Where The Banks Put Their Money

June 12, 2006
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MUSKEGON — Security-Steelcraft Corp. watched its manufacturing peers struggle through the recession, and saw several disappear. The 20-employee maker of bank-teller furniture, however, had secured an enviable position in a "recession-proof" industry, and turned the manufacturing sector's worst year in recent memory, 2001, into a record year.

"Banks always have to do something with their money," said Stan Horness, Security-Steelcraft's second-generation president. "During the recession, they built branches. Our busiest year was during that last recession. Everyone else was crying the blues, and we were working seven days a week."

Originally a division of long-defunct Brown Morris, Security-Steelcraft launched as a maker of specialty laboratory furniture in 1954. The banking line didn't emerge until the 1970s, when an importer of vault doors and safety deposit boxes partnered with the company to make teller stations.

A combination of vault and workstation, the teller station is usually a 5-foot steel case good with sturdy locks and an alarm system, often built with a wood exterior, and generally built to bank specifications. For all the attention given to life science in the general market, the banking business grew to dwarf the company's core product lines. It still makes laboratory furniture, but only for a handful of longtime customers.

A decade ago, the Muskegon firm was a minor player in the industry next to the financial security market's Big 3.

There was Mosler Safe, the $200 million company that protected the Declaration of Independence, Bill of Rights and Constitution within its vaults. When Mosler, the industry's No. 2 company, bought No. 3 company LeFebure, it created a security vendor primed to capture market share from the Ohio-based, $2.5 billion Diebold.

Then, in 2001, Mosler Safe declared bankruptcy. Another large security company, ADT Security Services, acquired the Mosler dealer network, and Horness spotted an opportunity.

"I called them up and asked if they were looking for an under-counter line," he said. "They came up and liked what they saw, and we've been doing it ever since."

Through ADT and its own network of independent dealers, Security-Steelcraft has become one of the nation's foremost suppliers of teller-station furniture. Many of its customers, such as Wells Fargo and Commerce Bank, are growing rapidly. The New Jersey-based Commerce is nearing its 300th order.

"We just keep getting orders and try to fill them as fast as we can," Horness said. "My dad used to say we're the only ones who can hold up a bank before they're even open."

In addition to banks, the units are commonly sold to credit unions, casinos, and grocery and retail stores, among others.

"We hardly make laboratory furniture anymore," said Beth Hudson, director of marketing and corporate secretary. "We've been so busy with the banking equipment. We're full with production on that."

The company has seen virtually none of the overseas competition that has threatened other furniture makers. It had explored exporting its product to Asia for a short time via a Korean partner, eyeing China's growing financial sector. That deal never materialized, however, and Horness has no plans to revive that effort.

Horness has been responsible for the company's day-to-day operations for 20 years, and assumed his current role in 1994. The factory has been at its

2636 Sanford St.
location since 1982.

"I would hone in on the fact that we're one of the few manufacturers left in the area," Hudson said. "There are not too many metal furniture manufacturers left in Muskegon."    

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