by Amy Martinez
Updated 3 yearss ago
Founder: Viv Helwig
2018 Revenue: $2.6 million
Growth 2016-18: 192%
Born in Jamaica, Viv Helwig grew up in Brevard County, raised by an entrepreneurial mom who ran a successful real estate brokerage. He graduated from Flagler College in 2008 and went to work for a Pennsylvania steel mill, selling raw materials to medical device makers in the Midwest.
After five years, he decided to strike out on his own as a steel distributor. With support from angel investors, he moved to South Florida, planning to buy a small distribution company in Weston, but the deal fell through. “Once I quit my job, the negotiation took a different turn. I lost my leverage,” he says. “I think the party on the other side of the table was overestimating my desperation.”
Forced to start from scratch, he launched Vested Metals, a wholesale distributor specializing in hard-to-find alloys, grades and sizes for niche applications and markets. The first few years were touch and go, he says.
“My goal was to do $1 million in sales our first year. We did about $172,000, so we missed the mark slightly,” he says dryly. He says he would have run out of money if not for a $7,600 refund early on for an escrow over-payment on a past mortgage.
The company, now based in St. Augustine, hit $1 million in 2017, surpassed $2.5 million in 2018 and was expected to end 2019 with nearly $5 million in sales. The company buys from steel mills, including Helwig’s old employer, and sells to machine shops that work for orthopedic medical device makers and other types of manufacturers.
“Manufacturers can’t always buy from the mills. They may need a higher level of service, maybe smaller quantities or custom sizes and more flexibility. That’s when they come to us,” says Helwig, a 33-year-old father of three. “After entering their supply chain, we can help them on their other production requirements.”
A planned expansion of the company’s warehouse will allow it to add equipment and product lines, he says. “We’re going to be a value-added distributor. We’ll cut product to our customers’ requirements and sizes, and then we’ll do more precision sawing.”
Helwig, who considers the book “Five Dysfunctions of a Team” required reading for new employees, says he competes with companies that are much older and better established than Vested Metals.
“Our advantage can be how we operate internally, as far as how we communicate, how we treat each other, how we set up our vision for the long term and then how that translates to the way we treat our customers and suppliers,” he says. “We’re going to go the extra mile and be nimble.”
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