SOUTH HAVEN, Mich.—A former AirBoss of America Corp. employee has purchased the firm´s solid loader tire unit and renamed the business SolidBoss Worldwide Inc.
Robert Gilkenson, who had been a sales executive for the AirBoss tire segment, bought the operation for an undisclosed amount when AirBoss offered employees an opportunity to buy the business. He said he plans to keep it in South Haven at a leased facility but intends to expand the company rapidly.
The sale takes AirBoss out of the segment that gave the firm its foundation in the U.S. and Canada in 1989 when it was formed as Iatco Inc. Iatco was funded by several investors who purchased the North American concept rights to the segmented tire line of an Australian company, AirBoss Ltd., and set up shop in Canada.
For a few years, that was all AirBoss of America manufactured.
The company broadened its product base and began making solid loader tires in 1994 when it bought rubber product molder Controlled Rubber Products Inc. of South Haven for $3.3 million.
Controlled Rubber Products produced segmented tires and rubber parts for railways and original equipment automotive makers. As AirBoss made other purchases and expanded into the rubber mixing, footwear and military products industries via acquisitions, it eventually moved product manufacturing from the South Haven factory, which it closed, to its facilities in Canada.
A small group of employees remained at a South Haven site to handle segmented tire assembly, warehousing, marketing and sales. That group—about seven employees—is the current work force for SolidBoss, according to Gilkenson.
The segmented tire business, which accounted for about 1.5 percent of AirBoss´ overall sales, was sold "because it´s a very small segment of our overall business," said Robert L. Hagerman, AirBoss president and CEO.
Gilkenson said the company had not put much emphasis on the tire segment as AirBoss grew in different directions.
AirBoss, which still owns the segmented tire patents, will continue to manufacture tire sections for SolidBoss under an agreement between the two firms, Gilkenson said. SolidBoss will assemble, market, sell and supply tires used on skid steer loaders, backhoes and small articulated wheel loaders.
SolidBoss is planning to introduce a line of Aperture Tires in the near future that wear longer and feature added cushioning, a spokeswoman said.
"It´s a good product but we were losing money on it," Hagerman noted. "We couldn´t expand the business by making tracks, forklift tires or off-the-road tires because we supply compound to manufacturers of those products and we don´t want to compete with our customers."
On its own, SolidBoss can expand into those and other segments, Gilkenson said.
"I´m glad we´re out of the business," Hagerman said. "People thought we were a tire maker and we´re not."
Newmarket, Ontario-based AirBoss, which had sales of about $147.9 million in 2004, has become a large custom rubber mixer, compounding rubber at its Kitchener, Ontario, and Acton Vale, Quebec, plants. It has about 195 million pounds of capacity at the two factories.
It also is spending about $10 million to open its first mixing facility in the U.S., a 110,000-sq.-ft. plant in Scotland Neck, N.C. The expansion will give the company 100 million pounds of additional production capacity in the next three years.
In addition, the firm engineers and molds rubber and plastic products for the transportation, military and industrial markets. It has a large protective wear segment featuring chemical, nuclear, radiological and biological gloves, boots and gas masks used by the military and for national defense.