Family Values Guide the Way
SafTCart manufactures cylinder carts, cages, pallets, truck beds, and trailers for an extensive range of applications. The company operates in the city of Clarksdale in the Mississippi Delta.
SafTCart began as an outgrowth of Walker Welders in 1969. At the time, a major manufacturer of welding equipment called Airco was running a distributorship program, and Jimmy Walker Sr. established Walker Welders as a part of that program. The combination of Airco’s high-quality product line and Walker’s dedication and work ethic resulted in a great deal of success over the coming years.
“He went door to door selling oxygen, acetylene, and cutting torch equipment,” says Jim Herring, SafTCart vice president. “He eventually had about eight different locations set up throughout the Mississippi Delta.” The roots of what would eventually become SafTCart began there.
As Walker was growing his Airco distribution business, he began to understand the volatile nature of the Mississippi economy. Farmers only invest when they have had a good season, and Walker was thinking about how to protect his business from the effects of economic recession. His experience in the welding industry had given him an in-depth understanding of the challenges that welders face, and as a result, he had developed an idea for a product that he knew could fill a need in that field. Walker’s innovation was a specialized cylinder cart with a lockable cabinet to hold measuring gauges, cutting torch tips, and other equipment, protecting them from theft and damage.
After unsuccessful attempts to pitch the idea to manufacturing companies, Walker began buying used equipment including benders and brake presses at auctions to build the cart himself. What began as a small operation in the back corner of a distributorship grew steadily over the coming years. When the business outgrew the Walker Welder’s facility, its first big expansion was to move into an abandoned school. The walls were knocked down, and the building was transformed into the first SafTCart factory. In 1986 the company officially incorporated under the name SafTCart.
By 1997, a decade later, all eight Walker Welder locations were acquired by Holox, but the SafTCart project was retained and became the central focus of the company. It moved into a much larger facility that year. In 2000, SafTCart acquired National Metal Products from National Welders in Charlotte, NC. NMP was, at the time, the oldest cylinder cart maker in America and only added to the SafTCart line. NMP was packaged up and sent truckload by truckload, thus incorporating the cart company into the SafTCart family. It did not seem at the time that the company would ever need all of the space it had available, but by 2005 it had outgrown that building as well.
The company purchased a 100,000-square-foot trailer manufacturing plant in an industrial park and, over the next six months, adapted the facility to fit its needs. The building was expansive, providing plenty of room to grow further in the coming years, and two conveyor systems were added to increase productivity along with a double pass oven for powder coating. SafTCart is still operating from this location on fifteen acres in Clarksdale, surrounded by Mississippi cotton fields, and it plans to stay.
“We’re an anchor company in this community. The majority of the companies that were around us have left,” says Herring. “My father-in-law says ‘By golly, we’re in Clarksdale, Mississippi, and we’re going to stay.’ That speaks volumes about who the man is. He takes care of his community, he takes care of his people, and he takes care of his customers.”
Since then, the company has expanded further into two additional buildings on the property, one for laser and plasma cutting, the other for manifold assembly, testing, and installation. These new facilities enable the company to perform functions that it had to outsource in the past, giving it finer control over the process, the quality of the product, and the associated costs.
Today, the company employs over one hundred people at its Clarksdale location and an additional twelve in a recently-acquired Carolina Piping facility in Charlotte, North Carolina. SafTCart brought this new division under its banner because leadership recognized the value it could provide in terms of vertical integration. Carolina Piping provides services that make it a fitting complement to the Clarksdale operation.
In Clarksdale, SafTCart builds large cylinder cages that hold tanks. It sends those to the Carolina Piping group, and plumbing and other components are added. Additionally, the new division adds to the company’s line of microbulk plumbing, medical gas final line assemblies, and highly specialized manifold products. It is run out of a 30,000-square-foot, advanced manufacturing facility with the means to bring many new capabilities in-house. SafTCart started with a single idea but has since increased its line into a sixty-page catalogue of quality products that are sold throughout the United States and internationally.
The catalogue contains a wide selection of products including cylinder carts for oxygen, acetylene and medical products, cradles and pallets for gas distribution, storage stands and cages, running gear for moving welding and cutting equipment, trailers and truck beds for gas distributors, and an array of accessories and ancillary products.
For the medical industry, SafTCart employs a specialized plastic coating process rather than the typical powder-coat paint. This approach has desirable properties for medical applications including noise dampening that makes these carts ideal for hospital and laboratory environments.
The SafTCart product line is immense, but one of the company’s top-selling products is its firewall cart. Companies in the manufacturing, construction, and industrial fields – where safety is a critical concern – are under constant review by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). One issue relevant to many SafTCart customers is that when oxygen or acetylene tanks are on a cylinder cart, they can fall under the rules same rules as when they are in storage. This means that they need to either be separated by twenty feet or a fire barrier. SafTCart’s firewall cart can store multiple tanks within OSHA regulations. “We sell those every day,” says Herring. “We get calls from customers who are dealing with OSHA saying they need carts three days ago, and we can get them out quickly.”
The company continues to look for expansion opportunities, including recently constructing a finished goods building to provide more room for product staging and shipping. “We also made additions to our truck bed and trailer fabrication facility, allowing us to build up to six pallet beds simultaneously and essentially doubling our previous capabilities,” Herring says.
SafTCart is a family company committed to operating with family values. Its ownership consists of the company’s founder, his wife, and their five children. Being a family-owned company has made SafTCart more nimble and reactive than many competitors, allowing it to find a niche in the marketplace that larger multinational conglomerates are unable to fill. “Down here in Clarksdale,” says Herring, “we answer the phone. That’s a big deal to people. It started out as a mom-and-pop operation. The values are family values. That’s just the way the thing runs. Always has.”
This capacity to be reactive to the needs of the marketplace has enabled the company to manage growth in line with the demands of its customers. Throughout the course of its existence, the company has expanded its catalogue with products that solve real industry problems. It may not always turn a profit the first time it builds some custom solution, but the company recognizes the value in building relationships and solving problems. Those customers come back again and again, and the product will often have applications for other customers, ultimately ending up in the product catalogue. The reason that catalogue has expanded to sixty pages is that customers continue to put their trust in SafTCart to develop their custom equipment.
Like many American manufacturers, SafTCart is facing significant challenges as a result of the new steel and aluminum tariffs. “Something had to happen because there was a lot of substandard product being dumped into the American market, and that was unfair,” says Herring. “We needed some fairness, but to get to that point we have to suffer a bit. It’s taking everyone by storm.”
As costs increase, the company has had to adjust its pricing and incorporate steel surcharges. While price increases can be a significant challenge for many companies, SafTCart has earned the confidence of its customers through many years of operating with the utmost integrity.
“My father-in-law will ask us who we work for, and the answer is always the customer,” Herring said of the company’s founder. “You don’t work for me or for anybody else. You work for the customer. Do we make mistakes? You bet. People that don’t make mistakes aren’t doing anything. It’s how you recover from them.”