From news reports, it seems that Apex Tool Group was close to being sold to another company. Or at least, their parent company had attempted to sell the collection of tool brands more than a year ago.
Apex Tool Group (ATG) owns a number of tool brands, with Gearwrench and Crescent perhaps being the most widely recognized. Other ATG brands include Jacobs, Weller, and Cleco.
ATG is owned by Bain Capital, a private investment firm that owns many brands, such as Bob’s Discount Furniture and Valeo foods.
According to news reports in mid-2021, Bain Capital was considering a sale of ATG, with the value estimated to be 2 to 2.5 billion dollars.
Later in the year, a potential buyer was identified and it was reported that:
Talks are still ongoing and other bidders remain interested in the asset, the people said.
However, in late 2021, it emerged that the potential buyer, Wanxiang Group, declined to pursue sale of the company and its tool brands. In this article, they say:
Apex’s inability to generate a material amount of earnings hampers recovery in key debt metrics, the ratings agency said in the report, adding that the owner Bain was unlikely to infuse much-needed cash so that debtholders could be made whole and Apex’s looming maturity profile could be solved.
Additional reporting came out in early 2022, with Bloomberg Law saying the sale of Apex Tool Group hit a snag over valuation.
Apex Tool Group made big changes in recent years, essentially whittling down and consolidating their portfolio. It’s difficult to say what the motivations were, but we’ll discuss them all the same.
In 2017, ATG moved many of their tool brands under the Crescent brand name. Wiss was no longer just Wiss, it was Crescent Wiss. Lufkin became Crescent Lufkin, and similar branding changes took place across the board. All of ATG’s construction-related brands were absorbed into Crescent.
Some of Crescent’s companion brands were unchanged, such as Gearwrench, Weller (soldering tools), Cleco (fastening tools), and others.
In early 2017, news reports about ATG layoffs suggested the brand was permanently closing down their Armstrong and Allen tool brands. By 2019, the company had eliminated the iconic brands and started redirecting interested consumers to Gearwrench and Crescent.
Here is what Apex Tool Group’s portfolio looked like a few years ago.
Here is what ATG’s list of tool brands looks like today. There’s Weller, Sata, Campbell, Cleco, Gearwrench, Apex, Crescent, and Jacobs.
Xcelite and Erem have been absorbed into Weller, similar to how Wiss, Lufkin, and others are now part of Crescent.
From 31 brands, there are now just 8.
These consolidations are smart moves, whether done for marketing purposes, or perhaps to neatly package the brands for potential sale in whole or in parts.
A couple of the brands seem to have been eliminated, such as Plumb. This is not unprecedented; KD Tools was fully absorbed into Gearwrench around a decade ago.
ATG’s biggest brands, Crescent and Gearwrench, have enjoyed increased visibility at major retailers, and I would think the consolidation helps with this.
Crescent tools have appeared at Home Depot the past two holiday seasons in a row, starting with promotional pliers displays. Gearwrench has also been increasingly visible at Home Depot stores since around 2021 as well.
Crescent tools are also available at Lowe’s stores, although their pliers look to be exclusive to Home Depot.
ATG’s largest consumer brands have remained active. Gearwrench recently launched new lower-priced “limited edition” tool sets, and crescent has been dipping their toes in the power tools accessory market.
Tool brand sales, acquisitions, and closures hit us by surprise a lot of the time. Were there signs that Bain Capital was looking to sell Apex Tool Group? Are they still in talks with potential buyers?
It will be interesting to see what happens over the next couple of years, and if Apex Tool Group is eventually sold or not.