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Timeline | Gametime | Playpower | Playland | Superior International Industries, Inc. | Landscape Structures | Xccent, Inc. | Recreation Playsystems | Vortex Aquatic Playsystems International | Kompan | Henderson Recreation Equipment | KSL Design | Belair Recreational Products | Green Gym | Berliner Seilfabrik | ABC Recreation

The economy of playground companies: (1) A little history of the Canadian playground equipment industry

(with a focus on Paris, Ontario)

1947: Paris Playground Equipment Limited is founded in Paris, Ontario. Makes swing frames, teeter-totters, slides and metal fences, also did custom welding. Affiliated in 1949 with Par-Rec holdings

1965: Mike Hayward (CSA standards activist later on) begins working at Paris Playground Equipment.

1971: Henderson Recreation Equipment is formed, in Oakland, Ontario, by several former Paris Playground staff including Gordon Henderson. Later moved to nearby Simcoe Ontario.

June 12 1972: A.B.C. Recreational Marketing Ltd. – 263823 is formed, started by Bill Cox, formerly of Paris Playground Equipment Company

1981: Paris Playground Western Ltd – 1020510 formed as an Alberta corporation. (March 18, 1981) Paris Star: Paris Playgrounds opens a branch in Bowden, Alberta. Dennis Meggs (formerly from Paris Playgrounds Ontario) is the V.P. of the company.

1981: Belair Recreational Products Inc – 466863 is formed by former Henderson Playgrounds sales rep Bryan Belair [plant in Brantford]

April 20 1982: Paris Playgrounds says the market for playground equipment is slowing down and they may get into making geriatric equipment. They expect to do well in Alberta, but they had to lay off 11 workers in Paris because business is slow in winter – normally have 45 workers.

Dec.1 1982: Paris Playgrounds says the federal government is allowing their employees to work-share – they work 2-3 days a week and get unemployment insurance for the other days. That means Paris Playgrounds can stay open – general manager Don Curtis says “We’ve been in business for 30 years and have never had to do anything like this.” He says that’s because municipalities are cutting back their budgets.

Dec.1993: a private members’ bill at Ont. legislature, presented by the Hon. MP Eddy of Brant-Haldimand, prompted by Paris Playgrounds Equipment Ltd. (in MP’s riding). Mike Hayward of Paris Playgrounds was introduced to the legislature as being present in the gallery. The bill was asking for the Ontario legislature to either recommend that companies follow CSA playground standard, or to require them to do it. Vote went to “recommend.”From MCCR minister: The CSA standards used by Paris Playground Equipment Inc. “present the company with a terrific marketing opportunity. I would encourage your constituent to work with the Canadian Standards Association in marketing his products through the education of consumers on the importance of purchasing goods meeting CSA standards....I know the CSA has launched a very effective information campaign on this subject and published a very helpful booklet that will help guide anyone considering the purchase of playground equipment. I believe it's entitled “The CSA and The Consumer: Making Playgrounds Safer.”

1984: Henderson Playground Equipment buys up the bankrupt Children’s Playgrounds company office and warehouse in Peterborough

Dec.31, 1985: Paris Playground Equipment Inc – 646695 is formed

1985: Mike Hayward from Paris Playgrounds and other playground company executives start working on a Canadian playground standard, through the CSA.

1990: Mike Hayward writes an article for the Canadian Parks and Recreation Association, called “A guideline on Children’s Playspaces and Equipment” to introduce the CSA guidelines, which he helped to write. The article calls for legislation to enforce what he refers to as “standards” throughout. He says the arrival of the standard is related to “the products now available worldwide in response to fallen trade barriers and progressive international marketing.”

1991 memo authored by Frank Cowan Insurance is circulated to municipalities across Canada, stating that all municipalities must use the CSA standards for playground equipment to avoid being sued. A BC daycare official recalls this memo as being sent out by Mike Hayward from Paris Playgrounds.

1992, March 16: A.B.C. Recreational Ltd – 979679 replaces A.B.C. Recreational Marketing. Ed Attlebery is listed as a director and secretary of A.B.C. Recreation (formerly worked for Paris Playground Equipment)

1993 (Jan 1): Paris Playground Equipment Inc – 646695 is amalgamated into Paris Playground Equipment Inc – 1008677

1993 (July 5): Paris PlaygroundQWestern Ltd – moves from Alberta to ONT jurisdiction 1993-03-16 and merges into PAR-REC HOLDINGS INC, new number – 1028945

March 24 1994: Paris Play Designs Inc – 1069627 is formed.

1995 (April): Rubbermaid’s Juvenile Products Division, Little Tikes Commercial Play Systems (Missouri), buys Paris Playground Equipment (a.k.a. Par-Rec Holdings), which is renamed Little Tikes Commercial (Canada) 1161964. Mike Hayward is now working for Little Tikes, and is also on the ASTM subcommittee for Play Equipment

1996: Little Tikes Commercial Play Systems moves the Canadian operations to its main plant in Farmington, Missouri. It keeps a sales office and distribution centre in Paris. The factory and its machinery is sold to Ley-son Industries Ltd – Paris playground employees Kenneth and Andrew Crawley. They begin getting contracts from Little Tikes.

Dec.12 1997 Paris Playground Equipment Manufacturing – 1271610 is formed.

1998: Little Tikes Commercial has a serious fire in its Farmington plant. It contracts out a lot of work to Ley-son. But Ley-son are aware that Little Tikes Commercial is rebuilding its plant and those contracts will dry up.

1999 (spring): Little Tikes Commercial resumes production in its own plant. Rubbermaid is bought by the Newell Corporation, for $5.6 billion, so Little Tikes is now owned by Newell-Rubbermaid.

1999 Bryan Belair lets it be known that he wants to sell.

2001 (Jan.3): Belair Recreational Products Inc 1445547 gets a new business number, and is registered under Kenneth Crawley and Andrew Crawley from Ley-son. Andrew Crawley is now (2014) sales manager at Henderson. Kenneth Crawley is now president of Paris Equipment Manufacturing Ltd.

March 2001: Ley-Son Industries Ltd. registers belairplaygrounds.com

2002: Little Tikes is listed as having $2.59 billion sales, 2000 employees.

2004 (July): Newell Rubbermaid sells Little Tikes Commercial to PlayPower. That company also owns other brands such as Miracle Recreation Equipment Company [“the oldest manufacturer of steel and plastic commercial playground equipment in the United States”]. With the acquisition of Little Tikes Commercial, PlayPower becomes the largest playground equipment supplier in the world. (Note that Investcorp owned PlayPower and then sold it to Apollo Investment Corporation.)

2004: KSL Design is formed by Bryan Belair

The economy of playground companies: (2) The bigger picture -- the global market in playground equipment

Gametime

Gametime is marketed by Crozier (Winnipeg) but owned by Playcore Holdings Inc., located in Chattannoga, Tennessee. In 2011, PlayCore, part of Irving Place Capital, was said to have about 65 employees in Chattanooga and several hundred workers at a Fort Payne, Ala., production plant. Times Free Press: "Since February 2008, PlayCore has purchased Robertson Industries, Ultra Play, Everlast Climbing, GT Grandstands, Big-Toys and Spectrum Products."

Irving Place Capital is "essentially the rebranded version of Bear Stearns Merchant Banking." It's a private equity firm focused on leveraged buyout and growth capital investments in middle-market companies across a range of industries. Irving Place Capital (New York City) had $4.4 billion in 2008.

Here is a 2001 article about Gametime's manufacturing process. It says that "the Fort Payne, AL-based company with 500 employees rests on 84 acres in a 400,000 square-foot-facility."


Playpower

This company owns a number of other play equipment companies, including Little Tikes Commercial (see Paris, Ontario, connection above), Miracle Recreation, EZ Dock, Little Tikes Commercial and Soft Play in the United States, and Hags, SMP, Playdirect and Freemove in Europe. The company is headquartered in North Carolina, USA, with manufacturing facilities in Missouri USA, Sweden and the UK. The Company is represented in over 60 countries globally and has over 1100 employees.

Playpower was owned by Investcorp and then bought by the Apollo Investment Corporation.

Little Tikes Commercial has a small office in Paris, Ontario. There's a history to that..... Click on link


Playland

In Georgia. They pride themselves on 95% US manufacture In 1983, Donald Strickland and Anthony Strickland started making seesaws and swing sets out of a converted mechanics garage. The original Playland, named Playland Systems, was truly a family affair with the father and son team both fabricating and selling the company's products.

In 1990, Anthony Strickland took over the company as President and CEO and set out on a course to develop the beginnings of a product line of modular play-systems and freestanding play events.

Playland became a division of Superior International Industries in 1997, with over 300,000 square feet of combined manufacturing space, with in-house technologies of rotational molding, metal fabrication, and custom fabric forming.

Superior International Industries, Inc.

Direct sales of outdoor playgrounds, shelters, shade, indoor playgrounds, water slides and site amenities, thus giving SII the ability to supply products for total solutions for its customers.

Ray Derbecker, who along with Rob Pepper founded Sii in 1992, emigrated from Canada with little more than $10,000 and a dream to build a business to provide components to the playground industry. Since opening a small plant in Carrollton, Georgia with six employees to becoming one of the largest playground and park products companies in the world, Sii has acquired or developed many brands and products including Child Works, Playland, Grounds For Play, Litchfield Landscape Elements, Webcoat, WOW Playgrounds, Superior Shade, Playsystems, Skyspan and others.


Landscape Structures

Landscape Structures Inc. was founded in 1971 by Barb and Steve King, and is headquartered in Delano, Minn. The company, now 100% employee-owned, says they manufacture and produce all of their playstructures under one roof, in Delano, Minn. From their website:

"We're so proud of this fact, we include country-of-origin information for our products on our sales quotes. Not only does this create and keep jobs in the United States, it allows us to maintain control over the quality of the playground equipment you purchase. While other manufacturers are increasingly sourcing components from overseas to drive down costs, we just don't believe it's worth it. You deserve better. And so does our country."


Xccent, Inc.

Wyoming, Minnesota. From their website:

Founded in 1976, Xccent, Inc. began as a company offering customized solutions for plastisol coated and molded products. Xccent’s core focus expanded to the playground Industry when it became the first manufacturer to coat steel fabricated playground components, such as a deck, in plastisol. It gave the component strength, durability, and more importantly, a much safer and forgiving surface for children to touch and play on....In 2006, the Xccent Play business unit was created and its first product, the X-Wave, was launched in a small park in Osceola, WI. The X-Wave, a...see-saw that held 22 children at one time with a revolutionary polymer hinge that gave safe no-pinch motion to the product. The technology used to design and create this motion was later named Playmotion Technology.


Recreation Playsystems

RTS Companies: From their website:

Recreation Playsystems' parent company, RTS Companies Inc., is an ISO 9001:2008 certified company. RTS Companies Inc. is a privately owned, Canadian company. RTS is a leading manufacturer of plastic playground components used in the systems provided by Recreation Playsytems as well as other manufacturers across North America. RTS operates two manufacturing facilities including their Canadian operation in St. Clements, Ontario and their US operation in Austinburg, Ohio.

History: Canbar was founded in 1872 as a manufacturer of high quality wood stave barrels for storing and shipping whisky and dry goods. The original business evolved over the decades into the manufacturer of wood stave tanks and pipelines and later into the production of rotationally molded products.

In 2000, RTS Companies Inc. was formed as a spinoff of the plastics division of Canbar. Since then, RTS Companies has grown its small plastics division into a well-known North American manufacturer of custom and proprietary molded plastic products.

Vortex Aquatic Playsystems International

A Quebec company started in Montreal in 1995, markets heavily in the U.S. and Australia. Advertises environmentally responsible water use. The website says Vortex has over 4,500 installations across three continents and a worldwide distribution network (offices in Australia, Michigan, California).

From the Vortex website:

A way to save staffing money and meet the Americans with Disabilities Act requirements (it sounds like swimming pools don't work for the act):

1. Louisiana: The new water feature is meant to replace the existing swimming pool, which will be demolished this summer because of new Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements and needed repairs that “would be cost-prohibitive” according to the state parks office news release.

A high-tech game:

2. Water Journeys™ is Vortex’s latest innovation and provides landscape architects and aquatic designers with new opportunities to create remarkable landmarks that are cross generational. Water Journeys™ is a linear ground play area, created in imitation of nature’s water systems and includes: boating, flow management, rivers, and streams in a four module game installation. Like in nature, what happens in one area of the stream impacts the conditions further downstream. Children will quickly learn how their play affects others. Each game module offers a different interactive play experience and provides people of all ages a chance to engage in the Water Journeys® meeting place.

“We understand there are tremendous obstacles – financial and social – to park programming & how to create new amenities that bring families together for relaxing & fun leisure activities,” said Stephen Hamelin, President, Vortex Aquatic Structures Intl. “At Vortex, we are constantly striving to develop new solutions for our customers. Water Journeys™ is a game that encourages team play among children but also is a place maker providing an gathering place for every member of the family to enjoy.”

A way for municipalities to recoup their costs:

Georgia: With the economy struggling, we also saw this Splashpad® as an opportunity for family’s to have a “staycation” where it is enjoyable for the whole family. Since its opening, it has been crowded every day and the private rental of it and the pavilion on Wednesdays has offset any cost associated with its maintenance and upkeep.”

Since its opening, the Splashpad® has hosted approximately 10,000 people and over 75 parties.


Kompan

Dabish company. Owned by Nordic Investments until March 2014. Then sold to a consortium of investors. KOMPAN is headquartered in Odense, Denmark, with sales and representative offices in 20 countries in Europe, North America, Asia/Pacific and the Middle East. The production and logistics centre is located in the Czech Republic, and the company also has facilities in Germany and Sweden which produce special products. KOMPAN products are sold to child care centres, schools, international fast food chains and public services in more than 60 countries. The Group has approx. 750 employees, and had an income of just under $300 million in 2011. www.kompan.com

From the 2012 Kompan Annual report, which reported an 8% reduction in profits, the closing of a Danish plant and the terminatiion of 75 employees:

The first signs appeared already in 2011 when the financial crisis forced countries such as Greece, Spain, and Italy to cut back on public spendings. In 2012, allEuropean countries – to different degrees – had to reduce their public budgets and procurement in the wake of the crisis. As the public sector remains KOMPAN’s largest customer segment, this situation unavoidably affected our markets and demand for our products. Falling demand, stronger competition for orders and market shares, squeezed prices....

KOMPAN’s new facility in Brno (Czech Republic) became a production and distribution centre for the whole KOMPAN Group, supplemented by COROCORD (Germany) and the Slottsbro plant (Sweden), which mainly manufacture specialty products. For this reason, we closed down our production units in Belgium and Denmark and consolidated their activities into the production in Brno. We also closed our Megatoy plant in Australia and replaced the products by a new design line produced in Brno. Productivity in Brno was enhanced significantly through a persistent focus on optimisation and efficiency improvements; distribution was made more flexible, and the production plant now has both the capacity and the framework for significant growth.


Henderson Recreation Equipment

This company was started in 1971, in Oakland, Ontario, by several former Paris Playground staff including Gordon Henderson. Later moved to nearby Simcoe Ontario. In 1984, the company bought the bankrupt Children's Playgrounds company office and warehouse in Peterborough. Henderson staff have been part of the CSA playground committee, setting the new guidelines, since at least 1998. By 2002, under the so-called "CSA Playground Compliance Program," Henderson had received the second highest value of playground replacement contracts from the City of Toronto, at $1,538,057.

The company has posted a history of their family business.


KSL Design

This was started in 2004 by Bryan Belair, in Brandford, Ontario. Bryan Belair was a Henderson sales rep until 1981, when he started Belair Recreational Products Inc – 46686, with a plant in Brandford. Bryan Belair and his son Scott were both active on the CSA playground standards committee in the 1990's, drafting the CSA Playground Guidelines.

In 1999, Bryan Belair put his company on the market, and in 2001 the company got a new business number, registered under Kenneth Crawley and Andrew Crawley, who had bought the remnants of Paris Playgrounds, and renamed it Ley-son. Then in 2004, Bryan Belair started a new playground company, KSL. Scott Belair was listed as an employee for a short time, but then he opened a playground inspection company, and also became the head of the playground inspection program owned by the Canadian Parks and Recreation Association.

From their website: "Our customers include: Government Agencies, School Boards, Child Care Centres, Landscape Architects, Insurance Companies, Law Firms, Cities, Towns, Municipalities and other parties who are involved in the playground process."

-- law firms?

-- insurance companies?


Belair Recreational Products Inc

This company is listed at the same address as KSL in Brandford, Ontario, and also at the same address as Little Tikes in Paris, Ontario. Their website is listed as belairplayground.com but it doesn't work. Almost no other information except the multiple addresses is available on the web.

History: Bryan Belair established Belair Recreational Products in 1981. He joined the CSA Playground Committee sometime in the 1990s, played an active role in writing the CSA standards of 1998. By 2002, Belair Recreational Products had received contracts for replacing City of Toronto playgrounds (removed for not meeting the CSA standards) amounting to $1,587,274. This was the highest amount that any playground company got for the so-called "CSA Playground Compliance Program."

Belair sold his company and in 2004 established a new playground company called KSL.


Green Gym

This company making outdoor fitness equipment advertised its special asset -- it was a Canadian manufacturing plant, in Dartmouth Nova Scotia. But it seems to have folded: CBC story


Berliner Seilfabrik

Berliner Seilfabrik started in 1865 as a company producing ropes for the Berliner elevator industries. The first net structures as climbing equipment were developed at the beginning of the 1970s.

From their bank's website report, 2012:

Karl Heinz Köhler believed in playground rope when he was hired as a production engineer at the factory in 1978. But until the 1990s, production concentrated on elevator cables, and playground rope only accounted for a few per cent of total sales. When the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, and a lot of the subsidies for companies in West Berlin were eliminated, meaning the end or relocation of 200,000 jobs, the owner of the company decided to move the business to Bavaria – and Karl Heinz Köhler decided it was time to act. In 1994 he assumed responsibility for producing rope play equipment. He had 17 employees when he started out. Now he has 50....[The company] grew and invested in in-house manufacturing, bucking the trend towards outsourcing. “The more we grow organically, the greater control we have over quality,” says [his son] David Köhler. The rope producers now generate roughly EUR 13 million in sales annually. 80 per cent of what they produce is exported.

.....fewer and fewer orders are placed from Italy. But in North America, where employment is on track, sales increased 75 per cent in 2012. “For years, a lot of playgrounds were designed to be politically correct, that is to be accessible for children with disabilities,” David Köhler says. Meanwhile it seems people have recognised that exciting climbing areas don’t exclude disabled children from play, and are a lot of fun.


ABC Recreation

According to their website, they have two branches: in Paris, Ontario, and in Grand-Barachois, New Brunswick. The website says they've been in business in Eastern Canada since 1991. They were registered as a company on June 12 1972: as A.B.C. Recreational Marketing Ltd. – 263823, started by Bill Cox, formerly of Paris Playground Equipment Company.


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