Camber Holdings bought United Solutions from Edward W. Zephir Jr., whose grandfather, Eugene Tourigny, founded the company in 1919. That was well before plastics. The company's formal name is still United Comb & Novelty Corp., and it originally made hair combs from cattle horns and tortoise shells.
At the time, Leominster was known as Comb City. Then Foster Grant Co., the first company to do mass-scale injection molding in the United States, came out with a molded cellulose acetate comb in the early 1930s. The age of plastics had arrived, and housewares boomed in Leominster.
But in the 1990s, a major wave of retail consolidations, and brutal pricing from the mass retailers that remained, clobbered the sector. Some Leominster-area housewares molders began to shut down: big names like Tucker Housewares, Tamor Plastics, Holiday Housewares and Aero Plastics.
Sterilite, in nearby Townsend, Mass., grew to become a behemoth that knocked off Rubbermaid as the biggest U.S. plastics housewares maker.
United Solutions plugged along. Zephir acquired the business from the Tourigny estate in 1977, and in the mid-1980s entered the plastics housewares business under the brand name United Plastics. The name later changed to United Solutions.
Plastics housewares may not be the sexiest of industries, but United Solutions makes products that people use every day.
"We see a tremendous opportunity to build upon United Solutions legacy here," Murray said. "It's kind-of like its 100th anniversary and its first anniversary at the same time."
Zephir was not available for comment for this story.
Murray declined to give specifics about the deal, or say if Zephir retains an equity stake. Murray, who said he talks to Zephir often, said the long-time owner wanted to put United Solutions on a solid path moving ahead.
"When we started to talk to Ed, there's a foundation with the company and the legacy the company had in the industry, and you combine it with the acquisition of Rubbermaid's totes business," Murray said. "There's been a really nice evolution. As we look to the future, there's a really nice foundation and legacy, and we worked closely with Ed through the transition."
Camber Holdings is playing a low-key role with the housewares company, which is one reason no announcement was made about the new ownership. A statement of a change in the registered agent for United Comb & Novelty, filed with the Massachusetts secretary of the commonwealth on Nov. 30, lists Murray as the new corporate agent, taking over from Zephir.
Murray told Plastics News the deal was done earlier than that date, in the summer.
Camber Holdings' website describes the firm as a "operations-oriented private investment firm" that focuses on lower-middle-market companies.
"We seek to invest in a small number of companies at a given time, spending a considerable amount of our time and resources on each business," the company website says.
The firm involves the Camber team and a "deep bench of the 20-plus operating partners, private equity investment professionals and former special situations investment bankers, the website says. Camber is not a private equity firm, Murray said.
Camber's website touts the firm's long-term approach: "Our capital comes from our management team and a group of high-net worth individuals and family office asset managers, which allows us to take a much longer-term view on our strategies and hold periods."
Murray said Camber takes an active role in company operations but relies on the expertise of company management and employees. United Solutions is strong in that regard, he said.
"Part of the reason for this investment is we saw a lot of potential with the leadership team of the company," said Murray, who is involved with United Solutions on a daily basis but mainly to set strategic plans and support employees.
One example is Tom Murphy, technical vice president of manufacturing, who has worked at United Solutions for two-and-a-half years. He brought to the housewares molder a 25-year background in injection and blow molding, building products, communications sectors and food and beverage, including work at Berry Global Inc. and Tapco Group.
Murphy said the entire team is skilled.
"Honestly, I don't say or do anything that's any more important than any member of my team, top to bottom. We have strong leadership in all areas of the business," he said. "We've definitely driven ourselves to be a very, very strong, well-oiled machine."
The Massachusetts document lists Pat Murray as chief restructuring officer of United Comb & Novelty. Tim Durkin — Camber Holdings' senior managing director — is listed as CEO, president, treasurer and secretary.
Murray said that although those titles were listed on the government form, they do not reflect the roles of the two Camber officials at United Solutions.
"I would look at Tim and I as the leadership of the company, but it really is Tom [Murphy] and his peers that run the company day-to-day," he said.