HARLEY SELLS B&B MOLDERS TO MANAGEMENT

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After announcing nearly a year ago that it would seek to spin off B&B Molders, Harley-Davidson Inc. has found a buyer for the Mishawaka, Ind., custom injection molder in the company's own backyard.

The molder recently was sold by the motorcycle maker to Britt Murphey, vice president and general manager of B&B, and five other B&B employees. The sale price was not released, but Harley-Davidson announced that it had sold both B&B and Utilimaster, a maker of commercial vehicles, for a combined $65 million. The sale was completed Nov. 15.

Murphey, who has been at B&B for 12 years, will own 82 percent of the privately held company, with five senior B&B employees holding an ownership stake totaling 18 percent.

About half the company's business comes as a supplier of exterior hatches and access doors for the recreational vehicle market. The company supplies completed modules, made of ABS and other polymer materials, to leading RV manufacturers such as Fleetwood Enterprises and Holiday Rambler. B&B, which does not release sales figures, also makes parts for industrial, medical and agricultural markets.

Murphey said the sale, while good for B&B's future, was tempered by the fact that the 50-employee company nearly doubled its plant capacity in the past five years.

``To use a motorcycle term, Harley-Davidson gave us a big kick start several years ago,'' Murphey said. ``They shared their manufacturing expertise with us in such areas as technology and supplier development, and we've grown tremendously. At the same time, the sale was the right thing for them to do.''

In January 1996, Harley-Davidson announced that it would divest itself of its Holiday Rambler LLC Recreational Vehicle Division to concentrate on its core motorcycle business. The division included Holiday Rambler Corp., a maker of RVs that was sold in March for $50 million to Monaco Coach of Coburg, Ore.; commercial vehicle manufacturer Utilimaster, which was sold in November to company employees; and B&B.

Harley-Davidson executive Martin Snoey, former president of Holiday Rambler LLC, said the division was spun off to appease company shareholders who wanted to take advantage of a boom in the motorcycle market. The company's price-earning ratio for motorcycles was more than double that from its RV division.

``The motorcycle market was growing fast, and it made sense to strategically divest from other unrelated businesses and sink our resources into that market,'' Snoey said.

B&B owns 15 injection ma-chines with clamping forces of 90-400 tons. The 46,400-square-foot plant, which sits on 100 acres in northern Indiana, had undergone an expansion during the past five years that virtually doubled its size and number of injection presses. The plant also performs mold-making and design work in addition to custom molding.