Focused Investment, Real Results: The JSI Story

August 24, 2021
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If you’ve shopped for groceries anytime within the last 30 years or so, odds are you know JSI Store Fixtures. Those gleaming rows of apples are likely nestled in JSI’s produce bins and fixtures. Same goes for the wine and craft beer displays, along with bakery, flowers and fresh foods. All told, JSI crafts more than 30 different food-forward displays from its manufacturing plant in Milo, Maine, along with three other locations across the country.

Today, the company has reached a high point. Not only is it sailing on a multi-year surge in demand for fresh foods and prepared meals, putting its product innovation and customer-centric relationships to work, it’s now part of LSI Industries, in a $90 million deal announced in May 2021.  As part of the transaction, all of JSI’s employees—in all four facilities—have joined the LSI team, with JSI remaining an independent brand.

Back when Advantage Capital first met JSI, the picture wasn’t quite as rosy. In 2012, following new leadership, JSI’s sales sagged and its senior lender began to lose confidence.  An investment in connection with Maine’s New Markets Tax Credit program staved off senior lender defaults, kept the current workforce in place and even allowed the firm to rehire workers who had been displaced less than a year earlier. Consolidation in the supermarket industry in 2017 again tore into JSI’s sales, but a six-month loan deferral—aided by the flexibility provided through the Maine NMTC program-- improved cash flow sufficiently to avoid layoffs.  

By 2018, JSI had overinvested in new plant expansions around the country and reduced its footprint in Maine, leading to lower margins. Advantage Capital stepped up to provide a $2 million investment to allow JSI to restructure operations and consolidate production back to Maine under the renewed leadership of founders Mark and Terry Awalt.  The investment bridged the company’s shorter-term issues so the Awalt brothers could focus on getting the business back on track. This meant, among other things, a transparency that hadn’t been possible under previous leadership and a renewed sense of camaraderie and culture.  With the culture shift underway, another $9 million term loan gave the company the financial flexibility it needed to facilitate the turnaround. Since that time, Advantage Capital also extended the maturity of the original NMTC debt into 2021 to allow time for the recovery to play out following the pandemic.

This strategy has clearly paid off, to the tune of $90 million. But even before the acquisition, JSI had regained its footing. While the pandemic posed a number of short-term challenges on the manufacturing floor, business picked up.  Benefitting from a booming grocery industry, with the pandemic forcing customers to stay – and eat – in their homes, JSI’s 2020 sales exceeded budget expectations.  At the height of the pandemic, JSI also pivoted to manufacture plexiglass hygiene shields—not because it was a core product or another opportunity to boost sales, but because it was the right thing to do to keep people safe and help the local economy. JSI kept paychecks flowing to all its employees and continued to hire additional team members at a time when people needed it the most.    

Throughout it all, firm leadership kept employees informed about the business. In early 2020, Mark Awalt visited all four locations to present the company’s longer-term plans, including the possible sale. This initial transparency – and continued messages from Mark every two weeks – kept employees engaged and excited about their company's future.  

As part of the LSI deal, Mark and Terry carved out $500,000 to go to employees, $250 for every year of service. This desire to do the right thing by employees has been a hallmark of JSI. Bonuses, referral checks and cash for perfect attendance—along with a strong benefits package—are the norm. Today, the company employs more than 300 people and it expects to hire 20 more through 2021. JSI also reaches deep into the community to bring the opportunity for a good quality job to everyone.  In partnership with nearby Charleston Correctional Facility, a minimum-security prison, JSI hires inmates into various roles, from inventory to shipping, providing individuals with technical and soft skills to utilize upon release.  Many have gone on to work for JSI once they leave the Charleston facility.  

In conversation with Mark Awalt following the acquisition, one thing was abundantly clear. Not only was the LSI deal good for JSI, but it was also good for its employees. And if that weren’t the case, the deal would not have been inked. While the two companies’ complementary product lines and customer bases will provide a compelling growth platform, it was LSI’s culture and commitment to JSI teammates that sealed the deal.  

JSI’s market leadership and sale to LSI are all part of a phenomenal growth story.  Since 2013, flexibility on existing loans and additional long-term, patient capital--made possible through the NMTC program—supported JSI through the hard times and helped ease the way towards continued growth.

The investments, portfolio companies and recommendations listed on this website represent only a sample of companies that have received investment capital from Advantage Capital-related entities.  It should not be assumed that recommendations made in the future will be profitable or will equal the performance of the securities highlighted herein or contained in any other information provided by Advantage Capital.  Past performance is no guarantee of future results.  For a full list of companies, please click here.

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Advantage Capital Partners Announces Investment in Central Florida Medical Device Manufacturer

Advantage Capital Partners has announced an investment in GENICON, a designer, manufacturer and global distributor of over 200 products in the laparoscopic surgery market. GENICON, headquartered in Winter Park, Fla., offers innovative products across the U.S. and to over 60 international markets.

Advantage Capital Partners Announces Investment in Central Florida Medical Device Manufacturer

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