When Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, more than 100 La Boit-built vehicles responded to assist people and pets survive the disaster.
“Our vehicles were involved in helping to treat the dogs brought in at Ground Zero in New York as well as over 100 vehicles that went to treat people and pets following Katrina,” owner Gil Blais said. “Every vehicle that leaves our facility will go out to help someone in need. That’s a good feeling.”
Blais started La Boit Specialty Vehicles in 1981 while he was working as a pharmaceutical salesman calling on veterinarians on the East Coast.
“The company incorporated in 1983 when I developed mobile equipment to X-ray horses,” Blais said. “General Motors came up with a new four-wheel drive Blazer, which a good many vets started using. Prior to that, they often practiced out of station wagons; however, there was still nothing in the back to house their equipment.”
Calling on his knowledge of the equipment most used by veterinarians, Blais began developing medical supply boxes for the vehicles that included refrigeration and running water.
“Being a salesman, I knew what these guys carried and I was able to sell these around the world in places like France, Canada and Mexico,” he said. “This led to us buying airport shuttle buses and retrofitting them, which we did for a while before deciding to build our own body that incorporates the structural integrity we need to mount all of the equipment.”
What began in Blais’ Westerville garage has grown into a 25,000-square-foot manufacturing building in Gahanna, employing 32 full-time staffers, including his wife and one of his two sons.
La Boit currently builds vehicles for the medical, dental, law enforcement and veterinary professions.
“We now build from the ground up, all of our own cabinetry using furniture-grade plywood and other quality materials,” he said. “The hardware we use is the highest quality because if these things rattle or open, they don’t work for our clients.
“We’ve flourished from our history of quality, value and talented people -- that’s our keys to success. You can pay less for another vehicle, but in terms of longevity, we’ve had units out there for 11 to 12 years and we guarantee our bodies for all 12 years, which is unheard of in this industry.”
Another key to La Boit’s success has been its people, he said, with very low turnover. Blais said his first employee is still with the company.
“The first guy I ever hired in 1983 so I could stay on the road selling is still with us today. He’s our head engineer. We take good care of our people and they provide good quality work,” Blais said.
La Boit produces about 60 units a year, which makes the business a low-volume shop, but Blais says he is happy with that.
“We’re a low-volume shop that’s not into numbers,” he said. “For us, this is about value. Eighty-five percent of our business comes from word of mouth through past customers.
“But there’s definitely room for growth, no question. We’re considering future room in case we choose to expand and we’ve recently added a new salesman, so that may be coming ahead.”
For more information about La Boit Specialty Vehicles visit www.laboit.com