Accubuilt, Inc. (International Directory of Company Histories)
2550 Central Point Parkway
Lima, Ohio, 45804
Telephone: (419) 224-3910
Fax: (419) 222-4450
Web site: http://www.accubuilt.com
Sales: $70 million (2004)
NAIC: 336111 Automobile Manufacturing; 336999 All Other Transportation Equipment Manufacturing
Accubuilt, Inc., is a manufacturer of specialized vehicles, operating as the largest and oldest maker of funeral coaches. The company's funeral coaches, constructed from chassis made by Ford Motor Co. and General Motors Corp., are manufactured in Lima, Ohio, and sold under the names Superior, Sayers & Scovill, Eureka, and Miller-Meteor. Accubuilt also manufactures wheelchair, shuttle, and limousine vans under the Vartanian name. Accubuilt is controlled by Paladin Capital Partners Fund, L.P. and Hancock Mezzanine Partners III, L.P.
Accubuilt was a corporate title created at the beginning of the 21st century to represent a number of brands with origins in the 19th century. The process by which the handful of brands came together under one umbrella entity occurred over decades, engendered by acquisitions and mergers during the 1980s and 1990s that ultimately created the largest and oldest manufacturer of funeral coaches in the United States. At the core of the organization that adopted the Accubuilt name in 2000 were two companies, Sayers & Scovill (S&S) and Superior Coach Co., each regarded as pioneers in the business of manufacturing vehicles designed for, as the April 2001 issue of Automotive Manufacturing & Production noted, the "last ride."
Of the two main pillars of Accubuilt, S&S was established first, a firm founded by William Sayers and A.R. Scovill in 1876. The founders, who christened their enterprise the Sayers & Scovill Coach Company, began making horse-drawn hearses in the Cincinnati, Ohio, area, starting what became, by the beginning of the 21st century, the oldest continuously operating funeral coach manufacturer in the United States. The company distinguished itself early in its development by demonstrating a high standard of craftsmanship. The carriages, sometimes constructed with glass side panels, bore ornate carvings on supporting wood structures, reflecting the public's desire for elegance and a certain sort of pageantry in a funeral procession. As time passed, preferences with respect to funeral ceremonies and attendant proceedings changed. Funerals became more staid affairs, and funeral coaches correspondingly became more somber in design. As with any business, S&S's longevity depended on its ability to adapt to changing market conditions and emerging trends, something the company would have to do many times during its development. The company's greatest test in this regard occurred during the early 20th century. The invention of the internal combustion engine revolutionized the funeral-carriage trade, making S&S's signature horse-drawn carriages relics of an era gone by. (The first commercially available automobile hearse was introduced in 1909 by another Ohio-based company, Cincinnati's Crane & Breed). S&S successfully adapted to the profound change that swept throughout its industry, becoming one of the few funeral coach companies to make the transition from carriages to motor-powered vehicles without surrendering its standing in the marketplace.
As S&S quickly learned the craft of converting automobiles to hearses, the story of another funeral coach manufacturer was just beginning. In 1909, The Garford Motor Truck Company was established. An Ohio-based company as well, Garford Truck was formed in a small town 30 miles outside Cleveland named Elyria, where it began manufacturing heavy trucks. The company did well, enjoying sufficient demand for its trucks to require a substantially larger manufacturing facility. In 1925, the company moved its operations to Lima, Ohio, where it occupied a new plant housing both its manufacturing operations and its administrative offices. The move to Lima marked a turning point in the company's history, occurring at the same time Garford changed its name to The Superior Body Company and diversified, introducing a line of hearse and ambulance bodies. (Because they were the only ones with vehicles long enough to carry someone in a recumbent position, funeral homes were often the sole providers of ambulance service). Although the company had built its business on manufacturing heavy trucks, the line of hearses became its mainstay business line not long after the move to Lima, when the Superior brand became one of the most well-regarded names in the funeral coach industry.
Superior, like S&S, was in the business of converting vehicles, not making them. Both companies were involved in producing what later became known as professional cars: hearses, flower cars, rescue cares, service cars, ambulances, limousines, and vehicles built to combine two or more of these functions. Professional cars were custom-bodied vehicles based on passenger car styling, entirely made by hand except for the commercial chassis and front and rear clips. Both Superior and S&S relied on established car manufacturers to provide the framework for their conversion efforts, purchasing chassis that formed the basis of their funeral coaches. Initially, Superior built its hearses and ambulances on the Studebaker chassis, adding chassis built by Pontiac in 1936. The company changed its name to The Superior Coach Company in 1940, inaugurating a decade that would see it build hearses styled on Cadillac, LaSalle, Chrysler, DeSoto, and Dodge chassis. During this period, S&S introduced several distinctive models, bringing back the carved pillars of the late 19th century with the production of the "Art Carved" hearse in 1929. In 1938, the company introduced the industry's first victoria-style hearse, a model equipped with a heavily padded leather roof and a blind quarter panel decorated by S-shaped irons reminiscent of horse-drawn carriages of the late 19th century.
During the post-World War II era, as Superior and S&S affirmed their reputations in the funeral-car industry, both companies were acquired by other companies. Superior became part of the Sheller-Globe Corporation. S&S was purchased by Hess & Eisenhardt Company. The two companies were brought together when an entrepreneur and veteran of the limousine industry, Tom Earnhart, decided to acquire two of the most venerated brands in the business. In 1981, Earnhart acquired Superior from Sheller-Globe and later that year purchased S&S from Hess & Eisenhardt, forming a new company S&S/Superior of Ohio, Inc. to oversee the further development of the two businesses. Manufacturing operations were consolidated at Superior's plant in Lima, which had been expanded 30 years earlier.
The next eventful chapter in the development of Superior and S&S occurred during the 1990s. In 1995, a new plant in Lima was constructed, becoming the state-of-the-art facility where funeral coaches built on Cadillac, Lincoln, and Ford chassis were constructed. The establishment of the new plant, which blended hand-building and mass-production techniques, represented the modern symbol of a nearly 120-year-old organization, one that began to exhibit a desire to increase its opportunities for growth after it gained new owners. In 1996, PNC Equity Management, a part of the Pittsburgh-based PNC Bank, acquired a controlling stake in S&S/Superior. The combined factors of having a new equity partner and a need to exploit the new manufacturing plant to its fullest led to two important acquisitions several years later, purchases that joined four old rivals in the funeral coach industry.
Expansion in 1999
In 1999, PNC Equity Management, through a subsidiary named Superior Holdings, Inc., acquired certain assets belonging to CCE, Inc. The acquisition added two esteemed names in the funeral coach business, each with rich histories rivaling the legacies of S&S and Superior. The older of the two brands was Eureka, which started business in Rock Falls, Illinois, in 1871 as the Eureka Manufacturing Company. Initially, Eureka manufactured desks, chairs, and church furniture, a line of work the company later abandoned to focus on making horse-drawn vehicles. Like S&S, Eureka had to contend with the invention of the automobile, which prompted the company to apply its woodworking talent and equipment to producing carved wooden bodies for hearses and ambulances. In the early 1920s, the company introduced a style of hearse that became ubiquitous, the limousine, an innovation followed later in the decade with one of the first three-way hearses, which featured a casket table that moved along a Y-shaped track to emerge from either the side or the rear of the coach. Despite the company's solid reputation and its contributions to its industry, Eureka struggled during the post-World War II era, eventually closing its doors in 1964. The brand was resurrected in 1980, when Thomas McPherson used the Eureka name to open his own funeral coach manufacturing company in Toronto, Canada. The brand name enjoyed success during its second life, drawing the attention of a group of investors at the end of the decade. The investors, represented by their company, CCE, Inc., acquired Eureka in 1989 and moved the company to a new manufacturing location in Norwalk, Ohio. Several years later, in 1993, CCE's management followed through on its goal of expanding operations in Norwalk by purchasing another funeral coach firm, the Miller-Meteor Company.
Miller-Meteor began business in 1915 as the Meteor Motor Company. Meteor's first funeral coach, introduced the year of its formation, was built on a Model T chassis and became instant sales success. One year later, the company introduced a combination pallbearer's coach and ambulance, a model that also proved successful, selling more than 200 cars during its first three months on the market. Meteor became the first company to design and build chassis designed specifically for use as a hearse and ambulance. In 1954, after nearly 40 years on its own, the company was acquired by Wayne Works, Inc., a manufacturer of school buses and delivery trucks. In 1956, Wayne Works purchased A.J Miller Company, an enterprise founded in 1917 in Bellfontaine, Ohio, that manufactured complete cars. After purchasing A.J. Miller, Wayne Works's management merged it with Meteor, believing the two companies would benefit from the exchange of technical information and shared operations. The decision led to the creation of the Miller-Meteor Company in 1957. For the next two decades, Miller-Meteor operated in the funeral coach business, eventually expanding its product line to include 34 models. Like Eureka, the company struggled financially, however, shuttering its operations in 1979. Also like Eureka, the company's brand name was given a second life when Collins Industries began using the Miller-Meteor name, beginning in 1984, on its line of funeral coaches and limousines. Roughly a decade later, CCE purchased Miller-Meteor, using the company to expand its manufacturing operations in Norwalk.
When PNC Equity Management completed its purchase of certain CCE assets in 1999, its funeral coach business comprised four venerable brands: S&S, Superior, Eureka, and Miller-Meteor. S&S/Superior stood as the oldest and largest maker of funeral coaches in the United States, but its corporate title no longer reflected the breadth of the company. In 2000, the company changed its name to Accubuilt, the new corporate banner that controlled approximately 70 percent of the U.S. market through its four distinguished brands. After the operations were absorbed into the facility at Lima, 200 production workers were employed at the 160,000-square-foot facility, making 1,500 funeral coaches and six-door limousines each year.
Diversification in 2002
During the first years of the 21st century, Accubuilt's expansion efforts continued, creating a larger, more diversified specialized vehicle manufacturer. In 2002, the company added another brand to its portfolio in order to explore other avenues of growth to complement its stalwart market position in the funeral coach business. "We've got 65 to 75 percent of that market," Accubuilt's chief executive officer, Stephen Griffith, explained in a November 6, 2002 interview with the Blade, a Toledo, Ohio, newspaper. "It's a fine market," Griffith continued, "but there isn't a lot of growth. If you want to grow you have to look at other opportunities. And mobility products are generally a better-growing market than funeral vehicles." Griffith's statement referred to Accubuilt's August 2002 purchase of Vartanian Industries, Inc., a Brodheadsville, Pennsylvania-based manufacturer of wheelchair, shuttle, and limousine vans. "It's a small acquisition," Griffith said at the time of the purchase in an August 12, 2002 interview with Knight Ridder/Tribune Business Times, "but it brings with it significant growth potential." Vartanian's Brodheadsville plant was closed after the acquisition, unable to accommodate new business, and moved to Lima, adding another dimension to Accubuilt's manufacturing activities.
As Accubuilt plotted its future course, further acquisitions were expected, with strong indications of an expansion-minded orientation revealed when control over the company changed hands. In May 2004, PNC Equity Management sold its controlling interest in Accubuilt to Paladin Capital Partners Fund, L.P., a private equity investment company with offices in Atlanta, Georgia, and Washington, D.C., and Hancock Mezzanine Partners III, L.P., an investment fund managed by John Hancock Life Insurance Company. Dominic D. Cuzzocrea, who served as chief executive officer of Accubuilt when the company gained its new backers, commented on the implications of the deal in a May 18, 2004 company press release. "The Accubuilt management team is delighted to partner with Paladin and with Hancock Mezzanine as we continue to grow and serve our markets more effectively," the statement read. "We thank PNC for their guidance and assistance with our growth over the last seven plus years and we are quite confident that Accubuilt will continue to prosper by delivering the best values to our diversified customer base, just as we have always done. Paladin shares Accubuilt management's goal to maintain our dominant position in funeral vehicles while diversifying into growth markets such as our recently acquired commercial van business. We have increased our funeral vehicle market share in 2004 while simultaneously growing our mobility van business into the third largest Ford pool account after less than two years in the industry." In the years ahead, Accubuilt promised to maintain its overwhelming lead in its core market and to broaden its presence in the specialized vehicle market.
Federal Coach LLC; Chateau Horse-Drawn Hearses; Eagle Coach Company.
Pakulski, Gary T., "Lima, Ohio, Hearse Builder Branches Out to Wheelchair Vans," Blade, November 6, 2002, p. B2.
Rutz, Heather, "Accubuilt, Union Reach 3-Year Agreement," Lima News, February 9, 2005, p. A1.
Sabin, Jim, "Lima, Ohio, Limousine Maker Expands Operations," Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News, August 17, 2002, p. ITEM022229058.
Whitfield, Kermit, "Building the Last Ride," Automotive Manufacturing & Production, April 2001, p. 62.
effrey L. Covell