Confluence Outdoor, an American group that owns eight paddle sports brands, is holding talks with about eight companies to wrap up at least one acquisition by the end of the year. We have learnt this about four months after the company was acquired by J.H. Whitney Capital Partners and added the word Outdoor to its company name, clearly indicating that it intends to expand into a wider outdoor group.
The discussions are part of an aggressive development plan, which calls for the group's sales to multiply four-fold by 2019. The strategic plan involves organic growth as well as acquisitions in paddle sports and categories such as hiking, fishing and camping. Confluence Outdoor's targets will be mostly equipment brands that will be able to use the group's infrastructure, including its head office and manufacturing plant in North Carolina.
In the paddle sports category, the group wants to strengthen its existing business, with its own brands such as Dagger and Wave Sport kayaks, as well as acquisitions. It is holding talks with three to four companies in the fast-growing stand-up paddle category, which it has yet to explore. Confluence's chief executive, Sue Rechner, said at the Outdoor Retailer show in Salt Lake City a few days ago that the company would be in the stand-up paddle business by the end of the year.
At the same time, Confluence has opened discussions with another three to four companies in the outdoor market, some of them with international distribution. The targets are mostly small to medium-sized companies, with sales reaching up to double-digit millions, with brands that have a legacy in their category – like the other brands owned by Confluence.
As part of the manifold investments considered by the company, Confluence is also studying the opening of its own operations in Europe in the years to come. Confluence estimates that it commands a share of about 15 percent in the European paddle sports business but that still makes up only about 5 percent of its global turnover. It wants a solid and stable business in Europe in the next five to seven years. Then again, Confluence acknowledges that the European share of its turnover may not rise due to the group's fast expansion in the American market as well.
The company has conducted a two-month study of the European market. It was compiled by Kevin Williams, who then had his own consultancy and went on to join Confluence Outdoor as its vice president of international sales in June. This is a new position, reaffirming the company's views on the international market. Williams is backed up by Patrick Fitzgerald, an international representative who was already with the company. A significant international market for the brand is Japan, where it has a share of an estimated 35 percent.
The company is currently searching for a head of operations to support the expansion plans. Confluence Outdoor employs 425 people in North Carolina and manufactures the vast majority of its boats at this facility, covering nearly 0.5 million square feet. Its core competency is in roto-molding, for which it has some extra capacity. Rechner is strongly credited for improving the company's operations since she joined six years ago.
Whitney Capital bought Confluence from American Capital, which had been a shareholder since 1998 and the owner since 2002. It previously invested in companies from The North Face to Brooks Sports, Eastern Mountain Sports and Igloo, a leading manufacturer of coolers. Whitney sold Igloo in March to another private equity firm at an undisclosed price and the proceeds should help to support the expansion of Confluence.
The new owners are also contributing some extra business acumen, for example through the new board member Roger Gasaway, former head of manufacturing at General Electric.