Grumann-Olson - Aerobilt - 1946-present - Athens, New York - Sherman, Texas - Sturgis, Michigan
Grumann/Olson 1947-49 step van on GMC chassis, food vending bodies. Built UPS bodies in late 1940s on Chevrolet chassis.
Jimmy Olson, Commissioner of the New York State Liquor Authority, and Walter Heingartner, owner of Kinney Motors Chevrolet in Brooklyn, N.Y., incorporates J.B.E. Olson Corporation in New York to sell aluminum-body trucks to the laundry industry. The truck, called the "Kargo King," is built for Olson by Grumman Aircraft Engineering, a producer of fighter planes during World War II, with the chassis produced by Chevrolet.
All the Chevy dealers on the East Coast are invited to the introduction of the Kargo King at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City. Salespeople write 450 orders for the truck that day.
After only 300 units are built, production is transferred from the plant in Bethpage, N.Y., to an old lifeboat factory on the Hudson River in Athens, N.Y.
The company becomes Aerobuilt Bodies, Inc., and sells the units to J.B.E. Olson Corporation.
Jimmy Olson convinces Grumman, through his friend and one of Grumman’s founders, Jack Swirbul, to modify a Chevy Cab Chassis and develop the aluminum walk-in body, which is named the Kurbside.
To meet competition in the truck body market, Grumman designs the Olsonette. A smaller truck, the Olsonette features many design innovations, including the "eyebrow" extrusion above the windshield, a Grumman trademark for years to come. Production of the truck does not begin, however.
J.B.E. Olson founder Jimmy Olson dies. Wally Spielman purchases his stock in the company as well as Walter Heingartner’s, who returns to managing his dealership.
Aerobuilt/Aerobilt Bodies hires a new chief engineer, Harold Turner, and the Olsonette begins production. The Olsonette/Chevrolet chassis combination is sold to Philadelphia Newspapers.
The best features of the Kurbside and the Olsonette are incorporated into a new unit, nicknamed the O.K., which becomes the Kurbvan. The truck is an immediate success. Aerobuilt becomes a Grumman subsidiary, Grumman Allied Industries.
Grumman Allied buys identical plants in Sherman, Texas and Sturgis, Mich. from the Glaspar Boat Company. These two additional locations help expand the market by relieving the high cost of transporting finished units.
A smaller version of the Olsonette, with better vision and a Kurbside-style front, is designed. Called the Kurbside Junior, it is sold to UPS and the New York City Ambulance Service.
Grumman teams up with UPS to develop the now familiar UPS P-600 and P-800 truck bodies, featuring lift-up fiberglass hoods and translucent fiberglass roofs.
The Kurbmaster is developed and introduced to meet customer demands for easier engine access and servicing. Grumman Allied purchases J.B.E. Olson Corporation. The three plants then operate as Olson Bodies, while the sales organization operates as J.B.E. Olson.
Grumman Bodies buys 47 acres near Tulare, Calif. and builds a 70,000-square-foot production plant. Olson Bodies begins development of the Grumman Motor Home. Production is moved to Sturgis in 1971 where a small, 17-passenger bus is developed and added to the current line of products.
The Montgomery, Pa. facility is opened to produce modular buildings and motor homes. Slumping sales of both lead to the introduction of truck production at the facility.
Engineering is transferred from Athens to the expanded Sturgis location.
Grumman Allied opens a facility in Mayfield, Pa. to build UPS truck bodies.
A major paint shop addition is built at the Sturgis facility.
Grumman Allied closes the Athens plant due to a sluggish U.S. economy.
The Sturgis facility produces a record 583 units in one month while reaching a yearly production total of 6,000.
Grumman Olson headquarters is moved from Melville, N.Y. to Sturgis.
Fewer sales in the South and Southwest force the closing of the Sherman facility. Grumman Olson’s United States Postal Service Long Life Vehicle prototype wins the government’s durability contest, and Grumman Olson wins the initial $1.1 billion contract. Grumman Allied dedicates its Montgomery facility to LLV production as a separate operation. LLV production continues until 1995, with more than 150,000 produced.
Grumman Olson introduces the Freight Star™ Dry Freight Van, expanding its product offering.
Northrop purchases Grumman Corporation.
The Mayfield plant is phased out, while the Montgomery facility rejoins the Olson division of Grumman Allied after the completion of the Postal Service LLV contract. A major capital investment upgrades facilities, equipment and processes in the Sturgis, Montgomery, and Tulare facilities.
Grumman Olson management acquires the company through a buyout and continues the philosophy of the previous owners.
Acquisition of Complete Refrigerated Truck Bodies, Inc. of Alvaton, Georgia allows Grumman Olson to add refrigerated truck bodies to their product line.
Grumman Olson formally launches its new line of refrigerated trucks – FreshGuard™. The FreshGuard is made available in three versions – Heavy-Duty, Light-Weight, and Slip-In.
Grumman Olson attains ISO 9001 certification.
Grumman Olson launches the WorkMax™ shop van. Specially designed for contractors, the WorkMax features exterior compartments and interior shelves to help keep tools and materials organized. The WorkMax was tested by contractors of all kinds, and details were added and refined as a result of their input.
John B. Poindexter, owner of J.B. Poindexter & Co., Inc., parent company of Morgan Trailer Mfg. Co., the nation’s largest manufacturer of dry and refrigerated truck bodies, purchases the step-van and service parts assets and the Sturgis, Michigan manufacturing facilities of Grumman Olson Industries. The newly formed company is named MS Truck Body Corp. and continues the use of Grumman Olson product trade names.xxxx
The Grumman aerospace company bought the J.B. Olson Corp, makers of aluminum alloy truck bodies, and launched a line of aluminum-bodied vans under the name Grumman Kurbmaster. These were in addition to Olson aluminum bodies supplied on regular chassis/cab units by well-known manufacturers. While Kurbmasters use chassis by such manufacturers as Ford, Chevrolet and G.M.C. they are of distinctive design and are sold only by Grumman dealers. In 1970 a 19-passenger bus was added to the Kurbmaster range, and in 1978 the vans came in a wide range of wheelbases from 102 to 178 inches.
Pieces of the Grumman Olson Pie by Rick Weber - Trailer/Body Builders, Aug 1, 2003
AND when the smoke cleared … Grumman Olson was a shell of its former self.
John Poindexter, Chief Executive Officer of Houston-based J B Poindexter and Co Inc, which owns the Morgan Corp, had created M S Truck Body in order to acquire Grumman Olson's Sturgis, Michigan, assembly plant, truck products, and name.
The HIG Group, parent company of Specialized Vehicles Corp, which owns Kidron and Hackney body companies, had acquired two of Grumman Olson's manufacturing facilities (Montgomery, Pennsylvania, and Tulare, California), creating what Kidron claims is “one of the largest manufacturers of truck bodies and trailers in North America.”
Grand Vehicle Works, the holding company for Workhorse Custom Chassis and Union City Body Co, had purchased Grumman Olson's intellectual property rights for dry van and refrigerated bodies for $300,000 and was working on introducing two new product lines.
For the Morgan Corp, the developments — which unfolded at a June 13 auction — came one year after it had made an offer to acquire the entire Grumman Olson company. Morgan views its $14.5 million investment as a key toward becoming the industry leader in revenue.
“In total dollar volume, we were neck and neck with Supreme in the $200 million range,” said Robert Ostendorf Jr, president of the Morgan Corp, in a telephone interview with Trailer/Body Builders. “With this acquisition, Morgan will be in the $320-$330 million range, so we're probably the largest bodybuilder in the industry in revenue. Plus, Morgan — knock on wood, and I'm finding some wood in my lounge at the airport — has had a great year. We're running about 25% ahead of our budgeted sales volume and 100% in terms of profitability.
“We've taken a lot of market share. We've taken at least five major national accounts from our competitors. We have 100% of Ryder's business in dry-freight and refrigerated for the next three years, and about 90% of Penske's business, along with major fleet accounts.”
Ostendorf said 80 jobs already have been added at the Sturgis plant (which is going by the name of M S Truck Body and is worth an estimated $50 million), with at least another 150 to come, and the intention is to operate in the black by the end of August.
“Grumman basically was operating at one-fifth of its capacity throughout its bankruptcy process,” he said. “They were carrying an additional overhead burden of the Montgomery and Tulare facilities with no throughput, no production, no volume. We shed all of that overhead. Then we focused all of that business to Sturgis, which is a good central location and very competitive with our only two competitors — Union City Body Company and Utilimaster.”
Ostendorf said that because labor doesn't seem to be an issue — a two-day job fair netted 550 applicants, half of whom had worked at Grumman before, with an average longevity of 16 to 20 years — and M S Truck Body's material suppliers are geared up, he expects to be producing 100 units per week in August.
“At that number, we ought to be in the black,” said Ostendorf, who is orchestrating his sixth turnaround and has the reputation of being an expert at transforming bankrupt companies.
Along with the Sturgis plant, M S Truck Body acquired the walk-in step van business, including all licenses, intellectual properties, parts and services businesses, and all of the assets associated with it. Ostendorf said the company has the use of the Grumman Olson name until 2007 for business product relations needs.
He said 50% of the first year's capital expenditures will go toward developing a new body.
“It really is in the preliminary stages,” he said. “The money's been allocated. We have moved three engineers from Morgan and retained most of the engineers who were here below the executive level. We're working on a more ergonomic body, one that reflects what's happening in the overall truck industry.”
M S Truck Body also has switched the work schedule from four 10-hour days to five eight-hour days to “improve throughput and to tie ourselves tighter to our suppliers,” Ostendorf said. He said Grumman Olson's inventory turns were between four and five, and he wants to increase that to 20.
He also said the break rooms and bathrooms will be renovated and supplied with air conditioning for the first time, at a total cost of $55,000.
“My thought is, how you treat your people is, to a large degree, how they're going to treat the product and the customer,” he said.
Two Morgan executives have been relocated to the Sturgis plant: Stu McGowan, the new general manager, moves from a newly acquired Morgan company in Los Angeles; and John Buttrey becomes vice president of quality control and engineering.
More space for Kidron
Meanwhile, Specialized Vehicles Corp on July 15 finalized the acquisition of the facilities in Montgomery and Tulare, giving Kidron more than 350,000 square feet of additional manufacturing space and complementing existing manufacturing facilities in Kidron, Ohio, and Lakeland, Florida.
The acquisition is part of Kidron's business strategy to be a national provider of insulated truck bodies and trailers and to be able to provide fast service and product deliveries for customers and dealers on both coasts. The acquisition also meets the strategic goal of continuing to expand the Kidron product portfolio with additional product lines.
Kidron will be offering a comprehensive product line consisting of insulated truck bodies, dry freight van bodies, cut-away bodies, service bodies, and refrigerated trailers. It is anticipated that all facilities will produce the entire product portfolio. Kidron has also secured a chassis bailment pool to serve the dealer markets.
“This exciting plan helps us attain some enviable goals,” Kidron president John May said. “We can offer one-stop shopping for our van body customers, a national distribution system with four strategically located plants, and we can strengthen our niche as the leading high-quality insulated truck body and trailer supplier in the United States.
“Our one-stop shopping advantage will be available to customers through a variety of sales channels — through leasing companies, select distributors, a nationwide dealer network, or buying direct from the manufacturer.”
On Kidron's Web site, May gives this market update:
“We're looking forward to a firming up of the refrigerated van market in the coming months — a slight recovery from 2002, which saw the market decline 7% or more in a continuing slide since its peak in 2000. In 2003, we expect aging reefer van fleets will require replacements, and the food service and dairy companies will begin to find ways to more efficiently deliver products with an array of new refrigeration and support technology options.
“In the insulated trailer market, we experienced a bounce back in 2002 as large fleet buyers began to shift their focus on capital equipment rather than power, spurred by new emission standard mandates. Most insulated trailer manufacturers' backlogs grew in the last quarters of 2002, expecting a bright 2003.”
The Tulare plant sold for $1.9 million and the Montgomery plant for $1.3 million.
Frank Papa, president and CEO of SVC, said that he expects a slow restart at Tulare, but that there will be an estimated 50 workers within a year. Production will be similar to what it was under Grumman Olson, he said, and no major retooling is anticipated.
Decisions to make
Grand Vehicle Works, meanwhile, is “still making some decisions about what we're going to do,” according to Ryan Billet, vice-president of strategic development.
Billet said GVW will be introducing the Freight Star dry freight van and WorkMax shop van product lines back into the market under a Union City Body Co umbrella. He said he is formulating that plan with senior management and will announce specifics in September.
Union City Body, founded in 1898, was purchased by Andrew Taitz in 1993 and returned to profitability from bankruptcy. Taitz decided to take the company away from being a small-order manufacturer to the builder of thousands of walk-in vans.
It has more than 1,500 customers, including large fleets such as Airborne Express, Aramark, Federal Express, Frito-Lay, the US Government, and UPS.
A decade of change
Grumman Olson went from $132 million in sales to less than $80 million last year and had been operating in Chapter 11 since Dec 9, 2002. Here are some key developments in the decade leading up to that:
1994 — Northrop purchases Grumman Corporation.
1995 — The Mayfield plant is phased out, while the Montgomery facility rejoins the Olson division of Grumman Allied after the completion of the Postal Service LLV contract. A major capital investment upgrades facilities, equipment and processes in the Sturgis, Montgomery, and Tulare facilities.
1997 — Grumman Olson management acquires the company through a buyout and continue the philosophy of the previous owners.
1999 — Acquisition of Complete Refrigerated Truck Bodies Inc of Alvaton, Georgia, allows Grumman Olson to add refrigerated truck bodies to its product line.
2001 — Grumman Olson formally launches its new line of refrigerated trucks: FreshGuard. The FreshGuard is made available in three versions: Heavy-Duty, Light-Weight, and Slip-In.
February 2001 — Grumman Olson attains ISO 9001 certification.
February 2002 — Grumman Olson launches the WorkMax shop van. Specially designed for contractors, the WorkMax features exterior compartments and interior shelves to help keep tools and materials organized.
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