Bridge Street Closes First Fund

May 23, 2005
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GRAND RAPIDS — With a total $40,665,000 committed in just over a year, Bridge Street Capital Partners has closed its debut fund, Bridge Street Capital Fund I LP.
Formed in connection with The Right Place Inc., Grand Rapids' first and only private equity fund closed on its initial investment of $30 million in April 2004.

The fund, managed by John Meilner and Bill Kaczynski, has sought companies in the $5 million to $50 million range with a requirements that each have a capable management team in place, were cash-flow positive and profitable, located within the Midwest, and had the ability to grow organically and not necessarily through acquisitions.

The ideal scenario for the fund, Meilner explained last year, was a family-owned company in which ownership was seeking to exit the company, with hopes of selling to management — and although management was well compensated, it still didn't have the necessary capital.

"We're looking at entrepreneurs and founders of companies who for reasons other than the business, such as retirement or health, are seeking to sell," Meilner told the Business Journal last year.

"Many owners thought about selling in the late '90s," Meilner said, "but times were good. They were growing, profitable. But the last couple of years have not been nearly as much fun, and some of the folks are just flat-out tired. We want to be a solution to that business owner."

Geographically, Bridge Street limits itself to opportunities within the upper Midwest. "We'll look at things in a state that is either touching a Great Lake or that can be reached by plane in an hour," Meilner said.

"The nature of the business is that we cannot limit ourselves to West Michigan."

That model fit Bridge Street's first two acquisitions, Pennsylvania-based apparel maker Jacob Ash Co. and West Michigan safety glove and equipment company Performance Fabrics.

Based just outside of Pittsburgh in McKees Rocks, Pa., Jacob Ash designs, sources, merchandises and distributes specialty, seasonal winter apparel. It sells primarily to leading national retailers including mass merchants, department stores and sporting goods outlets.

Sixty percent of its sales are private label, while 40 percent of sales are under its brand names, including Hot Shot and Rhino.

The company is more than 70 years old and in its third generation of family ownership, but the family has had no involvement with running the company for nearly a decade.

During Meilner's marketing efforts, he met with advisers for the Jacob Ash family.

"I was just telling people the Bridge Street story and I ran across the advisers for the family," Meilner said. "I was telling them about it and they said, 'We've got a company for you.'"

Meilner first began talks with Jacob Ash — one of more than 60 opportunities Bridge Street had investigated — in late spring and completed the acquisition Aug. 6, 2004.

Months ago, Bridge Street invested in Performance Fabrics.

The two companies are working together on selling Performance's HexArmor brand gloves using a puncture- and cut-resistant material known as SuperFabric. The company owns the exclusive rights to use SuperFabric — a competitor to Dupont's popular Kevlar-brand fabric — in the industrial and workplace safety market.    

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