Putting Together Pieces of the PPE Puzzle

Acquisition announcements continued to make the fire service newswire during 2017.

One such news item was when MSA announced its intention to purchase Globe in June. It completed the acquisition at the end of July in an all-cash transaction valued at $215 million. Both companies have loyal customer bases and strong brand equity and are well respected. Now that the transaction has closed and the new combined company is beginning to execute its new strategy, it was a good time to talk to players from both teams to learn more about how this business venture came to be.

Long Relationship

According to Nish Vartanian, MSA president and chief operating officer, the MSA executive team has had a long-standing relationship with the Globe executive team in that both organizations have had a similar mission during their existence—to protect men and women in some of the most dangerous and challenging working environments. He adds that when the Globe management team decided to take the company in a different direction, team members reached out to William M. Lambert, MSA chairman and CEO, and discussed their thoughts regarding selling the company to MSA. “From my perspective, I feel they saw us as a great home for the Globe brand and its dedicated employees,” says Vartanian. “I also believe they saw MSA as a tremendous opportunity to extend their core product offering to now provide head-to-toe protection for firefighters with one of the most trusted brands in North America.”

Deciding to sell a company isn’t a decision that occurs overnight. Employees and their families are affected. So, this was not something Globe approached without a great deal of thought. “Several years ago, when solidifying plans for the future of our organization, we found ourselves without fifth-generation family members in the wings ready to lead the business into the future,” says Don Welch, one of three previous owners of Globe Manufacturing. “So, we engaged in a multiyear process to identify potential new ownership that would not only be good stewards of what our family has created over four generations and 130 years but also be able to take the business to the next level in terms of serving our customers and also providing opportunities for our employees to continue to grow and thrive.”

Welch adds that the plan was to find a home for Globe that reflected its core values and ensure a bright future for the business, Globe employees, its communities, its dealers, and firefighters and first responders who rely on the company’s products. “So, joining forces with another leading company in our industry, with complementary products, made the decision easy,” he says.

Complementary Products

This acquisition was not one involving competitors where replication of product lines would require discontinuing one or the other. Here, the product lines fit well together. “The product lines of both organizations complement each other exceedingly well,” says Lambert. “Both organizations benefit by getting greater customer coverage and broader product offerings with market-leading innovation.”

1 William M. Lambert, MSA chairman and CEO. (Photos courtesy of MSA.)

1 William M. Lambert, MSA chairman and CEO. (Photos courtesy of MSA.)

Welch adds, “Globe as part of the MSA family is a great fit. We make turnout gear and boots. They make self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBA), thermal imaging cameras (TICs), helmets, and gas detection equipment. There is no product overlap between our businesses and, in fact, our products complement each other exceedingly well.” More importantly, he says, both companies share common values that start with integrity, customer focus, and innovation.

Timing is Everything

Welch says the timing for this transaction was right for several reasons. “First, both organizations are very active in developing the next generation of products, and increased integration is an important part of those development efforts. By working together, we can bring better products and services to our customers,” he says.

2 Nish Vartanian, MSA president and chief operating officer.

2 Nish Vartanian, MSA president and chief operating officer.

Vartanian cites one prominent industry trend that made this the right time to acquire Globe: the significant mindset shift regarding firefighter health and wellness. “This trend is driving a need for multiple sets of turnout gear and more frequent product replacement,” he says. “With Globe now under the MSA umbrella, it goes without saying that we will be well positioned to meet those needs as well as any potential increase in product demand related to this heightened focus.”

The nature of the turnout gear market was also a mutually beneficial aspect of the transaction. “Industry research indicates that the North American market for firefighter personal protective equipment (PPE) is approximately $750 to $800 million in total size,” says Lambert. “The market includes turnout gear, SCBA, fire helmets, fire boots, and gloves. Turnout gear is the largest segment of the market, close to 50 percent, and Globe is the market leader in this area.” He continues that turnout gear is replaced much more frequently than SCBA. For turnout gear, the National Fire Protection Association recommends replacement at the 10-year mark. “Generally speaking, the typical or average useful life of turnout gear is more like three to five years compared with the life cycle of SCBA, which is typically 10 to 15 years. So, while SCBA revenue can be cyclical and closely linked to replacement cycles, the turnout gear business is more of a consistent revenue stream over the long term.

3 Don Welch, one of three previous owners of Globe Manufacturing.

3 Don Welch, one of three previous owners of Globe Manufacturing.

Growth is key. “Globe has a great opportunity to increase its sales in many international markets where MSA has a strong presence,” says Welch. “This is an important initiative for Globe. Finally, both organizations have experienced strong growth with new products over the past few years, and there is a high level of energy and enthusiasm to keep that momentum going.”

PPE Puzzle Pieces and the Future

The acquisition joins two companies and multiple product lines that have provided different pieces of the overall firefighter PPE ensemble and helps to address the future needs of firefighters as they protect themselves from the byproducts of a fire. “I believe there are several visions of what the future holds for the integration of PPE,” says Welch, “and the MSA/Globe product development teams are evaluating some of these ideas now. Some of the concepts are relatively straightforward, such as looking for ways that our products interface more effectively—helmets to hoods to coats, for example—while others are much bolder and futuristic.”

“Our strategic rationale for the acquisition centers on expanding our leadership position and providing head-to-toe solutions in a key customer segment—the North American fire service,” says Lambert. “Helping to keep firefighters safe has been a long-standing element of MSA’s mission. Now by offering turnout gear, in addition to SCBA and fire helmets, this acquisition broadens our core product portfolio in an end market where we have a deep history, knowledge, and strong brand equity.”

As to the future, and how joining these companies sets a path, Welch says, “We believe that the PPE of the future will integrate more electronics, including features such as location tracking and physiological status monitoring,” he says. “The G1 SCBA from MSA already incorporates an array of sophisticated electronics, so just imagine the power of integrating these and other electronic systems.”

Vartanian adds that MSA is always looking for opportunities to better protect and increase the level of comfort for firefighters. “At MSA, we do this on an ongoing basis through our voice of customer process where we seek to keep up with the pulse of the needs of those people who put their trust in the MSA brand,” he says. “We foresee the most immediate opportunities centering around interoperability and fit of turnout gear with SCBA, fire helmets, and other PPE equipment like gas detection and TICs. The MSA and Globe marketing teams are working hand in hand to continue to look for these opportunities moving forward.” Vartanian cites MSA’s integrated TIC that has solved many problems for firefighters and increased their level of safety as one example.

Smooth Transition

According to Welch, the transition for Globe has gone well, and the focus has been on integrating Globe’s systems and procedures into MSA’s. “I think it has gone remarkably well so far,” he says. “Because our cultures are so similar, our teams are working very well together, and we hear nothing but positive comments from the Globe team.”

One system that caught MSA’s eye was Globe’s focus on lean manufacturing. “I can tell you that from the very beginning, Globe was an organization that we were really impressed with, especially the way they focused on lean manufacturing and how they’ve adopted those techniques,” Lambert says. Another aspect that impressed Lambert was how Globe handles the customization of PPE, citing how complex this customization can become. This customization includes the types of material for the outer shell, the moisture barrier, the thermal barrier, the fabric’s color, the name that goes on the back, the amount of reflective material requested, and the location of pockets. “There’s an amazing amount of customization that goes with producing this gear,” Lambert adds. “And, the job that they have done from a lean manufacturing perspective is just amazing. So, it’s one of the things that really caught our eye. When you look at a business that is based on mass customization and a workflow that gets the product out the door quickly, it’s really quite impressive.”

CHRIS Mc LOONE, senior editor of Fire Apparatus & Emergency Equipment, is a 24-year veteran of the fire service currently serving as a safety officer and former assistant chief with Weldon Fire Company (Glenside, PA). He has served on past apparatus and equipment purchasing committees. He has also held engineering officer positions, where he was responsible for apparatus maintenance and inspection. He has been a writer and an editor for more than 20 years.

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