March 22, 2019
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Brewer shoe manufacturer acquired by Berkshire Hathaway company

BREWER, Maine — Justin Brands Inc. announced on Thursday the acquisition of Brewer-based Highland Shoe Co. LLC.

Financial details of the acquisition were not disclosed, but all 35 employees will be retained at the Brewer company, said Megan Force, communications manager for Justin Brands Inc. The deal, which includes the name and assets of Highland, was made final on Wednesday.

Justin Brands Inc., based in Fort Worth, Texas, is a Berkshire Hathaway Inc. subsidiary, which is managed by Warren Buffett. It has more than 1,000 employees nationwide.

“It’s been in the works for a while,” Highland Shoe President Adam Sutton said Thursday. “It gives us an opportunity to really go somewhere we never thought we could go and it gives us an opportunity to actually grow.”

Sutton said Justin Brands will allow the company to have a benefits package which will make it more attractive to workers.

“The success of our brands is a result of a rich history and our progressive approach to the future,” said Randy Watson, CEO and chairman of Justin Brands Inc. “As a Berkshire Hathaway corporation, we are always open to acquisitions and opportunities. Planting new roots in a market distinctively rich in America’s footwear heritage aligns with our ongoing commitment to domestic manufacturing.”

Justin Brands said in its release that the Brewer plant will continue its current production level of more than 400 pairs of hand-sewn shoes each week. Highland was founded on April 1, 2003, and was located in Bangor for the first four years of its existence before moving to its current location on Atlantic Ave. in Brewer.

“Not only is it a real plus for us, it’s a real plus for Justin Brands,” said Sutton. “It gives them new footwear styles they weren’t able to have before.”

Highland annually makes around 25,000 shoes by hand for private labels such as Yuketen, Red Wing, Oak Street Bootmakers and Sperry Top-Sider Shoes and “50-60 percent of our shoes get shipped overseas somewhere,” Sutton said last year. It produces casual and dress shoes for men and women.

Sutton says Highland is eyeing expansion down the road.

“I’ve been discussing this with Justin [Brands] heavily the last couple of days,” Sutton said of expansion. “We’ll take it one step at a time, but in the long range that’s what we’re looking to do.”

Highland Shoe Co. is not the first Maine-based shoe company to be purchased by a Buffett-owned company.

Berkshire Hathaway purchased Dexter Shoe from Harold Alfond in 1993 for $419 million. The company employed 1,600 people with manufacturing facilities in Dexter, Milo, Newport and Skowhegan, plus retail stores around the state.

Starting in 1998, layoffs began, and a year later plants started to close. A week after 9/11, Dexter Shoe’s flagship manufacturing facility closed.

Sutton said the acquisition of Highland Shoe is “totally different” from that of Dexter Shoe.

“It’s not the same thing. [Dexter Shoe was] huge. We wouldn’t even be a flea compared to the size of Dexter,” Sutton said on Friday. “They were competing against imports. We’re not trying to be everything to everybody. We’re trying to service a small niche in the marketplace with classic American-made, hand-sewn footwear.”

Sutton added that he had no concerns of Highland being moved or closed.

“They’re sending me on the road to sell more shoes,” he said. “Which will allow us to add more staff and to make more shoes.”

Force also said there are no plans to move Highland Shoe away from Brewer.

Highland Shoe Co. becomes the fourth manufacturing facility for Justin Brands, which also has plants located in Cassville and Carthage, Mo., and El Paso, Texas. Divisions of Justin Brands include Justin Boot Co., Tony Lama Boot Co., Nocona Boot Co., Chippewa Boot Co. and Justin Original Workboots.

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