U.S. Aluminum customers, employees weigh in on CRL acquisition

Katy Devlin, Glass Magazine
July 18, 2011
COMMERCIAL, RETAIL, FABRICATION : BUSINESS

One week after officials from C.R. Laurence Co. announced the acquisition of U.S. Aluminum, the company is quickly resurrecting the aluminum system supplier. "I know the plants are currently gearing up. Personnel are getting back in place, and we are all excited about the rebirth and future of the company," says Paul DeGray, head of PDG Architectural Sales. The parent of U.S. Aluminum, International Architectural Group, filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in May.

Response to CRL's acquisition of U.S. Aluminum has been positive overall, with several industry representatives, including DeGray, pleased to see it purchased by a company within the industry. "Being in the industry for more than 30 years, I have seen CRL grow and thrive into the powerhouse company it is today," he says. "They are not just an investment firm pumping in capital—they are deeply rooted in our industry."

"My overall reaction is positive," says Newton Little, executive vice president and co-founder, ACE Glass Co. "I believe CRL is a well-run operation, especially after visiting there a few years ago. ... [Its executives] are top-notch business entrepreneurs and operators who are capitalizing on some very good opportunities."

DeGray is hearing a positive response from his customers as well. "The customers I have interacted with are also glad to see that CRL bought U.S. Aluminum," he says. "All have indicated that CRL makes it easy to buy and receive orders with the systems and staff they have in place, and expect that U.S. Aluminum will benefit by the CRL philosophy."

One long-time U.S. Aluminum customer says she has not yet heard from C.R. Laurence, but welcomes it. "They are a well-run company, and I hope all the great people from U.S. Aluminum get their jobs back."

The acquisition will likely force some changes at other suppliers. JD Williams, former executive vice president of US Aluminum, says, "Some suppliers are concerned that CRL will be getting some of their business, but that is to be expected since [U.S. Aluminum] has been donating business to competitors for the past five years due to lack of service."

Williams says CRL's entrance into the aluminum market doesn't come as much of a surprise. "My best guess is that CRL has been patiently waiting to enter the storefront market in a larger way for several years," he says. "Once they saw a window of opportunity where they could enter this market with a relatively small investment, they executed their plan."

Many in the industry have been long-time customers of C.R. Laurence. "Since CRL already has an established reputation with these customers, one could safely assume a certain percentage of existing customers could be persuaded to also buy storefront products, provided they had the right product line. I believe the U.S. Aluminum product lines fit this niche," Williams says.

Bill Evans, president, Evans Glass Co., adds that some U.S. Aluminum products may begin to become more available to small glass shops. "Many of these small glass shops are the same shops that [Arch Aluminum & Glass Co.] and [Vitro America] used to sell to," he says.

Several representatives interviewed said they are excited to see what C.R. Laurence's investments in technology and engineering will bring to U.S. Aluminum.

"CRL has a physical facility that can customize almost anything," Evans says. "They also have the brainpower to engineer customization. It may be interesting to see if CRL sells the U.S. Aluminum commodities as a service to the small glass shops, while simultaneously emphasizing their ability to customize the U.S. Aluminum product line for designers, architects, etc."

Little adds, "They may offer some ... fresh out-of-the box thinking, coupled with some familiar traditional thinking to soothe and smooth the re-entry into the marketplace. CRL has a very capable engineering department for many of its products, and there are some excellent out-sourced resources available in the marketplace at this time that could be accessed to make U.S. Aluminum a viable engineered products supplier."

Now rehiring

As U.S. Aluminum ramps back up, the company is hiring. DeGray, for example, says he has rejoined the sales team. "I was just recently put back onboard to represent U.S. Aluminum in the New York and New Jersey markets," he says. "I am thrilled to be part of the 'new' U.S. Aluminum under the control of CRL and the experience of Tom Harris."

One U.S. Aluminum employee, who wished to remain anonymous, says he is returning to work at the company. "I, like so many of my friends, am going back to U.S. Aluminum. We feel that this is a great fit for both parties. I know so far the industry is positive about this buy."

Several industry representatives also expressed enthusiasm about Tom Harris continuing as head of U.S. Aluminum—Harris became executive vice president of U.S. Aluminum in August 2010. "Tom is a good businessman and knows the architectural aluminum business. I am confident that under his leadership, the good name of U.S. Aluminum will be restored and respected once again," Williams says.

Little adds, "I was 'raised' in the aluminum business, starting at Howmet Aluminum along with Tom Harris, and have watched his very successful career. I believe his business acumen and CRL's management style will work together and be very successful."