The controlling share of Sundance Catalog Co. was sold on July 2 to two private equity firms. Actor and Sundance founder Robert Redford and Sundance Catalog CEO Bruce Willard sold the roughly $70 million business for an undisclosed amount to Boston-based Webster Capital and New York-based ACI Capital.
Willard, the founder and former president of apparel catalog The Territory Ahead, had bought a controlling 50% share of the Sundance catalog business from Redford in July 2002 and ran it until the sale. Redford, who founded the catalog 15 years ago, could not be reached for comment. The book, which sells apparel, home decor, jewelry, and gift items inspired by the American West, was part of Redford’s stable of Sundance properties, including Sundance Institute, Sundance Film Festival, Sundance Channel, and Sundance Village Resort.
Willard, who plans to concentrate on growing his sourcing business, says he had always intended for his stint at Sundance to last just two to three years. For one, “I didn’t want to commute,” as Willard’s home is in Santa Barbara, CA, and Sundance is headquartered in Salt Lake City, UT. Moreover, Willard says, “one of the reasons it seemed like an opportune time for a transaction was because we’re coming off two very strong years of profitability,” although he would not reveal specific figures.
While Willard sold off his entire share of the company, Redford has retained a minority share, Willard says. ACI owns a larger share than Webster but is relying on the experience of Webster principal Don Steiner, who cofounded the catalog conglomerate Cornerstone Brands — which owns, among other titles, The Territory Ahead. At press time Steiner was in the process of evaluating “some highly qualified and experienced” CEO candidates who have run larger catalog companies. “We feel it’s prudent to bring in someone who’s run a larger operation,” Steiner says.
And even though Redford has reduced his ownership, Steiner insists that the founder is still very much involved in the catalog. “If anything,” Steiner says, “his role will increase. We’re meeting with him on a regular basis, and he has some very interesting ideas on how to improve both the quality and the size of the business.”