The Fast Lane

Storm Products’ bowling balls make the sport a piece of cake—or at least smell like it. Its products are recognized globally for their high performance— and great smell.

Storm products signed its first Marquee player, Pete Weber, to a professional contract back in 1997. Since then, many professional tournaments have been won by players using Storm bowling balls.

Storm Products, one of the biggest names in the sport of bowling, began as High Score Products (HSP) in 1985. It was one of two companies owned and operated by Bill Chrisman, an amateur bowler and chemist. Chrisman began HSP primarily to sell a new ball cleaner he’d developed. Back then, bowlers wanting to clean their bowling balls properly needed to use a sink, soap and water, or a dishwasher. “I had the idea to create a ball cleaner that was in a package, and you could put it on a towel and clean your ball while on the lane,” recalls Chrisman, who had also noticed that urethane bowling bowls were porous and tended to soak up the oil from bowling lanes. He mixed the ball cleaner in his garage and bottled it with the help of his children.

After some success with the ball cleaner, Chrisman expanded his operation when the opportunity came up to manufacture the balls themselves. In 1991, Chrisman teamed up with a friend, Keith Orton (Orton was experienced in the manufacturing process of high-performance urethane bowling-ball), to begin production.

The Line Up

However, it wasn’t all smooth sailing. Chrisman’s wife, who was running his other company, a chemical-supply business, was unhappy about him
diverting funds to his new venture.  “My wife was about to throw my clothes out on the lawn,” he recalls. “She said that if I took any more money out of the company account, she’d divorce me. She had these government contracts and needed the money in the bank. Luckily enough, I started to sell some bowling balls. Those first couple of years were a struggle, no credit references, no loans, and so I had to grow as well as I could. Didn’t have a decent line of credit until my 12th year of business.”

To keep the new business going, the Chrismans were forced to remortgage their house and the building that housed the chemical-supply business, but after six months Chrisman and Orton had developed a unique bowling-ball material. HSP was rebranded as Storm in 1991 and now Storm bowling balls can be found in 65 countries. The company’s major international markets are Japan, Korea, and Europe, with the US consisting of 75 percent of their overall business.

While product innovation has been key to Storm’s success, so has innovation on the marketing front. “I created the first dual-color logo, the first three-color high-performance ball, and I have a patent on putting fragrances in a bowling ball,” he explains. “Jay Leno did a joke on his show about how I had, ‘smelly balls.’ It put me on the front page of the Wall Street Journal.

The tagline for Storm Products is “The Bowlers Company;” a motto that alludes to the employees as well as the customers. “We’re all bowlers,” Chrisman says. “We all have the same vision.” He credits his staff with the company’s ongoing success, which now creates products for all areas of the sport including balls, bags, apparel, maintenance, gear, and accessories. Chrisman adds that Storm’s R&D team is always on the lookout for the next innovation in the sport.

Nowadays, Chrisman operates primarily in an ambassadorial role for the sport (he’s on the board of directors for the National Hall of Fame) as well as the company. When Profile spoke with him, he’d just returned from a 16-day trip to Asia, working with his salesmen in that part of the world, resolving some sourcing issues, and meeting with politicians and leaders in the local bowling industry. Despite his still very active professional life, when Chrisman reflects on his multiple company beginnings, he wonders where he found the energy. “But I loved it,” he says. “And I’ve got a great organization right now, and hopefully we can keep it that way.”