LELAND — There are probably very few Mississippi companies which will display their products at every Southeastern Conference home football game this year except those at South Carolina. Fewer still at practically every National Football League game, Cleveland Indians home games, some World Cup soccer matches and NASCAR races. There is one, however, World Class Athleticsurfaces of Leland (www.wrldclass.com). Specializing in tennis court coatings and athletic surface paint and paraphernalia, odds are if you watch sports next weekend, you will see World Class products in action.
“It’s incredible how we’ve grown, where all we are,” said Tra DuBois, founder of the company. “I tell my employees all the time that they ought to realize what we’ve accomplished. When they’re watching sports on TV, they ought to take pride in what they have done.”
World Class began with a mixture of love for sports and superstition. DuBois, a Yazoo City native, finished his career at Belhaven College, where he played tennis and met some future influential people, and was hoping for a club pro spot. While playing in a match on a new court one day, DuBois was struck by how well the court played. Finding who designed and built the court, Teni-Trak, he began recommending the contractors to everyone. Eventually Texas-based Teni-Trak approached him and asked him to come to work for them.
“Going in with them was key for me,” DuBois said. “They believed in quality. They said if we’re not going to do it right, we’re not going to do it. And if we can’t make a profit, let’s go fishing. It was great sales experience for me, and I learned everything about tennis court construction.”
DuBois found the work rewarding and became an officer of the company, but the city life of Houston was uncomfortable. He decided to come back home and asked Teni-Trak for one thing — to carry the tennis coatings business with him. They not only agreed, but also became one of his contractors in a symbiotic relationship.
Moving back to Mississippi in 1987, DuBois chose to move to Greenville merely on the coaxing of a resident hunting buddy. DuBois went into business as a one-man shop, eventually renting a 1,200-square-foot facility in the Port City in 1988.
DuBois fell back on the Teni-Trak philosophy, which was go for quality to differentiate your company from the competition. He struck on a simple formula — whatever the other company did, at least double it. For instance, most companies used 17%-18% acrylic in their paint. DuBois used 36%. Most paint had 1% color. His had 8%. Not only did DuBois painstakingly test his product for resilience and playability, but also for environmentally-friendly products. With his contractor friends feeding him business and other leads he generated elsewhere, the tennis coating business grew.
One day, as a favor to a friend, DuBois mixed up about 10 gallons of paint for a college athletic field. A few days later the school called back to say it was the best paint they had ever used and wanted more, about 600 gallons. News spread. The University of Tennessee placed an order, and Mississippi State, then the University of Alabama. Then pro football came calling, with the Denver Broncos and Green Bay Packers being some of World Class’ first NFL clients.
Today, World Class is housed in a 35,000-square-foot office/plant/warehouse complex and employs 15 people. Its paints and coatings can be found throughout the U.S., as well as Chile, Jamaica, recently-gained China and numerous other counties. He has done tennis surfaces for such notables as Ross Perot, past Dallas Cowboy standout D.D. Lewis and former Sen. Lloyd Benson. And he has done field painting not only for sports teams but other giants such as Disney.
In the process of developing the field paints, DuBois saw an opportunity to get into stencils, the patterns used to paint logos and field marks on playing surfaces. Once again, he added quality. He hemmed the sides for better durability, added grommets and spikes and color-key aids, something no other company offered.
“The Denver Broncos called and said, ‘Hey! Thanks for the spikes!’,” DuBois said with a smile. “It may not sound like much on the surface, but the Broncos said it used to take them six hours to paint their end zone. Now it takes them two.”
One of World Class’ newest products is an aerosol paint used for smaller projects. Once again looking to make the best, DuBois said the company spent four years developing the product, and spent $40,000 on coming up with the nozzle alone.
DuBois is currently looking to expand his current product offerings and add some new ones, such as wind netting. He said he sees the market as wide open. And while others offer athletic surface paints and products, DuBois said he knew of no other U.S. company making only those kinds of paints and nothing else.
“I’m proud of where we’re at,” DuBois said. “The potential is there. That’s what I keep telling my team. As long as we keep our unity and have fun, its absolutely limitless where we could go.”
Contact MBJ staff writer Wally Northway at firstname.lastname@example.org.