Acquisition of company has doubled local workforce
JANESVILLE Barry Brandt is well aware of the winter that wasn't.
Mother Nature was unkind to Lanair Products, a Janesville-based manufacturer of waste oil heating systems that Brandt bought in late 2009.
She was even crueler considering that Brandt and Lanair spent the better part of last year wrapping up their acquisition of Clean Burn, Lanair's top competitor.
"With the two lines, we're probably up about 5 percent over last year," Brandt said. "If we would have had a winter, I think we would have seen double-digit increases."
It's certain that winter will return in full force to the United States.
When it does, Lanair is primed for growth, he said.
Brandt bought the company from Les and Nancy Marzahl, who started it in 1976 in their garage.
Looking for a return to their roots in the Midwest, Brandt and his wife sold a precision metal business in Pennsylvania and sought a good company closer to home.
The company primarily sells heaters to customers who have a waste oil stream they can burn to lower their heating bills. Examples include car dealerships and fleet trucking companies.
The Lanair brand is primarily targeted to smaller businesses, do-it-yourself owners who buy the product direct from the factory at 4109 Capitol Circle on Janesville's east side.
Clean Burn had been a niche manufacturer of waste oil heaters and related equipment based in Lancaster, Pa. It offered Lanair the opportunity to reach a larger segment of the market through a network of U.S. and international distributors.
With the acquisition, Lanair now controls about 70 percent of the waste oil heating market, Brandt said.
"The opportunity presented itself, and it's one way to grow a business," he said. "The two companies were in the same industry but were two entirely different models, particularly on the distribution side."
While Clean Burn employees were offered the opportunity to transfer to Janesville, none of them followed the 40 truckloads of materials that arrived here last summer.
That translated into new jobs in Janesville, and Lanair's employment has nearly doubled to 50, Brandt said.
Its 80,000-square-foot plant is filled with equipment and product, and Brandt rents overflow storage at a building on Barberry Drive.
"We closed the Pennsylvania plant in June and went live with Clean Burn in Janesville in August," he said. "We really pushed hard to get it done and get everything here.
"Now we're in a position to step back and integrate the business into what we're doing in Janesville," he said. "It's a different business to get used to, but it will more than double our business."
Lanair's is a seasonal business, typically the busiest from September through January, the ramp-up to the winter heating season.
It's also a business that normally can weather a recession as companies look for ways to lower their heating bills.
But the rapid jabs of a national recession, a non-existent winter and changes in the automotive dealership market staggered Lanair.
"We are sort of recession-proof," Brandt said. "But we were certainly affected by this one. It was just the magnitude of what happened.
"But I really think we're at a point now where we can catch our breath and position the company for continued growth."