Taylor Made Systems™ is the world’s largest manufacturer of marine glazing systems and is the OEM division of Taylor Made Group, Inc.®, which includes partner companies Taylor Made Products, Trend Marine Products Ltd. and Waterbonnet Mfg., Inc. Barbara Kram reports on the company's framed-glass windshield technology for powerboats and other marine product lines.
Taylor Made Systems™ is part of the Taylor Made Group, which dates back to 1908 when founder Nelson A. Taylor made and marketed custom canvas products. The marine industry beckoned and the company became a supplier to OEMs and consumers, making windshield systems, air conditioning, refrigeration systems, fenders, dock products, canvas enclosures, and appointments from stem to stern for boats and yachts over the ensuing years.
Taylor Made Group, Inc. has 100 years of experience as one of the recreational marine industry’s largest, most diversified suppliers to boat builders. In addition to Taylor Made Systems, The Taylor Made Group includes Taylor Made Products (focusing on the aftermarket), Taylorbrite LLC, Taylor Made Glass Systems, Taylor Made Overseas, LLC, Trend Marine Products Ltd. (in the U.K.) and WaterBonnet Mfg., Inc. The group operates 14 facilities in the United States, the Republic of Ireland, England, Australia, New Zealand and Mexico. Employing nearly 1,500 associates, its products are distributed through a worldwide distribution network.
“The Taylor Made Group has a wide reach internationally,” said Mike Oathout, vice president of sales and marketing for Taylor Made Systems, which like the Group is headquartered in Gloversville, N.Y.
The company’s diverse components and products have earned a reputation for craftsmanship and innovation. Over the years, through organic growth and strategic acquisitions, the company applied its vast production capabilities not only to the marine industry but also in industrial, agricultural, consumer, transportation, architectural and other markets.
“Another industry that we supply with our diverse product line is emergency vehicles, like ambulance egress windows and fire engines,” Oathout says. “Our end of the business, Taylor Made Systems, is into nearly anything that takes tempered glass and aluminum or stainless steel framework.” (The company does not make laminated glass, which is required on automobile windshields. However, the U.K Trend facility is certified for lamination.)
Nevertheless, boating remains the major focus of Taylor Made Systems, today the world’s largest manufacturer of marine glazing systems and leaders in framed glass windshield technology for the recreational marine industry with production in several specialized U.S. facilities and offices worldwide. (The company is no relation to the golf club maker.)
Taylor Made Systems’ tempered safety glass and systems are certified to meet ISO standards (CE Mark) for strength and safety and adhere to recommendations made by the American Boat and Yacht Council. From sport boat tempered glass windshields to heavy-duty, construction-welded window systems for motoryachts, convertibles, and express cruisers, Taylor Made® windshield and window products are system engineered to provide the best possible solution. In fact, the company maintains the largest, most experienced and software proficient team of engineers in the business, including a highly skilled and inventive new product development team.
With Taylor Made Systems, boat builders get the leading edge in innovation, materials, and styling. Their glass is produced in one of the company’s 13 tempering furnaces, giving customers wide-ranging options in terms of shape and size. And framing systems are bent and fabricated in the company’s facilities, then finished in a variety of custom powder-coated finishes, polished silver anodize, mirror-quality stainless steel, or aluminum alloy framework.
Together with its partner companies, Trend Marine Products Ltd. and WaterBonnet Mfg., Inc., Taylor Made Systems not only leads the marine industry in windshield production but also designs and manufactures other marine product lines including hatches, doors, window systems, power roof systems, portlights and canvas enclosures.
A CENTURY OF CRAFTSMANSHIP
When Nelson A. Taylor started the company 100 years ago, he made canvas awnings, convertible automobile tops and tents. By the 1940s, his son Bill Taylor took over the family-owned business and expanded the company’s horizons. The timing was perfect to tap into U.S. post-war prosperity.
“Prior to World War II, boats were the realm of the rich. Only extremely wealthy people could afford to have yachts and recreational boats,” says Mike Oathout, vice president of sales and marketing. “After the war came a boom in the economy and more affluence among the middle class. People had more money to spend on things like a power boat.”
At the time the crafts were just stripped down wooden or aluminum shells, which boaters appointed with aftermarket upgrades like the windshield, canvas top, motors, steering and other mechanisms and options. Bill Taylor saw an opportunity to produce canvas tops for the growing recreational boating market.
“He ran into a problem since there were no standardized windshields to connect the canvas tops to. What he did around 1951 was to contact Rohm and Haas, which patented Plexiglas. He ordered some and built a mold to form the Plexiglas to the shape of a boat deck,” Oathout explains. “That was how the first wraparound boat windshield was developed and Taylor Made was responsible for it. We developed it, refined it, and we were the first to mass produce it.”
To market it, Taylor attended the 1952 New York Boat Show to learn the trade. He returned to the 1953 show and was a hit with his new windshield and canvas boat covers, along with some attractive pennant flags, for which the company is also noted.
The back story is that Taylor spent his entire nest egg on advertising, drove to the show in a station wagon through a snowstorm, and took the plunge on the 1953 boat show. The bet paid off and he sold his product, so much so that he ran out of order forms.
“[Taylor and his co-worker] sold pennants and that was all the money they had to pay for their hotel and show expenses. It was quite a leap of faith.”
The company charted its course beautifully and grew over the years. Other highlights in the company’s history include the 1968 purchase of a glass tempering facility in Ohio to manufacture tempered safety glass windshields, another innovation that put the company on the map.
“We still own the facility and have expanded glass manufacturing extensively while investing in massive upgrades and modernization.” (The company purchases the sheet glass from a supplier, Taylor Made, then cuts, forms and tempers the glass.)
In the mid 1980s, Taylor Made also developed the curved glass windshield to allow high-volume production of a stylized, wraparound shape, this time in tempered glass instead of Plex. This innovation caught on immediately with boat builders and changed the look and styling of powerboats to this day.
The company’s range of production capabilities has been applied to additional product development ever since. “The technology, equipment and engineering resources cost us around $1 million, but we are very proud to have introduced the first mass produced stainless steel framed windshield to the U.S. market.”
The company also acquired sister companies Trend Marine Products in 2004 and Water Bonnet Mfg. in 2005. “Both of those acquisitions gave us the opportunity to expand our product lines and better service our customers, foreign and domestic, by exploiting the synergies between all three partners.”
As a supplier to OEM boat manufacturers, Taylor Made Systems’ customer base is vast. “It goes from a 14-foot boat that would take a windshield, all the way to 300-foot super yachts,” Oathout explains. “The acquisitions allowed us to broaden our horizons on product offerings. We run the full gamut in the marine industry in what we can supply.”
Those product offerings include windshields, doors of all shapes and sizes, power-actuated glazing products, hatches, roof systems, hull glazing systems, portlights and canvas enclosures. Plus, the company offers any of these items in unique, one-off designs through its dedicated Custom Team.
Strategically, since the acquisitions, the firm uses a tiered product approach. “We have a ‘good, better, best’ philosophy. For example, Water Bonnet specializes in windshields for high-volume manufacturers of 15- to 26-foot sport boats. Taylor Made Systems can and does manufacture those, but our forte is in the 28- to 100- foot boat. Then you have Trend Marine Products whose specialty is boats in the 40- to over 100-foot range. They make some very large door and roof systems.”
A big trend in the industry is that smaller craft are incorporating the sophistication and features once reserved for yachts. “We’re seeing that some design aspects that we did originally for a boat manufacturer on a 70-foot boat are now incorporated into design of a 24-foot boat.”
This has led to ever more power-actuated items such as a salon door that opens at the press of a button, a ventilated hatch that can be opened on the foredeck with a cockpit switch, and automatic window and roof systems for ventilation. Taylor Made has been ahead of the curve on this trend for nearly a decade.
“The power-actuated portion of our business is a growing trend that we spend a lot of R&D time on,” Oathout says.
Of course the economic reality has been a roller coaster for the boating industry as with all leisure markets. The company doesn’t share its numbers publicly but Oathout did say it is holding its own. The family boat, the sport cruiser, is definitely affected by a market slowdown.
Taylor Made Systems is the only U.S. marine manufacturer that owns and operates its own glass tempering furnaces.
“The trend in the marine industry is toward larger sections of glass,” Oathout says. “People want to see glass only and not the framework. In response we have invested over $14 million in our Ohio glass plant, which has the world’s largest vertical tempering furnace. We can put a piece of glass on nearly any sized vessel manufactured in the world today.” The facility is fully ISO certified.
A subsidiary, Taylor Made Glass Systems, markets these capabilities for non-marine applications.
“With our capabilities in framing and glass manufacturing we work with major OEMs in off-highway (construction and agricultural vehicles), transportation, trucking and other industries,” he says.
The Gloversville, N.Y. facility focuses on larger boats, 28 to 100 feet. Capabilities include welded product, stainless steel, polyester powder coating, and door and roof production. Engineering is also based there including a new, state-of-the-art design center with advanced CAD systems and dozens of design software licenses.
In addition to Ohio, the company runs a sport boat windshield facility in Florida. Water Bonnet Mfg. is also housed there to take advantage of economies of scale. Windshields for boats from 16 to 28 feet are made there. Another sport boat windshield unit, along with all the company’s canvas operations, is located in Georgia. A windshield plant is in Indiana, and in Tennessee there is an industrial, agricultural, and transportation vehicle products assembly plant. All Taylor Made facilities are ISO compliant and practice LEAN manufacturing principles via capital investments, Kaizen events and “5 S” techniques.
“Keeping in front of the competition is key. We are an engineered company and spend significantly in R&D with a team of engineers. We emphasize new product because it’s our life blood. Our customers expect innovation.”
In fact, the company’s motto is “a tradition of service and innovation,” a theme played out at its multiple sites.
“We have customers who had their very first boat built with a Taylor windshield and they are still our customers today. We have 20 to 30 years of clients that are exclusive to us. Developing relationships and servicing the customer is they key to success.”