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Loewen window firm all in the family again

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The Loewen plant in Steinbach is bouncing back with the housing market.

JEFF DE BOOY / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS ARCHIVES Enlarge Image

The Loewen plant in Steinbach is bouncing back with the housing market. Photo Store

THE Loewen window company of Steinbach is back in the hands of the Loewen family.

Charles Loewen, Clyde Loewen and Al Babiuk, the president and CEO, and other senior management have re-acquired Loewen from Danish company VKR Holding, which purchased it from the family in 2010.

Terms and conditions of the deal were not disclosed.

The window and door manufacturer in Steinbach rode the wave of the high-end residential housing boom in the U.S. into a massive enterprise with more than 1,500 employees by the middle of the last decade.

But when the U.S. housing market went into a deep recession starting in 2008, Loewen, too, felt the pinch. Although company officials do not give specifics, by many accounts, the company's workforce shrunk by more than 50 per cent.

But Babiuk said starting at the beginning of 2012 they started to see improvements in the market and the company has been rehiring.

"Four years prior to that it was the deepest housing recession," he said. "But since the first quarter of 2012, we have seen the market recovering broadly with each market recovering at a different pace in terms of each state. We think we are through the worst of it and are in the recovery phase now."

The transaction follows a strategic review of VKR Holding's worldwide portfolio of businesses. In addition to Loewen, VKR also sold Gienow Windows and Doors of Calgary.

"We did not see sufficient synergies with our other investments within vertical windows and doors and are satisfied with the solution found with the new owners," Jan Lundsgaard Jensen, VKR's CEO, said in a statement.

Loewen, which was founded in 1905, is a manufacturer and distributor of custom-made wood and clad-wood windows and doors for the residential and light commercial markets.

Charles Loewen will become chairman of the board, and Clyde Loewen will rejoin the executive management group.

In addition to investment by the shareholders, the deal has been supported by the Royal Bank of Canada and financing for capital investments has been provided through the province's Manitoba Industrial Opportunities Program.

The company paid off a prior MIOP loan.

Babiuk said the recovering U.S. market is more focused on quality and value and more competitive than in the past.

But he said the company is well-prepared for that. During the recession, it beefed up its presence on the U.S. East Coast and has added new Loewen distributors.

"We have a dealer network that remained dedicated to Loewen throughout the period," he said. "Lots of those markets (on the U.S. East Coast) are seeing very good recovery and that bodes well for us and them."

He said the company is in the process of expanding its portfolio but would not give any specifics for competitive reasons.

"There is a very contemporary focus in terms of architectural style and our product is good in that market and there are opportunities to develop that fit even more," he said.

Loewen had helped spur plenty of prosperity in Steinbach over the years and Linda Peters, executive director of the Steinbach Chamber of Commerce, said having a company of its size owned by local interests is likely to be a good thing for the community.

"I think you notice that even more in a smaller community than you would in the city," she said. "I think people will be ecstatic about the news."

martin.cash@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 3, 2013 B4

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