Mul-T-Lock is shaking of the dust and rising like the phoenix. After a fundamental restructuring designed to restore it to the black this year, the "security products" - read, locks - company is even mulling a return to the stock exchange.
Founded in 1973, Mul-T-Lock has known not a few ups and downs. It has become a generic name for secure locks among Israelis, but that doesn't mean its fortunes were as safe as their property. During the 1990s alone it was sold and delisted from the stock market, repurchased in part and lost money hand over fist for almost 10 years.
Its plan to return to the stock market, raising money from investors to finance its future growth, was formed before the current pullback in the world markets, and before the collapse of the Heftsiba building company. Before the setbacks, institutional investors awash in liquidity were snapping up just about every corporate bond around, investment-grade or unrated alike. Yet the developments have soured institutional investors on corporate paper.
But Mul-T-Lock doesn't mean to hit the market again before the second half of 2008, by which time these storms will probably be long forgotten. Of course, before that Mul-T-Lock could receive a tempting offer from some investment fund and won't need the stock market at all.
Mul-T-Lock today is led by Uri Bahry, controlling shareholder, CEO and chairman. Before he even taps your pocket through the market, he's confident he can change our consumption habits as well. He wants us to replace that conventional door to our apartments with designer models.
Meanwhile, he's working on changing attitudes among architects and builders: They can compete for the hearts and wallets of consumers not only through functionality of the apartment interior, but through the portal of entrance as well. You may live in a flat but have a door that would grace a mansion.
Bahry isn't shy about talking about Mul-T-Lock's fourth revolution. It accustomed us to its patented multi-armed security locks, and to steel doors instead of wooden ones. The pitiable welcome that its third revolution, the gearbox lock, received discourages him not at all from leaping into the new Designer Door venture.
He has partnered in the venture with none other than swimsuits designer Gideon Oberson, who wants to develop a sideline in interior design. Big deal, says Bahry, you add $1,000 or $2,000 for a great door and when you're buying a new apartment for a quarter-million, it makes sense. Or, a basic Mul-T-Lock door costs around NIS 2,500. A basic with wood coating costs NIS 5,000, but a designer one can run from NIS 7,000 to NIS 12,000.
Designer doors are Bahry's path to growth. The first step was taken four years ago, with a door designed by artist Yaacov Agam, but the masses didn't appreciate his talents and it didn't take off. Oberson's doors stand a better chance of achieving mass appeal.
"Our goal is to replace a million doors with designer ones," Bahry says. "The estimate is, it will take 20 years at an average of 4,500 doors a month."
"How's the market today? Well, steel doors are installed in 85 percent of new flats and houses. More than 2 million steel doors have been installed in Israel, including in offices, and Mul-T-Lock has 40 percent of the market, Bahry says. Hosem is second with 25 percent. Mul-T-Lock sells 8,000 units a month, of which only 500 are designer doors.
The company has launched a NIS 12 million campaign to push the idea and hopes to average 1,800 designer doors a month in 2008. "Our experience in the Israeli market is that you sweat blood until you sell the first 50,000, but after that, the product has its own momentum," he says.
It all began on a wintry morning in 1973, when Avraham Bahry was a lad working as a locksmith. An old lady came into the dingy store and asked for somebody to come and install a few locks.
He installed the first on the left.
Then she asked for another on the right side of the door, because a neighbor with a lock on the left had just been robbed. Then she wanted one on top, and patriarch Bahry had his eureka moment.
That night he sat over a coffee with his neighbor, Moshe Dolev, and Bahry came up with the idea of a single device that would lock the door from all directions at once. His invention became known as Rav-Bariach, or Mul-T-Lock. The two of them certainly never dreamed that one day they'd sell their locks division for $68.5 million to Assa Abloy, maker of the famous Yale locks.
The patent is based on a cogwheel that moves bolts. It was a revolution in home security. It was taken into the big time by the Recanati and Carasso families, which bought a controlling interest in Mul-T-Lock back in 1983. Sales exploded and in 1990 Mul-T-Lock was taken public in a splash. It began as a great success but went through some turbulent times. The Bahrys sold the controlling interest to Assa Abloy in a complex deal, but in 2000 exercised their right to buy it back.
Avraham Bahry decided to retire at age 54 and handed over control to his brother Uri, who today owns 65 percent of the company's shares. Avraham retains 10 percent, and various Mul-T-Lock managers own the rest. "Avraham's gone fishing," Uri says. "Now he only does what he likes."
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