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April 17, 2023 Startups, Technology & Innovation

After acquisition of rival Gerber Technology, Lectra reopens manufacturing at Tolland facility

PHOTO | CONTRIBUTED Lectra Chief Industrial Officer Eric Lespinasse, CEO Daniel Harari and Leonard Marano, president of the Americas, stand inside the French company’s newly renovated Gerber Technology manufacturing facility in Tolland.

Visiting the Gerber Technology facility in Tolland for the first time since his company acquired it in 2021, Lectra CEO Daniel Harari earlier this month outlined the publicly-traded international textile company’s strategy for the next few years.

And the 229,000-square-foot building at 24 Industrial Park Road West, will play a major role in those plans.

Lectra is a Paris, France-based textile software and automation technology manufacturer that serves the fashion, automotive and furniture markets.

It makes and sells textile cutting and assembly machines — and the technology that operates them — to dozens of top brands in the world, including Adidas, Hanes, Gucci and more.

It also licenses out software for various uses. For example, Modaris is Lectra’s patternmaking software that helps apparel manufacturers speed up garment production. DesignConcept is a virtual prototyping software that helps design and estimate costs of vehicle trim covers.

Lectra, which reported $569 million in revenue in 2022 and more than 2,500 employees globally, was founded in 1973 and has grown its footprint through acquisitions, including more than a half-dozen deals since 2018.

It quietly purchased Gerber Technology in June 2021 for roughly $191 million. The deal went unnoticed by the Connecticut press corps, even though it involved arguably one of the state’s most innovative companies of the 20th century.

Gerber was founded in Connecticut in 1968 by Joseph Gerber, an Austria-born Holocaust survivor who has been described by some as the Thomas Edison of manufacturing for developing computer-automated manufacturing systems.

Lectra and Gerber have similar businesses. Gerber has been known for its software, cutting machinery and other technology that’s used by clothing makers and manufacturers that make furniture, airplane and car interiors and numerous other products.

Harari’s visit from Europe was to commemorate the reopening of manufacturing at the Tolland facility — work that had been previously outsourced by Gerber’s former private equity owners.

As part of a strategic plan that focuses on accelerating its adoption of Industry 4.0 technologies, Lectra has decided to organize its industrial operations around three sites in France, China and Tolland.

The company spent the last 18 months preparing to relaunch manufacturing operations at its Connecticut facility, clearing out space previously used for inventory and storage, said Lectra Chief Industrial Officer Eric Lespinasse.

The new manufacturing floor comprises about 26,000 square feet, plus about 72,000 square feet for support operations, including receiving, warehousing, packaging and shipping.

Workers in Tolland will assemble textile-cutting machines and other automated equipment to be sold primarily to customers in the Americas.

“We decided at the end of 2021 to reintegrate everything internally, the main reason was that we wanted to increase the level of quality,” Lespinasse said. “We also wanted to have more control of costs that you get when you do everything internally.”

Leonard Marano, president of the Americas for Lectra, said the two companies have “integrated incredibly well” since the acquisition, which he credited to the familiarity they had with each other as close competitors for decades.

“It’s come together incredibly well over the last two years,” Marano said.

‘Friendly relationship’

In an interview with the Hartford Business Journal, Harari said his experience with Gerber goes back more than 30 years, when he first joined Lectra in 1991.

“One of the first things I did was come to New York at the request of (company founder) Joe Gerber to meet him — at that time he wanted to acquire Lectra, which was close to bankruptcy,” Harari recalled. “He said ‘Okay, you don’t understand anything in this business, if you’re interested we’ll buy your company for 20% more than what you paid.’ That was my first contact with Gerber.”

The meeting was quick. Harari said he and his team flew from France to New York City, eventually rejected the offer, and flew back that same day. Gerber tried to acquire Lectra several times before the end of the millennium, but it didn’t happen, Harari said.

Joseph Gerber died in 1996.

Merger talks between the two companies continued during the early 2000s, as Lectra grew into a larger business, but a deal never materialized.

“It was quite a friendly relationship — there has always been respect between the two companies,” Harari said.

Last decade, Gerber was purchased by two different private equity firms (San Francisco-based Vector Capital in 2011 and New York’s American Industrial Partners in 2016) that outsourced much of the company’s manufacturing work.

Lectra acquired Gerber in 2021. In the year prior, Gerber reported $180 million in revenue.

There were no layoffs as a result of the acquisition, Harari said.

“We understood that we knew Gerber better than their own shareholders after 30 years of competing every day,” Harari said. “For us, the fact that we’d join forces with Gerber has always been there for 30 years. I would say it was a natural move.”

Harari outlined the company’s three-year strategy during his Tolland visit, which includes a push to become a key player in Industry 4.0 — a term used to describe the digitalization of the manufacturing process. For Lectra, that means better integrating cloud computing, big data, Internet of Things and artificial intelligence into its products and services.

The plan also likely includes growing Gerber’s more than 200-employee workforce in Tolland. Lectra wants to manufacture products close to where they’re sold, Harari said, so machines built in Tolland will primarily be sold in the Americas, where the company generates 36% of its revenues.

Additionally, the Tolland facility also hosts Lectra’s second research and development team working on the next generation of equipment. Gerber has another R&D facility in New York.

“We’re going to review the way we manufacture, and the Tolland facility is probably going to have more responsibility in the future,” Harari said.

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