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Fortifying his position

In 2003, Jack Stumpff and his partners bought a controlling interest in Secure Enterprises, which makes a brace system called Secure Door that reinforces garage doors. The $300 price for protecting the door for a two-car garage is just a fraction of the cost of buying a new hurricane-resistant door.

The code-approved system fits with the legislative goal of encouraging homeowners to harden their homes by offering discounts on premiums. “It’s an extremely viable product that does the job it’s supposed to do and would benefit many Floridians,” Stumpff says.

What Stumpff, a retired U.S. Coast Guard captain who holds a master’s from MIT, didn’t factor into the business plan was “hundreds of thousands” of dollars in legal costs crusading against the state over forms used to calculate discounts on storm insurance. Stumpff contends state-approved forms used by inspectors and insurers don’t follow state law. They fail to account for garage reinforcement such as the type he  provides.

Indeed, says Stumpff, there’s a long list of storm-protection products — just get him going on roof protection, for instance — that innovators have created but that don’t get premium discounts because “the form is stuck in 2002.” The result statewide is plenty of homeowners overpaying for insurance. In October, a state administrative law judge ruled the forms invalid.

The state Office of Insurance Regulation is appealing the ruling, saying that it drew up the rules and forms properly. Meanwhile, Stumpff is being efficient, outsourcing nearly everything, and growth-minded: Sales of his door protection system for commercial buildings are growing, and he’s licensed products for use in Australia and New Zealand. Still, according to the judge’s fact finding, the business had revenue of only about $500,000 annually from 2005 to 2011.

At the Pompano Beach distribution center where he leases space, Stumpff, 65, takes a moment to reflect on his struggle. He can’t recoup most of his legal costs even if he ultimately wins. “From a business perspective, was this a smart thing to do?” he asks. He answers with a different question: “Was it the right thing to do? I still think it was.”