Today’s announcement that Oldcastle BuildingEnvelope®, a CRH Group company, acquired C.R. Laurence Co. Inc. (CRL) may have come as a surprise to many in the industry. But according to Lloyd Talbert, president of CRL, it was part of a plan that CRL had been working on for some time.

In a statement released today Talbert said, “C.R. Laurence Co. is a true American success story. Most of you who have known us and done business with us over the years know the names ‘CRL’ and ‘Don Friese’ are synonymous. Don will be 75 in October and has built a tremendous business over a legendary career spanning 55 years and counting. We have been working on a plan for several years by which CRL would remain an independent company for many years to come … Don will remain CEO of CRL and CRL will be independently managed and operated as a subsidiary of OBE.”

Talbert adds, “…Many of you have heard me say one of my primary concerns is building a strong glazing industry. By partnering with OBE, I firmly believe we have taken a positive step to further strengthen our industry.”

Los Angeles-based investment banking firm Greif & Co. was retained by CRL to handle the transaction. Lloyd Greif, the firm’s president and CEO, says the future of CRL was exactly what its CEO Don Friese had in mind.

“When Don joined CRL in 1961 as a returning GI, he was the company’s seventh employee. CRL had one location in Los Angeles and $250,000 in sales. Today, the company he has built a half-century later has 1,700 employees, 42 locations in North America, Europe and Asia and $570 million in sales. No man is immortal, although Don comes pretty darn close. After 55 years in the business, he felt it was time to lay the foundation for the company’s transition to new ownership.  He will continue to run CRL with the able assistance of his hand-picked-and-groomed team, including president Lloyd Talbert and CFO Arty Feles. Don still works six days a week–yes, six–and he wanted to oversee the smooth succession of CRL while he was still actively engaged in the business one thousand percent.”

Greif adds, “Don selected CRH to be the new owner of CRL–he had many, many choices–because he felt they were the company most likely to continue the company completely intact and independently managed. He believes Ted Hathaway, CEO of Oldcastle BuildingEnvelope®, is a kindred spirit and shares his vision of the future, one which portends an even greater escalation of CRL’s already strong, double-digit growth rate.”

Still, the reaction from many in the glass industry was one of surprise.

“I thought, ‘Wow! I didn’t see that coming,’” says Craig Carson, regional preconstruction manager with Alliance Glazing Technologies in Littleton, Colo. “Even though I’m not a buyer of U.S. Aluminum products, I wonder how this will all fit in with their [OBE’s formerly] Vistawall product … how does this fit together with all the different architectural metals [the companies] offer? It’s going to be a wait-and-see thing.”

Industry consultant and USGlass/USGNN.com™ columnist/blogger Paul Bieber has a history with both companies, beginning his formal glass career with nine years at CRL and retiring from OBE in 2004. Like Carson, he also has questions about how the acquisition will unfold.

“My first reaction is this will place a large segment of our industry in one company. OBE is one of the largest temperers and CRL is by far the largest supplier of shower door parts,” says Bieber. “A lot of independent temperers buy their shower door and many other products from CRL. They have built quite a business in this area. Will those companies view OBE as a competitor and change their buying habits? CRL is a huge acquisition and will take some time for OBE to digest,” Bieber says.

Also speaking of the announcement, Kelly Schuller, president of Viracon, says in general he believes consolidation is a good thing for our industry so the news strikes him as a positive development.

“It looks like OBE is doubling down on their strategy for packaged selling to glazing subcontractors,” he says. “CRL is a strong brand and the acquisition price certainly appears to reflect that.”

Lyle Hill, president of Keytech North America, and a USGlass/USGNN.com™ columnist/blogger, says his reaction to the news was not unlike that of others in the industry.

“I am going to imagine that, as with many others in the industry, this news comes as a bit of a surprise. I didn’t think that CRL was heading in this direction at this time. But I certainly want to congratulate Don Friese and his family. Don is an American success story and someone that I have long looked up to. I am happy for him and his team. It will be interesting to watch as Oldcastle BuildingEnvelope® adds CRL under its fold. It might be a challenge but Oldcastle BuildingEnvelope® is an incredible success story of its own and I have to applaud their management team’s ability to think outside the box, which they have done in the past with outstanding results.”

Carson adds, “I go back far enough to remember when CRL was not even considered much of competitor to Sommer & Maca (a company CRL purchased in 2008) and they have grown and grown and done a textbook job of showing how to grow from a little company in Southern California to an international business.”

Speaking of the tremendous amount of consolidation the industry has seen over the past decade, Carson says, “I think from a business standpoint … at some point you’ve got to figure out your exit strategy. Do you go public or do you sell, etc.? That’s probably one reason for so much consolidation [in the industry].”