T. Shipley, Awards.com Form Holding Company

On Aug. 30, business accessories cataloger T. Shipley merged with recognition products marketer Awards.com to form B2B Brand Group LLC, a $30 million holding company. Awards.com founder/CEO Warren Struhl is chairman, and T. Shipley co-owner/CEO Tom Shipley is president. The new concern is based in Orlando, FL.

Just days before the deal was announced, Awards.com bought office furnishings catalog Reliable HomeOffice from Reliable Corp., a division of Boise Cascade. With the addition of HomeOffice’s 800,000-name house file, B2B Brand’s total database now exceeds 1 million names. HomeOffice’s operations have been moved from Chicago to Shipley’s Orlando distribution center, and Web customers who type in HomeOffice’s URL are directed to the Shipley Website instead. But B2B Brand will continue to mail the HomeOffice book, as well as the T. Shipley and Awards.com catalogs, says Shipley, who adds that the deal will be “transparent” to customers.

The goal of B2B Brand, its founders agree, is to meet the needs of the small office/home office market while obtaining the efficiencies that typically elude smaller catalogers.

“Each business’s core competencies, direct marketing expertise, e-commerce skills, complementary databases, and talents position us to become a much larger company in the near future,” says Struhl, who was instrumental in fueling the partnership with more than $5 million in funding from investors such as TWS Partnership, Ascend Financial Group, and Advance Publications.

The concept of aggregating smaller mailers to form a larger, more efficient company was also the driver of Genesis Direct, which Struhl cofounded in 1995. After nearly four years in business, Genesis (which had been renamed ProTeam.com) filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in August 1999.

One advantage B2B Brand has over Genesis is that all of its properties target the same market. But while Craig Battle, managing director of Princeton, NJ-based investment bank Tucker Alexander, is impressed with the new venture’s financing, he notes that it remains to be seen whether customers will view it as a one-stop shop: “Will B2B Brands have enough breadth of product for business customers?”

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