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Archive for Saturday, June 26, 2004

E and E to close for good July 1

Company blames 9-11 for business collapse

June 26, 2004

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The fight is over for Lawrence's E and E Display Group.

Officials with the longtime manufacturer confirmed Friday they would close doors July 1 at the business, eliminating all 105 positions at the plant and corporate headquarters, 910 E. 29th St.

The company, founded in Lawrence in 1953, manufactures store displays and fixtures for retailers. It has been battling slumping sales and a sour economy for its products since the 9-11 attacks caused retailers to slow plans for opening new stores, said Ed White, the company's director of new business development and a member of the ownership group.

White said the company decided to pull the plug after it appeared the company's former president and chief executive, Daryl Morgison, would be unable to put together an investment group to purchase E and E.

"We we're taking on a lot of red ink, and we thought it was best to stop the bleeding," White said.

The company laid off 70 employees in May and announced it was in jeopardy of closing if a buyer could not be found. White estimated sales had plummeted about 30 percent from 1998, when the company employed nearly 300 people.

Wait for offers over

Morgison said Friday he still was working with a St. Louis investment company, which he declined to name, to buy E and E. But Morgison said he wasn't optimistic the deal would be completed and -- even if it were -- whether potential investors would keep operations in Lawrence.

"It will be a very difficult deal to do," Morgison said.

E and E officials aren't waiting for any potential offers.

The company will conduct an auction of its equipment July 29, said Kathy Schmidt, president and chief executive officer. It also is marketing its 330,000-square-foot building to potential buyers or tenants.

The company's owners -- brothers Ed, Paul and Keith White and their sister, Schmidt -- have been shopping for a buyer for more than three years, Ed White said. But the downturn in the economy made finding a buyer difficult.

"We have talked with several different companies over the years," White said. "But when we were really marketing the company, 9-11 hit and the economy already was on a downward spiral. When that event happened, everything just stopped."

Jobs elsewhere

Area economic development officials said they were saddened by the news but pointed to other signs of improvement in the Lawrence economy.

"It is very unfortunate," said Lynn Parman, vice president of economic development for the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce. "But if it had to happen, in terms of timing, we are seeing a lot of activity in the job market."

Cheryl White, a manager at the Lawrence Workforce Center, said that many of the 70 employees who were laid off by the company in May had found new jobs.

"During the first round of layoffs, there were companies in the area who quickly picked up those laid-off workers," White said. "I'm thinking that is going to be the case this time."

E and E employees weren't as optimistic. Mike Wenger, the company's purchasing manager, said he knew some employees let go during the May layoffs found jobs, but many others still had not.

"I think most people are concerned about their futures," said Wenger, a Lawrence resident who worked 18 years at the company. "There are not a lot of high-paying jobs in this town. A lot of management staff will probably have to go to Topeka or Kansas City.

"I know I'm going to have to commute, or start something on my own."

Company dates to 1953

The shutdown closes the book on one of Lawrence's older manufacturing companies. E and E began in 1953 when Roger White started the business to do hand packaging work as a sideline to his full-time job with the Lawrence Paper Co.

The company's first employees were Roger's wife, Eleanor, and his father, Earl, which is why the company was named E and E, Ed White said.

E and E entered the store display business in 1963 after landing a contract with Hallmark Cards. It expanded into the store fixture business in the early 1990s.

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