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Design Specialties Plans Growth;
New Ownership Group Steps In

Monday, April 6, 2015

Design Specialties, a Milwaukee manufacturer of fireplace doors, screens and other hearth accessories sold at specialty hearth retailers throughout the U.S. and Canada, plans to enhance its operations with financial resources provided by a new ownership group that will include Michael Draves as president.

Company owner Pat Gengler is retiring, and has selected Draves and Blackthorne Partners of Brookfield, Wisconsin, to acquire the business; the transaction was effective March 30.

Michael Draves.

Draves, who has extensive experience in consumer products sectors, is partnering with Blackthorne Partners in the acquisition. The company, founded in 1983, will remain at 11100 W. Heather Ave., on Milwaukee’s northwest side. Its state-of-the-art 40,000 sq. ft. factory features laser cutting and powder-coating operations.

Gengler has owned the company since 1997. In planning for retirement, he sought a buyer who would commit to growing the business for the long term.

“I was very selective in choosing the new ownership,” Gengler said. “I wanted an ownership group who was entrepreneurial, had the owner/operator mentality, had capital to invest and was customer-focused. I wanted someone who understood our culture and our tradition of excellence. I found everything I was looking for with Mike Draves and Blackthorne Partners.”

Draves’ business experience includes leadership positions with Ariens, Sears, Pacific Cycle and Kohler. In those roles, he has accelerated revenue, market share and profit by strengthening internal capabilities, leveraging differentiations and orchestrating high yield go-to-market strategies.

“Design Specialties is known throughout the country for its high quality fireplace doors and accessories,” Draves said. “Along with strong name recognition among consumers, the company has a strong and loyal dealer network which we will continue to support. I’m looking forward to working with the company’s talented staff to enhance our operations so we remain the market leader known for quality and innovation.”

Draves said he was attracted to the opportunity based on the combination of Design Specialties’ established market position and the financial strength and management expertise coming from Blackthorne Partners.

Design Specialties’ products range from cost-effective, lower price doors to one-of-a-kind doors handcrafted by staff artisans for factory-built and masonry fireplaces.

“Pat Gengler has done a tremendous job growing this company and positioning it as a market leader,” said Steve Balistreri, a Blackthorne Partners managing director. “Our goal is to build upon that success so Design Specialties remains the premier fireplace door company in North America for the long term.”

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