Briefly crushed by the global pandemic, Praters, based in Rossville, Georgia, looks ahead to a banner year
When the global pandemic threatened his business in 2020, John Prater looked to the 1990s.
Today, Praters Inc. is known worldwide for designing, painting and finishing portable basketball floors for colleges and universities, professional teams and leagues, and special events, including the Olympics. Prater says his Rossville, Georgia-based facility is the largest of its kind in the world, where his employees can store 50 portable floors and work up to nine at a time.
But Prater recalls his very first job was to paint and finish the playing field at Baylor School’s Jimmy Duke Arena.
“I probably got $3,000 or $4,000,” he says.
So when the pandemic put an end to the 2020 college basketball tournaments and forced the cancellation of several events over the following months, Prater returned to his beginnings.
Praters, based in Rossville, Georgia, is aiming for a banner year
“I started working for [secondary] schools within 100 miles – Hamilton County, Catoosa County, Walker County. We still had this business, and although the schools were closed, the contractors were allowed to work between April and July.
“It wasn’t as profitable, but the beggars can’t choose,” he says. “We had lost $750,000 in reserved contracts. We were fighting for every revenue stream we could get.”
Praters went on hiatus the following year when the NCAA played its basketball tournaments in ‘bubbles’ – the men at various venues in and around Indianapolis, Ind., and the women at multiple venues in and near San Antonio, Texas.
“We had 10 courts in Indianapolis and 12 in San Antonio,” says Prater, who adds that the company landed more business when the NBA and WNBA moved back into the Florida bubbles.
“And we networked like banshees during COVID,” he adds. “So many people in the basketball events business have been scrambling to find work. We’ve built a great relationship and been very busy this past fall. The relentlessness in trying to get things done has really taken a toll. its fruit.”
The result, according to Prater, is that the company is on track in 2022 to surpass its previous record year, 2019, by 20%.
“It’s a testament to the people around me every day,” says Prater. “The best people in the world.
“It’s easy to be a member of the team when things are going well,” he adds. “It’s when everything is falling apart in front of you that we weren’t in panic mode. We got together and said, ‘How are we going to fix this?'”
Prater admits his company hasn’t been immune to the supply chain and labor shortages that have plagued businesses around the world in recent months, but he’s trying to see them through a prism different.
“[Labor] is a numbers game,” he says. “We used our coaches and our friends in the school system to help us find people who were right for us.
“And one of the things I’m most proud of is that we weren’t late. [delivering] anything in 2021,” he says. “I can come up with an excuse about the supply chain, raise my hand and say, ‘I just can’t do it’ or find a way to make it happen.
“That’s my hat to it – that we’re a dynamic company,” he says.
Although the design, painting and finishing of portable courts remains the core of Praters’ business, the company owner says it is growing in a few areas. One is decals, which Prater says can range from 20 feet in diameter to fit down the center of a floor to large enough to wrap around an entire regulation floor. Decals now account for about 30% of the company’s annual revenue, he says.
“We got a patent in 2017,” says Prater. “Our game decals allow us to create a unique event for sponsors who want their brand image to be front and center, and we’re the only company in the world that can do that. [decals] safe for players.”
“We coat the decals with a finish in our shop that gives them the same coefficient of friction as the floor,” he says. “The NBA, NCAA, ESPN and others all agree that our decals work, and there is no other decal that does.”
Praters is also going to Hollywood. The owner said the company had to deliver a court in Los Angeles for a remake of the 1992 film “White Men Can’t Jump.”
Marketing director Anna Prater, the owner’s daughter, said the company supplied the floors used in the 2006 film “Glory Road”, last year’s “Space Jam” reboot and the gym-dance scene at the 2021 remake of “West Side Story”.
“And we recreated the floors in [HBO series] “Saving time,” she adds. “It’s all on the same floor – we fly [crews] at different times to wrap it around to resemble the floors used in 1979 by the Los Angeles Lakers, Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers.
“We have other film projects we’ll be working on this summer, in addition to another season of ‘Winning Time’,” she says. “[Film/TV] has been a really fun way to grow as a company.”
And it’s another reminder for John Prater of how his business started over a generation ago.
“We provided graphic design and color for Hixson High School 25 years ago,” he says, “and now we do it for Warner Bros., Paramount and [director] Steven Spielberg.”