March 31, 2015

Blackthorne Partners acquires Milwaukee fireplace door manufacturer

Milwaukee-based fireplace door manufacturer Design Specialties Inc. has been acquired by Brookfield private equity firm Blackthorne Partners Ltd. and Michael Draves.

Design Specialties, which declined to disclose its employee count, makes doors, screens and other hearth accessories sold at specialty hearth retailers across the U.S. and Canada. It was founded in 1983 and will remain at its 40,000-square-foot factory at 11100 W. Heather Ave. on Milwaukee's northwest side.

Pat Gengler, current company owner and president, is retiring. He has owned the company since 1997, and sought a buyer who would commit to long-term growth for the business.

"Employment will probably increase. The new owners have aggressive growth plans and it's going to take employees to make that happen," Gengler said.

Michael Draves will serve as president of Design Specialties. He has extensive experience in consumer products sectors, including in leadership positions at Brillion-based Ariens Co., Kohler-based Kohler Co., Sears Holdings Corp. and Pacific Cycle.

"I was very selective in choosing the new ownership," Gengler said. "I wanted an ownership group who was entrepreneurial, had the owner/operator mentality, had capital to invest and was customer-focused. I wanted someone who understood our culture and our tradition of excellence. I found everything I was looking for with Mike Draves and Blackthorne Partners."

Draves said he was attracted to Design Specialties' established market position, as well as the financial strength and management expertise contributed by Blackthorne.

"Design Specialties is known throughout the country for its high quality fireplace doors and accessories," Draves said. "Along with strong name recognition among consumers, the company has a strong and loyal dealer network which we will continue to support. I'm looking forward to working with the company's talented staff to enhance our operations so we remain the market leader known for quality and innovation."

The deal closed on Monday. Terms of the transaction were not disclosed.

"Pat Gengler has done a tremendous job growing this company and positioning it as a market leader," said Steve Balistreri, a Blackthorne Partners managing director. "Our goal is to build upon that success so Design Specialties remains the premier fireplace door company in North America for the long term."

Blackthorne's portfolio now includes skid steer attachment manufacturer Berlon Industries, food processing machinery manufacturer Hughes Equipment Co., SAP information technology consultants group:basis, pallet manufacturer Pallet USA and Integrated Medical partners, which owns a portfolio of health care information technology service businesses. It is actively seeking to acquire other Midwestern firms with $4 million to $15 million in revenues and EBITDA of $1 million.
Focused on addressing the equity and liquidity needs of small businesses in the Upper Midwest