BRG to hire 30 more for Rantoul facility

BRG to hire 30 more for Rantoul facility

CHAMPAIGN — BRG Sports plans to hire an additional 30 people in Rantoul as the assembly and distribution center there takes on more functions, the center's general manager said Wednesday.

The company — formerly known as Easton-Bell Sports — is in the process of integrating work from its Irving, Texas, office and York, Pa., warehouse at the new 800,000-square-foot center in Rantoul, Lewis Hornsby said.

Hornsby, who is also the company's vice president of global distribution and logistics, said functions from both facilities should be fully integrated at Rantoul by year's end. The 465,000-square-foot York warehouse had been BRG's next-largest facility after Rantoul.

BRG in Rantoul produces more than 4.3 million helmets a year, primarily bike helmets under the Bell, Giro and Blackburn brands. It's is in the process of absorbing the newly acquired C-Preme brand, Hornsby told the Champaign County Economic Development Corp.'s board of directors Wednesday.

The center also makes 130,000 NFL replica helmets each year under the Riddell brand. Those collectible football helmets are made for display purposes, not for on-field use.

Plus, the Rantoul center assembles more than 100,000 child carriers for bicycles each year, as well as 70,000 bike racks for cars.

Hornsby said the development of the new facility in Rantoul made possible the integration.

"This is now the global distribution, transportation and logistics home base for BRG Sports," he said.

The Rantoul center employs about 110 salaried workers and 260 hourly workers, though the latter number "flexes up" in busy season, Hornsby said.

In June, the company began producing a 100 percent "Made in the USA" helmet at Rantoul. Making it at the right price point was the biggest challenge, he said.

BRG Sports has also begun making "custom-fit" helmets for auto and motocross racers, Hornsby said. Scans are taken of racers' heads, so a specific fit can be achieved.

Hornsby praised the work ethic of the Rantoul staff, calling it "second to none." He said the company "made sacrifices" to stay in Rantoul.

"We talked with a lot of states about this building project. There were 350 reasons we stayed here — that was the number of employees we had (here) at that time," he said.

In adding staff, Hornsby said he is seeking people with that same work ethic. He is also looking for four or five people with college degrees for roles in supply-chain management.

Hornsby said there's a "sense of pride" in the new Rantoul facility. Previously, the company used a "hangar that wasn't designed to be a distribution center."

With the new building, "attitudes, productivity and safety have improved," he said.

BRG Sports, which is privately held, is based in Scotts Valley, Calif., outside San Jose. About 40 percent of its revenue comes from Bell, another 30 to 40 percent from Riddell and the remaining 20 to 30 percent from Giro. The divestment of Easton brands, including baseball and hockey products, is in its final stages.

Hornsby, who has been with the company eight years, said although he lives in Texas and commutes to Rantoul, he plans to relocate to Champaign County next summer.

Getting here, going there

Lewis Hornsby, general manager of the BRG Sports assembly and distribution center in Rantoul, was asked by economic development group board member Tom Costello what he thought of travel to and from Champaign County.

Hornsby said he wished there were more travel options. He said he flies into Willard Airport in Savoy on Tuesday nights and flies out of Central Illinois Regional Airport in Bloomington on Friday nights. He said he wished American Eagle flights at Willard went to Dallas at night and returned to Champaign in the morning, rather than the other way around.

"Champaign needs to emulate Bloomington," he added, saying he wished Willard had free parking because he would like to park his car there and leave it for the weekend. He said the Bloomington airport also seems to have fewer delays.

John Full, the company's director of continuous improvement, is based in California. He flies to Chicago, then drives to Rantoul to avert the risk of a connecting flight being canceled or delayed on his return trip. Cancellations and delays can create hardships because there often isn't another flight for hours. "It's one-and-done," he said.

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