WATERLOO | Waterloo Industries Inc. will maintain a presence in its namesake city under new ownership, an executive in the local office says.

In mid-September, New York private equity firm AFI Partners LLC purchased Waterloo Industries -- which makes tool and garage storage units for retail and industrial markets -- from Deerfield, Ill.-based Fortune Brands, which had owned the company for about 20 years.

Craftsman, a familiar Sears brand, is one of WI’s primary retail customers, while Wadsworth, Ohio-based Cornwell Quality Tools is a major industrial client, said Matt Sallee, vice president of sales and marketing, who works in WI’s downtown Waterloo office at 100 E. Fourth St.

New ownership doesn’t mean any changes for the local contingent of WI employees, said Sallee, a 20-year employee in Waterloo.

“What it means is, we have a new owner,” Sallee said. “What that does is provide more job security for local people. There’s no change in the way we’re structured. It’s kind of a smaller crew and a steady number (in Waterloo) for the last several years.”

Waterloo Industries has 14 employees handling sales, marketing and product development in Waterloo, Sallee said.

“I view that as a very important step to keep jobs here, and we’ve done a nice job of that over the years.”

Waterloo Industries was established in 1922 in Waterloo and, for many years, built all of its products only in Waterloo. The company kept its headquarters in Waterloo even after closing its tool box-manufacturing activities here in 1997. The company now operates its flagship factory that employs 350 full-time workers in Sedalia, Mo. That facility opened in 1978, Sallee said.

Over the years, WI also has had plants in Pocahontas, Ark.; Muskogee, Okla.; and Nogales, Mexico, but it has consolidated all manufacturing operations in Sedalia.

New ownership provides “more security” for local WI workers, Sallee said.

“It provides more security for our folks because we‘ve got an owner that wants to grow the business and is interested in being more productive with the business than our prior parent company, Fortune Brands,” Sallee said.

According to Bloomberg Business, AFI Partners specializes in “control and non-control investments in small and middle market companies undergoing change.” Bloomberg notes that the firm likes to “invest in companies undergoing bankruptcy, corporate divestitures, and turnarounds” and looks to invest in manufacturing, basic industry, transportation, service, and distribution industries including automotive, metals, chemicals, paper, trucking and transportation, building products, pharmaceuticals, aerospace and defense, mining, plastics and packaging and energy and power industries.

Bloomberg also notes AFI Partners “prefers to invest in companies with revenues less than $250 million.”

Sallee declined to disclose Waterloo Industries’ most recent yearly revenues.

Sallee noted that the company closed its Mexico manufacturing operation in March “in order to bring jobs back to U.S. and bring the focus back to the U.S.”

“It’s a very good thing for our Sedalia plant,” he said.

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