Where Work is Play

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PlayCore builds outdoor recreation equipment that brings smiles to kids everywhere

by RANDY GRIDER

THE PHILOSOPHY OF PLAYCORE IS SIMPLE – “IF YOU CAN dream it, we can make it.” Much to the delight of children across the country and around the world, PlayCore continues to build upon a proud reputation for manufacturing safe, creative, commercial playground equipment.

The company is headquartered in Chattanooga, Tenn., but a 400,000-square-foot plant (with equal outdoor-storage space) has been a mainstay in Fort Payne since 1979. It employs more than 400 local workers and is a place where nepotism is definitely welcomed. Many of the employees – some with decades of dedication to PlayCore – enjoy sharing shifts with close relatives.

Following a comprehensive plant tour, we sat down with PlayCore Senior Vice President and General Manager Spencer Cheak to discuss PlayCore’s vital role in the local economy and community.[s2If !is_user_logged_in()]..

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LOOKOUT ALABAMA: Where is your market?

CHEAK: We have distributors all over the world – China, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Mexico, just to name a few.

LA: What is your marketshare of commercial playground equipment in the United States?
CHEAK: Out of here, with all brands combined, we do about 30 percent of the total market.

LA: How long has PlayCore been customizing playground equipment?
CHEAK: We have always been a job shop where basically we have created standard products that a customer can mix and match any way they want. We are becoming custom with some of the themed products. The customized products have really taken off in the past four or five years.

LA: Have you ever customized playground equipment for anyone famous or for a unique or well-known venue?
CHEAK: Almost everything we do is on the commercial side – primarily municipalities, schools or churches. But we did have an order several years ago that we did for a Saudi prince for his daughter’s birthday. The prince flew one of his big jets over and picked it up in New York. We also did a slide at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City for the 2012 MLB All-Star Game.

LA: What are the advantages of being located in Fort Payne?
CHEAK: It’s a phenomenal place to find a workforce. We have fantastic, hard-working employees.

LA: Tell us about your compensation package and retention.
CHEAK: I think we are above average in terms of compensation and benefits for the area. We don’t have turnover and we’ve got over 60 employees who have been here for more than 20 years.

LA: What does the company offer in terms of work/life balance?
CHEAK: It’s a great place to work and raise a family. We have family members who work in different departments. We’ve got brothers, uncles, cousins and spouses. We do an annual family picnic and have health fair days for employees and their families. Last summer we rented out the movie theater and this year we’ve got a family bowling night planned.

LA: What about community involvement?
CHEAK: A couple of times a year, we try to do a community project. It usually involves putting a playground in somewhere. We did one last year at one of the local churches that lost their playground in the [April 27, 2011] tornado. We call it our day of caring. But it’s not always putting in a new playground. Sometimes it’s going out and cleaning up one or painting one. We encourage our employees and their families to get involved and help out.

LA: Is GameTime involved with any other charity work?
CHEAK: We are very involved with the United Givers Fund. We run a big campaign here every year. We match whatever the employees give. We run lots of contests, encourage giving and recognize the top givers. We have a parking spot in the front for the top giver each month. We also sponsor a lot of the employees’ kids’ ball teams and other things that help the community.

LA: When I came in, I was read a statement about PlayCore’s environmental policy.
CHEAK: We are ISO certified. We have gone through our entire plant and looked at all the areas that could affect the environment. We’ve put controls in place to recycle everything we can possibly recycle. We want everything we touch to be handled in the most environmentally friendly way possible. I joke that we’ve got more recycle bins in the plant than we do people.

LA: What makes GameTime different from other industries?
CHEAK: When people ask me what I do, I tell them I build playgrounds for a living. It’s always a lot of fun and starts some interesting conversations. We say we are making kids happy all over the world, one playground at a time.

DOING BUSINESS HERE

A great place for business Looking for a place to locate a company or business division? Consider Alabama’s Lookout Mountain region. Less than a two-and-a-half-hour drive from six major Southeastern markets (including Atlanta, Birmingham and Nashville), the area is bisected by Interstate 59 and close to I-20, I-24, I-65, and I-75. This location makes the region an ideal choice for distribution companies and manufacturers. Employees benefit from the area’s close proximity to large cities and low cost of living. Learn more at dekalbeda.com, gadsdenida.org and cherokeecountyida.org.

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