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Merger Won't Take Bandini Out of Vernon

June 16, 1998|STEPHEN GREGORY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Bandini Mountain is staying put.

Despite the acquisition Friday of Bandini Fertilizer Co. by rapidly expanding Pursell Industries Inc., the mound of manure made famous in television commercials during the '80s will continue to be, so the joke goes, the "highest elevation" in Bandini's home city of Vernon.

Terms were not disclosed for the union between the privately held company and Pursell, based in Sylacauga, Ala.

Founded in 1927, Bandini hit the fan of local lore 15 years ago when it unveiled a series of television spots in which a dogged collection of athletes attempted to conquer "Bandini Mountain," a 90- to 100-foot mound of dung stored on the company's seven-acre facility before its transformation into soil additive. One skied the hill while others pole-vaulted, launched shotputs and even triple-jumped into its steaming slopes.

Last year, Pursell, the second-largest manufacturer and distributor of lawn and garden fertilizer products in North America, launched an ambitious expansion plan with the help of Citicorp Venture Capital. In the last three months, Pursell has purchased two other lines, including Bandini, and licensed the marketing rights to a third.

Privately held Pursell's products are found mostly in the eastern United States, while Bandini's appear in lawn and garden centers mostly in Southern California and to a lesser extent Northern California, Hawaii, Nevada and Arizona.

Bandini President Jim Josephs, now a vice president with Pursell, said his company's new owners hope to expand Bandini's reach into at least nine other Western states.

And as part of the push, there's been talk of reviving the ads.

"This is one of the fun things about [the acquisition]," Josephs said. "The Pursell people not only feel very strongly about our products, but they like the way we have advertised. I believe it's their intention to stir up the mountain again and get it back out in the community."

Pursell offered to buy Bandini last year as part of its expansion efforts westward. Bandini owner Bob Reynolds decided to sell in large part, Josephs said, because consolidation in the local retail industry had robbed Bandini of many of its traditional retail venues, such as independent lawn and garden centers. What's more, Josephs said, it was difficult to sell Bandini products to some of the now-dominant national retailers because buyers in faraway sales offices were often not familiar with the Bandini name.

"As this market changed and the national retailers came in and basically put the regional chains out of business, it became very important for us to involve ourselves with these national retailers," Josephs said. "Pursell has representation with them . . . and they'll be able to expand our line into a larger market."

Pursell officials said Bandini provides an established niche in the West from which the company can push its expansion.

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