By Alison James
Diversified Products. Perhaps no company name is more familiar to Opelikans. Known around the world for its home-use fitness equipment, DP ultimately closed its doors in 1998. Former employees, however, remember the company fondly, and its story is one that has been and will be told and retold.
“It was a great company, and we had a terrific group there as we grew,” said Ira Silberman, who joined DP Jan. 1 1965 and, before his retirement in 1991, reached the rolemaking merchandising displays in 1964 following his graduation from Georgia Tech with a degree in industrial design.
“I was looking to have an opportunity to join a small company that was growing and that I could learn as much from as hopefully I might give to them,” Silberman said.
Fob James, DP founder, came to him looking for a product display to market Diversified Product’s barbells, the product that started the company. After some discussion, James offered Silberman a job at DP as vice president of research and development.
“He was looking to expand his products … and that’s how our relationship began,” Silberman said. “It was a ground floor opportunity … And so that’s how it started. We came down and decided to give it a shot.”
Back then the company was in a building on Columbus Parkway – “just a small building we were renting from Mr. Scott.” It wasn’t long before the company outgrew its small space.
Silberman has collected pictures, letters, catalogs and other memorabilia from Diversified Products into a scrapbook for his granddaughters. But perhaps the greatest thing Silberman and other DP employees have collected is also the least tangible – years of memories built around their DP relationships and experiences.
Ray Henderson, secretary/treasurer of DP for seven years in its early days, was already hard at work when Silberman came on the scene.
Henderson ran into James at the Atlanta airport in DP’s infancy. They had known each other during their time at Auburn, and Fob started to tell him about his company. Henderson soon accepted a job at DP.