Sunbelt Industrial Trucks and Narrow Aisle, Inc. announced that they have been acquired by a newly formed holding company, SBNA Holdings, Inc. Coincidentally with the acquisition, 33.3% of SBNA shares were sold to the employees of both companies via an ESOP, 3% of the shares were sold to a management team, and original founders Warren Cornil and Bill Rowan hold the remaining shares, 31.85% each. Financial terms of the transaction were not made public. Cornil and Rowan, both 62, remain fully engaged in the day to day business of both companies and will remain so for years to come. The leveraged ESOP is their long term strategy to exit the businesses. The deal was formally closed on the 27th of August, effective as of the 1st of April of this year.
Sunbelt Industrial Trucks was founded by Cornil and Rowan, and opened for business on 1 September, 1987 with each holding 50% of the shares. On the 1st of September of this year the company celebrated its 25th Anniversary. Sunbelt is engaged in the sale of new and used forklifts, locally, nationally, as well as internationally, and has been recognized as the largest Komatsu forklift dealer in the USA almost since inception. In addition to forklift sales, Sunbelt services all brands of forklifts, is a major distributor of forklift parts, and rents forklifts both short and long term. A branch was opened in Houston, TX in September of 2004. The company signed an agreement to represent the Nissan forklift line in North and Central, Texas, late in 2011. Other brands represented include Flexi, TCM and Big Joe. Sunbelt is 1 of only 22 dealers in the USA to be recognized as an MVP by MHEDA (Material Handling Equipment Distributors Association), an industry trade group, and the only dealer so recognized in Texas.
Narrow Aisle, Inc. was founded early in the year 2000 by Cornil, Rowan and two other associates. In 2004, Cornil and Rowan purchased 100% of the shares which were then held 50% each. Narrow Aisle purchased the exclusive manufacturing and marketing rights to the Flexi for North, Central & South America, from Narrow Aisle Ltd. of Great Bridge, UK, the original designer and manufacturer. The Flexi is an articulating, very narrow aisle forklift, which increases the cubic utilization of existing warehouse space by 25%-50% when compared to reach trucks or conventional forklifts. The Flexi is marketed from the company headquarters in Dallas through a dealer network in the Americas.
Three Managers Invest. Key associates Matt Maddock, George Munford and Joe Nolan each acquired 1% of the shares of SBNA. Maddock, a 17-year employee, has spent his entire career at Sunbelt and has an extensive background in forklift sales. Munford, a five-year employee, has a very strong 23-year background in forklift dealership operations and service management. Nolan, a CPA, has been employed for a little over a year as the controller for both companies, but has known the founders for over 30 years in various capacities with public accounting firms. The three are expected to be the long term management team.
Why an ESOP? In an interview, both Rowan and Cornil were candid about their decision to utilize an ESOP and their plans for the future. “It’s a trite expression, but the ESOP is a win for all parties concerned, our co-workers, our customers, our suppliers, and for Warren and me personally”, said Rowan. “Our co-workers, who helped us reach this milestone, will ultimately own the majority shares of the company which will allow them to prosper as they continue to provide the best products, the best service, and the strongest customer support available in the forklift industry” he went on to say. Cornil added “During our research into ESOPs, we learned that employee owned companies typically outperform their peers by 30% regardless of the industry involved, because each person has a personal stake in the business. From now on, anytime a customer or supplier speaks to any of our associates they will be dealing with an owner of the company.” Rowan and Cornil remain under employment contracts, and expect to be actively involved in the businesses over the next 8 years as they transition to the new management team, and sell the remainder of their shares in two more stages. Both Rowan and Cornil were profuse in thanking their many customers. They issued a joint statement to close their comments. “Many of our customers, and some of our employees and vendors, have been with us since the inception of our companies. We owe it to them as well as to our newest customers and vendors, to ensure that both companies continue to grow and prosper well into the future, so they can continue to count on us for support. The ESOP will do exactly that.”