Prior to purchasing Apollo Sunguard in 1997, Kevin Connelly, owner, president and Army veteran, ran an industrial development agency in New York. After navigating a 43 foot fishing boat from New York to Florida, Connelly fell in love with the state and decided to relocate. Looking to buy an existing business, Connelly and his wife came across an ad in the paper that listed a business for sale due to the owner's declining health. That business was Apollo Sunguard and the focus was on providing unique shading solutions. Connelly immediately recognized the potential and the growing need for shade in the state of Florida.
"The business itself wasn't much when we bought it," Connelly said. "We were basically buying the remnants of a failed operation, but we knew the potential. The sale of the business came with one employee that was experienced in fabrication. I made him a minority partner and he's still with the company today, serving as our Quality Control Manager. Together we grew the company and today we're a major force in the shade industry."
Apollo Sunguard provides shade structures for a variety of applications including, athletic venues, aquatic centers, parks, playgrounds, parking areas and electric vehicle charging stations. They've secured government contracts, patented new technologies, teamed up with Major League Baseball teams to provide shade protection at spring training facilities, and in 2012, became a ChargePoint Premier Partner to provide much needed shade protection for electric vehicle charging stations.
Connelly admits to having some difficulty in the beginning finding key people. "We had to kiss a lot of frogs before we found our princes and princesses," he said. Getting adequate funding was also a challenge in the early days. They eventually found a more aggressive bank to work with, but not after attempting to go through several of the larger national banks.
Looking back on the past twenty one years, Connelly is proud of many things. "I'm proud of our incredible employees," he said. "It's important to take care of your people and we do that very well. I'm also very proud of our engineering. We've invented some really unique shade systems and even hold two patents for our technologies. As a small company, we cast a giant shadow in the industry. I'm proud of that. We have a reputation for quality and superior customer service. We give a 15-year fabric warranty that's non-prorated. If something happens to your cover in year 14, you get a brand new cover."
Over the next five to ten years, Connelly wants to expand more into the shaded parking market. These markets are very large in Texas and Oklahoma due to an increased threat from hail, but as Connelly points out, the Florida market is more concerned with heat reduction. "We've measured temperatures in a parked car in the summer time at close to 200 degrees coming off the dashboard," he said. "That same car under a shade system is around 98 degrees." Connelly also plans to expand more into the electric vehicle charging stations market. These devices need to be kept at certain temperatures to operate efficiently and Apollo Sunguard has the systems to do that.
Connelly offers up some great advice for aspiring entrepreneurs. "Get good advice from people in similar situations and go for it," he said. "If you don't come to bat, you'll never hit a home-run. Get your facts up front and surround yourself with good people. Also, join business associations where you can rub elbows with people who are in business and can give you solid advice." In terms of books, Connelly is currently going through the book 'Traction' with his staff. In fact, he's created a Board of Advisors, consisting of key staff members, that meet monthly to identify three and five year plans and goals. One of those goals includes moving into a larger space.
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