911 Rapid Response recently made a peach of a deal. 

Mark Sallada, owner of the Annville-based company that has outfitted emergency response vehicles since 2007, expanded his company to Georgia in April. That move, he said, will further serve the first responder community on the eastern seaboard.

Sallada said the additional location also fulfills a need for Whelen Manufacturing, one of the largest warning light manufacturers in the world. 911 Rapid Response is a Whelen distributor.

“The Georgia, Florida, and South Carolina areas are one of the largest markets for emergency vehicles,” said Sallada. “But the companies that are down there are not really growing to sell Whelen’s products. They are kind of status quo and are happy with the size that they are at.” 

The collective decision of Rapid Response’s competitors to remain static was problematic for Whelen but fortuitous for Sallada’s company, which installs a menu of emergency response gear in emergency vehicles. 

“They’ve been asking us for the last two years if we would be interested in representing our product in Whelen along with everything else that we do,” said Sallada. “Of course, this perked my interest.”

Launching a property search in February 2023, Sallada vetted 40 on paper and visited two sites in late September and early October before settling in December on a 10,000-square-foot commercial business in Conyers, an Eastern Atlanta suburb.  

“There are other dealers on the westside of Atlanta and out of respect for those dealers, even though I could have put a dealership right next to them since there was nothing in our contract to say that we can’t do that, it didn’t make sense. Why would I want to go next to somebody else and compete with a business that’s 15 minutes down the road?” said Sallada.

He added that the current locale was better suited because that area had no Whelen distributors. 

“We started bopping around and looked at a bunch of different buildings down there and landed in a little town called Conyers, Georgia, which is in the tipping point of the metro area of Atlanta,” added Sallada. “It’s very heavily populated. You can go out the driveway in one direction and you can sit in traffic for hours. But you can go in the other direction and it’s almost free sailing to drive. So, it’s a good place to be because it’s populated but when we want to avoid congestion, we can get out of it.”

Site selection was a time-consuming process due to several factors.

“It’s hard to find places to work to what we need. We need office space plus we need garage space. So it was a little difficult to find that, and also the hardest thing to find in Atlanta is parking,” said Sallada. “We’d find these buildings but they would only have 12 parking spaces or 15 parking spaces and that would never work. So the building that we purchased, which has 10,000 square feet, has enough space to park 65 to 75 cars on the lot.”

Sallada said the building that houses the garage and the parking spaces total 8,000 square feet, while the office encompasses an additional 2,000 square feet, meaning every inch of the property he purchased is being used to operate the new location.

“I did not lease the land, I don’t lease any of my buildings, even here in PA,” said Sallada. “The building includes a secured gate, so we have security there. We have about 2,000 square feet of office space, so that allows us to have space for the office, the sales folks, shipping/receiving, conference rooms, and things of that nature.” 

Sallada noted the garage can accommodate 10 to 12 vehicles simultaneously, which is a goal for the company to achieve by spring 2025.

Sallada said an added bonus is that the garage is a structure made by Butler Manufacturing, an Annville-based company of pre-engineered metal buildings. Sallada, his family and employees are quite familiar with that local business.

“That’s what all of my buildings are here,” said Sallada in reference to the facilities at company headquarters in Annville. “We have heavy ties with Butler Manufacturing. My dad worked there for over 35 years. My uncle worked there the same (amount of time) and works for me now. My brother-in-law worked there. I have a couple of people who have been heavily dedicated to Butler Manufacturing over the years, and I am too. It just happened to be a Butler building and it was a no-brainer for me to purchase because all of the cards lined up very well, very quickly.”  

By the time the new site is fully operational next year, Sallada has a goal of fitting 150 to 200 vehicles annually – which is about half of what the PA-based 911 Rapid Response team accomplishes each year.

Sallada’s Annville business has four distinct entities: 911 Rapid Response, Mark.It Graphics, Vengeant Apparatus, and Homeland Outfitters.

911 Rapid Response in Annville, as shown here in this file photo, has expanded to Georgia.

“The process of getting up and running is like starting any new business,” he said. “The good thing is that our footprint is so well known across the United States that many of the customers that we’re going to talk to now to do quotes, about 50 to 60 percent of those people, know who 911 Rapid Response is, which is very cool to hear. We have about 200 cars already quoted and waiting approval (and others that have been approved) from that area.”

Sallada noted the timing to open a new business in April was strategically planned.

“Their fiscal year in that entire area is July to July, so we’re strategically down there at the right time,” he said. “Once July comes around, that’s when they will start approving them. If we got there in August, we might have to wait a whole ’nother year to get a decent amount of work in the garage. So there was a strategic plan behind how we went there, the timing that we went there, to try and make it as successful as possible. My goal is within one year that the place should be paying for itself and be profitable within the first 12 to 16 months. I am fairly confident that is going to happen.”

After the real estate deal was finalized, Sallada, his family, and a work crew spent time in Conyers preparing to open in April.  

“When we opened in April, we didn’t have work in the garage the first day in April,” said Sallada. “We have to drum that work up. Tell people who we are. Tell people that we’re open. We took a whole crew from up here and we had that crew install three air conditioners on our own (prior to opening). All my facilities have air conditioning. … I sure am not going to have my folks in Georgia work without air conditioning.”

Sallada currently has three full-time employees in Conyers with plans to add seven to nine more over the next 12 months to run that plant. The three Georgia-based hires bring the total employee complement at both locations to almost 70 individuals.

Read More: 911 Rapid Response hopes to outfit up to 500 vehicles at Annville shop yearly

The plan is to have six to eight shop technicians and three or four other workers at the Conyers site. Sallada noted that three other individuals are technically hired but are currently “waiting in the wings” to start their employment once the company secures more work for them.)

Sallada told LebTown the Georgia store will offer installs for police, fire duty, and EMS chase vehicles, which is a fraction of the services it provides at its Lebanon County location. (The company recently outfitted Lebanon County’s new 911 comms vehicle.)

Read More: Annville company outfits Lebanon County’s new 911 mobile comms ops unit

“The Georgia shop is not Vengeant apparatus and it does not have a showroom like we do here in Pennsylvania,” said Sallada. “It is a vehicle builder, so basically the 911 Rapid Response side of our business is what’s in Georgia.”

Installs include such gear as lights, law enforcement cages, consoles, sirens, computer systems, camera systems and vehicle graphics.

“We don’t have a gun store there, we won’t build fire trucks there, that’s not what that location is built for,” added Sallada. “We have no interest in expanding Vengeant, the apparatus department, to another state. All of the apparatus manufacturers across the world have one location, they don’t put in additional locations for apparatus building.” 

As far as opening a gun store in Georgia similar to the one at the Annville location, Sallada said that’s not on his radar now nor will it be in the future. One consideration is that the Georgia location is not large enough to accommodate a gun store.

“I don’t really have an interest because there are already a lot of really good gun stores in Georgia,” said Sallada. “I don’t know that it is worth my time and effort to develop and build a gun store and a showroom because I think my return on investment won’t come for four or five years, and it is not worth my time and effort to wait that long to get a return on investment.”

For Sallada, the Georgia location ultimately extends the company’s philosophy to do business with a smile and a handshake.

“We could build for people from Georgia in Pennsylvania, but this promotes people selling to people,” said Sallada. “I am a firm believer in that philosophy. That’s why we don’t have an online store. We’re not an e-commerce company. We are a brick and mortar store. We could build for people in Georgia and Florida in PA for the Rapid Response-type builds, but at the end of the day, you have much higher success when you can walk into a department and shake the police chief’s or the fire chief’s hand.

“So what it is going to do for us is increase our market share and our installs in the Georgia, the Florida, the eastern bloc, including Kentucky (markets), and the southern Carolinas, and make those sales a whole lot more easier for us,” said Sallada.

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James Mentzer is a freelance writer whose published works include the books Pennsylvania Manufacturing: Alive and Well; Bucks County: A Snapshot in Time; United States Merchant Marine Academy: In Service to the Nation 1943-2018; A Century of Excellence: Spring Brook Country Club 1921-2021; Lancaster...


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