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Hamilton Economic Development

Hot growth for Stoney Creek manufacturer

STONEY CREEK Hockey parents throughout Hamilton have a Stoney Creek company to thank for the circulation in their fingers and toes while watching games from the stands.

Superior Radiant Products sells its overhead gas-fired infrared heaters to a wide variety of users: big-box stores, factories, driving ranges, barns and greenhouses, residential garages and restaurant patios, to name a few.

Its systems are found in the baggage-handling area at Pearson airport, retailers including Lowe’s and Home Depot, local factories and warehouses and “just about every hockey rink in Hamilton,” says company president Kevin Merritt.

Superior dates back to 1995 when Merritt and some partners decided to launch their own company after their Grimsby employer closed its doors to move to Buffalo.

“We decided we knew the business well and we could do something better.”

The company, which employs more than 40 people in Stoney Creek and about 60 worldwide, is planning aggressive growth over the next few years. Superior plans to capture more market share in the United States and China.

Merritt says Superior’s systems are far more efficient than trying to heat big spaces with forced air.

“The difference is like when you’re standing in the sun and it’s warm and then when you stand in the shade, it’s cool, even though the air temperature is the same.”

Merritt explained that his heating products don’t heat air but objects: floors, walls, equipment and people. Infrared heaters are very effective in poultry barns in which the goal is to heat only the floor where the chickens reside. The heaters are also used in aircraft hangars where planes are de-iced and to thaw trains and their tracks.

“We go after niche sectors,” said Merritt. “We also go after markets in different countries. That, and the breadth of our product lines, gives us two points of diversification that helps us to weather storms in recessions.”

The company opened operating divisions in Qingdao, China in 2009 and in Atlanta, Georgia in 2012.

The Chinese manufacturing boom has been a big market for Superior, boosted by environmental laws pushing natural gas heating over coal.

A more recent area of growth has been in building high-end patio units for homes, restaurants and hotels to help stretch the always-too-short outdoor season as far as possible.

The diversification strategy has worked. After starting out in a 6,000-square-foot shop, Superior continually outgrew its space.

Fortunately, a great building became available in the former Levi Strauss sewing plant that went silent in 2004.

Superior can make very good use of the plant’s 50,000 square feet, says Merritt, and some former employees of the jeans maker are now making heating equipment. The building, on Barton Street east of Dewitt, is a showcase for Superior’s products, featuring heating zones and sophisticated controls.

“Infrared heat goes where you want to put it and we can show that here.”

Article courtesy of Meredith MacLeod, The Hamilton Spectator

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