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Waterford broadens line with W-C Designs parent

Anaheim, CA — Looking to expand its breadth of offerings in home textiles, Waterford Wedgwood PLC earlier this month acquired Ashling Corp., producer of W-C Designs table and bed linens, based here, for $9.5 million.

Ashling has been Waterford Wedgwood's licensee for Waterford Linens since 1995 and its licensee for Wedgwood Linens as of earlier this year. The company is currently owned by Fitzwilton Limited, which is owned by Waterford Wedgwood chairman Sir Anthony O'Reilly; deputy chairman PJ Goulandris; and investor L.L. Glucksman.

Waterford Wedgwood announced it would buy an 86.5 percent stake in Ashling. The remainder is owned by Patrick McCullagh, who will continue to serve as Ashling's ceo and president. W-C Designs will also retain its other licensed programs, which include Susan & Sarah bedding and Calvin Klein table linens, McCullagh told HTT.

McCullagh said the sale was prompted not because Ashling was looking to sell, but because Waterford Wedgwood was looking to buy.

"I think they liked the job we've done for them as a licensee," he said.

That was indeed the case, according to Chris McGillivary, ceo and president, Waterford Wedgwood USA.

"We've been very impressed with them," McGillivary said. "They've done a great job designing and sourcing the product we had licensed to them, and they have a great understanding of our brands. They've identified the right price positioning for the product and preserved its value as very elegant and luxurious."

Ashland recorded sales of $35.2 million in 2000 and generated operating profits of $2.7 million, according to a release from the companies. Sales of Waterford Linens were $12 million, and the company has shown annual compound sales growth averaging 16 percent since 1996.

The acquisition will give Waterford Wedgwood "a significant center of excellence in the whole range of home textiles," president and coo Redmond O'Donoghue said. The company plans both to expand the textiles category and to extend it into new markets, he said, suggesting potential global positioning for the home textiles brands, which currently are sold in Japan and America.

The company hopes to make further acquisitions, according to McGillivary. Its immediate goal in that line is to make acquisitions that can extend the company's brand into bath and kitchen textiles, he told HTT.

"Consolidation has been a big factor in many industries, and now we as a player in home textiles see ourselves looking to consolidate to include kitchen textiles and bath in our selection," said McGillivary, who noted that Waterford Wedgwood has already made several acquisitions in the past few years, although he would not specify the nature of the acquisitions. "We'll make sure W-C Designs continues to add more licenses to its roster and continues to grow."

Added Ashling's McCullagh: "Consolidation is part of our strategy to be more important in the home category."

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