BENTON TOWNSHIP — One Southwest Michigan manufacturer hopes that a newly renovated facility will help grow its line of interior architectural products and serve as an incubation center for other new concepts.
Special-Lite Inc. recently completed a $1 million renovation project on a 130,000-square-foot facility in Benton Township, which will house the company’s interior framing business unit branded as Omega Interior Aluminum Framing.
The company, which is headquartered in Decatur, about 35 miles east of Benton Harbor, opted to open the facility after the previous space that housed its Omega line reached capacity, according to President and COO Kevin Hanley.
Rather than remodel its former 30,000-square-foot facility — which the company leased but had an option to purchase — Special-Lite chose to buy a larger building at 1394 Empire Ave. and grow into it.
“What it does is allow us to really continue to develop this internal products business, as well as look for other opportunities,” Hanley said. “Every time we turned around and wanted to think about getting into something new, we were faced with, ‘Well, where are you going to put it? Where’s the space?’ This gives us opportunities to look at that.”
Like other manufacturers in West Michigan, Special-Lite had trouble identifying an available facility given the region’s hot industrial real estate market.
“We were able to come across this one. It was shuttered and it was a mess inside, but it had good bones,” Hanley said. “We were able to get it, made an investment to fix it up and we’re pretty pleased. It would be ideal if it was next door to our plant right now, but it’s still in West Michigan for us.”
While Special-Lite historically specialized in exterior doors for high-traffic applications, the company has shifted some of its focus to the interiors business in recent years.
“There’s a lot more opportunity in internal doors than exterior for growth,” Hanley said.
In 2015, the company acquired the Omega product line from Itasca, Ill.-based Architectural Builders Hardware Inc. Although the company doesn’t have any immediate plans to acquire additional companies, it is “continuing to look for opportunities to grow the business,” Hanley said.
In addition to its interiors business, Special-Lite also plans to push its legacy products, which primarily includes exterior fiberglass doors for education, food service, retail, defense and other markets.
“We reach out and try to get the architects interested in our products,” Hanley said. “But our main way of going to market is trying to make sure the end user understands and accepts the value proposition that we bring and then demands that the architect uses it.”
Hanley notes that Special-Lite’s brand of exterior doors are made with fiberglass and can last for upwards of 30 years, compared to less than a decade for a hollow metal door.
The company expects to generate between $30 million and $40 million in annual sales this year.
“Our business is up compared to 2011, 2012 and 2013, where it was down dramatically,” Hanely said. “We distribute and sell all over the country and there are areas in the country that are hotter than others.”
Despite some “lackluster” activity over the last two months, nonresidential construction jumped 6 percent in the first half of 2017 to $118.3 billion, according to a report from New York-based Dodge Data & Analytics, a construction industry research firm.
However, overall construction spending decreased 4 percent year-over-year to $342.7 billion during the first half of 2017. The decrease was primarily driven by shrinking activity in nonbuilding construction, which includes public utilities, pipelines, mass transit and other projects.
Henry Upjohn II, a scion of the entrepreneurial Upjohn family in Southwest Michigan, owns Special-Lite, where he serves as CEO and chairman of the board. Upjohn purchased the company with his family in 1988, according to past reports.
The company was founded in 1971 as a modest manufacturing operation “in the middle of a cornfield.” Since then, Special-Lite has grown to include nearly 300,000 square feet of manufacturing space in addition to its new Benton Township facility. The company employs approximately 170 workers across its footprint, which also includes a facility in Marshall.
“People don’t realize we’re here,” Hanley said. “I think people are surprised and impressed when they get here.”
Made in Michigan: Decatur-based Special-Lite Inc. recently invested $1 million in revamping a 130,000-square-foot building in Benton Township that it hopes will serve as a growth platform for its line of interior architectural products. The company acquired its Omega line of interior aluminum products in 2015 and previously operated it from a 30,000-square-foot facility before reaching capacity. Special-Lite hopes to grow its legacy line of exterior doors during this hot construction market. The company generates between $30 million and $40 million in annual sales and employs 170 people across its operations.