On the “Rise”
SmartRise takes conventioneers to the top of San Antonio, discusses the company and industry with EW.
by Robert S. Caporale, MSc
During the 2014 National Association of Elevator Contractors (NAEC) 65th Annual Convention and Exposition in San Antonio, Texas, in September 2014, SmartRise Engineering, Inc. principals invited their clients to join them in celebrating their 10th year in business and 10,000th nonproprietary controller installation. The event took place in the world-renowned, rotating restaurant atop the Tower of the Americas. With more than 150 people in attendance, SmartRise welcomed NAEC conventioneers and treated them to a buffet and open bar. While gazing over the surrounding cityscape and full, harvest moon, the guests and their hosts had plenty of time to interact with one another and discuss business in a relaxed and upbeat atmosphere. To “keep the beat,” a deejay provided lively entertainment and music for those who dared to show their prowess on the dance floor. The event was certainly a highlight of the NAEC convention and one of the best parties this reporter has ever attended. The food and beverages were divine; the spirit of the event was, like its location, “very high,” and the networking potential about as good as it gets at an elevator-industry event.
Following the party, ELEVATOR WORLD (EW) took the opportunity to meet with Gilbert Zogbi (GZ) of SmartRise to reflect on the success of the company and discuss the state of the industry, and the importance of the independent contractor segment, in particular.
EW: When and where was the company founded and by whom? What are the founders’ educational and/or professional backgrounds?
GZ: A decade ago, veteran elevator-controller engineers founded SmartRise out of a need to empower independent elevator installers across North America with significantly more capable technology to compete in an era of dramatic safety and performance-based code changes. The 2000 version of ASME A17 had forced a revolution in design. SmartRise was born in that era and had the ability to implement a fresh view of how its vision could be accomplished.
While gazing over the surrounding cityscape and full, harvest moon, the guests and their hosts had plenty of time to interact with one another and discuss business in a relaxed and upbeat atmosphere.
EW: What was the product lineup then, and how has it evolved?
GZ: The original SmartRise controller was for an AC traction unit. When we later made our hydraulic unit, it inherited all the features of our traction unit, making it the most advanced hydraulic controller in the marketplace. As demand for SmartRise grew, DC traction units were developed to modernize DC gearless projects. As SmartRise penetrated more institutions, such as universities, government and financial institutions, more remote-monitoring products and custom services were developed and provided.
EW: Has the company’s location changed or expanded?
GZ: SmartRise remains centralized in California. It went through four major expansions that required increased property space.
EW: Is finding good employees a challenge?
GZ: The elevator industry is a niche, so most new hires lack the experience we desire. To help, we’ve developed a robust training program and continue to expand on it.
EW: What is the biggest challenge facing the industry right now, and how is SmartRise addressing it?
GZ: SmartRise has always been a technology company. We like to provide the best available solutions to our customers. This can be a challenge, since the people installing the equipment may not be familiar with a recent technology and will have to be trained. It can also be a challenge trying to anticipate how the code will react to the introduction of a new technology.
Since an elevator controller is expected to last for decades, a building owner will sometimes be more comfortable with a time-tested technology, such as a relay, over a (newer), solid-state solution that might be obsolete in just a few years. SmartRise is constantly challenged to carefully choose what technologies to introduce to meet all these constraints.
“Competition has huge value in our market: it prepares us for the eventuality that manufacturers like us in North America will face strong foreign competition as the code becomes unified across all countries.”– Gilbert Zogbi, SmartRise
EW: The computer industry is very competitive, with major overseas manufacturers participating in a large share of the U.S. market. Do you anticipate a similar situation with the U.S. elevator component market and, if so, what do you feel its effect will be on the industry?
GZ: Competition has huge value in our market: it prepares us for the eventuality that manufacturers like us in North America will face strong foreign competition as the code becomes unified across all countries. We are excited by the success of our elevator consulting community in penetrating foreign markets and establishing U.S. norms for measuring safety, performance and reliability. It is a testament to our industry’s strength. While most of our sales are in the U.S., our sales to customers in other countries continue to grow. The U.S. manufacturers for the independents continue to deliver great new products and outperform in all market segments. We feel strongly about the unity among U.S. manufacturers continuing to strengthen the value of serviceability.
EW: What are SmartRise’s top sellers?
GZ: It’s a good mix of hydraulic and AC traction equipment. The AC traction controller remains our top seller, with a sweet spot at the 350-700 fpm market segment.
EW: Who are your main customers?
GZ: The independent elevator contractors and companies with large real-estate holdings continue to make up the majority of our customer base.
EW: What has your company found to be the best way to drum up and retain business – attending expos, word of mouth, advertising or a blend of these? Are there any must-attend expos and, if so, which ones?
GZ: Technology was a necessary tool to our success, but more importantly, it has been our product support that has defined us. Like many in our business, we share a common goal of being an asset to our customers, providing them with the tools to do their jobs successfully. EW, NAEC events, regional shows and meetings have all been good conduits to expose the SmartRise name, share ideas and strengthen the unity of the independents.
EW: Where does the company see itself in the next five-10 years?
GZ: Our growth has been fueled by our customers’ support and trust, and we work to keep that trust. We’re investing in the continued development of products and services that are technologically forward thinking to support the growth and elevate the competitiveness of the independents. We owe it to our customers to stand strong by them for the next 10 years. 🌐