Empire Co. Acquires Kok's

April 26, 2005
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ZEELAND — The Empire Co. announced last week that it has purchased Kok’s Woodgoods Inc.

Empire is a marketer and distributor of molding and specialty millwork; its largest customers have historically been home improvement shopping centers, with Kohl’s today representing the majority of its business.

Kok’s is a manufacturer of specialty wood products — moldings, casings, rails, etc. — and Empire’s vendor for Kohl’s Gallery brand of ornamental moldings. Both companies are based in Zeeland.

“It’s fantastic news for both our companies,” said Empire CEO Tom H. Highley in a prepared statement. “I have seen with interest the accomplishments of Carl and Sally Kok, together with their team at Kok’s Woodgoods, in growing a very successful manufacturer of quality wood products with significant opportunities for further growth.

“In fact, the success of their business has led to the point where combining the assets and capabilities of Kok’s Woodgoods and Empire makes good business sense for both organizations.”

When Tom H. Highley relinquished day-to-day operations of the company to son and current president Tom B. Highley late last year, the company announced that the elder Highley had done so to pursue “an aggressive acquisition program.”

Through both strategic partnerships and acquisitions, Tom B. Highley said the company was approaching possibilities within the domestic manufacturing of intricate and ornate products as well as synthetic materials.

Assisting in the expansion westward has been New Zealand-based Tenon Ltd.

Formerly Fletcher Challenge Forests Ltd., the publicly traded Tenon obtained a 67 percent stake in Empire Co. in 2003 after reaching an agreement to increase its shareholding in the company from one-third to two-thirds at a cost of roughly $10 million.

Tom B. Highley has said that Tenon was to provide the financial backing necessary to complete Empire’s acquisition strategy.

For Kok’s Woodgoods, the acquisition will provide Empire’s distribution service capability and the management resources of a larger organization sharing common products, markets and customers. For Carl and Sally Kok, the merger will assure the growth and future of their business.

“We had realized that our business was growing so fast that we really needed the support and resources of a larger organization,” stated Carl Kok. “Ideally, we felt we needed a partner that understood our vision for the business, shared our culture and philosophy, and recognized the opportunities for growth.

“We knew that with Empire there was a great fit for combining our manufacturing expertise with their distribution service capability. The fact that we are both local businesses in Zeeland and that we know each other so well is icing on the cake.”    

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