Volume 16 | Issue 5 | Year 2013

Established in 1974, and based in Goshen, Ind., Supreme Corporation is the front-running US manufacturer of specialized truck bodies, shuttle buses and specialty/armored vehicles designed and manufactured for a wide range of markets.
The company’s vertically integrated nature – which provides it with strict control over cost, quality, and material availability – enables customers to experience superior transportation solutions.

Supreme’s five manufacturing facilities – positioned in strategic geographic locations – complement one another. Further, the company boasts service and distribution centers that have helped garner it the reputation as one of the most diversified (and successful) vehicle manufacturers in its industry – as underscored by the $286-million revenue total recorded in 2012.

Contributing to the success is the fact that Supreme vehicles are mounted on chassis developed by major OEMs. This has placed it in good standing with Ford, General Motors, and Isuzu, among others. Customers and fleet operators that benefit from this arrangement include, among others, Penske, Budget, Ryder, Rent-A-Center, as well as numerous truck dealers, leasing and management enterprises, numerous municipalities, and even the Federal Government– an impressive customer portfolio.

A Key Market Component
A core portion of Supreme’s business is its wide variety of truck bodies, readily adaptable to a range of industries (think of applications such as delivery, landscaping, construction, moving, plumbing, rental, and food service). In this business area, Supreme offers:

  • Dry freight van bodies – these are also called box or straight truck, and they’re deployed by companies that haul large items;
  • Cargo delivery van bodies – these are mounted to a cutaway chassis built by Ford or General Motors. The back wall of the chassis cab is “cut away,” allowing the front wall of the cargo van body to become the back wall of the cab. Supreme’s Spartan Cargo Van and the larger Iner-City Cutaway Van are popular choices for customers involved in cargo delivery (e.g., parcel, general, home, and appliance);
  • Spartan service van bodies – these allow users to work standing up inside the service body. Mounted to a conventional cab, cab over, or a Ford or General Motors cutaway chassis, they service general contractors, HVAC, plumbers, decorators, painters, carpenters, cleaners, and remodeling professionals;
  • Refrigerated van bodies – these are also called refrigerated trucks, refrigerated vans, or insulated vans. However you choose to describe them, the vehicles keep perishable cargo at a consistent temperature (ideal for items such as seafood, dairy products, ice, and meat). Members of the food service industry find such vehicles invaluable;
  • Stake truck bodies – with these, the user can remove the stake sides, allowing the stake body the flexibility of being both a platform truck and stake truck. Clients involved in lawn care, landscaping, golf course maintenance, parks and recreation, nurseries, and agriculture deploy the all-in-one equipment. So do municipalities and county governments;
  • Landscape truck bodies – this product area includes two Supreme truck body upfits: the VanScaper landscape vans, and stake trucks. Both find invaluable deployment in the green industry (i.e., lawn care, landscape, golf courses, parks and recreation, and nurseries). Again, municipalities and county governments deploy the vehicles.

Specialty Vehicles
But the area of specialty vehicles is where Supreme truly demonstrates its mettle. The division – Supreme Specialty Vehicles – designs a variety of vehicles that serve a range of critical purposes: homeland security, law enforcement, emergency situations – as well as cash-in-transit. Deployment includes SWA rapid deployment, prisoner transport, armored tactical vehicles, spotless crime scene environment (no compromise of evidence), assault vehicles (where necessary), search-and-rescue, and tactical armored and bomb vehicles.

“When you look at the organization’s overall picture, it all comes down to the same concept – specialty but much more specialized,” says Mark Circo, director of sales, Supreme Specialty Vehicles (located in Cleburne, Texas).

This particular specialty began in 1996 with cash-in-transit vehicles. “We were really good at it, and that led to creation – in about 2004 – of a division with its own facility, that expanded its focus and capabilities,” says Circo.

We’re talking about a 66,000-square foot production site positioned upon 31 acres of land – an area positioned for growth. “In that facility, Supreme now provides both armored and non-armored vehicles,” says Circo.

On the armored side, you have executive protection (in an SUV-styled vehicle). “We also provide armored pickup trucks, SWAT transport vehicles, armored vans, bomb squad vehicles, and crime-scene unit vehicles, as well as the cash-in-transit vehicles,” adds Circo.

To give an idea of what the company has accomplished, consider these bomb squad vehicle features: cost-saving, pre-engineered floor plans; customization for client-specific needs; robotic controls, and slide ramps for effortless deployment of robotic equipment.

On the non-armored side, the company offers prisoner transport vehicles and SWAT rapid deployment vehicles.

Company Heritage – Seeking a Better Way
Omer Kropf, along with a like-minded partner, established the company in 1974 in Indiana. “He was a visionary, and his vision was to provide a better way,” says Circo. “He wasn’t just looking to get into the industry merely for the sake of getting into it. He saw that changes needed to be made, and he took on the responsibility of making those changes.”

A “better solution”: That was a motto before companies even started using similarly spoken tag lines; and that’s the attitude that propelled Supreme forward. “Part of Kropf’s purpose was providing a better design and, in turn, a better solution,” relates Circo. “That involved imbuing the enhanced design with more efficiency, a coupling that resulted in a much more viable choice for potential customers.”

Circo states it even more succinctly: “Kropf attacked any problem head on.”

So, what started out with co-partners transitioned into an enterprise that included 25 employees, and then grew into global organization serviced by 1,600 highly skilled people.

Attaching itself to a niche market, Supreme became a leading manufacturer, one that provided multi-purpose truck bodies that could be fitted to a chassis built by major manufacturers.

Supreme now has regional manufacturing plants, a national sales and distribution network, the broadest product line in the industry, and strong relationships with all major truck chassis manufacturers. A vital supplier, Supreme demonstrates enough capabilities to offer each customer a completed vehicle that meets transportation requirements at a competitive price. The company’s attitude is that – from dry freight to refrigeration to landscaping or construction – it will deliver the solution, no matter how complex the quandary.

And Supreme helps its clients circumvent the quandaries. “We take pride in the fact that we are a custom truck upfitter,” says Circo. “We are fortunate to have a highly skilled workforce in our manufacturing facility. They take pride in their jobs knowing that some of our products save lives and that some of our customers are the Nation’s first responders. These employees typically don’t get the credit they deserve but they are key to our success.”

But how does the exactly fit within its client plans? “We’re a one-stop shop,” Circo quickly points out. “Some competitors focus merely on SWAT vehicles. Other competitors may concentrate on bomb squad-type vehicles. But we run the gamut, or the gauntlet, if you will.”

“No need to go to multiple sources,” says Circo. “Customers can deal with just one company; and we’re a company they feel comfortable dealing with.”

Expansive Enterprise
Companies beneath the Supreme umbrella include:

  • Supreme Commercial Truck;
  • Supreme Armored;
  • Supreme Commercial Bus;
  • Tower Structural Laminating.

And its manufacturing locations are strategically positioned in Moreno Valley, Calif.; Cleburne, Texas; Goshen, Ind.; Griffin, Ga., and Jonestown, Pa.

“They’re not just strategically located, they are vertically integrated,” says Circo. “So, it’s just one Supreme. Divisions may appear different but they are the same – as far as the overall company premise, as well as the interaction and utilization of best management practices – and whatever else eliminates the outmoded silo effect.”

Emerging from Tough Times
As with just about any company in any industry, Supreme suffered the impact of the Great Recession. But it recovered nicely – and quickly. Beginning in 2008, Supreme reversed a string of quarterly net losses. According to the company, recent changes to marketing and operational methodologies – combined with resurgence in orders for its core truck business – have stabilized performance, which has driven significant improvement to the bottom line.

Looking ahead, management expects the truck market to remain healthy, but strength in bus demand is less robust and remains price-sensitive due to tighter state and municipal budgets. Meanwhile, Supreme’s specialty vehicles business (armored/non-armored) continues offering long-term growth opportunities.

For the moment – and as well as for the future – Supreme continues managing metrics and sharing best practices across all manufacturing facilities, and this should enable the company to witness improvement of operational efficiencies and demonstrate a more consistent financial performance.

Circo expresses the scenario in language that any company, in any industry, can readily understand: “Supreme went through some rough patches. Revenue wasn’t high. The company needed to stop, stand back and take stock of itself. This involved several important questions: What happened? What are we doing? What do we want to do?”

In response, Supreme made changes: new hires (including new people to manage each element of this increasingly complex organization), significant re-investment (as high as $6 million) into facilities, hiring, and capabilities.

“We were once a small business, but we now operate as a large corporation,” says Circo. “In recent years, the company has grown quickly in a relatively short time period. Look to see some new introductions – especially in the specialty vehicle area.”