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Updated: August 28, 2023

For a small Standish vendor, acquisition by a large customer is a ticket to thrive

group of people posing in front of sign Courtesy / Howell Laboratories Inc. Howell Labs employees pose in front of the company’s building in Bridgton, several weeks before the transaction with GDL closed.

Howell Laboratories Inc. in Bridgton recently completed the purchase of one of its vendors, GDL Paint Inc. in Standish, from GDL’s owner, Kristine Lang.

GDL became a division of Howell Labs.

We asked Howell Lab’s president and CEO, Joseph McDonnell, how the acquisition came about and the advantages for each. Here’s an edited transcript.

Mainebiz: Tell us about Howell Laboratories.

Joseph McDonnell: Howell Laboratories Inc. is a 50-person ESOP [Employee Stock Ownership Plan] located in Bridgton on Route 117. We have been around since the early 1960s, and we have supplying equipment to the U.S. Navy since the beginning. We became an ESOP in 1995 and we became 100% [employee] owned in 2013.

Our facility is about 35,000 square feet, containing both manufacturing and administrative offices. It is our only location. Howell Labs is primarily a defense contractor. We are part of the Shipbuilding Industrial Base [a component of the national defense program that produces and sustains the U.S. Navy's strategic submarine fleet], and we provide air dehydration and water equipment systems to shipyards like Bath Iron Works and Huntington Ingalls Industries in Pascagoula, Miss., for installation aboard U.S. Navy Surface Ships and U.S. Coast Guard vessels.  

Our Navy and U.S. Coast Guard business has been steady over the last 10-plus years, but we are actively investigating new opportunities in the commercial world, particularly ones that leverage our knowledge and experience in the water treatment field.

MB: And tell us about GDL.

JM: GDL Paint was owned by Kristine Lang, and she had two employees; all three are now employees of Howell Labs. Her business is located in Standish, in rented industrial space.

Courtesy / Howell Laboratories Inc.
From left, GDL employees Taylor Mitsin, C.J. Bettencourt and former owner Kristine Lang enjoy a pizza lunch hosted by Howell Laboratories to welcome them to the company.

MB: What drove the acquisition?

JM: GDL has been a vendor of ours for years, but we became aware during the pandemic that her business was struggling. The quality of their work was always excellent, even to the military’s stringent standards, but their lead times were expanding. We contacted Kris last year to see if there was anything we could do to help her in getting back on track, and the discussions eventually came around to us purchasing the business but retaining her and her employees.

MB: What are the advantages of the acquisition?

JM: We realized that we could use our relatively larger size to take over the administrative tasks that were burdening Kris as a sole owner, such as accounting, purchasing, invoicing and human resources. This will allow her to focus on the actual day-to-day work of powder-coating, which is her passion. It also will allow her to continue to train her two employees in the intricacies of the process, so there will be continuity and cross-training instilled at GDL.  

Based on our company experience as well as our research, there is a real need for high-quality powder-coating services, so we anticipate expanding the business over the next few years.

MB: What were the terms of the deal?

JM: I cannot disclose the terms of the deal other than to say that Howell Labs purchased GDL from Kris, who was the sole owner, and that Kris and her two employees are now employee-owners just like everyone else here at Howell Labs.

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