Corporate changes won't affect new Easton-Bell facility in Rantoul

Corporate changes won't affect new Easton-Bell facility in Rantoul

RANTOUL — The recent departure of two top officials with Easton-Bell Sports will not affect the construction of the facility's new shared services center going up west of Rantoul.

Diana Swartz, human resources manager, said the changes won't affect the building in any way.

"Everybody was concerned, 'What does this mean?'" Swartz said.

"It's not going to have an impact because that obviously was a decision made above their head about whether to invest in the building," Swartz said, speaking of Paul Harrington and Donna Flood.

Harrington, president and CEO, and Flood, chief operations officer and president of Easton-Bell's Giro/Easton Cycling business, are no longer with the company. Harrington resigned to spend more time with his family, according to a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission. No explanation was given for Flood leaving the company.

Terry Lee, a member of Easton-Bell's board of directors and a consultant since 2000, was appointed company executive chairman and chief executive officer.

Tim Mayhew has been appointed president and chief operating officer. Mayhew is managing director of Fenway Consulting Partners LLC and an Easton-Bell board member since 2004.

Flood presided over groundbreaking ceremonies in August for the new facility.

Swartz said construction of the facility, located directly west of Interstate 57 and north of U.S. 136, should be finished in October.

"The weather so far has not delayed anything," Swartz said, "although tornado season is coming up."

The company will move out of its other facilities in Rantoul — including a hangar on the former Chanute Air Force Base and a facility on east U.S. 136.

"Yes, we are going to leave all of the buildings. We actually had someone in from corporate today where we're working on that plan, trying to get the office organized and ready for the move," Swartz said last Wednesday.

"Part of having this new building is that we are going to start saving money because we're centralized rather than running to all the different buildings."

Swartz said some operations from other Easton-Bell facilities will also be moved to the Rantoul site. She declined to elaborate on which ones.

Easton-Bell does not own either building that houses its current operations. It will own the new one.

The company owns only one of the buildings where it has operations — a distribution center in York, Pa., that employs about 160 people.

"Throughout the U.S. we have some small facilities," Swartz said. "But because of the way Rantoul is set up and with the (former) Air Force base, there is a lot of available square footage that is not expensive, which allowed the company to stay there."

Easton-Bell has been part of several acquisitions. Swartz said whenever the company has been bought or merged with another company, the new owner has discovered the company can't "get the space cheaper anywhere else. That's what kept them here."

Speaking to the Rantoul Exchange Club, Swartz said the company currently employs 350, including a temp work force. When it opens, the new center will house slightly more employees than currently working at the other Rantoul E-B facilities. Swartz said those numbers could gradually increase over time — possibly necessitating expansion.

She said the plant was built with an eye toward potential construction of a 400,000-square-foot addition.

"Right now we have a couple of shifts," Swartz said. "The second shift is very small."

She said the company expects the second and third shifts to grow over time.

"When we run out of space there, that's when we use the 400,000 square feet (addition)," Swartz said.

"There will be more employees (at first). Not a lot more but more. With customer service we anticipate not in the immediate future but in the next few years as we become more shared services and things funnel to this facility, that we'll be increasing that area as well."

Kelly Services, which handles the company's hourly hiring, will also be staffed at the building.

The new center will include a fully automated warehouse and a narrow-aisle system. It will be equipped with a cafeteria and an employee store, where company products will be available for sale to employees.

The company has corporate offices in California.

The Bell Helmet division was founded in 1954 in a garage in California.

In the early '70s, Bell entered the bicycle helmet market. An investor group bought Bell and several other small bicycle-motor sports helmet makers back in 1980.

The same investment group bought the Rantoul facility on east U.S. 136 in 1984.

Bell then bought the Giro company, the upscale helmet line, in 1996 to increase the company's presence in the specialty retail market and improve market share.

In 2003, the same investment group purchased Riddell, the leading manufacturer of football helmets and the preferred helmet of many players in the NFL.

Further, in 2006 Easton, and its family of products associated with hockey, lacrosse, baseball and softball, was acquired, and the company now known as Easton-Bell Sports Inc. was formed.

Easton-Bell also owns and manufactures Talon and Blackburn products.

The Rantoul facilities manufacture, warehouse and distribute NFL collectors helmets, mini-helmets and baseball helmets along with low-end bicycle helmets sold at stores such as Wal-Mart and Target. The local facilities also distribute cycling shoes.

Easton began as an archery manufacturer and has grown into a manufacturer of items for baseball, softball, hockey and lacrosse.

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