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Menomonee Falls manufacturer says acquisition by out-of-state firm won’t affect Wisconsin workforce

'It is business as usual for our employees': Bradley Corp. to join Watts Water Technologies

Bradley Corp. headquarters in Menomonee Falls
Bradley Corp. headquarters has been in Menomonee Falls since 1964. Because Bradley was the first major business to locate in the area, the city named the road leading to the new building “Fountain Boulevard.” Photo Courtesy of Bradley Corp.

A manufacturer with a 100-year history in Wisconsin will be acquired by an out-of-state company, but officials say they’re maintaining their workforce in the state.

Watts Water Technologies, a Massachusetts-based producer of plumbing, heating and water quality products, announced last week that it agreed to acquire Menomonee Falls-based Bradley Corp. for $303 million.

Bradley Corp. makes commercial plumbing fixtures and washroom accessories. It has been privately owned and family run for decades, with roughly 500 employees in Wisconsin. Watts is a public company with over 4,000 employees.

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Officials say the acquisition aims to combine Watts’ “back-of-the-wall” plumbing products with Bradley’s “front-of-the-wall” washroom products. They say doing so will result in increased investment, innovation and growth.

“Joining Watts will make Bradley stronger and ultimately result in greater customer-focused innovation and operational efficiency — two objectives that Bradley has been committed to for 100-plus years,” said Jon Dommisse, vice president of Marketing and Strategy for Bradley Corp.

In a statement, he said Bradley Corp. has no plans to stop manufacturing products at its facilities in Menomonee Falls and Germantown, where the company has “invested heavily” in new equipment and technology in recent years.

“It is business as usual for our employees,” Dommisse said. “It’s important to note that this acquisition is intended to grow the company, which will expand opportunities for our employees.”

Matthew Carran, director of Economic Development & Tourism for Menomonee Falls, said village officials toured Bradley Corp.’s Menomonee Falls facility earlier this year, and the company gave no indication that it plans to leave. He also said Bradley Corp. has been an “anchor” business in the community for a long time.

“We were just talking with their corporate leaders (about) the needs for growth, what they’re doing and how they’re doing it,” Carran said. “We’ll continue to work with them to hopefully provide whatever they need.”

Bradley Corp. CEO Bryan Mullett will become the president of Bradley under the combined organization. In a statement, he said the acquisition is a “tremendous opportunity,” as it gives the Wisconsin firm access to Watts’ “global reach, broad product portfolio and operational strength.”

“I am looking forward to joining the management team to drive continued growth and support the integration of these two companies that have a combined 250-year heritage of experience and endurance in sustainable water products and solutions,” Mullett said.

Buckley Brinkman, CEO of the Wisconsin Center for Manufacturing and Productivity, said there’s “tremendous pressure” on companies to continuously grow, but the reasons behind mergers can vary.

“It can be the new company seeing an opportunity to scale up the capability of a smaller company,” he said. “It could be that there are assets that the company is holding on to that the acquirer wants, whether it’s equipment, IP (intellectual property) or a particular target market.”

Peter Carstensen, a retired law professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and self-described “antitrust hawk,” said he expects the acquisition to be approved by antitrust regulators because there’s a lot of competition in the plumbing equipment industry.

“It does look like there are a bunch of other competitors, some of which — like A. O. Smith (Corp.) — are very large,” he said. “When I went looking, I didn’t even see a company like Kohler Co. or McWane, notably very large companies working in very much the same area.”

Carstensen also said joining a larger firm could give Bradley Corp. access to a larger market, while Watts acquiring a smaller firm could help it fill a niche.

“A merger that does not raise significant competitive concerns may be very advantageous to both companies in terms of the combined company now having a broader range of products that they can market nationally, so it can continue to develop and expand by filling another niche,” he said.