Brothers and owners of Guardian Manufacturing, Chuck and Steve Smith, along with a team of 55 committed employees have worked hard to position Guardian as a leader of industrial & commercial control system design and integration. Working with the space industry, the food & beverage industry, the automotive industry and many more, Guardian produces customized automation solutions for each of their clients. Guardian also produces a complete product line of gaseous and aqueous ozone generation products for use in food safety, aquaculture, textiles and commercial laundry.
When Guardian Manufacturing was incorporated in 1993, the original focus of the company was on one product for one industry. Chuck explained, "We started off designing and manufacturing alcohol interlock devices for the automotive industry. People convicted of a DUI would be required by the court to have an alcohol interlock installed in their car. Prior to starting the vehicle, the driver must provide a breath sample. If the device detects alcohol, the vehicle won't start."
At the time, Chuck had a partner, Joe Sheram, who he first met through a two-year stint with Rockledge based company Precision Leak Detection of Florida. Chuck had always been passionate about starting a business and Joe needed help developing the high-tech interlock devices. It was a perfect match. Chuck and Joe worked together for a few years, but Chuck began developing other ideas for industrial automation products and services. The two partners eventually split on great terms. Joe continued with the interlock business, while Chuck pursued the control system design and integration business.
"With the new direction, I became really interested in using ozone to solve industrial treatment problems," Chuck said. "Ozone is a natural oxidizer like chlorine. However, unlike chlorine, there are no harmful oxidation byproducts. The applications are endless. For example, you can extend the storage life of a sweet onion from three months to six months just by storing it in an ozone controlled atmosphere. That's a big deal for the growers and allows them to get more dollars for their product as well as elimination of costly nitrogen purging. The technology is also great for apples, pears, potatoes, kiwis, really anything stored in a chiller or a controlled atmosphere room."
Chuck continued to build systems to support that part of the operation. In 2009, Guardian along with Plasma Technics, Inc. out of Racine, WI, formed Pinnacle Ozone Solutions, a separate entity, that works in large ozone applications for both municipal and industrial applications. Along the way, Chuck really discovered his true passion of implementing processes where a computer controls an industrial process. Precisely controlling a motor, conveyor or an ozone generator controlled by a core computer has always intrigued him. This curiosity helped to propel Guardian forward into new industries and products, but as Chuck explained, the company still experienced many hurdles along the way.
"In the early days, cash flow was an issue," he said. "As we grew and broke off from the original company, finding the right people was also tough. As we transitioned into the electrical system integration world, picking the jobs that were best suited for the company was also a challenge. Perhaps our biggest hurdles were the economy down turn after 911 and the 2008 recession. Within five days after 9/11 we had major contract cancellations from the entertainment industry. In 2008, the entertainment industry stayed strong, but other sectors fell off. It was certainly a challenge, but our diversification helped us. We're not tied to any one market or industry. Being a diverse manufacturer really helps to level out the peaks and valleys."
Looking ahead, Chuck is focused heavily on the ozone side of the business while his brother Steve focuses on the industrial automation side of the business. He wants to continue to provide the highest quality products and to be a leader in the industry. Surrounded by exceptionally talented engineers, scientists and family, Chuck is intent on achieving profitable growth by honoring God through how they serve their customers and how they care for their employees.
Chuck offers up some great advice for aspiring entrepreneurs. "First of all, you need adequate funding for what you want to do," he said. "Eternal optimism is great but you must be realistic on how you plan to finance your business. Also, starting your own business will require a tremendous amount of work. You need a strong disciplined work ethic to get you to where you want to be. Lastly, do your research. Determine if there's a market and whether or not there's a product or service you can profitably sell in that market. I've developed products without doing adequate market research. As a result, we couldn't sell those products because they were either too expensive or not desired by industry. Don't make that same mistake."