More than 70 employees of E and E Display Group lost their jobs Thursday as the longtime Lawrence manufacturer continues to look for a buyer and warns that it may be forced to close.
The company cut 73 workers Thursday in response to slowing sales. The layoffs leave the manufacturer of store fixtures and displays with approximately 90 employees, said company president and CEO Kathy Schmidt. That's down from about 250 employees at E and E late last year.
Ed White, the company's director of new business development and a member of the business' ownership group, said the layoffs have been six years in the making. He said in 1998 the company lost a major client and had suffered a sales decline ever since.
He estimated that company sales are down 30 percent from 1998 levels.
"We have added new customers, but it just hasn't been enough, and it hasn't been fast enough," White said.
Looking for a buyer
White said owners of E and E, 910 E. 29th St., were looking for a buyer. Daryl Morgison, the company's former president and chief executive, confirmed Wednesday that he was trying to put together a group of investors to buy and operate the company in Lawrence. White said talks with Morgison were continuing.
But E and E officials also are talking with groups interested in buying the business and discontinuing its Lawrence operations, White said.
A decision on the company's future needs to be made by the end of July, he said.
"Our preference is to sell it to someone who will keep it here," White said. "But our entire industry is hurting very bad right now. There is just more companies out there than there is work to do. That's why there is a lot of consolidation going on right now."
E and E employees were told of the layoffs at a meeting Thursday. Most employees declined comment on the announcement, but several said that there was great concern over the business' future.
"It doesn't look very promising for anybody out here," said one worker who declined to give his name.
The layoffs are effective immediately and include both production and office employees.
Cheryl White, a manager at the Lawrence Workforce Center, said former employees of the company would be entering a job market that has shown some signs of improvement but was still challenging.
"They'll face a lot of competition," Cheryl White said. "My biggest piece of advice is for them to not wait for a job to be advertised. There's a hidden job market out there. They have to go out there and make lots of contacts."
White's office and the Lawrence Chamber of Commerce will be conducting meetings today at the plant to explain to dismissed employees the benefits and assistance that are available.
Chamber officials said they did not believe the troubles at E and E were a sign of larger problems in the Lawrence economy. Lavern Squier, president and CEO of the chamber, said he thought most Lawrence companies were beginning to feel better about the economy.
"This would seem to be more of an isolated incident," Squier said. "We know of a number of businesses in the area who are contemplating expansion. We've seen an uptick in the health and confidence of businesses."
Roger and Eleanor White started in the industry in 1953 and formed E and E Display group in 1956. The company has served large retail and consumer product companies such as Hallmark Cards, Radio Shack and Whirlpool for decades, but intense competition has put tremendous pressure on profit margins, Ed White said.
The company is owned by the children of Roger and Eleanor White: Kathy Schmidt, Ed White, Paul White and Keith White.
Family members said the decision to cut employees was difficult.
"We have an excellent work force, an incredible work force, and we'll miss them greatly," Schmidt said.