October 9, 2008
Saulsburys return to family business
Family at work on its first truck at a new factory in Groton
Bob Ellis/staff photographer
Left to right, plant manager Doug Seymour, CEO of Plastisol Holland, Rob Walraven, and Plastisol North America President Alan Saulsbury chat inside the company’s new factory on Route 222 in Groton. The company will begin assembling fire truck bodies at the facility next week.
After a five-year hiatus from the fire truck manufacturing business, the Saulsbury family is back in business.
Alan and Richard Saulsbury, former owners of Saulsbury Fire Rescue in Preble, are preparing to assemble the first fire truck bodies in the family’s new plant, Plastisol Composites North America, located on Route 222 in the village of Groton’s in-the-works industrial park.
They have partnered with Rob Walraven, CEO of Plastisol B.V., a 35-year-old Holland-based fire truck manufacturing company.
They will now make the bodies of fire trucks from composite fiberglass instead of the steel and aluminum that Saulsbury Fire Rescue used, said Alan Saulsbury, president of Plastisol Composites North America. They will build the cabs, bodies and tanks of fire trucks, unlike Saulsbury Fire Rescue, which manufactured entire trucks.
There are currently seven employees at the Groton plant, and Saulsbury said they plan to have a staff of 30.
Monday night, Saulsbury met with his first potential local client, the Groton Fire Department. Saulsbury said that almost every fire department in Cortland County owns a Saulsbury fire truck, and he would like to keep it that way.
From 1948 to 1998 the Saulsbury family manufactured fire trucks for fire departments in Cortland County and in other parts of the U.S. Their company was formed by Alan’ father, Francher L. “Sam” Saulsbury, under the name Saulsbury Fire Equipment Corp., and it later became Saulsbury Fire Rescue. When Sam Saulsbury died in 1978, his older son, Richard continued as chief financial officer, and Alan became executive vice president.
In 1998, the Saulsbury family sold Saulsbury Fire Rescue to Federal Signal Corp., a large industrial company, for $19 million. It became part of Federal Signal Corp.’s Ocala, Fla.-based E-One Division, a fire truck manufacturer.
Saulsbury said that E-One assured his family that it would expand the company and remain in Central New York.
“We felt that would give us more depth and more strength to expand the company,” Saulsbury said. “Like most acquisitions, sooner or later something went wrong.”
After the sale, Alan Saulsbury and his son, Eric, joined E-One as a consultant and a sales manager, respectively. They soon clashed with the new management as they had conflicting visions for the company.
“Big companies don’t run small companies very well,” he said, adding “I worked there 43 years and suddenly they terminated all of the family members.”
Saulsbury left the company in December 2002. In 2004, E-One closed the Preble plant to consolidate its operations in Florida, and 275 workers lost their jobs there. About 75 percent of the employees were offered relocation packages to move to Ocala, Fla., but only about four employees chose to move, Saulsbury said.
In 2006 the Saulsbury family opened a temporary facility at 3809 Luker Road in Cortlandville. Saulsbury moved his plant to the industrial park in Groton because the 8-inch water and sewer lines and a natural gas connection there would save the company about $250,000. Plastisol Composites is the first company to move into the industrial park.
The new plant is 20,000 square feet, and the Saulsburys plan to add warehouses for storage. Saulsbury said that every contractor hired to build the factory was from either Cortland County or Tompkins County.
The company will order the parts for the truck bodies from Plastisol B.V. in Holland, assemble them in the plant and sell them to small to medium-sized manufacturers, Saulsbury said.
“We have a family company again, the plant in Holland is a family company, and all of the companies we do business with have to be family companies,” Saulsbury said.
“I have been gone for five years and it feels great,” Saulsbury said. “I can’t express how happy I am, and at this age, I couldn’t be happier.”
Saulsbury is missing one thing, though: the rights to the Saulsbury name. He sold those rights to Federal Signal Corp in 1998. Saulsbury said he doesn’t know who owns the rights now, because Federal Signal Corp. sold E-One this month.
Saulsbury said he would like his name back but would rather not comment on his prospects of getting it back.
Walraven’s business was also formed by his father. Saulsbury and Walraven met at an international trade show about 20 years ago.
Plastisol B.V. manufactures and assembles 800 truck bodies per year and exports them to 35 countries, Walraven said.
Saulsbury has hired three former employees of Saulsbury Fire Rescue. But he said he must hire workers with different types of talents now, because many specialized positions from Saulsbury Fire Rescue will not be needed in the new business.
Among those who Saulsbury rehired are Doug Seymour, vice president of manufacturing and engineering, and Russ Walker, an engineer. They were both hired at Saulsbury Fire Rescue in 1989 and remained with E-One until it closed. Walker moved to Louisiana to work for a competitor and Seymour worked for E-One as a sales engineer from a private office in Cortland.
They both said that working for E-One was less enjoyable than working for Saulsbury.
“They were more corporate. They weren’t family oriented,” Walker said.
Saulsbury asked Seymour to work for him at Plastisol North America last year.
“I exited E-One pretty quick,” Seymour said. “I didn’t even think about it.”
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