Thomaston's search continues

Marvin Lazaro, August 3, 2001

Thomaston, GA — The Aug. 1 deadline for Thomaston Mills Inc. to close its doors for good has passed as the major mill will continue to operate for at least two more months.

Although Thomaston will continue to ship inventory and complete orders until the beginning of autumn, said William Ott, acting president/ceo, no buyers for the company have been found.

"We have had discussions with various parties, and you know it's a very difficult climate out there; so nothing to this juncture has come to fruition," Ott said, noting that the auction deadline was July 24. He also added that some Thomaston real estate had been sold.

In June, John Herman Jr., principal with Equity Partners Inc., the firm hired to find a buyer for Thomaston, had said he expected to make a recommendation to make a motion to sell. But no deal has been announced, and the only sales have been real estate.

"I fully expect to see a continuation of Thomaston into the foreseeable future," he told Home Textiles Today in June.

Despite the lack of a deal, Ott said Thomaston will continue to ship inventory and complete orders "most likely until the end of September." After that, Thomaston, which has been a mainstay within the home textiles industry for more than a century, will most likely close its doors for good.

Ott said Thomaston's employees have been very supportive of the company through its difficult times, have been graceful and continue to work hard. In some cases, five or even six generations of one family have worked for the company, so it is a very difficult time for them.

"This company has been very good to its people, and the people have been very good for the company," Ott said. "I'm very proud of them."

The major mill has slowly been taking the steps that led it to this point. It had withdrawn from the denim, sales yarn and industrial markets and closed its Peerless, GA, plant, resulting in the loss of more than 1,200 of its employees. Three top executives, Neil Hightower, George Hightower and Stewart Davis, all resigned from their positions earlier this year after Thomaston disclosed its second-quarter numbers. Bob Dale, vp of sales and marketing, was also let go, adding fuel to the bankruptcy rumors, as Dale had been credited with placing Thomaston products with retailers it had previously not done business with.

Annual reports from as far back as 1996 also told a story of a major mill in trouble and sinking fast. In '96, Thomaston reported a meager profit of $615,000. It proved to be the last time the company would be in the black, as losses steadily increased. In 1997, Thomaston reported a loss of $7.6 million, and in 1998 and 1999, the numbers increased to $11.5 million and $41.7 million, respectively. Although Thomaston was able to rebound slightly in 2000, it still reported a loss of more than $14.6 million.

The company's first and second fiscal quarter numbers for 2001 were also dismal. First quarter net losses totaled $3.6 million, while second quarter losses shot up to more than $5.9 million.

"It has been, and is, a very difficult time," Ott said.

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