Add Warshawsky to the likes of prominent catalog families, such as the Denharts who built Hanna Anderssen and the Cinaders of J. Crew fame, who sold their businesses to corporations or investment firms. On June 26, leveraged buyout firm Riverside Co. purchased $170 million-plus auto parts cataloger J.C. Whitney & Co. for an undisclosed sum.
Founded in 1915 by the Warshawsky family, Chicago-based Whitney mails about 38 million catalogs a year. Specialty titles target owners of trucks, motorcycles, Jeeps, Volkswagens, sports compacts, and sport trucks. Whitney has 1.6 million names in its database, including more than 327,000 three-month buyers, according to its list management firm, L90 Direct. The catalog’s average unit of sale is $125.
“The Warshawsky family has gone through a great deal of change,” says Whitney president Tim Ford. “They realized that they couldn’t take us any further. And rather than hold us back, they decided to sell to a company that would put the time and resources behind growing J.C. Whitney.”
Ford says Whitney will benefit from Riverside’s financial stability and the collective “intellectual capital” from Riverside’s 18 businesses.
“We’ll look for acquisitions where it makes sense,” Ford says, “but the main goal is to grow organically.” To that end, Whitney recently launched catalogs targeting Harley-Davidson enthusiasts and owners of all-terrain vehicles. That Riverside owns Dynojet Research — a manufacturer/marketer of aftermarket performance parts and diagnostic tools for the motorsports and powersports industries, with a specialization in motorcycles — should help Whitney’s expansion plans.
But other than helping Whitney to grow, Riverside has no changes planned for the cataloger. “It’s business as usual,” says Christine Croissant, Riverside’s director of communications.
‘A leader in its field’
The Whitney deal marks Riverside’s third foray into the catalog business. This past May the company, which has locations in San Francisco, Dallas, Cleveland, and New York, acquired high-end knitting and crocheting cataloger Patternworks; in June 2000, Riverside purchased $18 million quilting fabric cataloger Keepsake Quilting. Although the three catalogers serve different markets, they will probably benefit from some purchasing synergies.
Whitney fit well within Riverside’s parameters for investment, Croissant says. “We were looking for a company that was a leader in its field with a strong brand name and management team,” she explains, adding that the cataloger’s 87-year history was a particularly strong selling point.