Brigham City, Utah
Brigham City, Utah
Founded: 1985 (as High Score Products)
Employees: 165 (120 in Utah)
A lifelong bowler, Chrisman was making and distributing industrial cleaners and chemicals with C-C Distributing in the mid-1980s when he saw a pain point that came with new urethane bowling balls. "They would soak up lane oil and lose some of their action," he explains.
He came up with a new product to clean them and started selling it to bowling alleys on the side in 1985.
By the early 1990s, he jumped on an opportunity to manufacture bowling balls.
"Our first bowling ball name was Storm," says Chrisman. "You try to make a powerful name -- you have Rhinos and Hammers."
He bootstrapped the company to launch and learned how to make bowling balls by trial and error. "You don't buy a manual on how to do it," Chrisman says. "As we went along, we learned."
Storm's sales grew by 50 to 100 percent a year in the late 1990s. It now makes a wide range of bowling balls, bags, and accessories in Utah, and has two additional operations in California and Texas.
A big innovation came in 2000. "I got the idea to put fragrance in a bowling balls," says Chrisman. The reason? Pro shops at bowling alleys are small, congested places. "They don't smell very good," he explains. "I knew it would work."
What he didn't know was how much free publicity it would generate. USA Today picked it up, then the Wall Street Journal ran a front-page story. "Jay Leno did a skit on it," says Chrisman. "Saturday Night Live did a skit on it. It went crazy."
It helped Storm climb to the top of the sport bowling market. Today the company makes about 500,000 balls a year and sells into 70 countries around the world. "Our specialty is high-end bowling balls," says Chrisman. "We make more high-performance bowling balls than anyone in the world. We do make some inexpensive ones, but we don't make very many of them."
The company continues to grow, but the curve has flattened in the last 15 years. Chrisman has grown the company through acquisitions and adding more colors and design options. He's now torn between expanding capacity and taking a wait-and-see approach.
"There are more bowlers than ever, but our market is sport bowlers. That's a shrinking market," he says. "Bowling probably bottomed out as far as sport bowlers go. It's slowly going to go back up."
Storm has withstood the soft market by upping its game. "We've had to continually change our processes, and we want to change our processes to get better," he says.
It's paying off. About 5 percent of balls made in 2000 were rejects. That number dipped to 1 percent in 2010 and is now at 0.1 percent. "We had to do that," says Chrisman.
He's also looking at diversifying beyond the bowling market. "We could manufacture some other things and we are looking into that," says Chrisman.
Challenges: Rules and regulations can stifle innovation. "They started tightening up the rules," says Chrisman. "They have been for 10 years -- they started going backwards. We made balls in 2008 that would be illegal today." That limits Storm's ability to come up with new balls. "As far as leaps and bounds, it's very difficult. You make minor adjustments."
Opportunities: "We're always researching different accessories," says Chrisman. "We come out with a couple of new products a year and we innovate our bags every year."
Needs: Growth in the sport bowling market. "We need more people to be serious bowlers," says Chrisman. He is on the boards of numerous organizations that aim to do just that. "I'm actively involved in getting bowling into the Olympics and we actually have a really good shot." He says bowling could be an exhibition sport at the 2020 summer games in Tokyo.
Read more manufacturing profiles from this week's edition: