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The Kittinger Co., the top-of-the-line Buffalo furniture maker that has been teetering on the brink of a shutdown for four months, got a new lease on life Friday.

The company's parent firm announced that Kittinger has been sold to Pittsburgh businessman Michael Carlow for an undisclosed price.

Ladd Furniture, the High Point, N.C.-based furniture manufacturer that purchased Kittinger and five other furniture companies 11 months ago from Maytag Corp., said it is pleased to have completed the transaction.

Ladd said the deal means that Kittinger's Buffalo and Castile operations, which have been gradually shutting down during the last month, will continue. Carlow will be Kittinger's sixth owner in the last seven years.

"Contrary to published reports, we have been aggressively marketing Kittinger to potential buyers," said John J. Ong, Ladd's director of corporate communications. "Since February, when we announced that we would close the facility, we've talked with a number of interested people."

While union officials earlier this month charged that Kittinger's owner had not been seriously seeking a buyer, Ladd executives said they have
stretched out the company's operations for almost two months to buy extra time for working out a sale. Kittinger originally had been scheduled to close in early May.

No purchase price was announced, but the asking price reportedly had dropped within the past 11 months to about $4.5 million from an original $28 million.

Carlow could not be reached for comment. Carlow was described by Ladd as a "prominent Pittsburgh businessman," but little information on his background was available Friday. Neither daily newspaper in Pittsburgh had any information about his background or business ventures.

Ladd gradually had been phasing out Kittinger's operations while it searched for a buyer. Kittinger has only about 60 workers left at its Elmwood Avenue plant, down from 190 when Ladd announced the closing in late February. Kittinger's Castile plant is down to about 20 employees from 54 before the announcement.

Ladd executives previously said Kittinger had lost money during each of the last six years and had been running a deficit of about $225,000 per month since the North Carolina firm bought the company last July.

Both the Erie County Industrial Development Agency and the Western New York Economic Development Corp., which previously had been involved in attempts to find a buyer for Kittinger, were not part of the final deal.

"Never heard the name Carlow before," said Dean Sallak, treasurer of the county agency. "We met with a New York group earlier this week. I would like to know what Carlow's intentions are for the company."

Earlier groups that tried and failed to purchase Kittinger included a group led by William P. Adamucci, Computer Task Group executive vice president; another group that included former County Executive Edward J. Rutkowski and Buffalo attorney Gregory Davis, and a third led by Kenmore businessman Ronald E. Allen and Frederick Batson, former Kittinger president.

The Carlow deal took many people by surprise. On Thursday, the firm announced it lost one of it major customers and Ladd would auction off equipment next month.

Colonial Williamsburg, which in 1989 accounted for about $3 million of Kittinger's $16 million in sales, announced that it had signed a licensing agreement with a Michigan furniture company to make its colonial furniture reproductions.

Richard A. Schreiber, vice president and chief business officer for the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation, said it signed the agreement with Baker Furniture Co. of Grand Rapids, Mich., because it had become apparent that Kittinger was going to shut down.

Kittinger is completing work on what was thought to be its final pieces of furniture, with Baker not ready to begin production until next year.

"It's a negative, but it's something a new owner could work around," David C. Ogren, Kittinger president, said Thursday. Ogren said the Colonial Williamsburg agreement had limited Kittinger's ability to bring out some other products because they would compete with furniture covered by the licensing agreement.

Ladd also had scheduled an auction for July 25 and 26 to sell Kittinger equipment.

Kittinger has been for sale almost from the day Ladd acquired the company last July. Ladd executives said Kittinger, with its elegant and expensive product line, did not fit in with Ladd's main furniture operations, which concentrate on mid-priced products.

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