Arundel printer, 4 others are sold French Bray is among five bought by Mail-Well of Colo.; Terms are not disclosed; Purchase is part of consolidation in printing industry; Acquisitions BTC


French Bray Inc., an 81-year-old commercial printer whose clients include the Orioles and Ravens, has been sold to Mail-Well Inc., an acquisitive conglomerate that's been buying printers at a breakneck pace.

"A Bray won't be running it, but under Mail-Well it will be business as usual," said Ronald Bray, French Bray's chairman. "And it will have more capital to invest."

The privately held Glen Burnie firm employs about 145 people and has annual sales of roughly $26 million. It was founded by -- and named for -- Jim French and Jeter Bray, the chairman's uncle. French stayed with the company for a short time, though the firm has kept his name.

The deal was disclosed yesterday when Mail-Well, of Englewood, Colo., announced it was buying French Bray and four other commercial printers for undisclosed terms.

The four other printing firms are: Accu-Color andColor-Art of St. Louis, Clarke Printing of San Antonio, and United Lithograph of Boston. Combined, the companies have sales of $140 million, Mail-Well said.

All the deals are expected to close by the end of this month.

Mail-Well's shares closed down 12.5 cents at $48.5625 on the New York Stock Exchange.

"The addition of this impressive group of printers into the Mail-Well family could be one of our best acquisitions yet," said Gerald F. Mahoney, Mail-Well's chairman and chief executive, in a statement.

Including this and other recently disclosed deals, Mail-Well will employ more than 10,000 people in over 80 printing plants throughout North America. Reported 1997 sales were $900 million, but the

company says it is now running at a rate that would yield revenue of $1.5 billion.

The commercial printing business is highly fragmented, dotted with many companies such as French Bray that have sales between $20 million and $50 million. For those companies, margins are getting squeezed as the price of raw materials and big-ticket, digital presses escalate, Bray and other industry experts say.

Like most other industries today, the commercial printing market is undergoing tremendous consolidation as several large players emerge. Among them: Consolidated Graphics Inc. of Houston, World Color Press Inc. of Greenwich, Conn., and Mail-Well.

By consolidating, the companies enjoy economies of scale in purchasing machinery, paper, insurance and health care.

French Bray does high-end commercial printing for such local companies as T. Rowe Price Associates Inc. and Black & Decker Corp. But a Bray won't be running the company when Ronald Bray steps down after the transition. Ed Webb, who was elected president in February, is expected to be retained by Mail-Well.

As for Bray, who joined the company when he was 16 and became president in 1966 when it had but $1 million in annual sales: He vows to work on his golf game, leaving behind a real feeling of accomplishment. "I've done a lot, and put a lot of energy into building this company," he said.

Pub Date: 5/15/98

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