Backcountry.com, which claims to be the largest online specialty retailer of premium outdoor products in the U.S., has acquired Bergfreunde.de, the leading online retailer of climbing and mountaineering products in Germany, Austria and Switzerland. The two companies plan to exchange know-how on e-commerce and and other subjects, but each company will continue to work independently. Relations with global suppliers shall be used to expand the product offer of both parties. Backcountry won't be entering the markets where Bergfreunde.de operates and vice-versa.
Jill Layfield, chief executive of Backcountry.com, describes the partnership as the first step in building up the first globally scaled outdoor e-commerce business.
Backcountry.com operates seven specialty online stores, which include backcountry.com, dogfunk.com, CompetitiveCyclist.com, SteepandCheap.com, WhiskeyMilitia.com, chainlove.com and MotoSport.com. It also has some physical stores. Together, the various sites sell nearly 1,000 brands and see an average of 13 million unique visitors per month. Positioned at the high end of the outdoor market, Backcountry.com prides itself on bringing new brands to the U.S. market all the time, as it did many years ago with Arc'teryx and Canada Goose. It recently developed some new mobile commerce functionalities and expanded content offerings with articles, reviews and connections with other websites that propose special outdoor experiences.
Backcountry.com was founded in 1996 by Jim Holland, who now acts as executive chairman of group. In comparison, Bergfreunde.de is a much younger company. It was founded ten years later, in 2006, but it already serves about 250,000 customers in Germany, Austria and Switzerland. Total sales of Bergfreunde.de reached €12 million in 2012 and were projected to rise by 35 to 40 percent in 2013.
No figures could be obtained for Backcountry.com. The U.S. company is a subsidiary of Liberty Interactive Corporation, a publicly quoted company that also owns Expedia and Trip Advisor via a company called Liberty Ventures. Backcountry.com and other operations will soon be spun off under a new tracking stock named Liberty Digital Commerce, grouping Liberty Interactive Group's online businesses, which also include bodybuilding.com, among other websites. In this transaction, which should be completed during the first half of 2014, shareholders of Liberty Interactive will get one share of Liberty Digital Commerce for every 10 shares of Liberty Interactive in their possession. Liberty Interactive will be renamed as the QVC Group after its main asset, the QVC home shopping operation.
The revenues of Liberty Digital Commerce have been rising at annual rates of between 15 and 23 percent every year since 2008, reaching nearly $1.5 billion in 2012. Operating results have been inconsistent, however. The group made a loss of $30 million in 2012 against a profit of $54 million the year before.