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Hyer family adds to holdings

The planned buyout of an Ohio company will nearly double the annual sales of all of the Tampa family's companies.

The low-profile Hyer family of Tampa is expanding its low-tech empire of driveway and roof sealants.

In a deal expected to close Friday, the family's newest affiliate, Gardner-Gibson Inc., will purchase the Gibson Homans Co. of Twinsburg, Ohio, for an estimated $15.4-million.

Sean Poole, chief financial officer of the Hyer family's Gardner Industries Inc., said the acquisition will nearly double the annual sales of all Hyer-controlled companies to about $120-million. Gardner will shut down at least two of Gibson's seven plants and take over its product line, which includes sealants as well as caulking materials and wallpaper adhesive.

The Hyer family's primary asset is the Gardner Asphalt Corp. of Tampa. The firm has 11 manufacturing plants across the country, including a 30-employee factory in St. Petersburg and a 70-employee plant in Tampa. It sold an estimated 25-million gallons of sealant and related products last year, much of it in 5-gallon containers distributed through Home Depot and other do-it-yourself stores.

The Hyers also own Futura Circuits Corp. of St. Petersburg, a printed circuit manufacturer, and Sun Coatings Inc. and Chemex Paint & Coatings Inc., Largo companies that manufacture paints and textured coatings.

The family's holdings are private. The Hyers have seldom been in the news, although they do own a luxury suite for Tampa Bay Buccaneers football games at Raymond James Stadium.

The Hyers may be getting Gibson Homans for a bargain price. Despite nearly $60-million in annual sales, the Ohio company has had cash flow problems and heavy debts and has been searching for a buyer or additional outside investors since last fall, said Harry Novak, Gibson's chief operating officer.

On Feb. 15, Gibson Homans filed for bankruptcy reorganization, listing assets of $26-million and debts of $35-million. Gardner outbid a California company for Gibson's assets but acquired none of its debts. Gardner is receiving financing help from GE Capital.

The impending purchase is the Hyers' second go-round with Gibson. In the 1970s, when the company was publicly traded, the family owned approximately one-quarter of the firm's stock. Gardner itself filed for bankruptcy reorganization in 1992 but emerged within a year.

The big loser in Friday's sale is CGW Southeast Partners, an Atlanta investment firm and Gibson Homans' majority owner.

According to Poole, CGW helped purchase Gibson for more than $30-million in 1996. Soon, however, the only memento CGW will have of Gibson is the company's debts. "It's all going to the creditors," Poole said. "They really effectively own the company." CGW executives did not return a phone call Monday.

Among those employed in the Hyer family businesses are Raymond T. Hyer Jr. and sons Raymond III, Sean, Robert and Michael. Two others sons are in high school. The late Raymond T. Hyer Sr. first purchased a stake in the Gardner companies, founded by Howard and Betty Gardner, in the 1960s.