Casco Surfaces claims to be the world’s leading manufacturer of surfacing materials for applications in the woodworking, furniture, flooring and automotive industries.
The company’s largest product group includes melamine film, furniture foil and edgebanding (melamine and polyester) for the furniture and interiors market, while its fastest growing market is in laminate flooring. For this sector, Casco supplies abrasive-resistant overlays, decorative films, under-lays and balancing films.
Phenolic films for various industrial applications such as concrete formwork and commercial vehicle flooring are also manufactured.
The company has expanded its global presence over the last five years and today has two production facilities in North America, one in South America, five in Europe and one in Asia, as well as local service offices in 28 countries.
Until July 2003, Casco Impregnated Papers was part of the Akzo Nobel group of companies. In August 2002, Akzo decided to sell its subsidiary and the announcement generated considerable interest among potential investors, resulting in five ‘finalist bidders’. The ultimate winners were two companies acting as a consortium, paying €114m for the company – the 20th biggest management buyout of 2003 worldwide.
The two investors were Deutsche Beteiligungs AG of Germany and Harvest Partners of the US. The management of Casco also has a minority share in the new company, which, for the time being, is known as Casco Surfaces.
A new name has to be found for the newly independent company but that process takes time and should be completed by the end of January 2004.
Deutsche Beteiligungs is an investment company with 40 years’ experience and is backed by Deutsche Bank, among others. The company’s investment portfolio includes the Lignum Group, comprising the well-known wood machinery manufacturers, Homag and IMA.
Harvest Partners is also an investment company and manages funds for US banks and insurance companies as well as industrial corporations in the US and Europe such as General Electric, ABB and Siemens.
The fact that North America is Casco Surfaces’ largest single market, accounting for 40% of turnover, alone makes Harvest Partners seem a good fit.
John Ahlström has been the chief executive of Casco for some 10 years and has just seen his third ownership change in that time. He feels that the latest owners will take the company forward in a good direction.
“It is very exciting,he said. “We now have owners interested in and committed to growing the business. We are not a small part of a big business any more. The new owners follow our business closely and understand it thoroughly – they know what we are doing and why we want to do what we want to do.”
Mr Ahlström also feels that the change in ownership came at a good time as he perceives that the industry’s structure is changing, offering new opportunities in the market. “The surfacing materials industry in Europe is composed of lots of small/medium players and, between 2001 and 2003, many companies had a tough time.
We are spread globally and so were less hard hit. There is an opportunity now for us to really do things in Europe,said the chief executive.
Operationally, the company is split globally into five business units.
Business Unit North America supplies melamine technology, laminate flooring products and technical films. It is headquartered in Cobourg, near Toronto in Canada, with a manufacturing unit also in South Carolina, US.
“The North American growth in surfaces is much stronger than the more mature European market,said Mr Ahlström. “We started in 1987 with 15 million m2 supplied from Germany and we now have a market of 180 million m2 in Canada and the US. We have been driving the thermally- fused melamine sector in North America.”
Business Unit Europe is located in Essen, Germany. It has the same product range as North America and production units in Kristinehamn, Sweden, Schöppenstedt, Germany, Arches, France and Martorelles, Spain.
Asia-Pacific Business Unit is located in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and again has the same range of products.
The fourth Business Unit is outside Curitiba in Paraná state, Brazil, and offers melamine and flooring films.
Burgos in Spain is the major manufacturing centre for the fifth unit, Business Unit Furniture Applications, offering finish foils, edgebands, CPL laminates, polyester laminates and polyester edgebands. This unit is in fact headquartered in Sant Cugat near Barcelona.
Casco Surfaces did not exhibit at the Interzum furniture and interiors exhibition in Cologne in May 2003 as such, but instead took a suite a short walk away at the Hyatt Regency Hotel for the duration of the show.
It used this occasion for the European launch of its new Design Collection. This is a new departure for Casco as, in the past, it either procured designs for the customer from printers, or the customer gave the company printed paper to be impregnated.
“We saw that, with our purchasing leverage, we could bundle designs in purchase orders to gain economy of scale and make a more attractive deal for our customer,explained Mr Ahlström. “Also the customer can sit down with our staff and discuss designs and trends – we are more independent than the printers in this regard.
“The initiative has been well-received by our customers who like the ‘neutral’ input of our sales people and the ‘one-stop shopping’ concept.”
The Design Collection concept was initially tried in North America in 2001 with success and Casco Surfaces now has 80 designs there and around 70 in Europe. These are mainly wood-grains, but also include solid colours and fantasy designs.
There are three main areas targeted by three Design Collections: North America and Europe, both centred on decorative melamine; and furniture applications, with finish foils, edgebands and laminates.
Casco’s design centre is at Sant Cugat and displays the whole collection plus all the big printers’ collections. A sample of any design, pressed onto a panel, can be supplied on the spot too.
Casco’s designs are selected using the printers’ structures but also using Casco’s own colourways, plus some unique designs for which it has the cylinders engraved specially. “We are actually improving the distribution channel for the printers, so while we may appear to compete with them, we are actually working well together with them,said Mr Ahlström.
The relative merits of exhibitions are often discussed these days and Casco seems pleased with the results of its ‘Interzum experiment’. “We were pleased with the response to our suite in Cologne and will repeat it in 2005,said Mr Ahlström.
“The ZOW shows are growing in importance, especially in Bad Salzuflen and Madrid. It is a good concept and it does not require so much time and preparation as the big shows in Europe and North America, which are becoming like stand design competitions. Sometimes the money is better spent on visiting our customers.”
The panel industry is a very important market for Casco Surfaces, accounting for around 85% of the company’s turnover.
Furniture is the second largest and has its own Business Unit because of the complexity of the industry’s structure and the large number of customers in a wide range of sizes, he explained.
So, Casco Surfaces is a new company but with expertise in the same products in which it has specialised for years and with the addition of the Design Collection.
All that remains is for the company to find an appropriate and, just as importantly, a unique, trading name, but we will have to wait to find out what that name will be.