Road to acquisition
Much work already had been done to prepare the second facility to house manufacturing before the Superior opportunity came along. Aubuchon said the company had purchased additional looms used in fire hose manufacturing and had designed the plant for a higher level of factory automation and automated data acquisition to better monitor and manage quality.
"It really was a re-engineering of the whole textile side of the business," he said. "The weaving, the yarn preparation. Everything involved in the fabric component of our products."
The improved efficiencies also have been implemented at the main site in Santa Maria, as Aubuchon has long been a proponent of automation and data acquisition, and welcomed the chance to redesign with those tools in mind. The data acquisition part of the equation, he said, is a byproduct of the automation process.
"Since we've automated, we're generating a tremendous amount of data that we are monitoring to manage production," he said. "We can identify any quality issues, and it ensures a much more consistent output. The variables that used to be controlled manually in our process are all done automatically.
"Plus, it creates a history to tell us if anything is out of line. The good thing is that rarely occurs because the automation assures consistency."
The entire expansion plan was based purely on an organic growth model, and North American Fire Hose was well on its way to implementing a 50-percent increase in looming capacity. But then Aubuchon received a call that would take the trajectory of his firm's growth plans to another level.
Superior Fire Hose had been owned by Fire End & Croker Corp., a distributor organization based in New York. The principal owner wanted to wind down his career and his exit strategy involved selling the two businesses as a package deal.
The purchaser was Morris Group International Inc., which also owned Potter-Roemer Fire Pro, a distributor with sites in California that was a good customer of North American Fire Hose. They gave Aubuchon a courtesy call to let him know that they had bought both Fire End & Croker and Superior Fire Hose, knowing that the hose maker was a competitor of NAFH.
Now Aubuchon figured that the main part Morris was interested in was the distributor, which would bring synergies with Potter-Roemer, but also had to take Superior as part of the deal.
"I paused all of about 5 seconds and said, 'You sure you want to be in the fire hose manufacturing business,' " Aubuchon said. "It was very quiet for a few more seconds, and they said, 'Well, what do you have in mind.' "
He explained the ongoing expansion, and how it was likely the Superior Fire Hose factory would have looms, rubber extrusion equipment and other assets that would be of interest to NAFH. The deal basically was hatched out "old school" style, with Aubuchon and Don Morris, president and CEO of Morris Group, handling most of the negotiations over several phone calls and a "verbal handshake over the phone," according to the North American Fire Hose CEO.
Of course, from there, the attorneys had to get involved to make the agreement between the two principals into a legal document.
"We went from a two-page purchase agreement to a 63-page purchase agreement with attachments," Aubuchon said. "You can't get away from that part. We already both knew what we wanted to achieve and we outlined that before the nuts and bolts really engaged."
The whole process took just about a month, a "really quick pace" for such a deal, he said.