SMI expands bus flooring business

Posted on November 1, 2007

PINEVILLE, N.C. — A company better known for its line of roof hatches, stop arms and crossing arms, Specialty Manufacturing Inc. (SMI) has quietly become a major player in rubber flooring and step treads for school buses.

And it hopes to enlarge its footprint in this arena with an innovative one-piece flooring product that prevents moisture seepage that can lead to rot and decay of the subfloor. It’s also developing hybrid flooring material that will improve durability and performance while reducing weight and cost.

“We’ve got the resources to make it all happen,” said Douglas Campbell, SMI’s vice president of North American sales. SMI recently acquired Transpec Worldwide and Pretoria Transit Interiors, expanding its product line and its reach industrywide.

SMI entered the bus flooring business about four years ago by acquiring Rubber Solutions, the flooring division of Mat Works in Baltimore. Rubber Solutions was formed in 1999 to help diversify Mat Works’ product line.

Over the past four years, SMI’s flooring and step tread business has expanded its reach, garnering contracts with all of the major school bus manufacturers, as well as cutaway bus builders for the transit, paratransit and shuttle markets.

These days, SMI has a majority of the school bus industry’s market share and is hoping to capitalize on its enhanced product line to capture even more. It recently rebranded its flooring division, now known as SpecFlor.

Campbell said the strengths of SMI’s flooring business include its ability to deliver pre-cut, pre-measured flooring kits. This allows the manufacturers to reduce their labor costs while virtually eliminating scrap. “They used to buy 30-yard rolls of flooring and have to cut them to fit,” he explained. “With our product, the manufacturer receives the exact length and width of material, reducing scrap by 15 to 20 percent per bus.”

Another strength exhibited by SMI is its depth of stock. “We carry six to eight weeks of stock for all of our clients,” Campbell said. “We have the capital support to carry that much inventory, which helps meet the just-in-time manufacturing needs of the OEMs.”

The flooring is warehoused in Springdale, Ark., in the northwest region of the state. The location is geographically desirable because of its proximity to OEM manufacturing facilities. “This allows us to respond quickly to the manufacturers’ needs,” Campbell said, adding that step treads are manufactured at the company’s Pineville facility.

But the company’s greatest strength, Campbell said, is its focus on the needs of the customer. “We go beyond our competitors’ products with regard to our products’ slip resistance, extreme-weather flexibility and durability,” he said, adding that SMI is not satisfied with the status quo.

“Our claim to fame is innovation,” Campbell said. “We’re the first company to come up with a true one-piece floor. It covers the width and length of the bus without a seam. It combines aesthetics with great functionality.”

School bus operators, however, have to pay a premium for the one-piece product compared with the traditional three-piece floor covering. But some states, such as North Carolina, already are specifying the one-piece floor covering because of its potential to reduce damage to the plywood subfloor.

“Rotting plywood is a horrible warranty issue,” Campbell said. “It’s very expensive to replace the subfloor. A one-piece floor that prevents rust and decay is worth the small additional upfront investment. The end-user sees that value.”

Related Topics: flooring

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