Well, it has taken us a few months to really step back and look at our performance for 2018. Overall, Survivor Shelters ended 2018 exceeding our goal of installing 400 concrete storm shelters and countless steel safe rooms for the year. While we have been in business almost 15 years, we are amazed at how much our business grows each year. We also see examples each year of how sketchy other businesses can be in this industry and how poorly many concrete storm shelters and steel safe rooms are built. While these are not the norm, it does reinforce with our crew that we need to make sure we are a shining example of how storm shelter businesses should be in the Oklahoma market.
Our goal continues to be the largest provider of storm shelters and safe rooms in Oklahoma. With that goal in mind, our business hinges on two primary things - top of the line quality storm shelters and safe rooms and first class service. We of course try to be as affordable as possible but we won't do that if it means we have to sacrifice product quality or service.
Looking at where we are today versus a few years ago, our product quality is better than ever. Instead of using bolt-on steel doors for our concrete shelters, we have switched to precast steel doors with the frame embedded in the concrete. This makes for a stronger, safer door and removes the chance for bolts to be sheared off during a tornado event. We have also switched to a beefier steel rebar welded frame embedded in our concrete shelters. Believe it or not, there are concrete storm shelter providers in Oklahoma manufacturing shelters braced with 1/4" cattle panels. Our shelters have gone even thicker now having 1/2" hardened steel rebar cage. It is hard to sell this as a benefit to customers since it can't be seen, but we can't in good conscience provide families with a shelter we claim is safe but to us seems inferior. We may not make more money from better steel reinforcement, but we sleep better at night knowing the quality is there.
We have incorporated into our concrete storm shelter line the option of adding two empregnated colors - brown and slate gray, and two faux finishes - stone or decorative block. Partly, we were tired of seeing the same old gray concrete shelters but also, we wanted to offer something extra to our potential customers that would look better in their yards and be something they could be more proud of. We rely heavily on customer referrals and these color and pattern options have really done the trick in satisfying our customers and helping bring us new business.
As a new option for 2018, we started selling factory seconds (slight blemish to concrete surface), previous demo models, old custom orders where the deal fell through, and slightly used shelters. We have always had a customer base interested in buying a shelter or safe room but the pricing still remaining just out of reach for them. This new Bargain Bin option on our website allows us to sell more affordable options with most still carrying a full or limited warranty. We are not aware of any other storm shelter company in Northeast Oklahoma that does this and we could very well be the only one in all of Oklahoma.
We have taken a similar safety approach with our steel safe rooms. Our steel safe rooms now have walls reinforced with C-Channel bracing instead of angle iron. We have also added the ability to custom build safe rooms to any size plus providing the option for doors that swing out left or right or swing in if the customer chooses. All of these custom options are available without any extra custom build charge. We have also added a couple of garage floor models that can be embedded in existing or new garage floors. We are actually selling quite a bit more of these than we originally expected. While not a major part of our annual sales, these garage floor models help our customer service focus by giving our customers more choices to fit their needs. To be honest, we really don't make much money on these at all, but it does fit very well with our goal of helping customers provide true safety for their families regardless of their economic situation.
In 2018, we enhanced our financing options by better negotiating with banks for low interest storm shelter loans. We also have a lease-to-own option that allows customers with bad credit to still be able to buy a concrete storm shelter. With 2019, we now have a new relationship with Tinker Federal Credit Union replacing Tulsa Teachers Credit Union as a better low interest option for storm shelter loans. While we want our customers to buy a storm shelter or safe room, we don't want to put them in a position of financial burden in doing so. These financing options provide a critical solution to providing safety now with highly affordable payment options through short period loans or lease-to-own agreements.
One thing we added for 2018 is a new focus on FEMA rebate programs for storm shelters or safe rooms for storm affected communities. We worked with Miami, Washington County and are now working with the City of Broken Arrow residents to provide affordable options that are compliant with the FEMA storm shelter quality guidelines.
On the flip side, 2018 was our first full year of not selling underground fiberglass storm shelters. We actually walked away from this business even though there was nothing wrong with the quality of products we were selling. While the quality of these is still good, it is not as good as the concrete shelters and requires more time during installation to properly secure down so it doesn't float out of the ground. We found we could actually sell and install a concrete storm shelter cheaper than we could the fiberglass models and we did have quite a bit of money invested in our location and trade show models. By removing this option, we were able to focus on selling our customers a superior quality concrete storm shelter and the boosted quantities produced and sold each year continues to give us the ability to reduce our costs and prices through economies of scale.
All in all, we feel we are on the right path for continued growth without increasing prices or sacrificing quality of products or service. We are really looking forward to what 2019 will do for us and how we can serve the Oklahoma community!