Editor’s Note: The following article ran in National Bus Trader Magazine honoring Owen Connaughton, who passed away Dec. 14. Connaughton was a pioneer and a major influence in the bus conversion industry.
The staff at National Bus Trader and many people in the bus industry were shocked by the unexpected death of Owen Connaughton on Dec. 14, 2013. He was 51 years old. Owen was a devoted family man who was known for his strong Christian faith and generosity towards others. In recent years Owen became a leader in the bus conversion industry by setting a new direction that moved beyond coaches to smaller vehicles and even trucks.
He was born on Sept. 5, 1962, in Teaneck, N.J., and grew up with a strong interest in vehicles. In his early years he learned to work on old cars and other transportation equipment. This led him to a degree in engineering as well as a job in about 1985 with Custom Coach of Columbus, Ohio, the founder of the bus conversion industry.
In his 14 years at Custom Coach, Owen took his past talent and education and added a great deal of conversion experience. He started as a cabinet maker and then moved up to lead man. From there he was promoted to engineer and eventually became the plant manager of the company’s second facility.
In the late 1990s, Owen witnessed the demise of several traditional bus conversion companies in the Midwest. He felt that the answer was to open the conversion market to smaller and other types of vehicles and to make custom conversions available to people with moderate incomes.
In 1999, Owen founded Creative Mobile Interiors (CMI) in a 4,500-square foot shop on the west side of Columbus. The initial staff consisted of himself and one other individual. Because of the company’s willingness to handle conversion work in various vehicles at different budget levels, they sood needed more staff and outgrew their original home.
A move was made to a 10,000-square foot facility on Seeds Road just south and east of Exit 97 on Interstate 71 in what might be called a rural and light industrial area. This is in the Columbus suburb of Grove City and two exits southwest of the ring road on the interstate to Cincinnati. The initial facility on Seeds Road housed a conversion shop, a cabinet shop, plus office space including a customer design area.
When the new Sprinter was introduced in November of 2001, CMI was the first to do a conversion in the interior. Business mushroomed and CMI ended up leasing other buildings up and down Seeds Road. Owen’s success was based on diversity. At the same time the CMI staff could be working on a new coach conversion, service and upgrades on older bus conversions, new Sprinter conversions and even repair work on buses and special truck interiors. I note that Owen’s allegiance to the Ohio State Buckeyes prompted the creation of a couple vans and buses particularly designed for tailgating parties.
In 2008, work started on consolidating the various CMI facilities under one roof. Property was acquired that fronted on Seeds Road and backed up to I-71. The new building with state-of-the-art equipment was completed in 2009, coinciding with the 10th Anniversary of CMI.
It is noteworthy that as Custom Coach ceased operations, several of their experienced people came to join the staff at CMI. Owen Connaughton built up an impressive staff of qualified people at CMI who are able to tackle just about any conversion project in a professional manner. Plans call for the continuation of CMI as a legacy to Owen Connaughton and a reminder of his contributions and leadership in the bus and conversion industries.