Design Specialties: Plans growth with resources from new ownership group

Contact: John Syburg, 262-786-5100

[email protected]

Michael Draves, 608-609-6440

Patrick Gengler, 414-339-5573

Specialty Fireplace Door Manufacturer Design Specialties

Plans Growth with Resources from New Ownership Group

MILWAUKEE – Design Specialties, Inc., a Milwaukee manufacturer of fireplace doors, screens and other hearth accessories sold at specialty hearth retailers throughout the U.S. and Canada, plans to enhance its operations with financial resources provided by a new ownership group that will include Michael Draves as president.

Company owner Pat Gengler is retiring, and has selected Draves and Blackthorne Partners of Brookfield, Wis., to acquire the business, effective March 30.

Draves, who has extensive experience in consumer products sectors, is partnering with Blackthorne Partners in the acquisition. The company, founded in 1983, will remain at 11100 W. Heather Ave., on Milwaukee’s northwest side. Its state-of-the-art 40,000 square foot factory features laser cutting and powder coating operations.

Gengler has owned the company since 1997. In planning for retirement, he sought a buyer who would commit to growing the business for the long term.

“I was very selective in choosing the new ownership,” Gengler said. “I wanted an ownership group who was entrepreneurial, had the owner/operator mentality, had capital to invest and was customer-focused. I wanted someone who understood our culture and our tradition of excellence. I found everything I was looking for with Mike Draves and Blackthorne Partners.”

Draves’ business experience includes leadership positions with Ariens, Sears, Pacific Cycle and Kohler. In those roles, he has accelerated revenue, market share and profit by strengthening internal capabilities, leveraging differentiations and orchestrating high yield go-to-market strategies.

“Design Specialties is known throughout the country for its high quality fireplace doors and accessories,” Draves said. “Along with strong name recognition among consumers, the company has a strong and loyal dealer network which we will continue to support. I’m looking forward to working with the company’s talented staff to enhance our operations so we remain the market leader known for quality and innovation.”

Draves said he was attracted to the opportunity based on the combination of Design Specialties’ established market position and the financial strength and management expertise coming from Blackthorne Partners.

Design Specialties’ products range from cost-effective, lower price doors to one-of-a-kind doors handcrafted by staff artisans for factory-built and masonry fireplaces.

“Pat Gengler has done a tremendous job growing this company and positioning it as a market leader,” said Steve Balistreri, a Blackthorne Partners managing director. “Our goal is to build upon that success so Design Specialties remains the premier fireplace door company in North America for the long term.”

Design Specialties is online at

Terms of the deal, which closed March 30, were not disclosed.

Blackthorne Partners has steadily increased its portfolio of Wisconsin companies over the last few years and is actively seeking other Midwestern firms to acquire. Blackthorne has successfully partnered with entrepreneurs like Mike Draves for long term growth. It focuses on companies that have $4 million to $15 million in revenues and EBITDA of $1 million, according to John Syburg, another managing director of the group.

Its portfolio includes skid steer attachment manufacturer Berlon Industries, food processing machinery manufacturer Hughes Equipment Company, SAP information technology consultants group:basis, pallet manufacturer Pallet USA, and Integrated Medical Partners, which owns a portfolio of health care information technology service businesses.

Blackthorne Partners is online at