Sage Automotive Interiors: Woven Throughout AutomotiveJanuary 28, 2020
Design, workforce, location keys to success for automotive interior leader
If you’ve ever ridden in a General Motors, Ford or Honda vehicle, it’s likely you’ve encountered interior materials with Upstate ties. Sage Automotive Interiors, a global company headquartered in Greenville, boasts a near 50% U.S. market share for automotive interiors, producing headliner materials, seating fabrics and door panel materials that are found in many of today’s trusted automotive and truck models.
The company grew out of an Upstate textile company, and it has served the automotive industry since 1948. Today, its headquarters is at Clemson University International Center for Automotive Research (CU-ICAR) in Greenville.
Sage Automotive Interiors has grown to a global company with 2,600 employees and locations on five continents. It has facilities in Italy, Poland, Brazil, China, Mexico, Thailand, Japan, Morroco, Tunisia, and India, and a growing Upstate presence.
“Since 2009, the automotive industry has doubled in size,” says Dayna Babb, Director of Human Resources. “We have increased the number or products that we make and the volume that goes out the door in order to meet the demands of the automotive market.”
Product Design with OEMs
And though they’re a powerful producer, Sage’s process begins with design.
“Our designers work hand-in-hand with the design teams at automotive manufacturers,” Babb says. “These teams are working together to look at colors, patterns, and the trends that will determine what buyers want in the next vehicle.”
The role of design in Sage’s process is a strong example of where art and opportunity intersect. Creative minds are so integral to the company that Sage is one of several Upstate employers who collaborated to create the curriculum for the Fibers and Textiles program at the Greenville County Fine Arts Center.
“Design is critical – we win in the market based on our design,” says Babb.
From Vision to Reality
After Sage and its automotive customers determine designs, it’s up to the manufacturing facilities to make these visions into reality.
Within the Upstate, the company has five manufacturing facilities in addition to its headquarters, with locations in Abbeville, Spartanburg, and Marietta.
At these facilities, yarn is worked into final fabric materials through various stages, including knitting, weaving, dyeing, drying, inspections and lamination.
One of its facilities, the Abbeville Plant, has been in continuous operation for more than 125 years. It was a former textile operation that Sage took over in 2009. Each month, the facility produces an average of 1.5 million yards or fabric.
Coupled with the Sharon Plant nearby, Sage employs 400 people in Abbeville County.
Since 2009, Sage has invested more than $25 million into its Abbeville County, investing in technology to improve product development for the future. These investments enable the company to broaden its product offerings – with lines tailored toward rugged styling found in Ford F-150s or Dodge Rams, or the Dinamica premium suede line found in Daimler vehicles.
A stable, reliable workforce is one of the strongest factors in the company’s Abbeville success, says Venture Belton, the plant’s senior production leader.
“The Abbeville plant is more like a family,” Belton adds. “I’ve been here for 23 years. The best thing about coming to work is my coworkers. It’s just like family – we spent a lot of time together away from work, and that means a lot to me.”
As a result of its family feel, the company experiences low turnover, with an average tenure of 10-15 years and many seasonal employees who return annually.
The plant also benefits from its partnerships with the workforce development community, Belton says.
Sage is a contributor to the Abbeville Promise, a community-based, last-dollar scholarship program that aims to provide all high school graduates within Abbeville County with free access to Piedmont Technical College.
Employees also give back to the community through civic service to the Abbeville County School Board, high school booster club, and through philanthropic engagement like Relay for Life and providing holiday gifts to children in need.
“Everybody contributes and gives us feedback on what’s going on out in the community, so we can all be involved,” Belton adds. “We’re all proud to be part of Abbeville.”
In the Center of the Southeast Automotive Hub
For a global company that works with several automotive OEMs, Sage’s location is an important one.
“Sage benefits from being in the center of the Southeast automotive hub, we have quick access to interstates, the Port in Charleston, the Inland Port Greer,” Babb says. “This connectivity allows us to export 90% of our products.”
Within the region, its manufacturing facilities are each within an hour-and-a-half drive.
From design to workforce to location, each will be integral as the company pursues its vision to be the No. 1 preferred supplier in the automotive interior business, Babb says.
“Sage is very proud of our footprint in the Upstate and will continue to build on it in the future.”