Specialty Manufacturing, Inc. Bought by Equity Firm, Merged Into ‘Safe Fleet’


Specialty Manufacturing, Inc. (SMI) was acquired by The Sterling Group, a private equity firm based in Houston, on Oct 1. With the acquisition of a second company, Sterling has combined the two into a new entity called Safe Fleet Acquisition Group.

The SMI product line includes school-bus stop arms, crossing arms, roof/escape hatches, warning lights, doors, interior paneling, interior lighting, interior luggage racks, floors and floor coverings. The company currently has three operating facilities across the U.S., with its former headquarters located in Pineville, N.C., just outside of Charlotte.

The equity firm also acquired ROM Corporation, which has manufactured equipment and lighting for emergency vehicles and non-slip loading ramps for delivery trucks since 1947. The newly combined company, Safe Fleet, provides safety- and productivity-oriented components to the school bus market as well as the emergency vehicle, truck and trailer, utility vehicle and transit bus end markets.

Formerly SMC (Specialty Manufacturing Company), SMI has produced safety equipment for school buses since the mid-1970s. Part of that business included manufacturing simple vacuum-operated stop arms. In 1981 the Ellison Company purchased SMC with the aim of expanding product offerings. In 2006 the Ellison family selected Century Park Capital Partners as an equity partner to team up with SMC’s Management, to continue with their quest for growth.

Mike Hagan, SMI’s director of sales, told STN that SMI and ROM would remain separate and continue its day-to-day operations as usual, though the official Safe Fleet headquarters is now located in Kansas City.

“For the foreseeable future we will remain two separate entities,” said Hagan. “We’re absolutely excited about the future and the combined resources, which gives us the ability to improve and to develop new product lines. There are no staff changes at present, because we’re in the middle of transitioning.”

The Sterling Group made the purchase through its affiliated investment fund, Sterling Group Partners III, L.P. Gary Rosenthal, a partner at Sterling, noted that merging these two businesses means combining the strengths of two “legacy” organizations. Sterling will work closely with management to further improve operations and tap strategic and acquisition-related opportunities.

Joe Uebbing, the former CEO of SMI, has been appointed the new CEO of Safe Fleet, while the previous CEO of ROM, Jeff Hupke, has been named its president.

“ROM and SMI offer a powerful combination of two market-leading businesses that have consistently and reliably provided safety-related equipment to fleets in their respective industries for a collective 88 years,” said Rosenthal.

Uebbing added: “We are pleased to partner with Sterling to bring these two companies together, deepen our product offerings and expand our ability to serve our customers. Their management team has a tremendous amount of operational and management experience that will enable Jeff and me to work with our teams to grow the business and be a better partner to our customers.”