Owen finds Springs in its step

Don Hogsett, Staff Staff, March 3, 2003

In yet another sea change for an American blanket industry roiled by turmoil in recent years, increasingly acquisitive textiles titan Springs Industries Inc. has cut a deal to buy blanket producer Charles D. Owen Mfg., which last year logged about $101 million in sales.

Still on the prowl for new companies to buy and products to add to its mix, Springs is acquiring a rapidly growing, family-owned company which bills itself as the world's largest unit producer of blankets. Headquartered in Swannanoa, NC, Owen has worked with Springs for years, producing a line of Wamsutta brand blankets under a licensing agreement with the major mill.

The purchase price was undisclosed, and both parties said they expect to close the deal some time in the second quarter, following completion of due diligence and regulatory review.

The deal marks the third major buyout for Springs in the past 18 months, following the earlier acquisition of the Beaulieu rug business and later Burlington House.

And the two companies now head to the altar after an extended courtship between Springs and the Owen family that dates back decades, when Springs first offered to buy Beacon Mfg., said Charles D. Owen Jr., chairman and ceo.

The Owen family later sold Beacon, which changed hands several more times and went through a series of owners that included National Distillers, Cannon Mills, Pillowtex Corp. and a private management group, before closing its doors forever last year.

The Owen family returned to the game in 1970, when Charles D. Owen Jr. built a new blanket producer from the ground up.

"Heck, this goes way, way back," Owen told HTT. "They've tried to buy us several times, going back years and years." Walter Y. Elisha, former Springs chairman and ceo, he said, "tried on three separate occasions to buy us."

Since its founding 33 years ago, Charles D. Owen Mfg. has grown to a level of $101 million in sales, and has become, it claims, the world's largest blanket producer, measured in units produced, starting out as a producer of opening price-point, printed non-woven blankets and more recently diversifying into cottons and acrylics.

Following the acquisition, the blanket producer will operate as a division of Springs, and Owen said he will remain with the company for a three-year period. "And let me tell you, I'm going to have a lot of fun on the job. There's lots of things we've got in the works that are going to shake this whole industry up. Heck, we've got a new product we're going to announce real soon that's going to add very substantially to our sales and really stir up the pot. This thing is going to be more fun than anyone can imagine."

Additionally, he said, his son, Charles D. Owen III, now president, will remain with the company and continue to manage the business.

Charles D. Owen III confirmed his plans to remain on the job. "I'm here for the long haul, and I'm really looking forward to it," he said.

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