spectrum of needs. Prices, sizes and floor plans range from the low price point of $39,500 for the Economy Series to the $8.35-million Luxury Series complete with vehicle storage, a gun range, a gym and a bowling alley.
Rising S also is growing in adjacent industries, potentially serving customers such as the military, governments and power companies.
People living in hurricane zones could see new Rising S collapsible bunk trailers used to house electric company linemen who travel from across the country to restore power after a major storm. And those in the military could operate in a guard tower with or without a gun turret.
One of the challenges Rising S customers face is not just the cost of the bunkers themselves. Customers often suffer sticker shock when they realize the advertised cost of the bunker does not include installation, which can average an additional $25,000 for several models, depending on the excavation site.
Not to be deterred, the company developed a round, aboveground shelter for consumers who can’t afford the additional excavating costs.
The Rising S growth is not just in metal facilities. For example, because a bunker ultimately is about security and protection, it seemed natural for the company to begin offering trained security dogs through a separate division.
“Rising S K9 focuses on family protection dogs,” Scott said. “These are highly trained and certified German shepherds that are loving family pets and fearless protectors. Although it’s a very different business than bunkers, the Rising S and Rising S K9 address similar needs in different ways. We’re always looking for great ideas and areas to branch out.”
Expansion and Relocation
Like most growing companies, the original Rising S location is starting to feel cramped.
To meet the demands of his growing business, the company is actively searching for a new location close to its original hometown.
While there is no timetable for the move, it’s a process the company is not taking lightly.
“Just like any other investment of this magnitude, you want to make the right decision that’s best for the company, and cities will compete for your business,” said Roberson. “Hopefully within the next year we can relocate somewhere that will give us a larger facility for manufacturing. The product is selling so fast that we have a hard time getting it all into the space we’ve got.”
Taking his time to make an important decision is par for the course. Scott has never rushed when it comes to key business decisions.
When he launched the business, Scott could have taken out loans, but he chose to self-fund. The strategy, of course led to slower growth and financial and mental stress for him and his family, but he held to a disciplined path that paid off.
“We did not force growth on the business, and instead allowed the business to grow itself,” Scott said. “We were a self-startup and self-funded business when we initially got going, without loans from any bank or person. Borrowing money seems too much like an encouragement to purchase what you cannot afford. Many businesses are successful with debt, but I sleep better at night knowing if something happened tomorrow and we never sold another bunker, we would not owe anyone.”
The Great Logo Debate
On a personal level, Scott refuses to take all the credit for his success. In his mind, there is always a higher power at work.
“My Christian faith acts like a compass, guiding me through the day-to-day ups and downs,” Scott explains. “Faith is a cornerstone of my life. It greatly influences how I make decisions and how we conduct our business. I think that doing business can be bigger than making a dollar. It can be about service to others, which is a big part of the Christian calling. Faith adds a certain perspective to the way I run my business and for me that’s pretty important.”
Scott admits that he wasn’t always so spiritual, but he relishes the moment he was reborn. And for those customers willing to hear a long story, he may even tell it.
Otherwise, fans of Rising S can now glimpse into the reasoning behind the company’s logo design.
It evolved over time as a reflection of Scott’s spirituality. What was originally a brand for the quarter horses he raced as a hobby now reflects both the company’s success and his rebirth of faith.
But whatever his customers want to see and believe about the logo is up to them. Scott doesn’t mind that discussion.
What is not up for debate is the fact that the Rising S Company is moving into a new era of growth fueled by a driven leader, quality products, attention to what the customer wants, and uncertain times.