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Archive for Thursday, November 5, 1998

ERA ENDS AS MASONRY FIRM IS SOLD

November 5, 1998

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Morton's has been providing brick, block and other masonry products in Lawrence for more than 50 years.

A longtime Lawrence building materials company has been sold, ending more than 50 years of local ownership.

Morton's Building Materials Inc., founded in 1945, was purchased by Capitol Concrete Products Co. of Topeka, another longtime northeastern Kansas firm.

"It's kind of like cutting your arm off," said Dave Specht, who's co-owned the business for the past 10 years. "On the one hand, the money's in the bank. On the other hand, I don't have a job right now. I sold my job."

Neither Specht nor Jim Browning, vice president of Capitol Concrete, would disclose the sale price.

According to county appraisals, the buildings and property at 900 E. 15th are worth about $425,000. Specht put replacement value at closer to $1 million. The company has annual sales approaching $1 million.

The deal includes a plant that produces concrete blocks, offices, trucks and other equipment, and inventory, which includes a full line of masonry products and allied materials.

Like many industries, the brick and block business has seen rapid consolidation recently, leaving small companies like Morton's a couple of choices: expand to stay competitive or be gobbled up.

Specht, who co-owned Morton's with his brother Bob Specht, said the pair had put together a business plan to expand the business and were preparing to carry it out.

"But the situation presented itself," Specht said of Capitol Concrete's offer. "It was either invest a bunch more money to keep up with the competition, or the other option just walked right in front of us really. ... I was just glad it was somebody in the state rather than some international conglomerate."

In a lot of ways, said Capitol Concrete's Browning, the two companies are alike. They both produce block and share many product lines.

"As Morton's was," Browning said, "we are a family-owned business and relatively small ... but we've been big enough to survive and get a little bigger." Capitol Concrete was founded in 1924 and has annual sales of about $4 million.

The purchase beefs up the core of Capitol Concrete's market area, which covers most of northeast Kansas. The company sells to customers as far south as Emporia and as far west as Manhattan.

"We had wanted to be in that market for a long time," Browning said of Lawrence, adding that the company has made prior overtures to the Spechts.

Under Capitol Concrete, production of blocks will cease at the Lawrence plant. The plant is being sold and the workers who operated it are being transferred to Topeka. Other Morton's employees will remain on the job.

"Our intent in Lawrence is to maintain a yard," Browning said, where the company will distribute a wider range of brick and block products than had been available from Morton's. "We're hoping to increase the product line over what they had available and be real competitive."

For the Spechts, the deal ends a long run in the masonry business. The brothers took over the business from Walt Morton in 1987 after working for the company for several years.

Dave Specht said he'd miss it, but would always be reminded of his labors at Morton's.

"I can't drive down the street without seeing something we worked on, that we supplied for," he said. "That's really a good feeling. It's such a lasting product that it's going to be there for a long, long time. You feel like a part of you is going to stay forever."

-- Richard Brack's phone message number is 832-7194. His e-mail address is rbrack@ljworld.com.

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