MIDDLE TOWNSHIP — Dozens of red fire extinguishers fill Matt Giuliano’s store on South Main Street in Cape May Court House. A fire extinguisher emblem is sewn on his company’s shirt.
Giuliano, 50, started Reel Fire Protection Inc. 25 years ago, focusing on smaller accounts and rental units he felt were being overlooked.
Giuliano, a lifelong Cape May County resident who was raised in Wildwood Crest, said starting his own business in the largely seasonal area made sense.
“In the area, I knew I’d have to work two or three jobs or start something on my own, “ he said.
The business grew gradually through the late 1980s, but the early years were difficult as he built a customer base, he said.
He credits his brother, Richard Giuliano, with helping him early on by letting him use a small office and shop rent-free.
But the business, which sells and services fire extinguishers and restaurant kitchen fire suppression equipment, really began to grow as towns began stricter enforcement of fire extinguishers in rental units, he said.
The shore area’s building boom actually hurt him at first, he said. His client base of motels and restaurants shrank every time one was sold and turned into a condominium complex.
That same trend later proved a boon to business when those condos received their certificates of occupancy and needed fire extinguishers, he said.
“That motel that had six extinguishers is now condominiums with 60,” Giuliano said.
The need for Reel Fire’s products and services is apparent in state fire statistics.
The state Department of Community Affairs issued “Fire In New Jersey: 2009” in October, reporting 26,625 fires throughout the state, 80 percent of which were residential properties. The report also said there were 71 civilian deaths last year, a 15 percent drop from 2008 and the lowest number since 2004.
In 2005, Giuliano opened a storefront on Main Street in Cape May Court House, where he began catering to walk-ins.
The effort bolstered his business, he said.
Now, Reel Fire Protection has five employees and annual revenue of about $500,000, Giuliano said. His first employee, Robert Zimmerman, still works for him as his service manager, he said.
“As we grew, we started getting the municipal and bigger accounts, and stayed with the small ones,” he said. “The adage is no account is too small.”
Giuliano said his business also handles fire suppression equipment for several Cape May County municipalities and school districts.
Giuliano said he had neither formal business training nor a college degree, but he dedicated himself to his company, learned as he went and focused on customer service.
“I’m not a businessman. I operated it as a serviceman doing a service to people. For me, the business end came last. I grew into a business,” he said.
Contact Brian Ianieri:
Reel Fire Protection Inc.
Location: 13 S. Main St., Cape May Court House
Owner: Matt Giuliano, 50, of Cape May Court House
Years in operation: 25
Annual revenue: About $500,000