Herff Jones considers global acquisition: Deal to buy George F. Cram Co. is in the works

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Sources close to Indianapolis-based George F. Cram Co. said the 139-year-old maker of globes and maps is being sold to Herff Jones Inc., another local company with deep roots.

Cram officials did not return phone calls seeking comment. But sources said Cram officials have indicated the sale is done.

Officials for Herff Jones-an employee-owned maker of school-related items including caps and gowns, yearbooks and high school diplomas-said the deal is not yet imminent.

“We’re in conversations, but we’re not ready to make any announcements,” said Herff Jones spokesman Michael Williams.

The Douthit family, which bought Cram Co. in 1966, has been shopping the company of roughly 90 employees for about three years, sources said.

It is unclear how the sale will affect Cram employees or its headquarters at 301 S. LaSalle St., just east of downtown. Cram principals include William L. Douthit, the company’s co-owner, chairman and CEO, and his brother, Vice President Jay Douthit.

Although Cram is a privately held company that doesn’t reveal its revenue, company officials said recently the operation is growing. For more than 70 years, Cram has been a leading manufacturer of globes and maps, supplying schools and retailers nationwide. More recently, Cram took its business worldwide.

Globes printed in English, Spanish, French and Mandarin Chinese now are exported to about 25 countries. Cram’s success at expanding its international horizons earned the company an Export Achievement Certificate from the U.S. Department of Commerce in 2002.

“They’re a global player-no pun intended-in business, and we wanted to recognize their growth,” said Mark A. Cooper, director of the Indianapolis U.S. Export Assistance Center, a division of the U.S. Department of Commerce.

Cooper said Cram was a logical choice for the award given its recent advance into nine new markets. Douthit said in a 2002 interview that international sales make up to 12 percent of the company’s revenue.

The Cram Co. was founded in Evanston, Ill., by Rufus Blanchard and George F. Cram. Cram bought out Blanchard and moved the company to Chicago. Art and Edward Peterson, who bought out Cram in 1921, later moved the company to Indianapolis. The Douthit family became the company’s fourth ownership group in 1966.

Over the years, the Cram Co. grew organically, but also made several strategic acquisitions, including American Geographic, a Michigan-based manufacturer of largescale state maps and specialty products; Visual Craft, an Illinois manufacturer of overhead transparencies; Starlight Manufacturing, an Indianapolis-based metal spinning and stamping business; and Southwind Publications, a Florida publisher of desk map programs.

The Cram Co. was the first manufacturer to produce a globe for the retail market depicting the 15 new European and Asian countries created by the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

Herff Jones has two plants here, despite closing its northwest-side classring-making operations last April and moving 156 of its 650 area jobs to a $9 million plant it opened in Warwick, R.I., in 2003. The company, which also makes the Heisman Trophy and Supreme Court robes, has been here since 1920.

Herff Jones reported sales of $419 million in 2003, and with 3,800 full-time employees company-wide was listed as the 11th-largest private company in Indianapolis in the 2005 IBJ Book of Lists.

Della Bailey assembles globes at George F. Cram Co. in this 2002 photo. The U.S. Department of Commerce has recognized Cram for its thriving export business.

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