Mark Twain purportedly said, “Everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it.”
An electronics engineer who moved to the Dallas area from Chicago decided that he had to do something about Texas’ stormy weather after both his GMC Jimmy and his wife’s Acura Integra were damaged by hail. Six years ago, Michael Siciliano launched the patented Hailstorm Protector System, an inflatable canvas car cover that prevents damage by deflecting hailstones.
Siciliano is trying to build awareness of his product among insurers, hoping they will invest or help with marketing by offering policy discounts, paying stipends, or informing policyholders. He delivered this well-honed pitch to the Claims Journal:
“Hail Protector Systems provide loss avoidance to insurers and deductible avoidance by the policyholder for up to five years for between $199 and $299, across six sizes,” he said in an email. “A small contribution by the insurer to the policyholder, either via rebate and/or policy discount, further motivates the policyholder to protect their automobile assets and save insurance companies an average of $3,000 per loss avoidance.”
There’s no doubt that hailstorms are a problem crying out for some loss control. Aon Benfield reported in May that hailstorms caused more than $20 million in insured losses in 2018 — about $3 billion of that was automobile damage.
Bloomberg News reported in June that hailstorm losses have grown dramatically in the past 20 years and meteorologists don’t know why. Some suspect urban growth has put more properties in peril. Before 2008, hail losses averaged about half of current levels, according to Aon Benfield.
The National Weather Service reported that there were 4,610 hailstorms last year and 6,045 in 2017. Hailstorms were most frequent in Texas, Kansas and Colorado.
Siciliano, who is 52, became familiar with hailstorms after moving to the Dallas area from his native Chicago 23 years ago. After his and his wife’s cars were damaged by hail, he began searching for a way to protect them. He knew immediately that any system had to be lightweight, which meant air had to be a part of the solution. After tinkering, he designed a system that uses woven polyester inflated with the kind of blower that is used to cool personal computers.
He said the prototype worked better than he expected, so he and his wife decided to launch a business six years ago. Siciliano said the company has grown at a 70% compound annual rate since its inception and has been sold in 42 states and 11 countries.
Most of that business comes from internet searches and word-of-mouth. There appears to be little competition. WalMart sells a “car umbrella” that attaches to the roof of the car, but leaves the sides of the vehicle exposed. The Hail Protector cinches around the wheels of the automobile.
The device, manufactured in China, sells from $199 for the smallest size up to $299 for a size big enough to enclose a large crew cab pickup. The device comes with a one-year subscription to a smartphone app that connects to hailstorm and severe weather alerts by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, as well as long-long-range forecasts.
Siciliano said it takes four minutes to install the smallest Hail Protector and nine minutes to install the largest. The device weighs 20 pounds.
Siciliano said he plans a “true world launch” of his product next year, when he will attempt to expand internationally. Until then, he’s been meeting with insurers with hopes of winning endorsements, investments in his company and co-branding opportunities.
He said every time severe weather threatens, thousands of Hail Protectors can be seen on thousands of driveways.
“I can’t imagine a product that does a better job of selling itself than this does just sitting out in the driveway,” Siciliano said.
Photo by Shawn Tallant
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