US Liner Company
Talk About High-impact Advertising
A few years back, when Cranberry-based US Liner Company rolled out a new composite material for lining the interior walls of highway trailer trucks, rail cars and shipping containers, the company's chief took a gun to it. One by one, CEO Michael LaRocco took aim and shot a series of product samples with a .38 caliber pistol, leaving them largely intact, but each with a bullet lodged inside. Then Jeff Meek, the company's Vice President of Sales and Marketing, mailed the samples to prospective customers along with a message: "If it can stop a bullet, think what it can do with a fork lift truck."
The response was immediate. Everyone who made trailers or containers wanted to have some of that in their equipment, too.
"When we'd demo this stuff, they'd find the biggest guy in the shop, who'd grab giant hammers and try to crack it," Meek explained. "We've snapped hammer heads; we've had people almost get hurt on these demos. It's just amazing. But even if something does happen, by simply adding heat, you can shape it and apply repair patches and fix it."
Today, US Liner, which was formed in the early '90s and with headquarters on Leonberg Road, owns roughly half the U.S. market for material lining the interiors of refrigerated trailers, as well as about 15 percent of the world market for refrigerated shipping containers. That's a huge shift for an industry which, until recently, had only used steel, wood or fiberglass reinforced plastic to protect the containers along with their cargo.
Turning Up the Volume
With three nearby plants - in Cranberry, Harmony, and Zelienople - the company operates 24/7. About 200 employees, working four staggered shifts a day, produce around 60 million square feet of lining composite a year. Even the 2008 recession failed to put a dent in its market, which last year accounted for sales in excess of $50 million. But to accommodate that growth, more help is needed. The company is currently recruiting new employees both locally and for an anticipated new plant in the Ohio-Michigan-Indiana area, where most of the nation's recreational vehicles are made.
Of course, in addition to trailers, freight containers, RV floors and siding, the impact-resistant qualities of the company's lining materials can also benefit other applications including sports equipment, boats, aviation, military, safety gear and construction. In fact, at one time or another, US Liner actually dabbled in each of those markets. But that's not the company's sweet spot.
"We're all about volume," LaRocco pointed out. "We don't participate in those specialty markets. We've chosen to allocate most of our capacity to the markets that are biggest." And containers for transporting freight may be the biggest of them all.
"In the U.S., a lot of trailer manufacturing is done in the Midwest and southeast," he noted. "And we sell all over the world - to China, Europe, South America." But why choose Cranberry and southwestern Pennsylvania for a business home?
"I'm a Penn State grad, from upstate New York," LaRocco, explained. "I didn't want to go back to New York, and I needed a place that was centrally located. If you drew a 500-mile circle around Pittsburgh when I moved here in 1985, it would encompass 70 percent of the U.S. population." So he opened up shop in Pittsburgh's Manchester district, eventually relocating to Ambridge. But in 2005, the Cranberry facility with its unmatched highway access, became available.
"The Cranberry plant is a very nice upgrade from where we were in Ambridge," Meek observed. "It's a good facility; it's a clean facility. It works. And I live just five miles from the plant, here in Cranberry."