Talk about finding a niche.

Southern National Corp. said Thursday it is buying lawn care equipment financier Refloat Inc. for an undisclosed sum.

Based in Mount Airy, N.C., Refloat's main unit, Sheffield Financial Corp., lends to businesses purchasing commercial lawn and outdoor power equipment. The company has $30 million in receivables.

The five-year-old firm is still small, Southern National said, but it is growing rapidly by specializing in financing loans that average between $5,000 and $6,000. The key is the 15-minute turnaround time the company provides for direct credit, said V. Jack Snow, president of Sheffield.

"Sheffield gives us an opportunity to enter into a national credit business on a manageable scale," said John A. Allison, Southern National's chairman and chief executive.

Darren Short, an analyst with the Robinson-Humphrey Co., said that Southern National's access to capital should help to accelerate Sheffield's growth dramatically.

Based in Winston-Salem, N.C., Southern National has $21 billion of assets and 419 branches in North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia.

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