Confluence to shut down Trinity, moving to Easley

One month after announcing that Confluence had purchased WaterMark's paddlesports division, the company made formal what SNEWS® had first predicted -- the Trinity, N.C., facility is closing and all operations are moving to Easley, S.C. Confluence made the announcement to its employees at 3 p.m. on Thursday, catching many completely by surprise, we were told.

One month after announcing that Confluence had purchased WaterMark's paddlesports division, the company made formal what SNEWS® had first predicted -- the Trinity, N.C., facility is closing and all operations are moving to Easley, S.C. Confluence made the announcement to its employees at 3 p.m. on Thursday, catching many completely by surprise, we were told.

Confluence will officially say goodbye to its former headquarters on Aug. 19, moving all marketing, sales, finance, manufacturing and production jobs south by then. Approximately 120 Confluence employees will lose their jobs as a result, although the company is trying to soft-peddle the impact by announcing that it is "accepting applications for employment opportunities in manufacturing and support positions in Easley." Currently, 200 employees work for Confluence in Trinity.

Insiders we spoke with told us that there were several influencing factors behind the move. Confluence had maxed out production capabilities in the 200,000-square-foot Trinity facility. And although the company did have plenty of room to expand on its 54-acre property, expansion plans were going to be difficult, if not impossible. Easley, on the other hand, houses a state-of-the-art production facility that has plenty of capacity to grow, as well as the ability to expand facilities readily with utilities and connections to sewer and water already in place.

We spoke with Bonnie Renfro, president of the Randolph County Economic Development Corp., who disputed the idea that expansion in Trinity was going to be a challenge.

"We had a plan in place back in 2000-2001 to expand the sewer service, complete with all the necessary funding, permits, easements, right-of-ways, etc., but when the company began experiencing all of their internal changes, the company backed off expansion plans," Renfro told SNEWS®.

Since then, and in the last year, Renfro has made offers to renew the effort on numerous occasions and told us that she was told her proposals and offers were "passed on to higher ups."

Rich Feehan, newly-appointed CEO for Confluence, declined the opportunity to comment for this story.

SNEWS® View:
From the viewpoint of the Confluence employees, this latest move by its American Capital Strategies parent is a stunner. While Rich Feehan's name is on the press release, asserting that the decision to shut Trinity was made "after extensive review," make no mistake that Feehan is only carrying out orders, and those orders are all about taking care of the bottom line, no matter what the human toll. Our hearts go out to the 120 Confluence employees, all of whom have endured three pay cuts over the last several years yet remained loyal to the company. Those same employees worked their tails off and were the primary reason ACS found itself in the position of being able to dictate terms to WaterMark and not the other way around. And what do each of them get as a parting gift for all of that loyalty and hard work? Thirty days worth of "extensive review" to arrive at an ending letter that gives 60 days notice that the Trinity facility would be closing, that there would be no severance pay, and that while each of them were welcome and encouraged to apply for jobs at the Easley facility, the company would be paying no moving costs. If this is how ACS rewards loyalty, we'd hate to see their less compassionate side.

Extensive review? Please -- how blind does ACS think its employees and the media are? Besides the fact that waiting a mere 30 days from sale to termination announcement certainly isn't a picture of extensive review, insiders told us weeks ago that the decision to move was a foregone conclusion and part of the deal that helped get the ink to dry when the contract was initially signed. True, Feehan denied such a deal was in place when we spoke with him back in May, but there is no ducking the fact that insiders from both sides of the negotiating table repeatedly told us that Confluence was never staying in Trinity, period. More than likely, what ACS and Feehan felt they needed to do before making a moving decision public was to conduct an "extensive review" to decide who was staying and who was leaving in Easley, before they tendered "hey, wanna move?" offers to the Confluence staff they wanted to keep.

Bill Masters, who owns the Easley facility, told us he was very upset with the news and that before he agreed to allow the lease transfer, he had been "assured 200 jobs would come to Easley and that it was my understanding that Confluence would be moving most of those jobs and most of the employees from Trinity."

If there is any bright spot to any of this -- at least if you are one of the retailers who's buying products from a company that isn't looking anything like the smooth-operating machine it appeared to be before the deal -- Kelley Woolsey is making the move, as is Bob McDonough. Although insiders also tell us McDonough moved only when ACS acquiesced to a few negotiating points he insisted on. Make no mistake, without Woolsey, common sense, compassion, leadership and some semblance of order would have flown out the window long ago. Had McDonough left, the company would have lost a designer who is responsible for the only designs currently selling for it.

And while we know that Feehan was only carrying out orders when he made the see ya later announcement to the Confluence team, this is certainly not an auspicious beginning to his tenure at Confluence, at least from the perspective of those who really matter, his employees. On the other hand, we're sure the folks at ACS are all smiles. Bottom line preserved, excess cost axed -- time to move on.

We are fairly certain that this story is far from over. We would suspect that while ACS might be smiling at the bottom line as it looks from the board room now, what lies ahead is a hidden reef of missed deliveries, quality control issues, customer service confusion and more. And if Confluence's happy little party ship hits that reef, it will punch a hole in the hull, wiping away the smiles and leaving leadership frantically bailing water to stay the course.

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