T. Shipley, Reliable HomeOffice catalogs sold to Flax

Recognizing that consumer catalog marketing wasn’t where it wanted to go, B2B Brand Group on Sept. 17 sold its T. Shipley and Reliable HomeOffice catalogs to San Francisco-based art supplies and gifts cataloger/retailer Flax Art & Design. The sale comes just 13 months after the Lyndhurst, NJ-based B2B Brand Group bought the books from T. Shipley founder Tom Shipley.

Operations of T. Shipley, which sells accessories and gifts for executives, had been suspended in June; Reliable HomeOffice, which sells office furniture, had been put on hold in May. At that time, holding company B2B Brand Group decided to focus on launching a retail chain for its Awards.com catalog/Internet business. Awards.com sells trophies, plaques, and other incentive items.

The Flax Art & Design catalog had exchanged mailing lists with both T. Shipley and Reliable HomeOffice during the past two years. But such synergy isn’t the only reason Flax bought the titles. “It was a great deal,” says Flax vice president of marketing Craig Flax. His company had made a play for the books last year when Shipley sold them to B2B Brand Group. Although Flax won’t reveal the purchase price, “it’s a better price than we would have bought it for last year.”

That’s because B2B Brand Group, which was operating the two catalogs and Awards.com as three distinct entities, last month administered separate Assignment for the Benefit of Creditors (ABC) filings for T. Shipley and Reliable HomeOffice in Florida, where the books had been incorporated. Not unlike a Chapter 7 filing, an ABC filing is a quick and expedient means of turning over the assets of a business to a trustee who sells or liquidates them, passing all proceeds over to the creditors.

For their last full years in business in 2001, Reliable HomeOffice did $15 million in sales, T. Shipley $6 million, Flax says. Immediately after the deal closed, Flax had the titles’ remaining inventory and computers shipped to its Brisbane, CA, fulfillment center and offices. Flax aims to mail a T. Shipley catalog in November. The first Reliable HomeOffice book will probably mail in January or February.

Tom Shipley, who retains a seat on the B2B Brand Group board along with managing partners Warren Struhl, Arnie Cohen, and Mitch Rothschild, will work with Flax on the catalogs for at least six months in a consulting role. He is working with another California-based company as well, the name of which he wouldn’t reveal at press time.

The problems B2B Brand Group ran into, Shipley says, stemmed primarily from Reliable, which sells heavy desks, bookcases, and other furnishings, many of which are drop-shipped. “The shipping and logistics end was new and very different from the business model of any of our other businesses,” Shipley says. “Consequently, the investment that would have been required to invest in shipping and logistics was difficult to justify based on the overall direction of the company and its strategic direction.”

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