2016 has marked the 50th anniversary for the COBA International group, the parent company of our safety matting and entrance flooring business, COBA Europe. We thought you might be interested to learn a little more about our history, from what started out to be the shoots of an idea (we then had one workplace safety matting product) to the business we have become today – COBA headquartered in the UK is proud to be one of Europe’s largest, most established floor matting suppliers.
Let’s step back in time to tell you how it began …..
COBA Plastics was the original COBA company, founded by the late Tony Cooke and Tom Bateman back in 1966. (The name takes the CO of Cooke and BA of Bateman, in case you were wondering!). That company – a thermoplastic extrusion manufacturing business – started from very humble beginnings in a workshop in Coventry, primarily producing plastic extrusions and tubing for the automotive industry. The business grew quickly and we moved to Kibworth, and ultimately to our current location, in Fleckney, Leicestershire.
The hugely successful COBA Plastics is today a global name in the plastic extrusions and moulding industry. Now, you are probably thinking, what on earth has that got to do with floor matting? Well, please bear with us and we will tell you why.
Enter PVC safety matting ….
Our very first safety matting, initially called Airomat and then COBAmat, is manufactured from interwoven plastic extrusions promoted under the tagline ‘walking on air’. It remains a popular product within our COBA safety matting range today. That was back in 1979. And at the time, very few companies used safety matting in their factories. Instead they used cardboard or wooden duck-boarding for their floors, as some people may recall. The introduction of a product such as COBAmat was indeed a revelation. It wasn’t just used on factory floors; it was used for all sorts of applications such as on oil rigs, on boats, around swimming pools, in shower rooms, in motorsport (for pit garages) – the list goes on. Its popularity soared as more and more employers recognised the benefits of installing safety matting in their workplaces. Happier, healthier employees = greater productivity = increased profits.
Some years later, we then discovered some PVC ‘foam’ based products which marked the start of our anti-fatigue matting range – the beginnings of our Orthomat® anti-fatigue matting collection, which we continue to expand and develop today.
Meanwhile, the COBA business was expanding …
We initiated a plan to expand and build new state-of-the-art facilities in Fleckney, including a new factory which was completed in 1995. This was part of a £2 million expansion programme – little did we know that this was just the start, as further expansion continued in the years that followed. Away from the building work, our workplace matting range was also growing. It’s hard to believe but, in that same year (1995), we introduced Deckplate safety matting, with a new brochure promoting our anti-fatigue matting range featuring the strapline ‘Don’t stand for anything less’. Also in 1995, Richard Cooke (now our Managing Director) was promoted to Sales Manager. At the time, our COBA business was also sponsoring then racing driver, Christian Horner, as he competed in Formula 3. This will be a name motor-racing fans will recognise, especially if you follow Red Bull Racing.
Our first website ….
We launched our first website in 1997 – who knew at that stage that our website would be the start of such an important tool for marketing our floor matting product range to a global audience. Each of our COBA businesses today have their own website in multiple languages.
Quality and Environmental accreditations ….
Forward-thinking COBA attained ISO 14001 in 1999. We then joined a relatively small minority of UK companies to hold such an environmental certification, underlining our commitment to recycling where possible and taking steps to offset our carbon footprint. Today we implement all sorts of measures within our building design to make them as energy efficient as possible; developing products with recycled materials (some of our entrance matting products are made from recycled materials, our Premier range being a good example). We are also corporate supporters of the National Forest, and we have an initiative in place to plant trees on the back of sales of our Premier entrance matting range, an interlocking PVC/carpet tile system widely used in many commercial buildings.
And so, to the new millennium …..
Mark Cooke, the eldest son of COBA’s co-founder, Tony Cooke took over the reins as Managing Director. In 2000, we launched our (then) largest matting catalogue and printed it in English, French, German and Spanish to cater for our growing European customer base. We also introduced entrance mats into our range, targeting janitorial markets.
A couple of years later, in 2002, we opened our first German sales office and warehouse, now trading as COBA Europe GmbH and in 2004, acquired facilities in Slovakia. We then replicated this in June 2005 in Cape Town, South Africa (now trading as COBA Africa (Pty) Ltd).
In 2005, further land was purchased in Fleckney and construction of a new building (now the headquarters for COBA Europe) commenced. That same year, we launched our first entrance matting and floor tile collection, a precursor to our now established COBA Flooring division. In 2006, we celebrated our 40th anniversary with a party at Leicester City Football Club. We moved into our new premises in 2007, and at that time was still trading as COBA Plastics’ Matting Division. 2007 was very significant. It was the year that our COBA business restructured and as such COBA Europe was formed to concentrate solely on our matting and flooring sales.
A story of continued growth ….
The COBA group has continued to grow over the last decade, truly putting all the businesses on the global map, not least through a strategy of acquisitions. These include the safety knife business, Moving Edge in 2008; the Leicester based hose and tube manufacturer, Copely Developments in 2010; Bowden Precision Engineering – now trading as COBA Precision in 2013. That same year, Emplas joined the Copely stable. In 2014, COBA acquired SPK Profil in Russia and a year later, in South Africa, acquired Matco; the latter being a leading name in entrance matting systems. Finally, the most recent acquisition in October 2016, has been CD Plastic Mouldings Ltd in Leicester.
Celebrating 50 years, ‘Proud of our Heritage, Driven by our Future’ ….
On 17 September 2016, we celebrated our 50th anniversary with a party at Hangar 42, Bruntingthorpe which included a themed time tunnel illustrating all COBA’s achievements over the last five decades, from the 60’s to the current day. A great time was had by all.
And to the future …
The COBA group now employs in excess of 800 skilled people worldwide in 11 countries across Europe, Africa and Asia. And the story of COBA doesn’t stop here. We will continue to expand and evolve our quality product range and for COBA Europe lead the way in innovative and effective floor matting solutions.